Saturday, March 29, 2014

Subarctic

It is funny how we humans are when we sleep. How the doors between the past and the present are opened, how smiles can come back and hit you when your guard is lowered.

Waking up to a cloudy day in Korea, Eddie wanted to watch some Pippi Longstocking in bed while eating one of those organic fruit pouches from California that we promised ourselves to quit with a million times.

I turn a page and try to make sense of what the post-Korea future will be like. Similary to when I moved to Örebro many years ago, it feels like an individual choice, something that opens up for its own aesthetic and transcendental paradoxes. Always at the border. That is there it is all created and lived. My three years in Asia have made me deeply suspicious of ideas about primordial balances, extinguished desires or even harmony as understood from a Confucian point of view. Instead I seek existential friction, friable beauty and an absolute presence that demands the highest yet has love to heal the lowest. Much as I imagine God holding the world.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Back

I am back struggling with words, trying to put together a short 1,500 word “policy fora”-article on scalability and climate change mitigation options. In theory, it should be simple. In reality, it never is and I guess that is part of the beauty of this profession, that everything must always be carved out with some measure of frustration and sense of one’s own intellectual worthlessness.

Otherwise, I am good. It has been an unusual winter break, equal part hard work and equal part paradise vacation. My first lecture this semester will be on Thursday, directly after our night flight from Bangkok. But with DNA Coffee, anything is possible I guess :-)

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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Klimatnationalism

Trots decennier av politiska ansträngningar och ett alltmer uppskruvat tonläge fortsätter världens utsläpp av växthusgaser att öka. Den främsta drivkraften är den snabba utbyggnad av kolkraft som sker i Kina och andra utvecklingsländer. Totalt planeras eller byggs just nu 1200 nya kolkraftverk i världen. Även om Kina hör till de länder som satsar mest på förnybar energi fortsatte man 2013 att bygga sex gånger så mycket kol som vindkraft och 27 gånger mer kol än solenergi. Anledningen är enkel, kol erbjuder massiva mängder energi till en låg kostnad. De nya kraftverk som byggs har relativt avancerad reningsteknik vilket minskar deras lokala miljöpåverkan även om utsläppen av koldioxid förblir intakta.

Inget i denna utveckling är okänt för svenska eller europeiska beslutsfattare. Samtidigt är det få som gör kopplingen mellan dessa alarmerande globala trender och den egna politiken. I ett utfall av vad som bäst skulle kunna beskrivas som ”klimatnationalism” handlar nästan all debatt istället om hur det egna landets utsläpp ska kunna minskas med hjälp av befintlig teknologi. Inte minst miljörörelsen har spelat en stor roll i att sprida föreställningen att allt som krävs för att rädda klimatet är ökade subventioner för förnybar småskalig energi i kombination med energieffektivisering och olika former av ”livsstilsförändringar”. Problemet är att de flesta vid närmare eftertanke inser att exempelvis energiskog aldrig skulle kunna skalas upp till en global nivå, åtminstone inte utan förödande konsekvenser för biodiversitet och vattentillgång. Detsamma gäller både vind- och vattenkraft vilka är beroende av lokala geografiska förutsättningar och vars kapacitet aldrig kan räcka i en värld där sju miljarder människor vill leva ett modernt liv. Istället för mer av samma behövs därför ett radikalt omtänk i energi- och klimatpolitiken. Först och främst handlar det om att flytta resurser från subventioner av befintlig teknologi till grundforskning, inte minst inom kärnenergiområdet. EU-kommissionens senaste förslag om att trappa ner på omställningen till förnybar energi är således högst välkommet. Tvärtemot vad Stefan Löfven och Åsa Romson nyligen argumenterade på DN Debatt är en sådan minskning rentutav en förutsättning för att Europa ska kunna ge ett verkligt bidrag till en global klimatomställning. Paradoxalt nog är det nämligen så att ju bättre omställningen till icke-skalbar förnybar energi lyckas i Europa, desto mindre aptit kommer Europas länder ha för kostsam grundforskning. Annorlunda uttryckt, ju mer man sopar framför den egna dörren, desto stoltare kommer man att bli och desto mer oförstående kommer man att bli inför varför utvecklingsländerna inte förmår följa samma väg.

