Saturday, June 30, 2018

La mort dans le désert

For every migrant who dies on the Mediterranean, two die in the desert. When passing over the Sahara in November, I wrote about how the European Union has been moving the frontline in its undeclared “war on migration” south. Today, Swedish TV is telling the story of how ten thousands of migrants, some of them pregnant, are driven into the desert in Algeria where they are left to die.

Since 2015, the number of migrants arriving in Europe has fallen with more than 95%. Still, right-wing politicians keep stoking fears of unprecedented migration waves while the political left has remained completely silent about the human price behind this dramatic reduction.

Friday, June 29, 2018


Friday morning brought clearing skies but also winds strong enough for white foam crests to form on the tiny Nydalasjön. Meanwhile, in Swedish domestic politics, the centre-right keeps flirting with a different kind of white caps, if only to take back their overtures the next minute. Now the second largest party in Sweden, Sverigedemokraterna is nevertheless emerging as a very real threat to our “freiheitliche demokratische Grundordnung” (to borrow the German expression). What I find striking is the lack of reflexivity among the other political parties and their inability to formulate attractive visions of an open future.

Whereas Monocle may ask us to simply “cool it”, it should be obvious that many people are not content with merely being reduced to consumers. In my view, an Apollo project for clean energy or a tenfold increase in the funding for early childhood education would go a long way in restoring public purpose and providing societal direction. Unlike hairshirt environmentalism that only offers an emasculated politics of scarcity, such visions would speak to our greatness and channel our energies into something far more productive than the securitization of migration.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018


Flying back over the Atlantic, I finally got around to watch “Call me by your name”. Set in Lombardy in the early 1980’s, it is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time, full of raw emotion and extended moments. And, yes, scenes of men kissing, which were clearly a bit too much for the middle-aged American engineer sitting next to me.

Once in Umeå, I was thrilled to find a new book on the electoral misfortunes of the centre-left that Fareed Zakaria recommended. Hopefully it will help me develop a better empirical basis for some of the arguments I am trying to make regarding solidarity, legitimacy and whether the strong political institutions necessary for the ecomodern project are even remotely possible in an increasingly fragmented world.

After more than a week on the road, it was also good to be back cooking. For tonight, I made a salmon and buffalo mozzarella salad with wheat berries, lima beans and raisins.

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Monday, June 25, 2018


After returning the rental at LAX, I got to spend an afternoon in the United Club over a glass of Erath (which is not “Eaarth") pinot gris from the Willamette Valley up in Oregon. As my California adventure is coming to an end, I look back on some heartfelt reunions, lots of strong coffee and a staggering 1372 km behind the wheel. Driving down Angeles Forest Highway yesterday morning, I was again overwhelmed by affection for the Golden State (including the grey fox who spotted me when I was stopping to take photos).

Thinking back on the Dialogue, it feels as if the ecomodernist movement is maturing and is becoming increasingly focused on finding pragmatic answers to real world policy dilemmas. Important as this clearly is, it also means that the movement is losing some of its utopian thrust. This would be less of a problem if pragmatic solutions were in any way sufficient to meet the challenges that we are facing in the 21st century. However, as I have argued time and again in my research, I believe that pragmatism is not enough and that we need a much more radical imagination if we are to safely navigate the Anthropocene.

Soon, SK936 will be boarding for Copenhagen. Once on the other end of the tunnel, I intend to swing by Örebro before being reunited with my boys on Tuesday.

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Dawn’s Highway

Changing soundtracks from Zelmani to The Doors; the night turns into day as my journey keeps taking me south. In a different world, I would have continued all the way down to the rugged shores of Baja California. Yet, even without the simmering heat of Lower California, my morning run felt very different from back in Umeå...



From Montenegro to Mojave, I have to say that some things have a surprisingly timeless immediacy. Still, as night falls over California, I feel very fortunate that I am no longer just waiting for something intangible but that I will back home with my two boys already on Tuesday.

When pulling up to the hotel, Google informed me that I have been driving for more than eight hours and 611 km today. Unlike when I lived in the US, such extended road movies have become exceedingly rare these days. But thanks to a venti iced americano and some Sophie Zelmani, I think all the driving really helped me to digest my impressions from the Dialogue.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Rising tides

As every year, the Breakthrough Dialogue restores my hope in the world and in our ability to have meaningful conversations. In a few minutes, the morning plenary on geoengineering will start with my long-time co-author Jonathan Symons on stage. Later, I plan to attend a session on social and institutional challenges in the rewilding of agricultural land before driving up to UC Davis for coffee with a childhood friend.

