Friday, March 23, 2018

Vagabond and beyond

Last year, I tried to complete some of the Vagabond city runs but due to different airplane malfunctions and last minute cancellations, I only managed to do London and Berlin in the end.

This spring, I plan to take the city run concept beyond my book to, first, San Francisco and then, a few weeks later, to the White City and Oslo. In preparation, I am back at USM but this time with a commitment to keep my heart rate well below 160...


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Jersey Shore

Ten years ago tonight, I was out driving along the Atlantic coast in a Japanese convertible. Jumping from one barrier island to the next, I followed seemingly endless dunes all the way from Cape May to Sandy Hook. The air was still cold from winter but, only a few weeks later, there would be cherry blossom and Gabriel would come visiting.

These days, I have traded the convertible for bus number 8 and, instead of island hopping, I am back with thesis guidance. This semester, the topics reach from the role of Swedish soft power to the governance of nursing homes, mixed up with everything from how higher education institutions can help students with disabilities to the future of “open government”.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Enlightenment now

The other day, I accepted an invitation from Breakthrough Journal to write a short response to Steven Pinker’s new book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress”. Given the number of unfinished tasks on that to-do list, accepting the offer was probably not the smartest thing to do but presumably better use of my energy than writing yet another blog post ;-)

While thinking about what to write for Breakthrough, I picked up some vegan BBQ burgers from “Astrid and the monkeys” which turned out just great with halloumi and chipotle-mayo on top.  Still, it had me again questioning the realism of ecomodernism and to what extent people have to buy into a perfectionist ideal or "comprehensive conception of the good" (to speak with John Rawls) in order for it to actually work? After all, while the great promise of ecomodernism – i.e. that liberal freedom can be made compatible with Anthropocene conditions – may be true for energy, the same can hardly be said about agriculture or our relationship to non-human animals…

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018


Philip Cafaro is a leading Malthusian thinker who recently received funding for a research project on “overpopulation” at the University of Gothenburg. Last Friday, he and some of his fellow researchers published an op-ed in Svenska Dagbladet suggesting that poor people should be locked out of Sweden so that they do not get rich and start polluting. At least that was the underlying thinking behind their piece entitled “Environmental reasons for a more restrictive immigration policy”. Unfortunately, I was too slow on the ball this time as Svenska Dagbladet ultimately decided against publishing my piece after publishing three other replies. For those of you who read Swedish, here is my full response to these Malthusian supervillains:

Det kan tyckas som ett banalt påpekande, men människor försvinner inte för att de kastas tillbaka i fattigdom. Sällan har anti-humanismen givits ett tydligare uttryck än i artikeln ”Miljöskäl talar för mer begränsad invandring”. I sig är detta kanske inte något som borde förvåna. En av forskarna bakom artikeln, Philip Cafaro, har under lång tid argumenterat för att människor ska låsas ute från USA, även där av miljöskäl. Mer allmänt råder bland många forskare inom fältet en föreställning om att mänskligheten kollektivt skulle kunna ”backa” ur moderniteten och att det skulle vara en ekologisk nödvändighet att världens fattiga aldrig erhåller ett drägligt materiellt liv. 

Som tur är har ett växande antal så kallade ”ekomodernistiska” forskare börjat utmana detta deterministiska synsätt. 2015 publicerades ”Ett ekomodernistiskt manifest” som vände på ekvationen och uppmanade oss att, istället för att se människor som en belastning, tvärtom se hur fler människor med högre utbildning och ett växande välstånd är en förutsättning för att kunna lösa de oerhörda utmaningar som vår planet står inför. Detta ska inte misstas för blind tekniktro. Aldrig har den gemensamma politiken varit viktigare. Istället, för att som idag fokusera på lösningar som måhända fungerar i vårt eget land (t.ex. eldandet av biomassa som förutsätter stora markarealer och oerhörda ingrepp i naturmiljön), så har jag i min egen forskning visat på varför vi snarare bör utveckla lösningar som är globalt skalbara (exempelvis nästa generations kärnkraft).

För att kunna skapa bred politisk enighet kring kraftfulla klimatåtgärder är det emellertid en förutsättning att debatten förmår röra sig bortom såväl moralistisk konsumtionskritik som malthusianska skräckfantasier om ”överbefolkning”. Varken ”klimatbantning” på Instagram eller det tysta upprätthållandet av en världsordning som närmast kan beskrivas som global apartheid representerar meningsfulla vägar framåt. Vad som behövs är en politik som på allvar vill förverkliga en mer rättvis värld i vilken människors livsbetingelser inte längre avgörs av något så godtyckligt som i vilket land de råkar födas.  En nyckelkomponent i en sådan politik är utvecklandet av rena energikällor som är väsentligt billigare än existerande fossila alternativ och därmed attraktiva både för länder som inte tar klimathotet på allvar (exempelvis USA) och för de utvecklingsländer som idag står i valet mellan fortsatt fattigdom eller ökade utsläpp. Oavsett vad artikelförfattarna tycks tro så har vi den här planeten tillsammans. Som invånare i ett av världens rikaste länder är det vårt ansvar att lyfta blicken och, istället för självspäkelse, leda teknikutvecklingen så att alla människor i framtiden kan leva ett modernt liv.


