What is good quality of life when it is based on sustainable consumption habits in a world where various crises keep arising one after another? How can public political debate on climate be understood and how can you join in the discussion? Answers to these questions, among others, are considered at JYU Open University, in the third study unit on planetary well-being.

The war in Ukraine is as an example of how life priorities may suddenly change in a time of crisis.

“The sense of justice makes people feel that importing fuel from Russia is less necessary,” says Postdoctoral Researcher Kaisa Kortekallio from the University of Jyväskylä.

“Easy access to fossil energy is outweighed by the values of Ukraine’s sovereignty and European democracy, for example.”

Kortekallio has been involved in planning and implementing the third course, “Good Life and Planetary Well-being”, which is a part of the study module on planetary well-being at the Open University of the University of Jyväskylä. This open-for-all online course was launched in June, and it explores what changes the ongoing sustainability transition requires from societies. According to Kortekallio, the war in Ukraine is just one example of crises that force societies to consider and question the prevailing ways of thinking and acting.

The course evaluates indicators of good life

In the context of planetary well-being, it is essential to consider the value of nonhuman life. This course provides tools for this, for example, through animal philosophy and other nature-oriented philosophies.

“They help recognise on what grounds other animals and nature have been made subordinate to humankind, and they also open up channels for more equal ways of thinking,” Kortekallio says.

Kaisa Kortekallio is one of the designers of the course. Her own handprint shows, for example, in the section dealing with different conceptions of nature as well as the imagining of good life.

The course also seeks to define objectively what good life is. How has this theme been considered in global development research? One way to approach the issue is to look at various indicators that seek to determine and analyse good life. One such indicator is the UN Human Development Index (HDI). It incorporates a nation’s longevity, education and income into a composite measure of each nation’s level of human development.

“It is interesting to see how this has been measured. Traditionally, these models have not necessarily taken environmental well-being into account at all.”

Nowadays, there is also a revised version of this indicator, which takes into account how much each nation is burdening the environment.

“The model compares the environmental costs of generating social well-being. It serves as a larger working framework for us to get a grasp on what the generally accepted criteria for good human life are.”

The course also deals with the doughnut, a significant model used in economics. The model defines a safe operating space for humankind, one which exists in between the limits of minimum social well-being and maximum environmental pressure.

“Through this, we seek to create pragmatically a just and fair space and transition to sustainable societies. In societal debate, it mainly means that someone’s striving for good quality of life would not undermine anybody else’s possibilities to do the same.”

Tools for understanding the climate debate

According to Kortekallio, one of the most important themes of the course is just transition. She points out that most issues brought up in the course inherently call for solutions to be found through joint action. The course provides students with tools for participating in political and social debate. They will also understand not only the basic concepts but also the varying and complex terminology often associated with this theme in the media.

“We want to point out that solutions for the environmental crisis are also cultural. They call for analytical skills, media literacy and emotional skills.”

According to Kortekallio, it is very important to describe people’s environmental feelings and emotional skills. On this basis, it is possible to discuss, for instance, how we can cope with crises both as individuals and as a society:

“When we are able to consider the fears, sadness and feelings of loss linked to environmental changes, we have a better foundation for making social changes.”

Kortekallio has mostly pursued literary research. She states that the course also reflects the respective expertise areas of its designers. Her own handprint shows, for example, in the section dealing with different conceptions of nature as well as the imagining of good life.

“The speculative sections of the course examine the genres of utopia and dystopia, or ways to imagine otherwise. These genres outline societies and deal with the ways in which an ideal society or an undesirable society could work. In doing so, they also reach beyond the limits of our everyday thinking.”

The fourth course searches routes towards more sustainable societies

The first course of the study module on planetary well-being was launched last autumn, and in the beginning of the next year the module will be complemented with a fourth course. Senior Researcher Mikael Puurtinen from the University of Jyväskylä is coordinating the study module. He states that the fourth course searches for answers to the challenging questions presented in the previous courses on planetary well-being.

“We will ponder how we could organise things so that the essentials of life could be guaranteed for everyone, including other living organisms. It requires that we not destroy ecosystems and their processes with our own actions.”

The course leader, University Teacher Saana Kataja-aho, says that people have given plenty of positive feedback on the way the courses have been implemented, and after completing the first one, the students have been keen to take the next courses as well.

The design and implementation of the study module on planetary well-being is the result of long and multidisciplinary collaboration. Puurtinen points out that to take these courses, you don’t need to master any referencing techniques. The courses are intended for all learners.

“We have used a significant amount of time in working out how to explain things without any complicated academic elaboration or difficult terms. We talk about real research-based matters, but in a way that is easy to understand.

The course themes also address many issues that are considered on a higher level as well.

“This past year the European Union published a list of sustainability competences, which highlight the same themes we discuss in our courses,” Puurtinen says. “Evidently, when people think carefully about an issue, they end up coming to the same conclusions, which is a pleasant result.”

Read more and start your studies straightaway at the Open University: Planetary Well-being Studies.






Get latest articles from The University of Jyväskylä’s stakeholder magazine into your email. You can cancel your subscription at any time.