Saturday, May 16, 2015

Aragón

As the snow returns outside my train window, I read in the news that southern Spain is currently suffering from a heat wave with temperatures up to 44 degrees. It reminds me that even if Europe may be our playground, it is definitely a big one.

The other day I had a glass of red wine from the hills of Aragon. Sold as a “premium wine” by SAS, it had an airplane-like ability to blur space and time, something much needed as I try to keep together my current existence of Umeå-Kiruna train commutes, flocks of students all asking for immediate feedback and a house to pack down into boxes. Fortunately, we got a new apartment lined up from 1 August so in the end I am sure all will be good but it has been frustrating to discover that our post-Asia home turned out to be just as transient as everything else.

In little more than a month from now I will be in California for the annual Breakthrough Dialogue at Cavallo Point. The theme this year is “The Good Anthropocene” and, as the ecomodernist movement is both maturing and growing, I think this year’s dialogue will push the envelope of our collective imagination further yet. Dark as the political landscape may seem right now, not the least after the recent Tory victory in the UK, I cannot help being an optimist when it comes to the bigger trends. There may be many speedbumps yet, be it ISIS or another incarnation of Bush, but there are also so many people out there who aspire for the highest and who seek a world of emancipation and inclusive freedom rather than one of borders, limits and prejudices.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Gewitter

As the taxi pulled out from the Oberoi, a flash lit up the sky and the rain started pouring down. It reminded me of so many heat thunderstorms in Beijing, how the heavens just could not hold it any longer. I felt much the same after my three days in India.

In the end I got a little less than three hours of sleep and now I am about to board my flight to Istanbul any minute. When I finally got online last night I learned a lot of good news. My good friend has just secured a job abroad and will thus be able to do a grand retour in the fall. I hope to be able to swing by Warsaw to see him. Meanwhile Asian Politics & Policy has published the media review that my former student Hee-Yoon and I have been writing on Korea and climate change discourses. To those with institutional access to the journal it should be available here (otherwise, if you are interested, just drop me an e-mail and I am happy to send it):

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/aspp.12176/abstract

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Delhi

It has been almost five years since my last visit to India. Coming back to Delhi and the scorching heat, I spent my first day walking for hours to end along its many tree-lined avenues. Much like the Ville Nouvelle of Marrakech, the colonial part of Delhi (also known as New Delhi) is just overwhelming in its scale and imposing architecture.

Today, I have been busy with the Global Climate Policy Conference at the India Habitat Centre, including presenting my own co-authored paper “Energy research within the UNFCCC: A proposal to guard against ongoing climate-deadlock”. It was a good panel and it reinforced my belief that ecomodernism has a lot of traction, especially once you move outside the traditional environmental political theory universe.

Tomorrow, there will everything from technology clubs to loss and damages. Then a short night at the airport before returning to North Sweden and the snow.

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Monday, April 06, 2015

Silver Ridge

A small bottle of cheap Californian chardonnay for $7.99 as night falls aboard United 928. At 33 000 feet we are riding the smooth but firm jet stream towards the black Atlantic. Just before we departed O’Hare, a British Airways 747 also took off for London Heathrow. That plane is probably only a couple of minutes ahead of us on the same great circle track.

Back at O’Hare the gate agent felt sorry for my 186 centimetres and upgraded me to Economy Plus, meaning that I should probably try to sleep a bit rather than writing another aviation-nerdy blog post. However, I guess it will take a while though until I have time to write here again. The work backlog is almost astronomical but I am sure all will be fine in the end. A moment ago, channel 9 informed me that we are now in the safe hands of Nav Canada. So, “United 928 heavy, good night”.

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Sunday, April 05, 2015

#WPSA15

A couple of hours left until we get into Chicago O’Hare. After a quick connection at ORD I will be on a red-eye 767-300ER to London and the new Queen’s Terminal. By all standards, WPSA 2015 was a great conference. I learned a lot about a range of topics and got a sense of what people are working on. Despite my best intentions, my own presentation was probably unnecessarily polemic. Yet, it remains notoriously difficult for me to talk about these issue without getting emotional. In one sense, I guess that is good too, it would be worse if I did not care about the future of this planet and its people.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

...kurz vor Schöneberg in den Abgrund fährt

Berlin always overwhelms me, even if thousands of kilometres away. The innocence of his question: “have you ever been to Berlin”?

Layers upon layers that defy every easy answer and maybe also hope of redemption. Outside my train window the platform signs state “Bastuträsk” and it is not even ironic. Tomorrow morning I will be standing in front of a new class down in Umeå and whatever I tried to answer will be forgotten. But, yes, I have been there and it means a lot to me. Or used to. Almost everything that has happened in my adult life has a Berlin connection, especially those things that left an impact. Moments of painful clarity, dreamy romance and first encounters. Trips that never were and those that most definitely were.

Just got an e-mail informing me that I have been selected to attend a conference in New Delhi next month with all expenses paid. Before that I will be in the US for WPSA. And somewhere in between I need to write up a second grant application to the Swedish Research Council. It is all spinning faster and faster. Maybe that is why his question hit me so hard.

