Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ten years

Documenting a decade at the very frontline of champagne socialism, Rawls & Me has definitely had a good run. I am still undecided if I want to continue the weblog for another decade but today, exactly ten years ago, I wrote my first post suggesting that, in the universe of blogs, supply exceeds demand. I still think that holds true, at least to some extent. Yet, the long format blog post does have a certain currency in these Twitter times.

Concluding this decade of imperfectly interlaced biographies, the immediate future of Rawls & Me will take you along to London and Chernobyl. Then, early next year, there will be Baltimore for the 58th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association which, I just learned, has accepted my paper for presentation in a panel on “Images of the Future in the Anthropocene”. Beyond that, the road lies open.

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Friday, September 16, 2016

Intergenerational justice

Some ten years ago, I did a bit of work in applied ethics on our moral obligations towards future generations. Among other things, I was able to publish a paper in the journal Organization & Environment on how to reduce the highly asymmetric influence that current generations, in particular through climate change, exercise on the well-being of future generations. Like most academic papers, it has only generated a handful of citations and, in retrospect, I do not think I was able to add much to what others had already said.

Afterwards, I moved on, primarily to work on climate policy but also different notions of environmental citizenship. However, on the 27th of September, I have been invited to serve as opponent for the final seminar of a PhD thesis on the non-identity problem in intergenerational justice at Stockholm University. Despite teaching full-time, this means that I have spent the last days rediscovering a lot of literature and coming back to many of the thoughts I had a decade ago. If I can find the time, I will write a follow-up post on this after the seminar. For now, I am afraid I have to go back to reading...

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saffron

Already it is barely above freezing and completely dark when William wakes everyone up to a new day. During the three or so hours before taking the bus to the nursery, there is plenty of time to make pancakes, run a washing machine or two and maybe, but just maybe, get a brief moment to read the world news.

Today, it feels like the whole world is inside a cold rain cloud. A perfect setting to get a taste of what is to come. Frying some sweet potatoes and onions with saffron and cayenne pepper, I make the kind of lunch that makes one survive the long winters of the High North. Zucchini, chickpeas, whole tomatoes and some freshly whipped aioli on top. Of course served with a Czech lager and some wheat levain bread.

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Sunday, September 04, 2016

Lakeside

One late night almost ten years ago, I was out driving near Page, Arizona. In the dark without a GPS, I was trying to find a Best Western motel which I had been able to book at a rather incredible $40 rate which seemed like a steal since every picture on their website looked really scenic. However, the reason for the low rate would soon be all too clear as the motel had two “wings”, one facing the beauty of Lake Mead and the other a 2250 megawatt coal-fired powerplant called “Navajo Generating Station” (obviously, my room was in the latter wing). Not only was the view highly dystopic, the powerplant also gave away a fair share of noise which made sleeping rather difficult.

Looking out at the coal power plant at night, I remember thinking that this is what we are doing to the planet and ourselves. Rather than the clean high-energy future envisioned in StarTrek (which by the way is turning fifty on Thursday), we are burning through brownish-black minerals of fossilized carbon. To me, coal is somehow emblematic “Ork-tech”. It is the kind of technology that we should have left behind decades ago where it not for irrational fears of nuclear energy. Thus, it is somewhat ironic that the greatest achievement of the so called “environmental movement” may be that it has made the world safe for coal.


And now, it seems as I have had better luck and scored a more permanent upgrade to the wing with the “lake view”. As the construction of the neighbourhood is almost finished, it feels nearly as idyllic as Hobbiton with kids playing and lots of green stuff.  If now only people would share a moral commitment to making this universal rather than taking it as an unreflected privilege or, worse, pursue “feel good” policies that will keep the rest of the world trapped in fossil Mordor.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Seveneves

Working, as I do, on climate mitigation policy it does not hurt to get a bit of perspective sometimes. The other day, I picked up Neal Stephenson’s latest book "Seveneves" which Obama listed as one of his favourite summer reads. I must admit that it has not been easy to put it away.

In the book, the Moon suddenly breaks into seven pieces, leading to a chain reaction which in two years’ time will make the planet's surface uninhabitable for millennia. Quickly, a doomsday evacuation into orbit is initiated.

Without giving away too much of the plot, it is good to be reminded of what we humans can do if we work together towards a common goal. In comparison, fixing anthropogenic climate change seems like a rather simple task if we were to actually commit ourselves. For instance, the threat of rising sea levels can, at least to some degree, be reduced by putting a number of nuclear reactors on Antarctica and then pumping seawater into the interior of the continent where it will freeze. Ocean acidification may be a bit more difficult but sprinkling olivine into the sea could go a long way in opposing surface ocean acidification. Similarly, and unlike evacuating Earth, displacing fossil fuels in the energy sector is hardly rocket science but rather something that we have already successfully done in the past using nuclear energy in Sweden and a number of other countries. Thus, if the shit really hits the fan, as there is every indication that it will do in a couple of decades, I am fairly confident that disaster can be avoided, if not by these precise means so then by others. However, in retrospect, people will probably ask why we were so slow in realizing the danger and acting on it and why the solutions first proposed (such a small-scale renewable energy) were even seriously considered in a world of seven billion people.

