Sunday, May 28, 2017

Countdown

The coming week will be one amazing race until I cross the North Sea late on Friday night. Before my BA flight takes off, I will have to grade a record of 21 master's and bachelor's theses covering every conceivable topic from the circular economy in Sweden to civil society participation in Malawi. If I survive, I promise to post a note from those beloved British Isles.

Labels:

Friday, May 26, 2017

Grading galore

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Twitter fatigue

I am tired of Twitter. The 140 character format undermines all aspirations to balance or even civility. While I am hardly the first one to feel like this, the last week has made me seriously considering deactivating my account, especially after being blocked by someone after merely pointing out that renewable energy sources tend to rely on fossil gas for load balancing. The level of tribalism that Twitter invites is deeply problematic.

Free of said 140 character limit, I would say that part of these tribal conflicts over energy and climate policy (nuclear vs renewabilists in particular) has to do with fundamentally different ways of relating to the modern project and the future of humanity. For instance, the reason I so firmly belong to the “nuclear tribe” is because I imagine a future in which people everywhere can live modern lives and in which planetary-scale rewilding can be made possible. It is also because I am a pragmatist and a liberal democrat, I do not believe in making environmental sustainability conditional upon some inner moral transformation of all living humans. In fact, I explicitly wish that the future will be just as contradictory as the present and full of conflicting wishes and desires. Those who belong to the renewable tribe (with a few exceptions of course) on the other hand cannot accept that humanity will be allowed to continue with its Enlightenment “hubris” or that the “capitalists” will be able to walk away without being held responsible for their exploitation of other people. By envisioning a renewable low-energy localized future, renewabilists imagine that people everywhere will have to scale down their appetites, learn to “live within their means” and be forced to change their behaviour.

I am against such a future, in no small part because it forecloses our long-term cosmic possibilities as a technologically mature species, but also because I find the renewabilist “degrowth” vision to be completely politically unrealistic. If anything, the recent populist surge shows that the backlash against “well-meaning” elites is very real. Yet, ironically, the same localism and populism also prevent an acceleration towards a more fully integrated global civilization powered by advanced nuclear technologies. Because without a genuine commitment to global equality, it is not obvious why we need to develop such technologies instead of relying on existing renewable alternatives. 

Labels: , ,

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Första vackra dan i maj

SFO

In a month today, I will wait as the check-in machine at Umeå Airport prints a white and green tag with those three dreamy letters, SFO. Observing what has become my new midsummer tradition, I will then be on my way to attend the Breakthrough Dialogue at Cavallo Point for the fourth consecutive year. This time around, the theme is "democracy in the Anthropocene". Still shell shocked from last year’s elections, ecomodernism, like all progressive movements, is grappling to understand what this new wave of populism and nationalism actually means so the topic could hardly be better chosen.

For me personally, coming back to California is like being back in a novel, to resume the narrative just where I left it last time, and to again find myself among people who give me real hope about the future. As for the guest list this year, Steven Pinker from Harvard is one of the people I am most excited to listen to but also Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee are likely to add a twist or two to the ecomodern intellectual universe.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Transatlantique Kriek

When it comes to beer, I early on developed a strong preference for blond Bohemian lagers. As I have become somewhat less conservative over time, I can now enjoy for instance a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale even as I still stop short of imperial stouts and the like.

Yet, sometimes a name can intrigue you enough to push you outside your comfort zone. When I found this lambic ale called “Transatlantique Kriek” I realized that my fate was sealed. Now I am just wondering if you guys have any ideas for possible pairings?

Bean burger

Next month I will present a paper at the ISA convention in Hong Kong with the title "Scandinavian Environmental Policy in the Pacific Century?". My main ambition with the paper is to critically examine the Scandinavian self-image of being “environmental leaders” with regards to climate change in particular.

As good as the optics of Scandinavian environmental policy may look at the surface, it is no secret that the offshoring of environmentally destructive industries has played a key role and so has geographical luck (numerous rivers suitable for hydropower) as well as policies that present-day governments do not like to take credit for (nuclear power). Once we remove these three factors, the image of Scandinavia becomes much less stunning as it reveals a continuing heavy reliance on fossil fuels for road transportation, massive burning of biomass for heat and a preference for non-scalable forms of energy such as wind power.

Likewise, at the individual level, we find a very mixed picture once we start scratching on the surface. On one hand we have growing ethical responsibility with regards to food (like the great bean burger I had for lunch above) and transportation (biking and public transportation). On the other hand, there is strong resistance to industrial agriculture even as the advanced knowledge economies of Scandinavia would be entirely unthinkable were it not for past gains in agricultural productivity that freed up labour. As good as “organic” or “non-GMO” may sound, the fondness for such labels reflects an acute inability to think hard about the provision of food in a world of 7.5+ billion people.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Movie making

Over the last weeks I have been recording a number of videos as part of a course on "digital pedagogical competence" that I am currently taking. Today, I shot a meta video on the making of these videos as well as finished the written part of my final assignment so hopefully I can soon add this course to the other three that I have already taken at the Centre for Educational Development (UPL) at Umeå University.

