Reflections by Maria on lecture of 9 June

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June 9, 2014 at 19:55 #12973

The lecture of the Current Debates series today, 9 June, was given by Kristina Persson, the founder of the independent think-tank “Global Challenges” and had the title “Policy In the Age of the Climate Crises”. My first reflection is that she reminds me of Helena Norberg-Hodge, the founder of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC) and a pioneer in the movement “The economics of Happiness”, from the previous lecture. Both these women, have to my mind, a similar “naive” believe in people’s will to change their life styles taking (necessary) measurements towards a sustainable society. I do not mean naive in a negative sense, as I believe that our world needs, not only a complete new way of globalized economy, which must include a holistic view, but also these kind of people with a strong commitment to engage and work for a solution against the anthropogenic changes before it is too late. With the three senses – equal parts of ecology, economy and social responsibilities of “Global Challenges”, Kristina proposes an approach to counteract the threats that are a reality already now or certainly will happen to the next generation. Not only is deregulation of the national and global markets, but also the population growth, huge problems that have to be solved together with actions against climate change and its apparent consequences. Solved, I agree with Kristina, beginning with reducing the unreasonable inequality between filthy rich and the poor masses. Why not encourage the goodwill of the filthy rich to become philanthropists and entrepreneurs of the new economy of happiness, but still wanting to invest, of course in sustainable business! And, with more underprivileged people earning a salary, becoming involved in the society, hopefully more will understand and engage locally for the future of their children. But how to ignite the spark for the process, locally, globally or even just starting within the education system? Kristina means that necessary steps to work against the way we think of increased productivity as the only way to go, do not really mean something negative for the business progress. Instead, it is a way to modernize production, management etc., acting as a way to compete. I agree with her, but believe that this is easier for small innovative companies, than the multinational companies, which are more like tankers in the ocean trying to turn. She also proposed recycling instead of producing new goods and products for sale, which I agree is an excellent idea. But how to convince the shopaholic western society, wanting to have the latest version of any commodity, as well as the citizens of developing countries, to repair or reuse? What about all the jobs if production would diminish drastically? Kristina proposes services to be the recipe to compensate for many of these jobs. Looking at some of the services that exist already now, creating artificially needs, and furthermore unfortunately, very non-ecological or non-sustainable activites, does not seem to be a good solution, unless there are strict regulations by the states, NGOs or other responsible member organizations. I am convinced that the human mind and awareness, if not for themselves, so at least for their own coming generations, have the capacity to act intelligently. One way is a paradigm shift, that is to accept that a transformation to ecological, sustainable industry, would actually be more profitable, even in the short term. For this to happen, shortsighted politicians have to act not only to get votes for the next election but for the future.

June 9, 2014 at 23:36 #12974

Reflection on Persson, 9.6.2014
Nik Petek

Today we had a very interesting hybrid between a lecture and discussion. I liked the lecture and Persson’s way of thinking on how we can use renewable energy and use energy derived from sources other than fossil fuel. I was able to draw many parallels between Sweden and Slovenia, my home country. Slovenia relies on hydro-energy, has a nuclear power plant, and about two thirds of it are unused forests. Lying on the Adriatic Sea and experiencing proper summers and proper winters, it gets its fair share of sunlight throughout the year, and solar panels are becoming more popular (though still out of price range for most Slovenians), and it has a low population density. These are characteristics similar to Sweden.

But, in my experience, Slovenians are not too concerned with the global climate change, although they do believe in it. The news that I read/watch from time to time never correlates the droughts (which in Slovenia means poor rains) with the global climate change aspect. When they report on local climate and weather phenomena, they report it as if it is separate from the global climate. Though the discussions on global climate do get coverage, it is not nearly as prominent a topic as it is on social media, like facebook (this might also be because of the groups I am a member on on facebook). This is really unfortunate, as Slovenia is one of the countries with the highest number of diverse ecosystems in 20.000km2. I think there is a lot of potential to use the Slovenian forests to capture the CO2 and use the wood for building and furniture. Unlike Sweden, Slovenia only experiences winters of -20 C, so wood is a viable construction material even for winter-times. So while Slovenia is far away from being an EU leader in green energy consumption and sustainable development, the potential is there.

Since Persson’s talk was also concerned with economy and labour, one of the things I was wondering during the lecture was: How does the relationship people have with their work/employment affect how they feel about the nature and how their work directly or indirectly affects the environment? This is a very complex question and one that we are far away from answering. Research has shown that people that work on their products (in group or individually) from start till finish (i.e. do not work on a production line) are a lot happier doing their work, are more interested in it, and value it more. The list goes on and on. There is also a software company in Australia who gives its employees 1 day a week to work on any project they want, as long as they bring back a product or have something to present to the group. The employees love it and it allows them to be creative. Furthermore, developed countries that are more egalitarian (e.g. Sweden, Finland, Japan) are also the ones which care more about climate change than the less egalitarian developed countries (e.g. UK, USA). This is only a correlation, not a causation. However, in the more egalitarian developed countries people are also happier doing their work and happier in general. This is fundamental in the relationship the nation’s population has with the economy and its environment.

June 10, 2014 at 12:25 #12983

Reflection on Kristina Persson (2014): Policy-making in Times of the Climate

Kristina Persson’s presentation outlined the historical developments and consequences that led to the “Global Challenges” and to the solutions her think tank is concerned with. According to Persson it was the rise of new large-scale economies and the digital revolution coupled with a neoliberal trend towards deregulation that forged the unprecedented complex of socio-economic problems that we are facing today. Furthermore, the lack of leadership and holistic approaches among policy-makers created a vacuum of action which requires new roles for state governments, companies, civil societies and individuals. Together these agents can achieve the solutions which are urgently needed, e.g. a Nordic Green Bank, a Nordic Green Battery, a European CO2 tax and fossil-free tansport system in 2030. Overall, addressing these challenges must be accompanied by the creation of a new narrative about the conditions of sustainable development.

Kristina Persson’s analysis and visions serve both as vivid examples for what is called “ecological modernization”. In a nutshell, the driving forces of production and consumption are inherently good – it is due to the misallocation of capital and values that companies and consumers contribute to rising greenhouse gas emissions and the harming of the environment in general. Thus the solution is to steer both forces – the market and consumerism – into the right direction, that is green new products and services. What is suggested is a rather reformation than a transformation of economies and societies. “Change” is understood as altering the components of the system and not its logic. The language and knowledge from which ecological modernization draws are mainly economic ones: solutions circulate around “efficiency”, the internalization of “costs”, the mitigation of “risks”, the increasing of “benefits” or “win-win-win” situations.

Ecological modernization might be the right approach if the goal is to mitigate or slow down multiple crises like climate change but not if it is to prevent or change them substantially. For such a shift the more fundamental relationships must be highlighted and tackled. These were the points where Kristina Persson was less convincing in her talk: she was avoiding questions about economic growth and energy efficiency because they were pointing to the critical flaws in economic thinking and consequently ecological modernization. Dealing with these issues might have contributed to a bit deeper discussion. If it is economic growth that is one driving force behind CO2 emissions why are we constantly trying to keep emissions down and economic growth? When it depends on the consumptive behaviour of people why do we distinguish population growth is another driver? These questions relate to the heart of failing policy-making and does not make it easier. But I truly believe that addressing them is crucial in order to keep the modern institutions we are used to alive.

One of these institutions was mentioned by Kristina Persson herself: the need for a new narrative that binds together all members of society to pursue a sustainable development. What is needed is a new popular movement, more mature and knowledgable citizens – ideas that reflect the political endeavor of the 20th century: the creation of a wealthy society secured by the state and bounded by a common identity. And it is remarkable how strongly Kristina Persson is driven by the will to achieve such a large social project, something she might have experienced in her 30 years in a Ministry of Finance led by the Social Democrats. One could say that her proposal tries to comprehend the “Swedish Way” in the 21st century: a strong state that guarantees fair market competition and social benefits for all citizens – but now in a green, low-carbon setting.

June 10, 2014 at 13:49 #12984

Hej! I will be late with my seminar task since the daycare is closed to day. I will post it latest at 8 tonight. I hope I don´t mess upp anybodys plans.

June 10, 2014 at 15:19 #12985
Sanna Karlsson

Global utmaning – Policy in the age of the climate crises
– Reflection

The discussion seminar with Kristina Persson yesterday was about her background and current involvement in reducing the gas emissions (among other factors causing climate change). She has started the organisation ”Global Utmaning” which is an ”independent think-tank analysing systemic risks and challenges, in order to find ways and means to meet them in time”. Although the organisation by itself cannot undertake the great work needed for global change in climate change, it can serve as one means to address the problem. The think-tank includes important people on the topic of climate change, among them researches and professors.

Global Utmaning works in three areas of sustainability: social, economical and ecological. Their approach is that the ecological (limits of resources) should be the dominant factor to consider when secondly working with social aspects and thirdly, economical aspects of sustainability. This means that the decisions made on social and economical areas must follow the limits of nature´s resources. If we pass these limits, they will inevitably mean negative consequences for the other two. Usually it is economics which direct our decisions made in sustainability (and many other decisions in the business world). I believe the time to redirect this focus of the dominant factor from economical to ecological can be difficult, and will undoubtedly require time. Persson suggested that more proactive movements are necessary to make this global change. She also stated:
It is difficult to get the political ministers to really listen and adress the issues. The Governement Cabinet is structured in the same way as in the 60´s, the same with the Parliament. It´s a leadership problem. It´s about being active, on the expense of being long-term. They are reactive instead of proactive.”

Persson has worked a lot with the financial part of sustainability and trying to get the political ministers to understand the importance of planning long-term. Somehow the shift of direction must also be political and not simply found in organizations of various kinds. This is however not easy. As a citizen not much involved in the politics, or sustainable organizations for that matter, I found these issues almost too overwhelming. Can we do anything about it? I fluctuate between this sense of feeling overwhelmed and completely hopeless, and the sense of encouragement that we indvidually can do what we believe will help, even so on a small scale. Persson said that more crises might make the governing parties wake up, however to be informed and be prepared if a crisis comes, is definitely a better alternative:

“Even if we would not succeed, we would be more prepared if a crisis come. The quality of the politics have gone down the last decades. The ones who are passionated and ambitious are working on a society level, not a political one. We have no global governance.”

Perhaps we need a global governance. Yet one that is well-informed and ambitious about climate change, can inspire the ones who are not, and take proactive actions and long-term decisions concerning this. But, is this feasible? Can the whole world possibly cooperate, when thinking very differently on sustainable issues?

June 10, 2014 at 18:05 #12986

Global Challenge think-tank
Lecture by Kristina Persson

Kristina Persson presented sustainability as a three folded concept with interconnections; Economy, Environment and Social. This is the well-known and common used definition of sustainable development.
Tough it is good to get insight in a world we rarely come in connection with as students, a practical approach in the complex world of politics, I think much emphasis were laid on the present economic system and growth. In an academic world we sometimes need to be face to face with the outer world to get less theoretic-philosophical and more hands on. In this sense it was a healthy seminar. “The means is the market” was something Persson said during the seminar. I think this is overall true today but I don´t think it has to be true in a future, we can change systems. I am at least convinced we don´t need exponential growth. I even think it is harmful for the earth and its inhabitants including the humans.
Persson want to add long-term and sustainable perspectives to politics. I also think that seems to be needed, just think of the lack of leadership and forceful decisions when it comes to the question of climate change, all over the world. She also asked for global governance. I think maybe we still are in a transitions phase in relation to the intensified globalized market and issues that comes in its wake. Persson showed us a graph over the speculative market and the real economy. The global speculative market has increased vastly since the 80s, this is quite recent in a historical perspective. What is sad is the bad impact it already had on the ecosystems and humans, when we humans at the same don´t seem to be able to follow the speed of the market with good governance.
I was impressed by Persson devotion to an important issue she believes in. I think we are on the same page but have different ideas on how to reach sustainability within the boundaries of the earth’s capacity. Me and Michi were discussing after the seminar and talked about persons such as Kristina as an important link between paradigms and politicians in power and the usually more radical under-current in civil society. The society and the earth need those people who can build bridges and communicate with different lingos in different spheres. I believe Persson can be listened to in different contexts, conservative as well as radical ones and that is an important ability to inhabit.
Ellen Lindblom

June 10, 2014 at 20:52 #12987

Reply to Nik from Maria
I find Nik’s remarks and comparisons between Slovenia and Sweden very thoughtful and interesting. Although Slovenia has good conditions and sources for sustainable and renewable energy, the country and its population in general does not seem to have any incentive to model a political policy and environmental awareness that would make a difference in the process of changing to a sustainable more political strategy. I wonder what the reason is; culture, political and social history, educational system, or even the geographical region? I have a sense that environmental issues are far less of concern in the southern countries in Europe than in the north, but why this would be a reason I do not know. However, I am convinced that the generation that now will take over from generation born in the 40s is very much more concerned, knowledgeable and more open-minded to new ideas. Hopefully, this “Internet and Facebook” generation will be able to formulate and initiate new economic and social models to tackle the globalised problems developing in the anthropocene era.
Nik refers to Kristina’s comment on equality and happiness. Although the association between these two conditions might be seen as rational and obvious, Sweden is, or at least has been, infamous for a high suicide rate. His example of the Australian company that let the employees work with own ideas, but being required to share and explain their projects, is fantastic. Not only within the IT related area, but combining the skills and genius of all kinds of innovative people working in companies and think tanks is another way to start begin solving problems that could seem more or less impossible without a holistic view and collaboration. Nik’s question about the relation between profession/work and awareness of, and interest in nature, is an additional relevant topic. There are probably studies about this issue, and maybe it is time to use this knowledge to find out what makes people realize the state of the environmental threats and then be willing to participate actively for a sustainable (=green) economy.

June 10, 2014 at 21:07 #12988

Response to Sanna’s reflection:

Thank you Sanna for this critical and personal reflection. I totally agree with you that it is hard to imagine that the whole world, every person on the planet, will “take action” towards climate change as the word goes. I believe there is already a flaw in this way of wording that is also present in Kristina Persson’s presentation. Society is divided into people who take action and people who don’t and moreover, it is divided into leaders and followers. This framing supposes that there are people who know and do exactly the right thing facing these multiple crises and others who don’t. Then the problem becomes to convince people to follow, people who can quickly change their decisions, values and even world views.

I have severe difficulties with this way of framing – because it reduces climate change to a “challenge” that can be tackled by bold policymakers and open-minded individuals. It is up to the governments to find ways to reduce the CO2 emissions in a fair way and businesses and the people to support them in this unprecedented endeavor. What it is missed out is that climate change can be understood as the consequence of economic and technological developments that created huge wealth, social statuses and ways of living we are so used to that we cannot think around them. It baffled me how Kristina Persson mentioned the GPS tracking of car drivers in order to measure and tax their CO2 emissions. It is easier for us to comprehend such a hypertechnological solution than a society that is simply more localized and uses bicycles and public transport as means to be mobile. It is easier for us to comprehend that “the most efficient mean is the market” than that a slower, less materialistic way of living might be more effective against climate change. In other words: it is easier for us think about climate change in technological and economic ones than in any other, although it has the potential to make our lives more satisfied and simple.

Thus I would strongly suggest that we should not leave climate change to politicians, scientists and economists – self-proclaimed “experts” but to encompass it and use it as a mirror for our own lives as Mike Hulme suggests. This is not to say that climate change is no longer a global and complex phenomena that affects everything but to focus on the very origin of every emission: our ideas what makes a good life.

June 11, 2014 at 09:32 #12995

Reply to Maria Wilen
Nik Petek

Maria posted a very interesting reflection on Persson’s lecture and criticising some of her ideas (in a good way, pointing out the deficiencies). I would like to shortly tackle some of the questions Maria provides for us. The first one is how to convince western shopaholics (or anybody for that matter) to recycle and reuse. One psychological reason we should try and convince people to do that is because people that shop less and spend less money are happier in general. The UK newspaper, a couple of months ago, published articles on why the British politicians have been so gluttonous and “inhumane” when research came out that people who spend a lot of money are unhappy and also become less personable. I recommend the read.

The second question concerns the drastic fall in production and related jobs. Unfortunately, jobs are being automated and this trend will continue. Any work that requires repetitiveness will be automated, and hence people will have no jobs. That is why innovation and jobs that require human thinking are the way forward in any industry. That is also why small companies are important, because they have the freedom to be innovative, they are not the tankers, but nimble fishing boats. Unfortunately, in this capitalist world the small companies get incorporated into the big corporations, thus keeping the tankers strong as ever.

June 11, 2014 at 16:04 #13003
Sanna Karlsson

Response to Ellen´s reflection:
Ellen, you brought up roughly three themes concerning Persson´s lecture: that it is good to get a ”hands-on” view on sustainability as academics, that we have not learned to treat nature good in accordance with an immense increase in financial profit since the 80´s thus damaging nature, and lastly, that it is important to have people who can bridge well between different paradigms and disciplines.

I like your analysing. I fully agree in the importance of getting ”hands-on” understanding of the climate change and how the academic theories work in real life, outside of the academic world. I also found this valuable. Both valuable and somewhat discouraging however. I found it valuable in the sense that one gets a greater understanding on how to actually work in the best way possible according to limitations in the ”real world”, yet the discouraging part was that so many political decisions are still made short-term and financially affected. This makes me wonder, is global change really possible? As much as we need to get into politics, I believe perhaps changing the minds of ordinary people might lead to a greater ”greener” shift in the politics, since they follow the values of their followers, that is, the ordinary people. This might not always be true, but in many aspects I believe it might be.

Before the increasing financial profit globally, perhaps we did not need to think as much about the limits of resources? If this is the case, then people have simply not been bothered about the limits of resources, even as the profit has increased vastly. It is only in the hindsight that the negative consequences are now starting to emerge. In this way, one can say that people are not to blame, until they now know the damages which have been made. However, if they should have thought more carefully in the process of possessing more and more money, the limits of nature would most likely been more taken into account, and thus would we not be where we are today with all the negative aspects of climate change. To be proactive and careful instead of taking quick action – however take the action when it´s needed ofcourse – is always preferable, and this need to get into the politics more.

I truly agree with your point in having people who can bridge between different paradigms. How important is not this! If we don´t have it, we will not be able to understand each other fully and cooperate for change. Even so, all people will not want to cooperate even if they know about the bad consequences of our modern living, but to gather the ones who want to might still cause great change for the better. This is my hope.

June 12, 2014 at 12:52 #13004

Hej Nik. I am sorry for the late reply.
It was interesting to learn a bit of Slovenia’s natural conditions in relation to Sweden. It would be interesting to have some figures over different countries capacity to store co2 in their forests. As well as co2 numbers of petroleum based goods in contrast to wooden based products. Persson seemed to put high hopes in hydropower as well and you tell it is also a part of Slovenia’s energy recourses. Nuclear power though is a difficult issue and I think that discussion is better held another time.
The reasoning you have on work and relation to nature I am not prone to totally agree with you. As you I also think a more holistic work process were the employee see the goal of what you do and have an influence over the work situation is a positive thing for the individual. Tough I think a shortening of the total amount of working ours (or ours spent at the work place) could make people more engaged in issues they are passionate about outside work. At least in Sweden many people have a recreational relationship with “nature” in their spare time. If people could increase their time spent in and with nature their relationship to e.g. the forest and its inhabitants would deepen and the understanding of its ecosystems would improve. I addition this also could improve people’s engagement in environmental issues. Hence less working ours more time to spend on issues not related to employment. Maybe this also could make employees take their passion and knowledge back to work in a greater extent if they are less stressed-out and tired?
Women tend to vote for the Environmental party in a greater extent than then men in Sweden. The correlation between a more egalitarian society and engagement for the climate maybe comes down to women as one of several reasons.
All the best,

January 7, 2015 at 12:13 #15918

Complementary task, Climate change and policy, 9 june, Markus Nyström

When I worked at Cemus I coordinated a course on technology and sustainable development. One year, I showed my students a part of a documentary film as part of a discussion. Even though I no longer remember the name of the film, I clearly remember its topic. It was about war. The film makers interviewed people working in bomb and airplane factories and asked if they saw that they had any responsibility for the lives the factories products took. They said no. They needed the job and it was not their decision to drop the bombs. Then the film maker asked the soldiers and pilots. Same answer, no. They were just following orders. Then the film maker asked politicians making the decisions to go to war. They too said no, it was not their responsibility, it was the voters’ responsibility – in other words, the factory workers and the soldiers and the pilots.

I think of this film quite often in relation to sustainable development. Who is responsible to achieve sustainable development and who is responsible for the sustainability crises to begin with? It is common to hear people complain that politicians do not do enough for sustainability. On the other hand, those same people that complain do not vote for politicians who are willing to make the tough decisions – often because those decisions will make life less affluent for the citizens. The economic sector, the corporations, on the other hand, pretend to do good deeds, greenwash their activities, and argue that since people are buying their stuff they can’t be that much in error.

The point is, it’s a blame game, where no one takes responsibility. But, most likely, nor should anyONE of the institutions or levels – politicians (public sector), citizens (grassroots), corporations (private sector) – take the full responsibility. The problems of sustainability is systematic and as such, the problems are everyones. But not only that, the systematic arrproach teaches us that we cannot regard these institutions or levels as “on their own”, we also must consider the interconnections between them: how the different levels/institutions interact.

In the comments to Kristina Persson’s seminar, there is a debate about who whoudl change to achieve sustainable development, and how. One could formulate that question as “where in the system” the change should occur, and what that change should be. Should the change be on a grassroot level of global institutions? It seems to me, from the comments above, that Kristina Persson was arguing during the seminar for change on multiple systemic levels, and thus that she recognize that responsibility does not lie singularly within one level.

On the other hand, the Global Utmaning website tells a different story, in my opinion. Here the focus seems to be on global institutions, trade and regulations, and “green” economic growth. Simply put, the focus on the website seems to be on large institutional solutions.

Perhaps the most important example of this is the very name of the think tank: Global Utmaning (Global Challenge). Let’s disect it a little. First, the focus on the global. Climate change, as an example, is of course a global problem, but it is not caused globally and the people with the means and the power to limit emmissions and invest in mitigation and adaptation to climate change are incredibly unequally devided, and correlate geographically with who are the main sources of the problem. Secondly, “challenge” is a problematic word in my opinion. A challenge is something one accepts (not are forced to face) with the hopes of solving it – if one doesn’t, no big deal. Climate change, poverty and starvation, modern slavery and neocolonialism are not “challenges” – more powerful words, derogatorily refered to as “alarmist”, need to be employed to paint a truer picture. And, finally, the singular form – that we face ONE challenge. I do not quite get that, since it is obvious that there are a multitude of “challenges” that face humanity as a whole today. I believe that the singular form refers, not to the problems, but on THE solution. The solution is “change” (perhaps even a more watered-out word than “challenge” in sustainability nomenclature). A change of people’s hearts, a change of “narrative”, a change of production and consumption patterns, etcetera. THE global challenge is, in other words, to achieve “change”.

But this change I think, just like many – especially Michael Deflorian – has noted, is reformative, in Kristina Persson’s and Global Utmaning’s perspective, not transformative. “Change”, writes Michael, “is understood as altering the components of the system and not it’s logic”. At the website one can read about the ABBBA project for instance, which seems to be a badly cloaked way for European powers to appropriate African bio resources, with one of the main aims of the project being to “strengthening the sustainability profile” of the enterprise. Not to “make it sustainable” but to strengthen its sustainability “profile” – those are two very different things. I ask myself, in what way does shipping resources from poor sub-saharan African countries to Europe while strengthening the sustainability “profile” of the endeavor actually change the world? In one way: Europeans will continue to be able to drive their cars just like before. In other words, the project amounts to changing the components (fuels) but not at all behavior or the system logic of appropriation of natural resources from poor people to rich people.

Another example can be read under “global economy”. The goal is to “bring about research-based policy analysis aimed at supporting a move towards increasing employment and growth, focusing on Sweden and Europe”. What is global about Sweden and Europe, to begin with, and why is increased employment and growth necessarily a good thing if what you want is to achieve a sustainable development globally? Increased employment is good because then more people can buy more stuff, and more stuff is produced for them to consume as well. All this is detrimental to sustainable development, in my opinion, since increased consumption (in places like Sweden and Europe in particular) is the foundation for increased unsustainability worldwide. And increased economic growth is just yet another word for the above-mentioned unsustainability but with the added bonus of even further locking the system in on a course toward ecological and thus economic collapse.

It is of course easy to criticize – a whole lot easier than constructively do something oneself. It is good that people think about the issues of sustainable development, and try to make the world better. But I cannot help but to feel that Global Utmaning is an ecomodern compromise that will not fulfill its purpose. Ecomodernism in general, which I think Global Utmaning represents, is a compromise to begin with – even a compromise from a compromise since “sustainable development” to begin with is a compromise between ecological and economic interests.

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