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.


Thursday, March 12, 2015


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, March 10, 2015

Six Senses Samui

It was the last day before it was time to head back home. The flu that had made the first week miserable had long vanished and, brushing aside the looming sense of departure, the wooden deck smelled of nothing but eternal summers. High on a cliff above the Gulf of Thailand, it was the kind of place that paid its staff well and where everyone seemed genuinely happy about their jobs, all to an extent that even the colonial shadows dwindled out of one’s consciousness.

It still takes a lot to think that everything is for the best. Maybe it was the pair of black and white sneakers that had been left over at the pool. For some strange reason, they were of the exact same adidas model as the ones that she had worn in the asylum in Guatemala. Next to them was a short hand-written note in Spanish.

We play with worlds and roles next to ravines; be it the journalist, the nurse or the oh-so-important professor who is about the save the planet. Afterwards it will just be idiosyncrasies, dead ends and a few strange symmetries (of which the tuk tuk undoubtedly takes the price) in case someone tries to unwind it all.