One thing that I am particularly grateful for is that Breakthrough has not become a “church” but that they keep bringing together people with widely diverging perspectives and ideological orientations. In a time of rampant polarization with Twitter in particular inviting stereotyping and spitefulness, the Breakthrough Dialogue with its motto of “achieving disagreement” feels like something from a different world.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Lafayette Reservoir

Unmoored in time, I decided to leave the coastal fog behind and head up to Lafayette Reservoir with its trails and greenery. With barely no sleep last night, it turned out to be the perfect circadian rhythm reset, of course followed by granola at a nearby cafe.

Once back at the hotel, Emma informed me that an herbivore wrap will soon be waiting for me at Breakthrough HQ. Similarly, Jon and I just decided to meet up a bit earlier for an iced Americano. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled.

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Barely had the virtual ink dried on my previous blog post before I was informed that I had been given a complimentary upgrade to SAS Plus. And right now I am at 30,000 feet just above Trondheim. While it may still be a bit early if I am to keep with tradition, I thought I should take a break from working and compose another of those legendary transatlantic blog entries. Today I am flying with “Bele Viking” which is one of SAS’s new Airbus 330s. Thanks to flying Plus, I was treated to some Harahorn (the Norwegian equivalent of a “jackalope”) gin and tonic, enough to take me everywhere from Delhi to Dallas.


Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of “handbooks”, “companions” and “encyclopaedias” about every conceivable academic topic by the big university presses. While I have contributed to one such volume myself, I have mostly seen them as a way of milking money from poor university libraries. Still, when reading a chapter by Michelle Niemann featured in The Routledge Companion to the Environmental Humanities I realize that I, again, have been too quick to judge. Niemann’s chapter is called “Hubris and Humility in Environmental Thought” and is the kind of text that I really wish had existed when I started working on my PhD fourteen years ago. Not only would it have prevented me from making some embarrassing mistakes but it would have put me in contact with others with similar dreams and visions. While I always suspected that much of what I wanted to say had already been said in the 1970’s by Stewart Brand and others, the extent to which this is in fact the case is still slightly mindboggling. In my darker moments, I am back with The Hives: “I hear you are one in a million but there is a million of you”.

After the Dialogue, I plan to take my rental car into the desert. Känslan av att nå fullt ut men aldrig ända fram.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

One mile at a time

Over the last years, one of my favourite means of procrastination, beyond writing Rawls & Me of course, has been reading the travel blog “One Mile at a Time”. Yet, with 9 + 5 hours in economy ahead of me, it does not seem like I learnt that much about the wizardry world of points and miles after all...
As for adding up miles, I had set a goal of running 100 km this month before leaving for the US which I was able to achive yesterday, although with the tiniest of margins. Nevertheless, I hope to be able to go for another run already tomorrow morning before heading over to Oakland for my talk with this year's Breakthrough Generation fellows. This time around, I will base my talk to a large extent on the paper I published in The Anthropocene Review a couple of years ago which tried to challenge predominant conceptions of "sustainability".

Preparing for the subsequent Dialogue, I came across an interesting new book by Charles C. Mann that seems to touch upon many of the same issues as my paper, in particular the long-standing debate between “prophets” calling for humanity to scale back and “wizards” arguing that we can overcome environmental determinism through social and technological innovation. Interesting, both prophets and wizards support the idea of human exceptionalism, in the first case in the sense that the human species, unlike any other animal, can consciously limit its consumption and reproduction rate, and in the second case, that it can use technology and knowledge to overcome its environmental constraints.

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Sunday, June 17, 2018


In 48 hours, I will be at Stockholm Arlanda, attaching another timeless SFO tag and experience that special “America fever” that not even Trump can take away. Meanwhile, I make some sweet potatoes in the oven with goat cheese and mint.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Scrambled pancakes

Thanks to W, I have long been on trend when it comes to getting up at ungodly hours in the morning. Today was no exception. With the most adorable morning outside, I decided to try something new, namely a “healthy pace” run.

Afterwards, keeping with the spirit of innovation, I followed the suggestion by our local dairy producer and made some "scrambled pancakes" for breakfast. I guess I should have run twice around the lake to offset those calories but, hey, I need to get ready for the US.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Nach dem Regen

After weeks if not months without rain, it was almost as if I had forgotten the feeling of getting soaked while biking home from work. Still, not even the pouring physicality of the rain was enough to bring real orientation in time and space.

One moment I am on my way to Guangzhou, the other back driving on winding roads along the Pacific. Intellectually, I am in the midst of a similarly strange frenzy as I struggle to make sense of conflicting intuitions about emancipation, urbanization and the macropolitics of nature. In some ways, it was easier back when “ecomodernism” did not exist and I only had my own ideas to make sense of.

