Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bucatini con gamberetti e rucola

Back home I make my new favourite dish with sun-dried tomato pesto, lots of lemon and a "splash of white wine" to speak with Jamie Oliver. Later, I let myself drift back those nine hours across the ocean to a world of LSD-induced lyrics, winding coastal roads and excruciating sunlight.

Otherwise, I have been barely conscious for the last three days, working on a grant application to Formas as well as preparing my teaching portfolio for an upcoming external review. In both cases it is the kind of self-glorifying texts that I really dislike writing so, in a way, the jetlag has been strangely soothing. Next week, which also will be my last week at the department before the summer holidays, I look forward to more exciting tasks, including writing a review of Sverker Sörlin’s new book “Antropocen”.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Nautical twilight

The Breakthrough Dialogue came and went. With 6 + 9 hours of time changes in my body, I was always the first to have breakfast in Surfbird. One morning, as I waited in bed for the day to break, I read up on the different types of twilight (such as “astronomical”, “nautical” and “civil”) before heading out in the thick Pacific mist with my running shoes on. My thighs still remind me that running up the Marin Headlands is something very different from running around Nydalasjön in Umeå.

And, as always, the road was there. The space in between. Any minute, my SAS flight to Umeå will start boarding, wrapping up what has been a 23 574 miles’ journey around the world. Now, fortunately, many weeks on the ground in North Sweden await.

“We lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies” – Jack Kerouac

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ferry Bldg

Unfortunately, my bag was less lucky so now I am waiting for Zara to open for some last minute shopping. With a window seat in the Ferry Building overlooking Treasure Island, I should say that waiting is quite okay though. Later this afternoon, I will take the ferry across the Bay to Sausalito.

In Academia, I guess it is very common to feel that you are somehow "fake", that whereas other people do real and serious stuff, you are about to be exposed as an imposter any moment. As I get older, I feel a lot less like that, maybe because I have realized that we are all slightly out of our depth. Yet, for the last four years, as I sit down to prepare my talk for the Breakthrough Generation fellows, that feeling comes creeping back. After all, who am I to lecture these most extraordinary graduates on how the world works? This year, the fellows have been reading my piece in Futures from 2013 on ambivalence, irony and democracy in the Anthropocene. Reading it myself on the flight over, I was struck by how my thinking has evolved, how much darker my worldview has become, at least for the short- or medium term. It would be easy to blame Trump or whatnot but I guess it is more about me realizing how complicit we all are in this. Still, for all the darkness and backlash, I remain a long-term optimist, and I guess that is part of the reason why I get invited back, year after year.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Continental Shift

A quick hop in the air later and I was at the gate in Copenhagen, only to find out that my flight to SFO was heavily overbooked. Without hesitation, I volunteered to take another flight via Chicago which would get me into San Francisco six hours later than originally planned. After all, considering that I flew home from Hong Kong only 36 hours ago, I was already quite beyond the whole time zone concept.

Ultimately, thanks to some last minute no shows, no volunteers were needed in the end. Yet, in return for my willingness to help out, SAS gave me a surprise upgrade to business class! Clearly, Lucky would have been proud. With close to twelve hours ahead of me across the Atlantic and the continental USA, it feels a bit like Christmas.

Yet, the contrast could not be more pronounced when I return to “The View From Flyover Country: Essays by Sarah Kendzior” on my tablet. Being based in St Louis, Sarah has been one of the earliest and most prescient critics of the Trump Administration. The essays in the e-book were written when she worked as a journalist for Al Jazeera and most of them portray the harsh lived reality of the “other America”. While similar stories of precarization could be written about Sweden, the essays somehow capture callousness of a different magnitude, in particular when addressing the impossibilities of parenthood in a world of temporary adjunct positions and maddening debt spirals. While cities such as St Louis may have been hit particularly hard by the Great Recession, I saw very similar things in Baltimore back in February. Undoubtedly, inequality remains the defining issue of our times and, unless the trends begin to reverse, I am very worried about the long-term prospects for democracy in the US (even without Trump).


Noch einmal mit Gefühl

The picture is from a week ago when I was on my way to Hong Kong. Now I am back in the exact same spot but, this time, I am flying in the opposite direction.

And already tomorrow history seems to be ready for another repeat. After an herbivore wrap from The Lunch Box in Oakland, I will give a talk to the Breakthrough Generation fellows before heading over to Cavallo Point for the actual Dialogue. If the past is any judge, it will be a high-octane mix of the best academic conversations, jetlagged caffeine and Bay Area sunshine.