I grund och botten handlar allt om att ta fram ny teknologi som kan ge världen stora mängder billig energi utan att producera växthusgaser. Endast genom sådan teknologi kan befintlig koldioxidintensiv infrastruktur pensioneras i förtid och en omställning komma till stånd även i de länder som inte tar klimathotet på allvar. Samtidigt, i takt med att Arktis smälter, brådskar det mer än någonsin i klimatfrågan. Just därför är det extra viktigt att vi äntligen gör upp med klimatnationalismen. Sverige står för mindre än en procent av de globala utsläppen av växthusgaser och hur mycket vi än minskar dessa så kan vi göra verklig skillnad först om vi fokuserar på att ta fram den typ av teknologi som skulle göra det möjligt för resten av världen att snabbt minska även sina utsläpp.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Polar night

I guessed it was just a matter of time but today I finally found myself on the same flight as Sweden’s jet-setting foreign minister Carl Bildt (seated at the first row of course, but not boarding last as one would have expected).

Otherwise, 2014 has come to a good start after two very relaxing weeks on the Arabian Peninsula. Yesterday I conducted that long-dreaded interview for “Dokument Inifrån” and, even if I felt a bit robot-like sitting there in the bright spotlight, I think it will be a very interesting programme. Yesterday, I also had the chance to take the train back to Örebro for a couple of Staropramen and good talks about times past. It is somewhat incomprehensible to think that ten years will soon have passed.

As soon as the aircraft begins its descent into Kiruna, the sun will set and this very short Saturday will turn into dark polar night. The forecast suggests that some aurora borealis might be visible and I have the camera ready in my jeans pocket just in case. With the exception of a short Skåne-trip planned for the middle of the month, we intend to stay in the High North until 31 January when the winter clothes go back into the wardrobe and it is time to head out on the road again with Sri Lanka as our first stop. And for those wondering, we will indeed all come back to Seoul but first in the wee hours of 27 February - just in time for my annual introductory lecture for the incoming UPEACE students.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Dhofar Governorate

After an intensive autumn semester finale continents apart, we are finally all together in southern Oman for some winter sun and time away. Coming in late at night from Dubai, one could immediately tell the difference from the mass tourism infrastructure of the UAE and the touch of “Tintin-style” remoteness that still marks the Sultanate.

In early January we will be back in Sweden where the TV-series “Dokument inifrån” will make a programme about the loss of the future in politics. Although I am very happy that they asked me to contribute, I still feel quite nervous about it as it is the first time that I will appear on national TV.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Elysium

The movie Elysium turned out to have it all: corrupt politicians, blatant inequalities, lethal doses of radiation and a new artificial world in high orbit where the rich play in their infinity pools while the poor are trapped down on an ecologically ravaged planet mired in violence, poverty and – you guessed it – rampant overpopulation.

Watching the movie on my flight down to New Zeeland for the sustainability panel at NZPSA, I think it is fair to say that Elysium speaks tons about the prevailing Zeitgeist. This is simply what many people on the Left think the future will be like. There is of course a certain irony in that the very reluctance of those same people to think creatively about the future could be part of what eventually creates a world like the one portrayed in Elysium. Yet, the Left instinctively rejects all notions of ethical and political responsibility. In their neo-Gramscian understanding of the universe, everything is determined by malign neoliberal elites anyway and the only thing they can do is to “resist” this hegemony by writing another book on energy descents, “resilience” or how we should all “hunker down” to survive the coming storm. Sigh.

Recently, I have become increasingly concerned about the prospect of such self-fulfilling Green-Left prophecies, add a wind mill or two. Unlike those on the Right who put infinite trust in the self-regulating abilities of markets, I think that the future is very much open to human agency in both good and not so good ways. Avoiding Dystopia will not be easy by any measure. A first step, still highly heretic for many on the Left, would be to recognize a more affluent and better educated world population as a resource and not primarily as a problem. A second, and probably yet more difficult step, would be to take active responsibility for the world and stop believing in different conspiracy theories. The reason that proposals for intentional localization, restricted mobility and degrowth have not caught on is not because of the Bilderberg group but simply because such self-defeating proposal do not resonate with people. As Bruno Latour writes:

”In addition to this lack of fit between the implied threats and the proposed solutions, there is something deeply troubling in many ecological demands suddenly to restrict ourselves and to try to leave no more footprints on a planet we have nevertheless already modified through and through. It appears totally implausible to ask the heirs of the emancipatory tradition to convert suddenly to an attitude of abstinence, caution, and asceticism – especially when billions of other people still aspire to a minimum of decent existence and comfort.”

