Thursday, December 25, 2008

Über Nacht ist es Winter

A silver-grey train is taking me through snow-clad forests, the long journey is almost over, I will be in Kalmar in less than one hour. After an Asian breakfast with Singapore Airlines over Poland, the saffron “lussekatt” in Malmö had a taste of surreal familiarity, I do not know what to make of it all, on the plane I watched Babylon A.D., a post-apocalyptic vista which again suggested that the future may not be bright space opera but rather Chechnya-styled mud, the disintegration of civilization.

In the past, Sweden used to be the perfect antidote to such fears with its solid welfare state, its high level of social trust and its international openness. Unfortunately, things are not like that any more. The elites have failed to do what was asked of them: instead of visionary boldness they have succumbed to their own ontological insecurity, instead of advancing the open society they have slipped into a kind of soft “Täby-fascism”, one that curtails civil liberties and seems ready to make every conceivable sacrifice for just a little more parmigiano cheese. The small but significant symbols are everywhere: instead of walking to school, kids are driven by fearful parents in SUVs, instead of emancipatory visions of the future, Bodstöm/Reinfeldt think that the future will be one of international terrorism, “illegal” immigrants and organized crime. Repressive laws such as Lex Orwell show exactly how far they have retreated from the collective progressive project.

Of course, the jury is still out on all this. But as my friend Gabriel so eloquently has argued, these times call upon us all to make a difference, to stand up for our dreams and show the enduring strength of idealism.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Singapore

“We sail tonight for Singapore
Don't fall asleep while you're ashore
Cross your heart and hope to die
When you hear the children cry.
Let marrow bone and cleaver choose
While making feet for children shoes
Through the alley
Back from Hell
When you hear that steeple bell
You must say goodbye to me”

A last evening with my flatmate and her friends, we made lamb roast with pumpkin and sweet potato mash. Then final packing, a long sleep and a quick breakfast at Fitzroy St before heading out to Tullamarine Airport listening to Tom Waits.

My Australian adventure has come to an end and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas or, to my Polish-speaking friends, Boze Narodzenie!

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Whiskey Beach

A weekend out on Wilson’s Promontory with hikes, oceanic waves to dive through and the piercing sun. The kind of lightness made possible only by its own impending end. In three days I will not grill čevapčići at the beach but rather descend into the frosty northern winter.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Emissions trading

In general, I tend to be optimistic about the prospects of emissions trading. If properly designed, a scheme for emissions trading should lead to an optimal allocation of mitigation funds which, if nothing else, may at least slow down the growth in carbon emissions, leaving us with more time to develop breakthrough technologies.

The pitfalls however are many. In Europe, in the first round of the European trading system (EU ETS), too many permits were handed out and the most polluting industries were exempted. In Australia, under the Rudd government’s new climate strategy initiative, any voluntary reductions (such as individuals putting up solar panels on their roofs) will allow polluting industries to increase emissions by a corresponding amount, thereby creating the perverse effect that every tonne of carbon dioxide saved by dedicated individuals simply frees up a tonne that can be used by the industry.

What is worse, talk of emission rights and abatement costs may in effect counter bright-green thinking since it consolidates the idea that climate change mitigation is a necessary cost while it should be looked upon as a transformative opportunity. This is the time in history when we should make good on the promise of modernity by gearing our societies towards radical innovation and investment. Furthermore, emissions trading may create the treacherous illusion that if we only meet the negotiated emission targets, dangerous climate change can be avoided, a belief that does not take into account the deep uncertainties involved (including potential tipping-points and lags).

Despite these risks, I believe that we definitely should give emissions trading a chance, requiring that our politicians set stringent targets and not yield to the collective action dilemma posed by industries crying that they are exposed to foreign competition (here we truly see the need for a global agreement).

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Omelettes and markets

Yesterday all the procrastination came to an end as I finished my article in one long afternoon rush at St Kilda Public Library. Afterwards I went to the gym with that bittersweet feeling of being done, at least for now. Will present the text in New York and then prepare it for submission in early March, primarily by cutting back on the fuming rhetoric and adding more scientific references (maybe by rephrasing my argument as one of uncertainty and fat-tails).