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Sunday, June 18, 2017


In two weeks’ time, it will be 20 years since Britain returned control over Hong Kong to China. I remember watching the ceremony on TV from Sweden. At the time, I had never been outside Europe and had no physical relation to the rain falling on the Tamar naval site as the ceremony progressed through the evening. At midnight, before boarding the Yacht Britannia, Governor Chris Pattern sent one last telegram to London:

“I have relinquished the administration of this government. God Save the Queen”

In retrospect, neither the worst fears nor the highest hopes have come to pass. Hong Kong remains fundamentally distinct from the Mainland, yet self-censorship seems to be very real throughout society. The other day, South China Morning Post ran an article brimming with doublespeak, explaining how Hong Kong people have not yet opened their hearts to the Chinese People's Liberation Army but that the forces stationed in Hong Kong are “no longer just symbolic”.

To me it seems as if the local government (and, with it, indirectly Beijing) could quite easily strengthen its support, for instance by building lots of affordable housing for young Hong Kong people or by providing free public day care for children. Instead it is now spending a staggering ten billion USD on a new bridge to Zhuhai, all in line with the classic developmental state preference for hard infrastructure. For the democracy movement on the other hand, I think the key is really to build democracy from below and to avoid more high-profile fights with Beijing. Fortunately, the other night at the Broadway Cinematheque in Kowloon there were signs of just that with a photo exhibition about the inclusion of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. Similarly, working to improve government accountability at the local community level is likely to give much better results than challenging Beijing head on. Still, one can of course understand the deep frustration that many Hong Kong people must feel. It is always easy to be smart at a distance.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Grassroots Pantry and Prune

Although modernity’s global reach has long been a recurring theme in my research, I am still overwhelmed by the sheer scale and brutality of its metabolism. Walking through the packed alleys of Sheung Wan, one is reminded of the speciesism and dominance on which human society is still based, how much we remain in our infancy if I am allowed to speak Star Trekian. At such times, it is comforting to be able to trade all the windows with their roasted birds and Chinese sausages for a 100% vegetarian greenhouse-meets-garage restaurant serving some of the best food I had in a long time.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Tai Ping Shan

As the thunderstorm passes on across Victoria Harbour towards Kowloon, we climb up the leafy backstreets of Tai Ping Shan to check out the Monocle-endorsed Café Deadend and nearby Blake Garden.

On our way, we stop by an imposing red-brick building that used to house Hong Kong’s Bacteriological Institute which was founded in 1906 after the plague had taken countless lives here on the Island. It is easy to imagine how quickly the city’s density, which today is perhaps its greatest asset, could turn deadly in a world without modern sanitation.

Much less morbid, I should say that landing at Chep Lap Kok yesterday reminded of how good it felt to leave Lund with a fresh PhD to start my first real academic job here in Hong Kong six years ago. This time around, I am only here for a conference called “The Pacific Century?” organized by the ISA. The question mark, as well as the double-meaning of “pacific” (and yes, “Tai Ping Shan” means “Peace Hill”), are obviously all intentional. Indeed, right now, Anna is presenting her paper on Japan’s “proactive pacifism” which clearly is a concept that stretches all limits of irony. Still, it is worth recognizing that despite the tough talk, cooler heads have so far prevailed, even with regard to North Korea. The question of course remains how to move from the uncertainty and mistrust of today towards real regional integration.

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Sunday, June 04, 2017

Club Europe

Thanks to some orphaned Qatar miles, I was able to redeem an award ticket to Stockholm with BA this afternoon, concluding two intense days full of climate futures and sunlit green meadows. Meanwhile, yet another meaningless terror attack took place in central London. Worlds that are almost impossible to reconcile.

Obviously, the Trump administration’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement brought further dissonance. In my view, the Paris Agreement is important not because it will stop climate change (it won’t) but as an articulation of global responsibility and common cause. At least on a nominal level, each country remains free to fill its National Determined Contributions (NDCs) with whatever mitigation action it chooses. Wise policy-makers (like in Finland) have all the options in the world to pursue an effective mitigation pathway and avoid the German cul-de-sac of fossil lock-in and renewables.

On a personal level, the coming weeks will hopefully be a bit less stressful as the semester is finally over and I will again be able to focus on my research.

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