Arctic town’s Olympic bid highlights race to save planet

HELSINKI (AFP) – A snow-covered Arctic village in Finland has struck a viral hit with a fake bid for the Summer Olympics to highlight the impact of climate change in the far north.

Authorities in Salla, a remote municipality of 3,500 people in northern Finland, in January released a pitch to become a candidate city for the 2032 Games, despite average temperatures barely climbing above freezing for six months of the year.

“I’ve never felt warmth before, but I’m sure it’s coming,” one resident said in the video bid, which warns that a snow-covered tundra will become a beach volleyball pitch and a frozen river the site for surfing if climate change is not addressed.

The video describes the town as “in the middle of nowhere” and said it is the coldest place in Finland.

In winter, temperatures regularly sink to minus 10 to minus 20 degrees Celsius.

A #Salla2032 website introduces the campaign’s mascot, a reindeer called Kesa (Summer) which is plagued by mosquitoes – a reference to insects migrating further north in the Arctic region.

Salla is located in Lapland in far north Finland. PHOTO: AFP

Scientists said the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, endangering local wildlife as well as releasing carbon stored in the melting permafrost.

The video has become a hit on social media, garnering around 400,000 views, mayor Erkki Parkkinen told AFP.

It has prompted “messages and calls from around the world saying ‘We can’t let the summer games happen in Salla’,” he said.

“It’s helped people understand that here on the Arctic circle, we have livelihoods which need winters, and if we lose our winters it makes many big problems for us and for the whole planet.”

The stunt, produced in conjunction with the Fridays for Future movement, urges people to take action to help the climate, from recycling to volunteering to lobbying MPs.

“We hope our small campaign to ‘Save Salla, save the planet’ gets more people thinking and doing climate-friendly acts,” Parkkinen said.

In Lapland, where tourism has been a major source of income, Salla’s municipal leaders are pushing the government to reinstate an old railway allowing visitors to reach the remote region by more eco-friendly means.

“We don’t want to be the best place to host the summer games in 2032,” Parkkinen said.

“We want to keep Salla and the planet as it is now.”