Kunnas J (2010) Does History Offer Hope that We Can Reduce the Risk of Global Warming?. Reusing the Industrial Past: First joint conference of ICOHTEC, TICCIH, and Worklab, Tampere, Finland, 10.08.2010-15.08.2010. http://www.tampere.fi/industrialpast2010/reusing_abstracts.pdf
One of the pivotal questions in researching the environmental effects of Finland's energy consumption is the divergent paths of carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide emissions. This paper argues that the initial decline of sulphur dioxide emissions in the 1970s was mainly a side-effect of changes in industrial processes rather than an outcome of a deliberate policy. Furthermore, anxiety about large and widespread damage to the forests was a major reason for active measures to decrease sulphur dioxide emissions since the mid-1980s. Thus the emissions themselves provoked their downturn. Although the risks facing Finland's forests might have been overestimated, without active measures the emissions would eventually have reached a level in which the forests would have been seriously damaged. From an environmental viewpoint, it does not matter whether an emission decline is a result of environmental considerations or a by-product of economically dictated technological change, or whether the engine of change is increased wealth or public unease with pollution. However, there is a big difference in the policy implications. For future development of carbon dioxide emissions, the story of declining sulphur dioxide emissions in the 1970s inspires hope that the reduction of emissions could be part of normal technological development. If again the environmental damage has to become severe enough to create pressure to reduce the emissions, then in the case of carbon dioxide the prospects are grim indeed. At that point, when the negative consequences are revealing enough to convince all skeptics, it is already too late. Another option is that, as in the case of sulphur dioxide, the anxiety about possible serious damage in the future can be enough to create a downturn in emissions.