Saturday, December 10, 2016

Paella

With still almost a fortnight left until the winter solstice, the sun begun setting already at 1 pm, just as I was about to serve some paella. It is something with this time of the year that invites comfort food, at least up here in the High North. Today, William turns two and the day started off with singing at 04.50 a.m. since the young man still has a rather extreme fondness for early mornings.

While away in the UK, I was able to submit a number of abstracts for different conferences and special issues. Hopefully I will hear back about these soon so I can begin planning the year ahead. Yet, for the next 70 days I know for sure that I will remain firmly on the ground here in Umeå. This also means that I can now summarize my travels for 2016. Apparently, this year was somewhat less crazy than the previous one, with the air miles clock stopping at 45 901 miles and nine different countries visited (of which one was new, the Ukraine).

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Morning After

Wednesday morning in Nottinghamshire, grey skies and streets wet from rain. Somehow very symbolic for how many of us have come to see this year, like waking up a bit heavy-headed only to realize that the nightmare was in fact real. Trump won the presidency. A majority voted for the United Kingdom to leave the EU. And Matteo Renzi lost in Italy. It says something about the times that we are celebrating when only 46.2% of the electorate in a country vote for neo-fascists (but yes, I am indeed happy that van der Bellen won in the end).

As for my own presentation yesterday, I think it went alright even if it was a bit rambling at times. At least I got some really good questions afterwards, accompanied by a few pints at the faculty club. Yet, as a parent of two young boys, it suffices to say that my tolerance for alcohol is not what it used to be :-)

In any case, it was really great to see Matthew again and engage in long discussions about Russia under Nicholas I, Cold War nuclear doctrine and whether or not it would be possible to set up a hedge fund for climate change denialists (to check if they are really willing to put their money where their mouth is).

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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Vineyard Cafe

Walking up the jet bridge from SK527 last night, there was a very discernible smell of coal in the air. For someone who has spent the last half decade fighting fossil fuels and coal in particular, it may seem strange to admit that this filled me with an almost overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Memories of cold morning runs through Ehrenfeld but also long dizzy summer afternoons marking exams at the Vineyard Cafe in Beijing, sensations so very different from any sanitized global future.

A coffee and an apple juice later, Monocle24 informs me that it is 9 am here in London and 12 pm in Nairobi, meaning that it is soon time for me to catch my train from St Pancras.

And since no counting had begun
we lived a thousand years in one

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Friday, December 02, 2016

Lost Heaven

Five years ago, I was returning from Shanghai and a stunning dinner in an old villa in the French Concession. Situated in a garden with hundreds of candle lights, the restaurant served up some of the best Yunnan cuisine I ever had. In an era of cultural capitalism, it is of course not surprising that this restaurant has since turned into a chain. What sparked my interest however was that this very chain has now opened a restaurant in Qianmen 23, a building which used to house the American Legation in Beijing, and which plays a very special role in a novel that I wish to finish writing one day.

Anyway, after a very stressful week, I am happy that it is finally Friday and that I can open a bottle of Grüner Veltliner and begin packing for my upcoming expedition to the Sherwood Forest. Next time I write here, it will be from the British Isles.

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Deconsolidation

The world we thought we knew is falling apart. Although the signs may have been with us for a decade or more, 2016 has clearly been a year of unprecedented amplification if not outright rupture. Even if the World Value Survey still signals a shift from traditional values and parochial identities towards emancipative values and greater tolerance, this has not been a good year for “globalists” like myself who dream of a fully integrated world free from want and political oppression.

In a much discussed recent article in the Journal of Democracy, Roberto Stefan Foa and Yascha Mounk reveal frightening new numbers of how young people in particular have come to abandon democracy. Of those born in the 1980’s in the United States, just above 30% consider it “essential” to live in a democracy.

This very weekend, Austria will have a rerun of its presidential election (potentially bringing the highest office of the country into the hands of the extreme right) while Italy is having a constitutional referendum which Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is likely to lose, opening the door for the anti-globalist populist Five Star Movement under Beppe Grillo.

In the past I always used to say that what the Left needs is a new forward looking global vision. While I still think that is true to some extent, I am less certain that such a vision would actually win any elections, at least in the short run. Having said that, more of the same corrosive identity politics is clearly not the way forward. Crucial as it is to recognize the historic crimes of colonialism and discrimination, the future we build must be one for all people of this world, a common vision which speaks in the same universal language to the highest in each individual, including those white male "left-behinders".

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Monocle

As far as love-hate relationships go, I think the magazine Monocle deserves a special mention. Every year around this time, I struggle with the question of whether or not to renew my subscription. I have tried to stay away, only leading to that I spent twice as much buying single issues at the local news agent. In the wake of recent events, it felt unusually important to renew as I guess I will need every bit of hope of a better world in the year to come.

In early December I am off to the UK again where I will give a presentation at The Nottingham Centre for Normative Political Theory (or CONCEPT as it is abbreviated). Since agreeing to give the talk, the world has clearly taken a sharp turn in precisely the direction I feared, towards further fragmentation and polarization. So, yes, we definitely need Monocle but also a much broader social transformation that makes us realize our common humanity and the possibilities of a fully integrated world of equal opportunity.

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Shimmer

The snow melted and left behind an icy mix covered in the most unbearable November darkness. As a last line of defence, I make some more hot veggies and pick up an old book by Leonard Cohen. The last time I read it, it was springtime in New York and I was just about to move back to Europe.

Small things to make the world shimmer for a second, as if it was within my power to do that.

In three months I will be back in New York for a night before the conference madness begins down in Baltimore. This time I will serve as chair and discussant for two different panels in addition to my own presentation at the ISA. Kind of overwhelming considering that I will have 125+ take-home exams to mark the week before...

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Perpetual uncertainty

I just accepted an offer to give a talk on nuclear and climate in relation to the exhibition "Perpetual Uncertainty". Fortunately, the event is not until 26th of March next year so I still have time to figure out the best way of defusing this delicate topic. As much as I have become convinced about the ecological benefits of nuclear, I have no problem understanding the psychological and social obstacles that nuclear technologies are up against. As no other energy source, nuclear activates our deepest existential fears even as it holds the promise of a world remade in which all people can live prosperous lives without endangering the environment. Of course, for us in the rich world, it is perfectly possible to continue treating chronic poverty abroad as the solution to the climate crisis while downing another flat white, but such hypocrisy does come at a high moral cost.

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Kalmar

Almost a year to the day later, I am back walking around Kalmar pretending that I still have Instagram. While Eddie is hanging out with my parents, I sit down for a coffee to catch up on some overdue e-mail correspondence about my research. Obviously, the election of Trump has created a lot of uncertainty in the whole climate policy research community. In the best of worlds, this could be a time when old truths are finally reconsidered. Yet, threatened by this wave of irrationalism, it is possible that the Green Left will instead double down on climate moralism and identity politics. Whereas someone like John McCain proposed building 45 new nuclear reactors in the United States as an alternative (and probably much more effective!) response to climate change, Trump and the arch-climate denier Myron Ebell whom he has appointed to lead his EPA transition team, are more like anti-vaxxers who occupy a parallel universe in which scientific evidence plays no meaningful role.

Outside climate policy, my main worries of course have to do with Iran and the Middle-East more generally, to say nothing of the Ukraine. I guess the key thing at this stage is to not rush ahead too much but to take each issue when the time comes. If nothing else, it will be funny to see how progressive everywhere will suddenly start loving the Senate filibuster…

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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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