Sunday, April 30, 2017


Apparently April ended the same way it began, with heavy snow embedding the world and insulating all sounds. Not fearing the High North, I decided to take the kids on a walk to check out their new preschool "Bergatrollet". Once we got there the snowstorm calmed a bit and I could hear a 777-300ER from Qatar Airways pass high above on its way to the Americas ("Plane Finder" is the only app I ever bought to my phone and one that is highly conducive to dreaming).

Now time to head back into the kitchen as my friend Max is coming for lunch!

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Saturday, April 29, 2017


Sometimes a book has been around for decades and when you finally pick it up you realize how much it speaks to you. This happened to me the other day when I started reading a collection of aphorisms and fragmented essays by Horace Engdahl.

Litteraturens utgångspunkt måste vara som barägarens, att vi skall akta oss för att förbättra människosläktet.


Problemet med elitism är att man bara får med sig de näst bästa. De bästa identifierar sig med allmänheten och ser sig själva som vanliga.


Så snart något måste sägas så är samtal omöjligt. Ett samtal i verklig mening förutsätter att varje replik lika gärna hade kunde ha förblivit outtalad. Till konverserandets stora behag hör upplevelsen att låta bli att säga vad man hade på tungan.

(and before someone starts worrying about my alcohol consumption, the wine is just props to make me life seem more sophisticated than it is)


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Make the Anthropocene Great Again

The fact that we were all celebrating last Sunday when Marine Le Pen only came second in the first round of the French presidential election shows how deep the water has become. Everywhere, nativist and isolationist thinking seems to be on the rise. In Sweden, the xenophobic “Sweden Democrats” is now the second largest party.

In one reading, all this is a reflection not of the failures but the successes of the original Enlightenment vision. Difficult as it may be to distinguish signal from noise, it is still undeniable that the ground has shifted, that the Reaction is so strong precisely because how far we have come on our “civilizational voyage” to speak with Toynbee. Today, more people than ever demand to be treated as our moral equals and not be discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity, sexuality or gender. As shown time and again by Our World in Data and other similar initatives, life for most people on this planet is better, longer and richer than it has ever been.

Still, the loud outer voices of the Reaction, amplified by a gnawing inner post-modern uncertainty of all certainties, have deprived liberals of what was most precious to them, namely the future. While they may still believe in a bright individual future – one in which the kids grow up, the house gets renovated or they finally get to hike up to Machu Picchu – few seem to think that the “Anthropocene” will end well.

In sharp contrast, ecomodernism is offering hope that it will, that the Anthropocene cannot only be made “good” but even “great”. Yet, for many reasons, ecomodernism has struggled to resonate with contemporary cultural logics. Instead of accepting the hypocrisy that lies at the heart of the modern condition, ecomodernism calls for a new era of responsibility, one in which we learn to “love our monsters”. No monster is more emblematic of modernity than nuclear and it is thus not surprising that we find nuclear technologies at the very heart of the ecomodern project. Unlike any other technology, nuclear has the potential of finally liberating nature from the human dominion. Yet, its safe use requires wisdom and intellectual integrity.

Obviously, we humans prefer to avoid such responsibility or any direct confrontation with our demons. For many people in the OECD, ecomodernism is an answer to a problem that they do not think they have. By most standards, a country like Sweden is already fairly “sustainable”. The problem only arises once we realize that other people, more than 7.5 billion to be exact, also want the things that we take for granted. Only then do we recognize the futility of piecemeal ecological modernization or lifestyle environmentalism. The question however remains, is realizing that futility enough to turn ecomodernism into a defining social and political movement of the 21st century?

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

California omelette

Ever since those long mornings at Red Hot & Blues in Prague nearly two decades ago, I have nurtured a certain fondness for California omelettes. These days I rarely find the time to make them but with the kids constructing ever higher Duplo houses in the living room, I thought I should rescue some of the many eggs that Anna’s dad bought for Easter.