Oh, well, back to work

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Building bridges

I wilfully admit that most of my recent articles have been advocacy pieces in one way or the other, all unified by a desire to "accelerate the transition to a future where all the world's inhabitants can enjoy secure, free, prosperous, and fulfilling lives on an ecologically vibrant planet” (as the Breakthrough Institute so eloquently puts it in its vision statement). Important as this agenda clearly is, I have felt a growing need to also offer a deeper and more reflective statement of what my work means for green political theory. Published in Environmental Politics with Jonathan Symons as the lead author, our new article “Green Political Theory in a Climate Changed World: Between Innovation and Restraint” is an attempt to do just that and, as such, it is also an attempt to build bridges by eschewing some of our usual political activism.

Yet, reading the article again, I feel that it projects a tragic vision of the future which I am not entirely comfortable with. At the same time, there is no point in denying that the hour is late, that great values are being lost and that the political impasse preventing effective action on climate change is likely to last for many decades hence. One of our key conclusions is that debates over the desirability of economic growth or the role of breakthrough technologies in mitigation policy are unlikely to ever be bridged by rational analysis as participants in those debates hold diametrically opposing “logics of practice” (or habitus). If that is indeed true, then much of what I have done over the last ten years, i.e. trying to persuade environmentalists about the need for global welfare capitalism, may have been a lost cause (as some recent debates on Facebook indeed suggest). Yet, a more optimistic interpretation would be that people in the “middle” may still be influenced by good arguments and more fully recognize the terrible social, economic and political costs that any “decent” from modernity would impose. If that is enough to make them commit to an opposing “ascent” strategy by which technological change, social investments and political integration are allowed to set in motion virtuous circles of global peace and prosperity remains more doubtful though. So far, the evidence does not suggest it. Instead political ambivalence, private hedonism or even outright racism remain more plausible reactions.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Interstellar

At last, I got around to see the movie that my sustainable development students have been talking about ever since it came out last year in October, Interstellar. And as one of them said, it was a movie I just had to watch. The physics may be a bit unrealistic but I think it is wrong, as some reviewers have, to criticize the plot for inconsistencies. Judged by the standards of its own universe, it was a wonderful tale of parental love, personal death and our long-term future as a species.

Watching it en route to Doha after two weeks of island hopping in South-East Asia just made the picture perfect. The fragile vanishing beauty of this planet, the great hope that is embodied in our scientific and technology capacity (as expressed not the least by this Boeing 777-300ER cruising high above the clouds) and the imperfect political institutions that keep holding humanity back.

Beneath all that, there is of course also the personal side as in our very real mortality and how we are forced to navigate the resulting irreversible space of love, rejection and authenticity. Just as we are faced with absolute existential freedom, so are others, and their choices can sometimes be even more determinative than our own. In the movie, "Murph" as a ten year old does not want her father to leave. The rest of her life is played out in the shadow of his decision to abandon her on Earth. While they are ultimately united just before she dies of old age, she still allows her frustration to shape her entire life in a way that reminds me that outside the movies, love and mauvaise foi may not be that easy to tell apart. 

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Up and away

Only a couple of days left in Europe. If only for vacation, it feels like leaving a sick relative behind. Paris, the Ukraine and now Copenhagen. Do not know what frightens me the most, the heinous acts or our collective lack of imagination in countering them.

Some part of me just wants to make the escape permanent or as Italo Calvino once put it: “The ideal place for me is the one in which it is most natural to live as a foreigner”. But teaching this winter reminded me that there is no escape; that we need to see this through. However, first some island dreaming.

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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Make haste slowly

When you are in a rush somewhere, first make sure that you are running off in the right direction. That is a thought worth thinking when it comes to climate policy. Over the last years, I have become increasingly concerned that the world is essentially running in the opposite direction of where we should be going if we want to prevent dangerous climate change. Unfortunately, data supporting my view is mounting. The share of thermal coal in the world’s energy mix is the highest since the 1970’s. Shale gas and oil are flooding the market leading to historically low prices for fossil fuels. And the renewable construction spree underway in countries such as Sweden is wasting billions of euros on an effort that ultimately seems to do very little to slow the global growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

Instead of all this we should focus much, much more on basic energy research, the further away from actual deployment, the better. In fact, the challenge to craft an effective global response to climate change may be so big that we should perhaps put our money even further “upstream” in everything from early childhood education to scientific literacy as that would raise the overall economic growth rate and make vast, and fundamentally uncertain, investments in energy R&D politically possible. Somewhat paradoxically, given the very urgency of climate change, it is particularly important that we do not continue further down our current cul-de-sac in terms of policy.

The key to successful mitigation is surprisingly simple: make clean energy significantly cheaper than any fossil alternative and a shift will happen, both in countries that currently lack the political motivation to act on climate change (think Australia) and in those countries that cannot afford expensive small-scale renewable energy. The latter is particularly important considering that 3.5 billion people still lack access to modern energy. As more people will (rightfully!) demand everything from refrigerators to washing machines, there is an obvious risk that that demand will otherwise be met by fossil fuels such as coal.

For more on these and other unorthodox ideas, I am very happy to direct you to my new co-authored article “Making climate leadership meaningful: energy research as a key to global decarbonisation” which just has been published (as “early view”) in the journal Global Policy.