This leads to the third and final step, namely to engage with creating new ideas for how to take the best of the 20th century – welfare capitalism, liberal democracy and ever greater measures of emancipation – and use these building blocks to bring about a future-oriented planetary civilization that more fully realizes the potential of each individual rather than confines us all to a stagnating prison of limitations. Instead of pitying the poor and moralizing about the rich (while paradoxically often engaging in the same kind of ecologically destructive behaviour!), the Left needs to move away from identity politics and reconnect with the Enlightenment programme of liberal tolerance, scientific curiosity and – most importantly – the belief in enduring social progress.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bread

One of the things that I have been missing the most since moving to North-East Asia has been bread, in particular unsweetened bread free of red beans, nuts or sugar coating. But as through an act of divine intervention, my colleague Andy passed on the happy news this morning. A new bakery called "5 loaves" has opened in the alley behind “Brother’s Coffee”. Apparently owned by the same people who run the great Italian bistro Cibo, the new bakery opened its doors a short time ago and offers both real sourdough bread and sandwiches that look strangely European. A quick sampling turned out highly satisfactory so it seems that they just earned a loyal customer.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Passing through Beijing

Landing at Beijing Capital International Airport always fills me with conflicting emotions, on one hand, romantic memories from 2011 when Anna and I set out on our grand Asian tour that would take us everywhere from Phnom Penh to Bali but also, on the other hand, dark glimpses of contemporary authoritarianism and power abuse below thick layers of smog. Today the terminal is unusually cold, luckily I took my warm Emilio winter jacket with me to Sweden so I am okay.

Soon time to board my Asiana flight to Seoul. A couple of hours in the air and I will be back home with quite a backlog of work and, most likely, a brutal time zone reset as Eddie will take me to the playground early tomorrow morning :-) But already in three weeks, I am off again, this time to Christchurch for the NZPSA conference. 

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Polar route

Some hours ago I had sushi in the Tokyo lounge, now there is white Arctic expanse below me in every direction. Despite my frequent travels between Europe and Asia, this is the first time that I take a flight that takes me directly over the North Pole. Tomorrow I will be in Umeå, then in Stockholm on Friday to talk about climate politics and watch Pandora's Promise with some people from the nuclear industry. After that, I will head straight back home to Seoul to teach next week’s classes. In short, a little more Tyler in the life of Rasmus.

This far, the autumn has been one of the most productive on record. I have submitted no less than three manuscripts for review, one of which I have co-authored with my friend Jon at Macquarie University in Sydney. I have also submitted my book review to Environmental Values which, I am happy to report, has already been published online as a pre-copy edited version. I have done all this while teaching three classes. One may rightfully ask, what is the secret behind this? In my view it is fairly simple, it all comes down to the decentralized academic environment at HUFS and the trust it puts in each professor. Instead of endless audits, research assessment exercises and the writing of research grant applications, I have been fortunate enough to have the time to do what university professors are supposed to do, teach and write. Since joining the faculty in the fall of 2011, I think I have spent less than two hours in meetings. Of course, by virtue of its decentralization, the system is very vulnerable. Unlike in Sweden where a university course is typically taught by two or three teachers working together, I am solely responsible for an entire track in our MA programme. This means that if I would for instance get sick, the students in my track would have serious problems (luckily, I am not sick).

As for the programme as such, the future continues to look bright. This weekend I interviewed a group of highly qualified prospective students. With one more round of admissions later in the fall, I think it will be a very good spring semester in 2014.

One of the students that I interviewed had previously been working in the shipping industry, both in Germany and in Singapore. They are all part of a new generation of Koreans who I think will contribute much to this world, in particular if they can come to terms with the long shadow of history that has darkened Asia in recent years. Yet, every day the newspapers are full of the same tired proxy conflicts with military exercises on Dokdo/ Takeshima instead of looking inwards and challenging the hyper-masculinities of contemporary Korean society. Even back home in Europe there is talk about “turning up the heat” in the Arctic as the ice somewhat ironically keeps melting.

To me, all these challenges are intertwined as they call on us to make good on the promise of the Enlightenment rather than succumbing to the simple answers provided by everyone from romantic socialists seeking intentional localization to militarist reactionaries with cold hearts. The world is becoming global and it is our responsibility to put an increasingly planetary civilization on a sustainable trajectory. The future expects nothing less from us.

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Busan

This weekend, we have taken the KTX high-speed train down to Korea’s second city Busan. Located at the Pacific, it is a city of 3.5 million people with its iconic Haeundae beach and a newly opened Park Hyatt where we are staying thanks to a cheap “opening special” rate.

Coming down here reminded me how much I appreciate seeing the horizon, to breathe the salt in the seaside air at night and to be away from work if only for a weekend.