Friday, November 11, 2016

In Lund, again

So, I am in Lund again, if only for a day. The streets of Kalmar were covered by a thin layer of snow and ice as I made my way to the train shortly before six. Down here in Skåne, it looks like autumn is still holding out with a few green leaves here and there. Trying to take an appropriately sun-drenched selfie at Clemenstorget, I of course bumped into my good friend Niklas who, most likely, thought that I was nuts (I sure look like it in the picture above).

Soon time to head up to Eden where I had my office for six years. It is of course impossible to not be overwhelmed by nostalgia. Every corner here has its flashbacks and rabbit holes. Perhaps better to think about the future. On the train, I did just that, putting together an abstract for a special issue on “Energy and the Future” organized by the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University. I will know in February next year if I get accepted. For those interested, the abstract is on the “High-Energy Planet” and reads as follows:

A key part of the ecomodern discourse of a “Good Anthropocene” is the vision of a “high-energy planet” characterized by universal access to modern energy. Recognizing the crucial historical role that rising energy consumption has played in driving social transformations, ecomodernists imagine a future with substantial global equality of opportunity in which clean and abundant energy allows not only for economic convergence but also for deep decarbonization. Whereas traditional environmental thinking has advocated land-intensive distributed forms of renewable energy, ecomodernists have argued that such technologies are fundamentally incapable of powering a world in which 7-10 billion people can live modern lives. As such, ecomodernists have developed a conflicted relationship to current mitigation efforts. On one hand, they fully recognize the seriousness of anthropogenic climate change. On the other hand, they are concerned that the scalability limitations of renewable energy technologies will lead to a suboptimal endpoint by which a few, and highly ecologically motivated, countries may succeed in decarbonizing their domestic electricity supply while the overall global share of fossil energy stays largely intact even as access to modern energy remains deeply unequal. To avoid such a future, ecomodernists have welcomed accelerating globalization as a way of making a high-energy planet politically inevitable; hoping that, as all of the world gets richer, its capacity and willingness to finance breakthrough technological innovation will also increase. However, growing global volatility and resurging protectionism, not the least in the United States, has meant that the future of a rapidly globalizing world is now in itself more uncertain. This could have a number of controversial implications for ecomodernist thinking and energy futures more generally. First, a delayed globalization of the world economy may in the short run take away some of the urgency of climate mitigation and make existing energy technologies seem more viable. Second, without comprehensive forms of modernization and urbanization, the global population will continue to increase while low or negative economic growth rates may make financing breakthrough innovation more difficult. Third, and finally, the longer a truly global supply-side technological revolution is delayed, overall political polarization is bound to increase as radical environmental voices will call for ever harsher demand-side reductions while technocratic elites may increasingly come to see solar radiation management as the only feasible way of preventing an irreversible destabilization of the climate system.

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