Celebrating with some Aussie brekky: chorizo omelette with rocket on toast. Maybe it is good for my cholesterol levels that I do leave in six days. At the table next to me, two backpacker guys talking in some mysterious language, it sounds like a mixture of Swiss-German and Dutch, very confusing.
On a different note I have been thinking about to what extent the present economic crisis can be explained by the long period of high-growth that preceded it. The argument would be that, as monetary policy has been so successful over the last decade, it has helped creating a feeling that markets only could go up. As central banks became better on anticipating downturns and quickly countering them with lower interest rates, investors felt safe to take on ever more debt. Combined with what seemed to be an endless Chinese appetite for US treasury bonds (the other side of the massive US trade deficit) the world economy could keep building up larger and larger imbalances. Perhaps it is in economics as in the Sequoia forests of California, better to have small fires now and then than having devastating crown-fires every fifty years?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Parmigiano-Reggiano

A late-morning macchiato as I try to bring structure to the growing article. Outside the summer is still unseasonably moody which at least is good for my concentration.

Though I sometimes find The Economist to be a bit too hard on Italy, I cannot wait until the next issue to hear them report on this: while the rest of the world is bailing out financial institutions and car manufactures, Silvio Berlusconi has decided to spend 50 million euro of government funds on 100 000 wheels of parmigiano! Apparently, the global recession has meant a sharp drop in demand for Italian luxury cheese. This is especially hilarious since, for me, Parmigiano-Reggiano has become somewhat of a symbol of the inner struggles of liberalism (armchair left-liberals like myself, eating that particular cheese and worrying about global trends).

Just as with car manufactures I cannot see why tax money should be used to pay for this (the bank-bailout is a different story altogether since the very credibility of the monetary system was at stake). As I have argued before, recessions lend themselves to economic transformation, we should use this opportunity to purposefully build a smarter and greener society. And once growth returns, I am confident that demand for parmigiano will surge once more.

For more on the stupidity of the car-rescue I have to recommend the weblog of my friend PSW. It is good to have found him in the blogosphere. I certainly miss our heated debates back at the department in Lund during my first year of graduate studies, as few others he combines a razor-sharp intellect with the most perverse political views :-)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Journey to Port Said

Before I left Sweden, my mother gave me a novel to read. She does that sometimes, maybe as an act of wordless communication, paradoxical as it may sound. Yet it took me until yesterday and the rain before I set aside the time to read it, the way I like to read novels, from cover to cover, taking in every page in one single comfy armchair.

Built around fictive letters, the novel reconnected me with the time frame of Gilgamesh, the late forties, this time in Africa, as reflected into the present. Again small communities, northern instead of southern Sweden, decades I never lived but still alive for me, images that the living has a duty to pass on, if only as a tacit protest against the late-modern loss of memory.

I think of that sometimes, how to make the youtube-generation care about the Spanish Civil War, the opening of Japan or the Weimar Republic? Not the events as such but the experience of human existence that they represent? Now, the book was not about this, just a rasmusian detour, but its real content is not easy to digest into a blog post (it goes without saying that it was a darn good book - unfortunately, no translation has been made).

Aptly, the last days have otherwise been about planning the future. I have put together a last-minute STINT-application for a semester at the Institute for the Future of Humanity (FHI) in Oxford, a request for Futura-funding for my hotel nights in NYC in February and given some thought to the coming spring semester in Gothenburg. It is all about choosing, in a superficial sense of course, but the more profound choices remain, as always, more elusive.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Chocolate by the bald man

After a day of confinement to the Ballieu library and an inspiring talk with Robyn, I took the tram down to La Trobe to try out the Australian version of the NYC-favourite Max Brenner. Fine hot chocolate in the rain while reading the last Monocle of the year, a bit uncertain on what grounds I am entitled to such luxuries, to savour the very last remnants of the long nineties.