Sunday, March 18, 2018


As we remember from Buffy, being dead is not necessarily the kind of impediment that most people think it is. In the autumn last year I wrote about the notion of a "cold civil war" and, speaking from beyond the grave, John F Kennedy just returned to weigh in on the Trump presidency in his inimitable Boston Brahmin accent:

“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason — or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem”

In another warming echo from the past, I was reminded of childhood days in Innsbruck and my dad explaining to me how the "Föhnwind” could bring sudden warm weather and red sand from the Sahara desert. Although without the sand, the same weather phenomenon has catapulted the temperature in Umeå from -21 on Friday to +6 degrees today! 

The South Coast

From Old Harry Rocks to Durdle Door, I have only begun to explore the south coast of the UK. Still, as the number of tasks on my to-do list becomes nearly unmanageable, it is to such places that I retreat in my mind.

I just finished reading a review of Paul Auster's “4321” which also seems to be about alternative lives and malleable geographies. From two years ago, I remember a vivid Skype conference call about ecomodernism and the Left, sitting in the middle of Frölunda Torg, one of those placeless malls that could truly be anywhere in late modern capitalism, thinking that we would soon all have much more serious problems. A few months later, Brexit happened and then the election of Donald Trump.

Sometimes, when I cannot sleep, I think of how insignificant all our worries about mortgages and future career paths will seem if the world does indeed break down for real. Then all this that was before will simply seem like a blissful bubble, a dream that one would do anything to return to.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

At last

Once past seven kilometres, I realized that the only way out was through. Despite that my heart rate again proved that I have more will power than actual physical strength, I continued all the way through to 10k. As the clock stopped at 49 minutes and 37 seconds, I felt immensely relieved that I do not have to put up with this madness any longer :-) Hopefully, my future gym sessions will be much more enjoyable and healthy.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Inland Empire

As everywhere else, the narcissism of small differences applies to North Sweden. While I often refer to Umeå as the “High North” here on Rawls & Me, people from, say, Tromsø, would find this label slightly entertaining. Even within North Sweden, I have found that those living in the interior considers the “coast” to be clearly lacking in terms of authenticity, perhaps not as bad as “Stockholm” but certainly not the real thing.

This afternoon, taking the kids for a train ride up the River Ume, I sort of see their point. After a morning of intense snowfall, it was like entering a different realm. The closest I can remember was when flying from London to Skellefteå in 2009 and being greeted by a herd of reindeers just outside the airport.

For military strategic reasons, the main railway through North Sweden was built far away from the coast when constructed during the late 19th century. Before the Bothnia Line was built about 120 years later, the tiny town of Vännäs was an almost legendary junction where people travelling to and from Umeå had to change trains. Today, its station, built in 1891, truly felt like frozen in time.

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Friday tacos

When moving back to Sweden four years ago, adapting to the strict cultural norms and habits of the majority culture was kind of a challenge. Without a TV, we were automatically disqualified for “fredagsmys” in front of “Mello”. The real source of alienation however was the fact that we did not seem to eat tacos on Friday nights. Over the years, we have tried our best to fit into the neighbourhood but it surely did not help that we once had tacos on a Tuesday.

Anyway, walking down the aisle at the supermarket yesterday, I stumbled on some “pulled oats” which seemed to offer a vegetarian path to, if not citizenship, so at least neighbourhood normalization. With some chipotle taco seasoning, I think the result was actually highly satisfactory.


Thursday, March 08, 2018

Climate survey

As many social scientists, I have developed a somewhat compulsive relationship to surveys. Knowing how hard my students struggle to get a decent response rate, I always try my best to fill them out. Yesterday, I received a survey from the municipality of Umeå which was kind of fun, first of all as it forced me to put into black and white how much I spend on travelling (spoiler alert: it is a lot!) but also because it gave me a chance to vent my frustration over how much in Umeå is built around cars. At least I was also able to express my appreciation for the excellent bus network. After all, I am somewhat of a power user during the winter months with four to six rides every day (as seen above). Another question in the survey had to do with what I could personally do to reduce my carbon footprint. I gave the obvious ecomodernist answer: promote nuclear power! Oh, the joy of small things...

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