One thing I am struggling with right now is how ecomodernism relates to the seemingly radical idea that “nature needs half”. Personally, I would say that ecomodernism actually goes even further and envisions a comprehensive decoupling of nature from the economy. Yet, some prominent ecomodernists like Erle Ellis seem to disagree. And of course, in reality, with real people living off the land, it seems slightly unrealistic to suggest that we should turn the whole planet into a national park. At the same time, these are not only philosophical debates but something that has real implications for how we for instance view biofuels (and, thus, BECCS) in the fight against climate change. Well, back to work.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

On fire

Last night, a forest fire broke out just a few kilometres from our house. With the closest fire helicopter four hundred kilometres to the north, it took some time to get the fire under control. Luckily, our house was not in the wind direction so, with the exception for that the sky took on a slightly apocalyptic tint, we were not in any way affected. Once the helicopter arrived from Luleå, the fire was fairly quickly put out. Still, with basically no rain for months, vegetation here around remains extremely flammable.

With the fire behind me, I installed Runkeeper and went for a “threshold run” just to the point when it felt like running through treacle. Since I started running in earnest back in January, I am a bit surprised by how much of an improvement I have seen. Maybe life is not over at 40 after all.

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Science fiction

In the words of Kim Jong-un’s translator: “many people in the world will think of this as a form of fantasy… from a science fiction movie”. I guess I am one of those people. In the spring of 2013, just as the conflict in Korea was about to boil over, I too flew down from Korea to Singapore.

Today is Tuesday, and in a week I will be crossing the Atlantic again for the third time this year. Science fiction alright. Before attending the actual Dialogue in Sausalito, I hope to go for a morning run around Lafayette Reservoir but, more importantly, talk to this year’s Breakthrough Generation Fellows. Nervous as that always makes me, it is still a great source of hope that the future will be inhabited by people with a global perspective who do not simply subscribe to conventional orthodoxies but have the courage to think for themselves.

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Nydala Half Marathon

With no chance of running the Wildwood Trail Race next weekend, I decided to organize my own running event around the lake, completing 21.49 km in 2 hours and 10 minutes. Now, three oversized “filtalrikar” and a couple of sumptuous sandwiches later, I feel quite okay but I do not want to even imagine how I will feel after completing my first full marathon...


Friday, June 08, 2018

How democracies die

Waiting an hour at the bank today, it was interesting to see that they now provide complete working spaces with power ports and highly visible directions to the closest defibrillator (sic!) in silent recognition of what late-capitalist management culture has done to their waiting times.

Back home, I pour up a glass of Pinot Grigio from the village Valgatara di Marano as I dig into Steven Levitsky's and Daniel Ziblatt's How Democracies Die which could hardly be more timely. Earlier today, the newspaper headlines announced that Jimmie Åkesson (the leader of the xenophobic Sverigedemokraterna) may become Sweden’s next prime minister. While that remains an unlikely outcome of the autumn election, the very thought should send shivers down the spine of anyone who still believes in the open society.

In Italy, the Five Star Movement combines degrowth thinking with ethno-nationalism in what may become a winning formula for a continent that has turned inwards and afraid. Once in power, these forces will further erode our democratic norms and amplify the very insecurities on which their worldview is built. If only there was a Michael Burnham or even a John McCain who would stand up and say no to fear...


Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Cold winds (but intention matters)

Yesterday, another opinion poll confirmed that the social democrats continue their downward slide while the Sweden Democrats are now at a frightening 18.5 per cent. Even if the social democrats have been busy triangulating their message to sound as repressive as possible on immigration, I take some reassurance in what my wise friend Ally said when we discussed whom to vote for in the autumn election while in Israel. At the end of the day, the Sweden Democrats say these things because they are genuinely racist, the social democrats say them because they think that is what the voters want to hear, and that is a quite a significant difference (even if it means playing with fire).

The 6th of June is the National Day of Sweden, a day which just adds to my distaste for parochialism and national chauvinism. There is nothing to be proud of here, only frustration that our progress to a shared and open world remains so painstakingly slow. 

Sunday, June 03, 2018


Every semester, my invaluable co-teacher Kenneth, who is a retired police officer with more than 40 years of professional experience, introduces me as "Pontus" to the class. Knowing how tricky these mind games can be (I curse myself every time I accidentally call my friend Andreas for Anders), I have almost come to appreciate this tradition of sorts.

Stealing from another Pontus, I made some linguine with oven-roasted vegetables in truffle cream which turned out quite delicious on its own but not really enough to match the Cune Imperial Rioja.

Otherwise I am just grading and grading. Luckily my mother has promised to take the train up here on Tuesday so I may get a little work boost before flying off to California.

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Saturday, June 02, 2018

Viking trail

Over the last days I have been very tempted to sign up for the 19.7 km Wildwood Trail Race but in the end I could not get the logistics to work. While not much of a substitute I at least went for a run up our local hill which is actually a bit special as it features a Viking Age grave. In any case, running up the hill reminded me what difference only 50 metres of ascent makes in terms of speed.