Green politics remains a flashpoint. Yet, all my ranting about “Greens” may come down a bit contradictory given that I am myself a Green, at least in the narrow sense that I have voted for the Green Party in every election. But my agreement may be more pragmatic than philosophical in nature; I insist on the primacy of critical reflection and the Enlightenment tradition, I believe that the modern project still has a lot of mileage and that an emancipating vision of the future will look far more like Star Trek than some kind of quasi-romantic return to the local.

That being said, I think much of the confusion and heated reactions stem from the fact that the academic discourse on ecologism is something quite different from for instance the political platform of the Green Party in Sweden. For those lucky enough to have escaped the university world at an earlier stage, many of my “enemies” may look like straw men. But rest assure, they do exist, and a debate is necessary even as it is warranted to ask whose purposes such criticism ultimately serves?

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Green paradoxes

(back in Melbourne, working on my article, just have to throw out a provocative question)

Start reading any book in green political theory (not necessarily at page 56) and you will find criticism of science as being monolithic, dominating and colonizing. Instead of “big science”, authors such as Frank Fischer have argued for the participatory production of local knowledge, claiming that instead of traditional science we should embrace a plurality of truth claims, and that we especially should cherish indigenous pre-modern knowledge.

Now, think of how Greens everywhere ridiculed the arguments deployed by the Bush administration on climate change. Not only were they mocked for being based on “junk science”, the very act of deviating from the scientific consensus was seen as “an assault on reason” as Al Gore so fittingly called his book.

Maybe it is too much to ask for respect for the ontological underpinnings of Kansas creationism, but I guess I am not the only one seeing a paradox here? Perhaps it is as with participatory democracy, that Greens only like it when people (or in this case competing truth claims) agree with their own views?

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Bluelisted

After a laphroaig and some live music at the local bar, I find myself in yet another youth hostel, this time in Coromandel Town. The hostel is called the Lion’s Den and comes with a magnificent garden, Uruguayan backpackers watching Family Guy and an unfamiliar night sky telling me exactly how far I have travelled.

Despite all the stunning natural marvels, being on the road here in N.Z. is not the same as backpacking through the rich layers of history in the Balkans, Armenia or even Mexico. With the Maori culture nowhere to be seen, the country has this smell of newly built settlements, of colonial improvisation and recently acquired taste for exclusive Italian coffee.

Nothing wrong with any of that, it is just that as a tourist it makes you feel a bit like you are living a Lonely Planet guide from the inside. That being said, I have seen fantastic things today: orcas diving outside Kuaotunu, a beach heated by volcanic activity where I dug my own hot tub in the sand and majestic conifer forests.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Whitianga

With the car stereo playing Tom Waits’s “Foreign Affairs” I set off from Auckland heading east along the Hauraki Gulf, aiming for two days of exploration out on the Coromandel Peninsula.

Lonely Planet promised white-sand beaches, abandon gold mines and large tracts of untamed bush. Reading up at the youth hostel last night, especially the very north of the region attracted my attention.

And after a day on the road I must say that New Zealand has been everything I (and a few hundred thousand Germans) have dreamt of. South of Colville I found a pristine beach which I simply could not resist, with a water temperature well above 20 degrees I felt almost guilty given the season back in Sweden...

Otherwise, it is the first time since my solo-adventures along the Jersey Shore in January that I get to drive hundreds of kilometres on my own. Despite all the “active driving” on switchbacks, it leaves me in a rather reflective mood as the day comes to its end here at the Pacific Shore in Whitianga.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

En route to Auckland

This Wednesday afternoon, I am crossing the Tasman Sea aboard an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400, seat 28K as in an unexpected upgrade to Premium Economy, meaning more space, a leg rest and hopefully some tasty food to follow up on my pre-departure lounge excesses.

For those running a bit worried I am happy to report that my girlfriend was on that first SK flight to leave the former military airfield of U-Tapao on Sunday night, and is now safely back in Gothenburg with all the boomerangs and dried kangaroo meat. And the countdown from my last post continues, today it is precisely three weeks until I will depart for Sweden myself. The time down here has gone so quickly and, when I get back to Melbourne on Sunday, the remaining days will be all academic work, maybe with the sole exception of some sunset drives along St Kilda Beach as my flatmate has traded her Holden for a SAAB 93 Convertible, yellow.

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