Wednesday, November 06, 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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