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Monday, August 22, 2016

Coffee apocalypse

As far as first-world problems go, this morning should definitely count for something...

Still a bit drowsy at 5 am, I loaded the Bialetti coffee maker and put it on the induction stove, completely forgetting that I had removed the gasket when cleaning it the night before.

Everything seemed normal as I moved around the kitchen, preparing the rest of the breakfast until suddenly, kaboom! In less than a second, all of the kitchen was filled with finely grained coffee beans and steamed water. Luckily, I was facing away from the stove at the time of the explosion so I only got my neck showered which was traumatic enough. All in all, it took 1.5 hours to clean the kitchen and somehow recover from the shock.

In retrospect, one good thing came out of this beyond that the kitchen really got cleaned, namely that I now have a secret MacGyveresque escape trick if I am ever taken hostage by gangsters in Calabria who appreciate great coffee. Just offer to make them an espresso, remove the gasket and wait for the explosion…

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Space exploration

As Eddie and I continue our very own space exploration programme, I felt that yesterday's blog post came across as perhaps a bit too harsh. In part, I think my strong emotional reaction has to with a basic commitment to equality of opportunity. It is simply unjust that I should be able to live like this while others are left to suffer from chronic fungal infections and condemned to toil away in the unbearable heat of rice paddies. Beyond that however, I think my reaction has to with how we see the future more generally. I imagine a future in which humanity has achieved technological maturity, one in which an abundance of clean energy makes possible absolute decoupling from nature and global scale rewilding.

It is important to remember that this is not about pragmatism or merely choosing the “lesser evil” in a time of ecological trauma. It is about making good on our highest aspirations as a species, to once again become “wanderers” as Erik Wernquist puts it in his wonderful short movie. It is about making peace with nature through advanced bioremediation technologies and de-extinction.

None of this of course means rejecting the beauty of hikes or small-scale farming. It is rather to make the future aesthetic appreciation of nature possible that we need to effectively disentangle economy from ecology.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chanterelle risotto

Today, I decided to make some chanterelle risotto with white truffle oil for dinner. While toasting the carnaroli rice I received an update from a former student from Seoul who is now in Cambodia installing off-grid solar panels in rural communities. Despite all my academic work on energy access and mitigation policy, I somehow intuitively felt that she was doing a great thing when I saw her pictures of those photovoltaic panels coming up. But there was something with the setting that made me feel deeply uneasy. Here we have a student from South Korea, which probably more than any other country should remind us of the value of grid electricity and comprehensive modernization, travelling with jet plane to Cambodia to facilitate the spread of off-grid electricity and, then, transmitting images of the ongoing installation to me, standing in a kitchen in North Sweden, making some exquisite Italian dish.

Thanks to the solar electricity, Internet connectivity is likely to improve, meaning that those suffering from agrarian poverty in rural Cambodia could soon, hypothetically, begin reading this very weblog (yes, Google Translate does Khmer these days). And somewhere there, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that what we are doing is not even necessarily making agrarian poverty any more bearable, maybe in fact the very opposite. Not the least through the Internet, the experience of global inequality is made acute. While I am of course not suggesting that ignorance is any better, I am more and more inclined to see the mitigation work undertaken by “green climate funds” as nothing but carbon colonialism. No affluent society would accept off-grid intermittent electricity and neither should Cambodia. As a friend at Breakthrough put it: "asking poor people to stay poor to solve a problem they didn’t create in the first place would be a supreme act of injustice and misanthropy”.

So, what is the solution? To be honest, I can only see one, the same kind of great transformation away from agrarian poverty that Sweden and all other industrialized countries have already gone through, powered by centralized and reliable electricity. 

Paris-Méditerranée

Through the light drizzle of stratus clouds, I push the stroller in front of me along the lake. With a new round of thesis seminars coming up on Wednesday I have a lot to read but instead I let my concentration slip and turn on some Édith Piaf in my earphones. A song about a night train journey from the cold and dying evening light in Paris to the sunlit Mediterranean coast. Two strangers meeting of whom one may well be a murderer.

At last, William falls asleep. I quickly look through old pictures on the computer and find this one from Malmö.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Prioritaire

Today, I had a brief Danish moment as I decided to not only add some mint jelly to the dinner but also pick up an old book by Iselin C Hermann while waiting for the potatoes to boil. Unfortunately, Iselin's more recent book "Dampe" has still not been translated into English or, for that part, Swedish.

Somewhat uncertain about the future of epistolary novels in these WhatsApp times. In any case, I am doubtful if more words are really what the world needs at this point in time. Nevertheless, I struggle on with the book manuscript in the futile hope that it may convince someone, somewhere or at least, ever so slightly, open their minds to new possibilities. A kind answer earlier today from a professor and arch-Malthusian in Oregon gave me some hope that people can still be their better selves and that all has not yet been reduced to spiteful Trumpesque tweets.