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!
Last Thursday Prof. Kevin Anderson held an open lecture on the Paris agreement. As the title – obviously inspired by H. C. Andersen’s short tale – suggested, he took the audience to an expedition looking for substance in the Paris agreement. As usual, Kevin spoke his mind claiming that the emperor is indeed naked, but that there had not been a child to speak up yet: Climate policy is really nothing more than hot air.
1, 2, 3 – What degree will it be?
The 2°C scenario is not some kind of optimal degree of warming, but a political goal on the threshold to dangerous climate change, fine-tuned to political and economic sensibility. While the agreement on a target itself is quite positive, “Paris” contains too many flaws, like the missing references to shipping, aviation or even fossil fuel combustion. Many of the percentage reduction goals in carbon emissions as set out for 2030 or 2050 just don’t matter. Kevin highlighted that these kinds of goals cover up what truely counts: carbon budgets. Continued emission of carbon, we will have used up the complete “budget” for the 1.5°C target within the next 3-13 years. The more CO2 we release now, the stricter future reductions will need to be. According to Kevin’s assessment, the current INDCs (Intended National Determined Contributions) equate to rather 3 to 4°C of warming than to 2°C.
Paris goals and energy
Looking at energy consumption gets quite depressing. Technological progress is unlikely to suffice for the required changes in energy demand, especially when taking behavioral effects, like the rebound, into account. Even on the supply side massive electrification is necessary to be able to move towards renewable energy production. Kevin named nuclear power as one example of a low carbon source. Currently it only meets about 2.5% of global energy demand. If one was to raise this share to 25%, there would be a need for 3000 (!) nuclear power plants worldwide. To put this in perspective: today there are around 430 nuclear power stations and about 70 are under construction right now. Even if we want to switch to renewable energies, this will be a Herkulean task.
The “magic trick” of climate policy
What is really necessary to stick to the Paris agreement is a 10% (rather 12% for the developed countries) yearly emission reduction starting now, i.e. zero emissions by 2035. What the EU suggested was a reduction by 40% by 2030. This goal is basically half of what is needed and it was set by the probably most ambitious countries. The attentive reader will now wonder what is supposed to happen to the other half of the emissions. Well, the answers are two fancy acronyms: NETs and BECCS. Negative emission technologies and biomass energy with carbon capture and storage. I will try to elaborate on this further in another blog post, but basically these are technologies which shall suck emitted carbon back from the atmosphere. They have however never worked at scale so far. Also are they inefficient and require massive areas of land. These technologies are the “magic trick” within the model forecasts, because the possibility of their actual implementation is highly questionable.
So what to do?
While the to-do list is infinitely long, Kevin claims that climate change demands system change. We need to fundamentally question our norms and paradigms: higher, further, better. While I agree with Kevin to a certain extent, his general and ubiquitous criticism of economic growth is far too generalized. I am thinking about decoupling growth from resources here, for example. However, Kevin’s most important direct action points are (1) large scale electrification, (2) a sustainable way to produce biofuels and (3) to leave the so-called “unconventionals” (e.g. oil sands) in the ground. For Sweden particularly, Kevin suggests the following list:
higher efficiency standards
a broad renewable energy program
a low-meat diet
extended lifetimes of nuclear plants
a shift from cars to public transport
an upgraded rail networks (especially faster trains)
carbon capture and storage for steel and cement production
All necessary facts about climate change have been on the table since the first IPCC report in 1990, but mankind has lacked the courage to take the crucial steps. And we still are. What a sad truth.
If you are interested in climate change you can find a summary of another lecture held by Kevin Anderson here! Also, I would really like to hear your opinions on this. Please leave a comment if you feel like it!
Take care and think twice before booking the next flight or ordering a steak! 😉
And she told Prof. Redpath and Michelle Obama that there is no problem in relocating native people.
You see this is going to be interesting. Yesterday Stephen M. Redpath, Scottish ecologist and conservation scientist, held a lecture about conservation conflict management at SLU. Since he is the 21st holder of the King Carl XVI Gustaf Professorship in Environmental Sciences, H.M. himself attended the lecture as well. The King brought excellent weather to Uppsala and in trade got a really interesting program I think.
Left: Landscape around SLU at sunset yesterday; Right: All flags up for the King
After a short introduction by Rector Peter Högberg, Prof. Henrik Andrén (SLU), Professor Redpath (University of Aberdeen), Prof. Maria Johansson (Lund University) and Prof. Camilla Sandström (Umeå University) each approached conservation conflicts from slightly different perspectives. Unfortunately for me, my non-Swedish seating neighbor – and Mr. Redpath I am afraid – three out of the four talks were held in Swedish. Although I am not sure I understood everything correctly, the Swedish speakers seemed to complement Prof. Redpath quite well.
Prof. Andrén gave an overview of the development of different wildlife species in Sweden and I think it was really interesting to see that more or less all their populations have increased during the last century. That obviously increases the threat of conflict between humans and nature.
Prof. Redpath picked up from there, focusing on the conflicts arising between different groups of people as a result of human-animal conflicts. To set our minds at ease, he began his presentation by playing Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze”, pointing out that conservation conflicts usually revolve around extremely emotional topics. That is why they quickly (and often) end up in heated and entrenched situations.
I am not an ecologist and I did not know about Prof. Redpath’s work before, but he has been working on some extremely fascinating issues. One of his recent projects is the protection of snow leopards in the Himalayas. In the meager mountain landscape, the predator’s diet can actually drive the people there below the poverty line, so they have been shooting these beautiful creatures. And here is where conflicts among different social groups arise from the natural competition between animals and humans. It is a fundamental conflict between conservation and human welfare, or livelihood, between killing the snow leopards and starving to death.
According to Prof. Redpath the four most common problems in conservation conflict management are (1) a lack of engagement, (2) a focus on ecology, (3) the missing agreement about evidence and (4) the ineffectiveness of interventions. He says that too often problems are managed in a “top-down” manner, which leads social tensions and low implementation rates. Prof. Redpath emphasized that there is a need for more dialogue: between the different parties of a dispute, but also between scientific disciplines. He urges ecologists to open up for interdisciplinarity, because social concepts, such as world views, norms and identities, affect the success of conservation policies significantly. There is often no agreement about evidence, because personal experience frequently does not match with scientific findings. Last but not least, the effectiveness of implemented projects always needs to be tested.
Overall, Prof. Redpath advertised for a more holistic approach to conservation problems. In the example of the snow leopards, his team is trying out a collaborative approach, where they work together with the locals. They are trying to gain their trust and understanding to change their attitudes towards the animals. To reduce the conflict, there is also a need to generate alternative sources of income for these people. Prof. Redpath concluded that conflicts often can’t be overcome, but managed well and carefully if there is a will to do so. From his personal experience humor and whiskey are amongst the most effective communication strategies 🙂
Prof. Johansson and Prof. Sandström complemented the talk with their insights from environmental psychology and implementation processes of conservation policy in Sweden, respectively.
Maybe you are wondering why you find this post on the blog of an environmental economist. Well, because it is just really interesting. Also, I would like to follow Prof. Repath’s call for interdisciplinarity, as this is an issue concerning not only ecologists, but all scientists who try to solve environmental problems. It is never enough to approach a problem from one side. In the context of environmental issues economics often seems to be standing particularly far away from other disciplines, but I hope that this will change in the future. We should all try to foster cross-disciplinary dialogues instead of our prejudices.
Thanks to SLU and all speakers for a great event yesterday!