Finnish grannies act to counteract climate change

Twelve Finnish supergrannies have started a social movement that addresses climate change with a message of hope. Their mission is to use “granny wisdom” to teach people that a sustainable life is also a fulfilling one.

“Why didn’t you do anything to save the planet, Grandma?”

This question – or the desire never to have to hear it – inspired 12 grandmothers to found a group called Activist Grannies (Aktivistimummot in Finnish).

What began in 2019 as a dozen grandmothers getting together for coffee is now a Facebook community of nearly 6,000 and a transgenerational movement trying to help solve the greatest emergency facing humanity: climate change.

Knowledge and networks

Nine women stand in front of a stone building in cold weather in Helsinki.

Members of the Activist Grannies stand in front of the premises of the Ministry of the Environment in Helsinki.Photo courtesy of Aktivistimummot

The original idea came from Seija Kurunmäki. A couple years past 60, she had recently become a grandmother and retired from a 40-year career as a communications executive.

“Becoming a granny made me worry about the future,” she says. “I wanted to use my knowledge and networks for the benefit of our grandchildren. It’s time for our generation to give back.”

The twelve founding grannies represent many different fields of expertise, including environmental science, medicine, finance and engineering. Drawing on their vast experience, they use their website and social media platforms to share science-based facts about climate change and provide advice on how to lead a sustainable life.

Both Kurunmäki and fellow founder Eeva-Riitta Piispanen harness their communications background to spread the granny manifesto.

“We want our grandchildren and all the kids in the world to have a viable globe to live on,” says Piispanen, a busy entrepreneur in her mid-60s with seven grandchildren. “It’s not their job to fix our mistakes – our generation must face up to our responsibility.”

Messengers of hope

Several reindeer stand on top of a mountain in northern Finland.

Arctic ecosystems such as that of Finland’s far north feel the effects of climate change even more severely than many other regions. The Activist Grannies are trying to ensure that the natural world will still be there for future generations.Photo: Visit Finland

While it makes sense to worry about the planet, it is counterproductive to become overwhelmed by climate anxiety. As an antidote to doomsday headlines, the grannies communicate a “we can do it” attitude.

“We’re grannies, for heaven’s sake!” says Piispanen. “We want to be messengers of hope.” One of their goals is to help people realise that an ecofriendly life is not only easy to achieve, but is also a better, happier life.

“Idiotic consumption doesn’t make anyone happy,” says Helena Kääriäinen. A genetics specialist with four grandchildren, she is in her early 70s. “We know from experience that a simple life of moderation is rewarding. Plus, all the things we do for the climate are good for our health too, like eating less meat and driving less.”

Boomers for biodiversity

A squirrel perches on a tree trunk.

Even the smallest creatures can feel the effects of climate change.Photo: Visit Finland

Before Covid-19, the grandmothers hosted various events and presentations about environmental issues. They have continued in the form of online webinars.

Lobbying, too, is a key part of their activism. At the time of writing, municipal elections are approaching in Finland, and the grannies are busy sending letters to candidates.

“Politicians are beginning to understand that we boomers are a huge group of voters,” says Kääriäinen. “We want to emphasise to them that the climate movement isn’t just for schoolkids. Greta Thunberg isn’t the only one who cares.”

The grandmothers often collaborate with activists decades younger than themselves. The Activist Grannies participated in a campaign with the Finnish 4H network to plant 10,000 trees, and in the Best Enough Christmas campaign with Climate Move. Best Enough Christmas is a play-on-words suggesting that you don’t need to go overboard – a Christmas that is simply “good enough” can also be the best Christmas ever. The campaign featured Mrs Claus sharing tips for a sustainable festive season.

“It was a privilege working with the grannies,” says Climate Move’s Wilhelm Blomberg, a 30-year-old who is training to be a sustainability educator. “Thanks to their massive expertise and resources, they are among the best climate campaigners in Finland. They have this warm, feminist approach that resonates with people because of what they represent – granny-hood.”

Granny upgrade

Three different portraits are in a row, in each one a woman drawn by a child’s hand.

Many different artistic styles are on display in the portraits on the Activist Grannies website.Pictures courtesy of Aktivistimummot

The grannies cannot disguise their delight in how their movement is challenging ageist stereotypes. “We’re upgrading the word ‘granny,’” says Piispanen. “We are active and wise, and our wisdom is a valuable resource in the push for environmental change. A granny isn’t just a frail old lady knitting socks in a rocking chair.”

The most heartening feedback she has received so far came from her ten-year-old granddaughter. “She told me that when she grows up, she wants to be an Activist Granny just like me. That makes me proud, although [by that time] fighting global warming shouldn’t be her responsibility anymore.”

If the Activist Grannies and many others have anything to say about it, people will have found solutions to the problems of climate change by the time today’s kids have grown up.

By Silja Kudel, March 2021