Welfare Status 13.8. – IPCC Report and Gambling

Welfare Status 13.8. – IPCC Report and Gambling


Hello again, this is Welfare Status and I’m
Tatu Ahponen. The summer continues, the politicians are
still on vacation, and Finnish politics continue to move rather sluggishly, but of course there
are always some issues to discuss about the various aspects of the welfare state, as well
as other things in Finnish politics. These weeks, such topics have included climate
change, a hot topic to be sure, one which has been a hot topic for several weeks – climate
always seems to rise to fore during the hot summer months, as anyone who has lived for
several decades can feel in their own skin that such hot summer months tend to be hotter
than in their childhood days – as well as the betting monopoly and its future status. Climate issues are of course connected
to global developments of the climate crisis – the publication of the IPCC report on the global status of climate change. This year, the IPCC report had specific relevancy
for Finland, as it concentrated on land use issues, which are a major part of Finnish
environmental discourse – land use being intimately connected, in particular, to whether
lands in Finland are used by its comparatively small agricultural sector or its comparatively
important timber industry. Finland is the most forested country in Europe,
and timber industry has always had a major role – even if this is not as big related
to the GDP or exports as is sometimes claimed, it still plays a major factor regarding Finnish
self-identity as a “country that lives from its forests”. Of course, regarding global climate, the forests
pay a huge role in carbon capture – the thing that might give us a change to actually, factually
shoot for negative climate emissions instead of just a reduction, as the forests would capture more carbon than the other sources would emit. Of course, that requires keeping large stretches
of forests in a condition where they can continue to capture carbon. As explained previously, currently the big
issue related to the forests are several timber product plants, planned to be constructed
in Northern and Eastern Finland. The IPCC report has renewed calls by some
environmental activists to rethink these plans, while the Centre Party continues to support
them, making this yet another opportunity for sniping between the Greens and the Centre. Another land use issue that affects Finland
is biomass energy, or peat power. Peat is a thick biomass substance obtained
from swamps, burnt for power in biomass power plants or used as a part of other operations. While technically, albeit slowly, renewable,
peat power is highly polluting, and thus, the government has committed to halving its
use, but the latest statistics have led to activists urging a complete rundown of peat-based
biomass energy, though the Centre Party, again, feels reticent about giving up peat power. In addition to timber, many people have noted
the new climate-related discussion related to meat, particularly considering the new
statistics saying that despite the recent boom in vegan meat replacement products, meat
is still consumed at much higher rates in Finland than ever before. Of course, everything related to meat-eating
is bound to cause cultural conflicts, considering how important these food-related matters continue
to be in the Finnish society and culture. It would be ideal if this government could
use its diversity of people representing both the countryside and the cities, those working
inside sectors like forestry and agriculture as well as those outside of those sectors,
to figure out strong, ambitious climate policy that takes all of these things into account
while offering a comprehensive plan to transmit to a low-carbon society. But at least this government’s program offers
a basis for achieving this, and beyond all the sniping there exist, for instance, several
plans for promoting forestation of unused land areas in ways which all parties can support. Gambling, as well as some other things in Finland, happens within the purview of a state monopoly. Like with sales of strong alcohol, the Finnish
state has decided that gambling is too important to be left to the mercies of free market – the
option is available, you can engage in it, but within the limit set by the state monopoly. And as Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s newspaper
of record, states, the current legislation requires the company to market games only
if they are not detrimental to finances, society or health. One intent is also to get people from using
foreign private gambling websites and instead utilize the safer state-owned options. Thus, the Finnish state enterprise Veikkaus
Oy runs various lotteries and operates gambling machines in various places. However, this does not stop controversies
from happening. After all, when you have an institution that’s
supposedly meant to keep gambling in check but which also has a mandate to get money
from legalized gambling… well, there’s a conflict of interest. For instance, unlike in Sweden – also a
country with a gambling monopoly – Veikkaus Oy runs gambling machines not only at gambling
rooms but also in convenience stores, leading to charges of profiteering off of children,
pensioners and gambling addicts. Recently the state-owned company has engaged
in aggressive advertising which is felt to lead people engage more extensively in harmful,
addictive gambling. In general, many people feel that Veikkaus
Oy has gone beyond its mandate to keep gambling within reasonable limits by offering a state-controlled
option and, in effect, is no difference to privatized gambling, insofar as the negative
effects of gambling go. Of course, the state monopoly is generally
justified with the fact that the profits are channeled strictly to funding good causes,
such as youth work and various NGOs. Recently, some have gone beyond just criticizing
the actions of the state monopoly and have proposed ending the state monopoly and allowing
private companies to engage in gambling. That would really hardly get to the root of
the problems. A softer suggested approach has been including
public health experts on the board of the state gambling monopoly to help maintain the
goal of harm reduction through the vigorous action of the state in offering alternatives
to more harmful forms of gambling that people would utilize either way, as currently the rewarding
schemes of Veikkaus Oy’s Board of Directors do not reward combatting the drawbacks of
legal gambling. Likewise, there is now a citizen’s initiative
to move the gambling machines out of the stores and into specified, specific designated gambling rooms. But that’s it for these two, rather slow-moving
weeks insofar as Finnish politics and welfare-state-related issues go, good day, night or evening, once
again.

Daniel Yohans

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