As for the book, I discovered Sophia Al-Maria when I was in Qatar last year. Reading her book made me smile, “the borders of the Empty Quarter, an infamous desert where the night sky was laden heaviest with the Milky Way”. That, and the green valleys of the Pacific Northwest.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Andean imaginings

Somehow, the latest issue of the Coop magazine managed to perfectly capture my own ambivalence towards food these days. Lots of experimental green burgers and vegan brunches but also a decadently roasted chicken with lemon zest and garlic which very much reminded me of visiting Björn in Somerville. The horror of realizing that, at the end of the day, my ethical ambitions only seem sufficient to make me a pathetic “flexitarian” (for a more generous take on semi-vegetarianism, check out this new piece from the Breakthrough Institute).

After some deliberation I went for an Australian avocado bowl with quinoa and sweet potatoes served with halloumi. Boiling the quinoa made me think of when I plotted my summer flights, that once again I seem to return to the same places rather than seeking out the unknown. Although both California and the Pearl River Delta hold very special places in my heart, I cannot but wish that one of those flights were to Peru, Sub-Saharan Africa or, just, next-door Russia.

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Der Vielflieger

There used to be a time when I was constantly up in the air, living in one country and working in another. During those days, I was also very active in the frequent flyer community, moderating different online fora. Since then, my life has become increasingly grounded. In two months’ time however, I will get a throwback to my most insane George Clooney-like days as I will fly to Hong Kong for the Pacific meeting of the International Studies Association and then, directly after, to San Francisco for this year’s edition of the Breakthrough Dialogue. Plotting the flights in Great Circle Mapper tells me that it will be close to 25k miles in less than two weeks.


Friday, April 21, 2017


As an academic author, one thing one does a lot is waiting. Sometimes I have found myself waiting six or even twelve months for reviewer comments after submitting a paper. When I finally get them, I tend to put everything else aside and quickly resubmit to the journal.

This time around, I have not been able to do that due to a rather insane teaching load. Every time I have returned to the manuscript I have been interrupted by something new calling for my immediate attention. Fortunately, I have been able to keep a few days next week clear of other duties so hopefully I will be able to finally get some work done then.

Outside, there is still snow but one can really tell that spring is underway. Last night, when I was marking exams in the sofa, I was surprised to see that it is already bright until 9 p.m. Very soon, there will not be any night left.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

City running

After casually discussing the end of the world in my previous post (yes, one gets desensitized from working on global catastrophic risks for too long), it would be nice to end the Easter break on a somewhat brighter note.

Before I had kids, one thing I really liked to do was to go running in new cities. The list of past favourite runs includes Boston and Helsinki but also Kiruna. Today at Åhléns I made a super bargain when I was able to buy Vagabond’s collection of global city runs at a 75% discount. Obviously, this may turn out to be less of a bargain when one considers the money I may spend on actually travelling to those places. Both Rio and Cape Town are already on my bucket list (probably for good reasons, the book sadly has no Beirut run, even as it is perhaps the city I am most eager to visit right now!).



Soon three years have passed since I left Korea. Every time there has been a new crisis, my thoughts have wandered back to that strange space of feeling completely blasé and dead frightened at the same time. Some time at night with my window towards the north, I could wake up and hear loud bangs, thinking that the war had finally turned real. Then, the next morning, I would take the elevator down and buy a bottle of Martinelli's sparkling apple juice and a freshly baked bagel, reassured that it was really just another bad dream.

Yet, unlike under Obama, American self-control and sense of responsibility can no longer be taken for granted. In a weird way, that may be a good thing as it may finally bring peace to the Korean Peninsula. The obvious problem is that it may just as well bring an apocalyptic end to a conflict that has been brewing for more than sixty years. Whereas the US could attack Syrian forces with relative impunity, any tactical strike on North Korea would most likely lead to a devastating counter-attack on Japan and South Korea. With thousands of artillery pieces hidden in the mountains just north of Seoul, the casualties could soon be in the hundred thousands.