So far, I must say that I really appreciate the courses I have been able to take since moving back to Sweden almost three years ago. Unlike in Korea where professional development was more or less unheard of, the fact that such courses are offered signals a growing recognition of pedagogical skills and a genuine desire to make university teaching better. Another great thing with UPL is that you get to meet people from across all academic disciplines which tends to give a lot of new perspective and ideas for future research collaboration.

Once you get beyond the awkwardness of hearing your own voice, making movies in itself has been a lot of fun. For the autumn semester and my online course for future police officers I plan to take these videos to the next level and, among other things, use the green screen more.

Labels:

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Pasta e ceci

Sometimes good cooking does not have to be complicated. Today I just fried some garlic, rosemary and chili in olive oil, added chickpeas and white wine, put it all in the blender and then, super simple, a very tasty vegetarian Tuesday dinner.

As a way of procrastination, blogging food surely beats fighting Twitter wars with Germans over climate policy. Like milleniarists whose predictions have failed to materialize, these people desperately try to come up with new and ever more intricate explanations as to why Germany is still doing the right thing despite that emissions do not go down. In retrospect, it is all very simple. Closing down your largest stable source of low-carbon electricity is a stupid idea in a climate crisis. And a nuclear build-out similar to the one in Sweden or France could quickly have replaced coal in terms of baseload generation and effectively slashed emissions.

Now time for dessert.

Labels: , ,

Friday, May 05, 2017

Limitations

Friday came with glorious sunshine and temperatures around 20 degrees. After taking the kids to the preschool with the German bike trailer, I spent most of the day with thesis guidance and, once again, struggling to revise my co-authored article on ecomodern citizenship. Rarely have I so acutely felt my own limitations as when trying to respond to these reviewer comments.

At least Bokus was kind enough to send me Lonely Planet Colombia. In my darkest moments, I think I should join Lucky and turn Rawls & Me into a full-time travel blog but for now I guess I have to go back to the future of ecomodernism...

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Ecomodern contradictions

With a possible exception for its low density, our house would be the perfect ecomodern fantasy. Even under the most extreme Arctic conditions, an advanced heating system (powered by 100% certified zero-carbon nuclear electricity) ensures that the house has a stable and comfy indoor climate, all at an extremely affordable monthly cost. As such, the house highlights the possibilities that the right combination of technological innovation and forward-looking policy (Sweden has very high taxes for fuel oil) can unlock.

Now enter: the wood burning stove. Despite living in identical newly-built houses, several of our neighbours have decided to install wood burning stoves. To tell the truth, this was something that we too considered when buying the house as it would be the perfect “homestyling” trick if one would ever put the house back on the market. After all, the combination of a lake outside and a cosy fireplace is hard to beat in an ad. At the same time, for all the “hygge” it may generate, there are some rather serious environmental effects. For instance, the World Health Organisation has estimated that pollution from residential burning of mainly wood causes about 60,000 premature deaths in the EU every year. In Stockholm, wood burning has become a major source of soot and particle emissions comparable even to emissions from road traffic. What may surprise an outside observer, in particular one from a developing country, is that a significant portion of the residential wood burning in a place like Stockholm takes places in houses that already have perfectly adequate and environmentally benign heating. This may seem particularly confusing considering the money and time needed to both obtain and transport wood for burning.

For ecomodernists, all of this represents a challenge, one that also goes to the heart of the article that I am currently revising. From a technocratic utilitarian perspective, burning wood in a house like ours is simply incomprehensible. Yet, people are not rational machines. Like meat eating, burning wood makes people feel that they are doing something “natural”, however environmentally harmful that practice may be in reality. So far, ecomodernists have argued that publicly funded technological innovation will make it possible to preserve liberal freedom even in times of great environmental stress and that “faster, clean and cheaper” technologies will simply outcompete existing polluting ones. Yet, the success of that approach depends on to what extent people are willing to forego the “naturalness” of generational old practices. In the paper, my co-author and I are suggesting that “ecomodern citizenship” would entail a preference for the synthetic over the organic and a willingness to adopt a high-density lifestyle in order to make room for the rewilding of nature. The question of course becomes, how does such a notion of ecomodern citizenship resonate with existing cultural logics? Is it rather not the case that, as people become richer, they indulge in precisely the kind of disneyfication of reality that the wood burning stove above is a perfect example of? And if that is so, where does it leave the ecomodern agenda? One option would of course be an even more radical form of innovation, let’s say molecular assemblers that would produce wood directly in peoples’ homes without the need for forestry and then advanced filters that would capture all the emissions. Yet, such a level of innovation is clearly not on the immediate horizon and, more worryingly, it may fail to satisfy the voracious appetite for “naturalness” that created this problem in the first place. If so, the prospects of sparing nature through technology may be dim indeed.

Labels: , ,

Monday, May 01, 2017

First run

Under all blue skies, I went for the first run of the season around the lake. Though almost seven minutes slower than last summer, I am just thrilled that my knee is not causing me any troubles and, in my defence, I should say that there were a lot of melting snow and overflowing rivulets to navigate.

Now, I just have to be equally fast with coming up with new exam questions for my social work students.

Labels: