Wow. I can’t remember having had that summery weather in March (!) ever.
I know the weather is currently really nice in Uppsala as well, but I have heard it is supposed to snow again. So at least weather-wise it seems like I had a good timing for going home. Below are some pictures from my lunch break yesterday:
If you are in Sweden you might have passed Germany every once and a while. See, you should make a stop next time, as it can actually be nice 🙂
Just a really really quick reminder: Tonight from 8:30 to 9:30 is this year’s Earth hour. To save some symbolic energy and emissions and set a sign against climate change, millions of people all around the globe turn off their lights.
In the beginning of March, CEMUS had yet another prominent guest: Dr. Marina Fischer-Kowalski. As the director and “designer” of the Institute of Social Ecology at Klagenfurt University and senior lecturer at the University of Vienna she has published numerous texts on social ecology and social metabolism. Marina has also worked for the United Nations Environmental Program and she used to be the president of the International Society for Ecological Economics.
CEFO – the research forum of CEMUS – had organized a workshop on social metabolism with Marina and I was lucky enough to be able to participate in it. While the concept of social metabolism was relatively new to me, it is apparently tackling many familiar issues. So the workshop was a very enriching experience. Many things were discussed in detail that day, but to keep it “readable” I will focus on some main points here.
Marina explained that social ecology is about how society behaves towards its environment. Her model of social metabolism considers the natural and cultural sphere of causation and how they interact. She claims that other existing models do not connect these two spheres at all, or in the wrong way. She visualized these approaches somewhat like those two for instance:
Marina claims that her model is more holistic and looks at different levels of interactions. It reminds me of Jay Forrester’s System’s Thinking.
The whole cultural sphere – including the overlapping part – forms our society. For all those of you who wonder what belongs to the coinciding part: that’s for example the world population, but also artefacts and life stock. A lot is happening between those two spheres. Through our labor we change the natural realities and experience feedback from that. In the cultural sphere, we develop programs within subsystems like economics, law, etc. – as a reaction to natural feedback, for instance.
After a really stimulating discussion and a fantastic Turkish lunch, Marina held a lecture in the afternoon. That was the part I was really most interested in, as it was about decoupling environmental impacts from economic growth. Probably this is THE dream of every economist these days (and if it is not, it should be!). Marina promoted an idea of a tax shift from labor to resources brought forward by Prof. Robert K. Weizsäcker. She highlighted that one needs to distinguish between resource and impact decoupling. When presenting material use and GDP growth over the last century, one can see a “spontaneous” (not following a certain policy) decoupling of these two indicators since the 1970s in the developed countries. Marina presented several possible explanations for this phenomenon: (1) slower economic growth, (2) outsourcing of material production (to developing countries), (3) increasing income inequality, which reduced mass consumption to a certain extent or (4) maybe even a saturation of material needs. Some of these suggestions deserve attention, but with respect to the second point: outsourcing of production to developing countries, it would have been interesting to look at consumption-based resource use. I wonder how much decoupling we could have seen then. The saturation of material needs also is an argument limited to the developed world.
That is something I need to criticize about this lecture in general. Marina often gave examples from Europe. Due to global trade and supply chains the approach to decoupling should always be global, though, in my opinion.
We also talked about productivity a lot during this presentation. Marina mentioned in the beginning that technology is one of the key factors when it comes to decoupling economic growth from resource use and pollution, actually. She showed some graphs where one could see how much faster labor productivity increased compared to energy and material productivity. This is where the proposed shift of tax burden comes into play. It would make labor cheaper relative to materials or energy. As Rob Hart suggested in our latest course on sustainable economic growth, the main reason why labor productivity increases so much faster is that the relative factor share of labor is much higher than that of resources within global production.
However, there are many ways of looking at resource consumption and it was really inspiring to discuss this with Marina. I want to thank her for a very pleasant and informative day and I hope that she will visit us again.
Why we should all try traveling by train and bus instead of planes.
Okay, everyone who will make it through this endless post deserves a special star. I am sorry I didn’t cut it shorter, but this is a topic I am very passionate about.
Uppsala is quite an international nest. That is one of the reasons for why it is so great. You can meet students (and others) from all over the world here. Unfortunately, it is very common for people to fly back and forth to visit family and friends, even within Europe or Sweden itself. I don’t want to point fingers here as I have been doing this exact thing as well (glasshouse, you know…). However, a flight from Germany to Sweden emits between 250 and 640 kg of CO2. That is equivalent to 2 – 7% of the average yearly per capita CO2 emissions of a European (9.1t). In comparison, bus and train emit approximately 35kg and 58kg, respectively (Data found in a Guardian article here and here).
My friends know that I usually state I would pick beaming, if I could have a super power. But I am not sure anymore if it were really the greatest way to travel. This week was the third time that I avoided the plane when going home. So now I want to report you guys a little bit about my experiences. Hopefully some of you will feel up for a little adventure afterwards.
Which alternatives are there?
In general, there are many different travel modes, but the ones most likely to replace a plane trip are probably the train, bus, or car. I can imagine some people who would even cycle all the way to Germany. Not me however 🙂 Also, I don’t own a car, so I will focus on my experiences with bus and train.
There are quite a few different train connections to central Europe. I’d say most of the trains routes go via Copenhagen, but I read that there is a ferry connection from Sweden to Germany forming a train connection from Stockholm to Berlin. This is only available during the summer months, though. By contrast, the fast train (Snabbtåg) from Stockholm to Copenhagen goes several times every day around the year and you can get tickets from around 200 SEK as a student (Check out the Swedish train operator SJ). From Copenhagen you have different train routes (usually via Hamburg) and you can for example book the saver fares at Deutsche Bahn (this is the German train operator) for most of them. This ticket costs 39€ (that’s less than 400SEK).
If you want the cheapest option, which might be the bus, compare carefully: there can be really good deals for both, trains and buses. The German company Flixbus offers the incredible route from Stockholm to Cologne Airport almost every day (a 1,400km route in a little less than 23hrs). The price for that trip is around 60 to 70€ (~600 SEK). It is a nice option for those of you who have a lot of luggage and do not want to change trains too many times. You can book tickets for the bus here.
I know that at least for trips from Cologne (or Düsseldorf) to Stockholm the plane is normally the cheapest option. However, once you include luggage (which is included in bus/train prices) the costs are quite similar.
What else to think about when planning your trip
There are some little things you should take into consideration when deciding for the slow mode option. It is not really advisable for weekend trips, etc. I usually plan a longer journey now when I go home. I take my laptop, so I can work and go for one, two weeks instead of a weekend. This enables me to spend more quality time with friends and family at home, as well as visit people on the way. There is some necessary equipment for me when I go on the bus, for instance. This includes a neck pillow, ear plugs and headphones. Some people might want to have a sleeping mask as well. Books and audiobooks are great for relaxing.
Personally I have tried out taking the bus, the train and a mix of both so far. The experiences I made differed a little bit and I think you can really design your trip the way you want it. Before Christmas last year I took the bus all the way from Stockholm to Leverkusen – and I was positively surprised. At first I was most afraid that I might have an annoying seating neighbor for 23 hours and that my butt would hurt as hell. Okay, I admit a little butt pain during the last hours, but overall the positive sides actually weigh more. I had just finished an extremely stressful period at school and I didn’t really have time to calm down and relax. Here is where the bus comes into play. It is extraordinary what a full day of not speaking to anyone can do. We started in Stockholm after 11 PM and since I had two seats to myself and I was quite exhausted, I fell asleep after 10 minutes. I woke up when we left the motorway in Helsingborg and saw their beautiful Christmas decorations in the peacefully sleeping inner city. I continued dreaming until we got to Malmö, where the world was slowly waking up. I ate some breakfast and then just sat and watched the landscape listening to music. One nice feature with the bus is that it takes the ferry from Denmark to Germany. So while you still continue moving, you can get off the bus, walk around and get some fresh air. To be honest, the last few hours in Germany felt really long, but when I actually arrived I was so happy to be there. And most importantly, I was in the right mind-set, mentally prepared for friends, family and Christmas.
Completely different were my two other trips. Taking the train from Köln all the way to Uppsala was actually much more social. I started really early and sleepy and had my first real breakfast in a café in Hamburg during my “transit” stop. On the train from Hamburg to Copenhagen a guy joined my niche. I saw that he had an inter rail pass and studied with a little Swedish dictionary. I was reading some paper for school, so for a while I struggled whether I should start a conversation or not. In the end my curiosity won and Alex and I had a super fun trip together. Even though I missed my connecting train in Copenhagen due to a delay, I had no problem continuing my journey. The very friendly employees at Copenhagen central station gave me a stamp on my ticket which enabled me to just take the next train to Stockholm.
Last weekend I started with the overnight bus again, but I got off in Copenhagen instead. On the bus I sat next to a German girl. The ice between us broke after about 2 minutes, when we both bursted into laughter about a ridiculously over-enthusiastic automatic announcement. We had a really nice chat until we both fell asleep and just continued when we woke up. I also met a super cool Finnish guy on that ride, who got off in Copenhagen, just as me. Since I had a good three hours until my next train and he was just the most spontaneous person I ever met, we decided to take over Copenhagen together. We walked around in the sun, had fika and talked (I almost missed my train there again!).
Apart from the possibility of meeting new people, I really like how riding the bus or train gives you a completely new feeling for dimensions. It makes me more aware of the efforts and resources it really takes to get from A to B. But even if you are a very pragmatic person and you feel like talking to strangers is a waste of time, you can still use the time on board to work, read, etc.
I guess the thing that most people would complain about – the long travel time – is what actually makes this way of traveling so much better than the plane. We always want to be everywhere fast, but it is when you take the detours that you encounter the adventures. It doesn’t really matter if you want to hear interesting life stories or just relax and read a book. On the slow travel modes you can use the time to do things you usually wouldn’t. In my eyes that’s the magic.
Also, it is a perfect opportunity for Europeans and non-Europeans to get to know our continent better. Hopefully I could inspire some of you to try out the slow travel modes and save emissions. What do you guys think about an extended trip through Europe this spring with InterRail or InterFlix? Leave a comment and share your own experiences!
It felt like spring was finally arriving in Uppsala on Sunday (just in time when I am leaving of course). Last year I still thought the Swedes were a little crazy for how they worship the first sun, but in the meantime I’m all in for that. On Sunday I spent the afternoon walking and sitting in the sun with a friend. I even had my first ice cream for the year. Sooo nice. In th emeantime I hear now it started to snow again… However, here are some impressions!
I really hope the weather will soon be continuously awesome!