When North Korea shot down an American spy plane over international waters in 1969, Nixon of all people decided not to retaliate precisely for this reason. Instead Nixon, like Obama, chose the middle road of “strategic patience”. In my view, that road is still open even as it will mean prolonged suffering for the hundred thousands of North Koreans imprisoned in labour camps and an ever growing stockpile of nuclear weapons. Were it not for the risk of miscalculations, simply adding more North Korean nuclear weapons, or even ICBMs capable of reaching the continental United States, will not fundamentally change the stalemate. Over the years, North Korea has proven to be a highly rational actor and knows very well that actually using any of those weapons would mean a certain end to its regime.

However, mistakes do happen, and for that reason, I see two fundamentally different options going forward, one immensely more preferable than the other. The first one would be for Trump to directly engage in bilateral negotiations with North Korea with the clear aim of bringing about a permanent peace treaty and a formal end to the Korean War. Instead of making denuclearization a precondition for such negotiations, the United States would simply accept North Korea as a nuclear power for now and hope that, over time, political normalization and peace on the Korean Peninsula will bring about regime change in the North. The second option would be a massive preemptive nuclear strike, both on Pyongyang and a range of military assets around the country. Such a strike would decapitate the North Korean military command structure and end the Kim dynasty in one single blow.

Understanding that these represent the two maximum options, it is not surprising that every president from Eisenhower to Obama have tried to avoid further destabilization of the peninsula. Whereas a non-nuclear preemptive strike would merely infuriate the North Korean leadership and probably quickly escalate into a total war, a first nuclear strike of course comes with extreme risks of its own, in particular the risk that China would turn their nuclear arsenal on the United States (my guess is that they would not). Moreover, both domestically and globally, public opinion would most likely turn extremely hostile against the United States following such an attack. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Coregonus lavaretus

A surprise gift from a neighbour who had too much luck with his fishing turned into a very tasty Good Friday lunch.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Nuclear cultures

On Sunday night I got a chance to fly one of SAS's brand new A320neo, LN-RGL "Sol Viking, complete with mood lighting and everything. Cruising up along the Gulf of Bothnia, I made quite a bit on progress on my latest paper which compares deindustrialization and nuclear in terms of their historic mitigation potential (spoiler alert: unlike renewables, they are both really effective at reducing emissions). As for nuclear, I was given "The Nuclear Culture Source Book" as well as a wonderful letter from the museum after my talk so apparently I was not alone in finding it fruitful.

This morning, with a yellow alert for snowfall in effect, Hamburg truly feels like a world away. The Easter bunny just brought me a gigantic egg with 120 public administration exams to mark over the coming days so bear with me.

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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Nord Coast

For all its isolation, continental Europe is still only a couple of hours away from Umeå. This weekend I decided to take advantage of precisely that as I flew down to Hamburg to see my Austrian friend Markus. Last time we met was in Copenhagen when Eddie had just turned one. Since then, Markus has had a son of his own so I am very happy we could get the logistics to work.

Strolling along the sun-drenched quays towards the Elbphilharmonie I came to think of Baltimore, of how aesthetically similar these spaces have become. Perhaps even more so last night in Sternschanze which really could have been anywhere from Williamsburg to Prenzlauer Berg. Nonetheless, Germany never fails to overwhelm me. Simply shifting languages takes me back ten, fifteen or even twenty years, to my first trips alone into the country that Horace Engdahl once called “a Sweden for grown-ups”.

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Saturday, April 01, 2017

Rub' al-Khali

During the first hours of April, heavy snow began to fall and soon the world was glaringly white again. By lunchtime one could at least hear water dripping down from the balcony, as a reminder that the setback is only temporary. Nevertheless, I looked through the bookshelf for an old Condé Nast Traveler and made some Mediterranean potato salad to fight off my melancholy.

The last week has been mad at work and still I have a long list of things to do, including submitting yet another research application, this time to Formas. But for a moment, I decided to instead dream of the Empty Quarter and its endless dunes. Somehow, the more I travel to the Arabian Peninsula, the more I want to return, especially to the desert.

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