söndag 15 januari 2017

Harnessing our energy slaves (paper)

My two previous blog posts have treated two abstracts (proposed articles) to a special issue on "Energy and the Future" in the journal Energy Research & Social Science and this blog post treats the third and last abstract I submitted, this time together with my colleague Ambjörn Naeve.

This abstract is again directed towards the special issue theme "Ways of thinking about the future of energy" and I think it's a pretty certain bet that not all three of these proposed articles will be invited to the special issue... I would be happy if one is accepted and I would be delighted but overworked if two are accepted (luckily I'm the second rather than the first author of all three proposals)... For a little more information about the special issue (and the five themes), see the previous blog post.

The background to this blog post is to some extend many long free-ranging discussions between me and Ambjörn about energy and other topics over the years, but this is our first attempt at actually writing something together. We have recently started to discussed the twin ideas of "Homo Colossus" and of "Energy Slaves" and the original plan was to write a paper that was to be based on us examining and digging deep down into those metaphor (including comparisons, calculations and graphs), but with Ambjörn as the first author, the proposed paper took a slightly different turn. Here's the result of that process:

Harnessing the work ability of energy slaves

This paper aims to disentangle the confusion between the energy of a system and its capacity/ability to perform work. It makes consistent use of the terminology of thermodynamics, which separates between the concepts energy and exergy. ’Energy’ denotes an invariant quantity of a closed system, which, when the individual parts of the system interact with each other, redistributes itself among different forms with decreased total work ability. ’Exergy’ denotes the latent ability of a system to perform work on its surroundings. The degradation of the work ability of energy, i.e., the degradation of its exergy, is a fundamentally important law of nature. In fact, it is the only law (on the macroscopic level) which is sensitive to the direction of time.

We illustrate our argument by way of Buckminster Fuller’s concept of energy slaves. From a thermodynamical perspective they ought to be called exergy slaves since they (by definition) deliver work at the same rate as (average) human beings. An ”energy slave” is defined, e.g., by Wikipedia as "that quantity of energy (ability to do work) which, when used to construct and drive non-human infrastructure replaces a unit of human labor (actual work)."

This unfortunate identification between ‘energy’ and ‘work’ restricts the concept of energy to cover only its prime quality forms (such as mechanical energy or electrical energy), which are completely convertible into work, and it excludes all other (non-prime-quality) forms of energy, such as e.g., chemical energy and heat energy, which are only partially convertible into work.

We argue that basing the future energy discourse on thermodynamics can help dispel present confusion and increase the conceptual quality of the discourse. Specifically, this perspective can help to better locate effective leverage points when it comes to harnessing the latent work ability of a given energy flow. For example, when we heat our living rooms with electricity, we turn each kilowatt hour of electrical input energy into a kilowatt hour of ”room-temperature-heat” output energy, and the latter has less than 7% of the work ability of the former. Hence, we have thrown away more than 93% of the work ability of the energy - work ability that is costly to provide and that can never be regained.

From the thermodynamical perspective, each untapped temperature difference in a process is an untapped source of work. The present confusion prevents the discovery of untapped work resources, especially those that are based on heat energy. In fact, being able to thermodynamically estimate the exergy of heat energy is crucial in order to discover the heat-based work that is wasted in such untapped temperature differences. This is especially true for industrial processes, and by redesigning their energy flows, many of them could operate from the same flow, thereby reducing their untapped work ability. Under the name of energy conservation such activities do take place today, but we argue they must be greatly increased in order to meet the strategic demands of better managing scarce energy resources in the future.

torsdag 12 januari 2017

The green democratic energy narrative (article)

My last blog post concerned a submission to a special issue about "Energy and the Future" (in the journal Energy Research & Social Science), but I submitted also a second proposed article to this special issue together with two colleagues (Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling and Karin Bradley). This is a slightly repurposed version of an article proposal we submitted half a year ago to another special issue of the same journal. Our proposal was at that time rejected due to the strict one-article-per-person rule that the editors of that special issue instituted when they got many submissions (probably a lot more submissions than they expected).

The Call for Papers for the "Energy and the Future" special issue has disappeared from the ER&SS website, but I asked the editors (who work at "The Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future" at Boston University) to send it by mail and have now re-read it. Here's a short description of the focus of the special issue:

"This special issue seeks to produce a collection of latest and original interdisciplinary papers on both ‘the future of energy,’ and ‘energy and the future’ that consider these emergent and crucial contemporary situations and developments. The collection aims to [...] to focus on the critical assessment of the future synergies, trade-offs, and tensions among issues of energy resource supply and demand, environmental sustainability and climate change, access, innovation, strategy, security, decision-making, justice and fairness, markets, and institutional arrangements on local, national, and international levels."

The Call for Papers further enumerate five "themes" and specify that they expect to select 3-5 papers for each of these themes for the special issue:

·      Future energy transitions: including issues of pace or speed (short-term, mid-term, and longer-range), space or level, and scale (small-scale and large-scale) in the context of both developed and developing countries, with a particular emphasis beyond Europe [...];
·      Visions or discourses of ‘energy and the future’: including energy sociotechnical imaginaries, analyses of future actors and potential for change, and future energy publics;
·      Energy modelling and the future: including how future risk and uncertainties are handled or dealt with in energy modelling, integrated assessments, scenarios, and systems analyses;
·      Future governance of energy: including conceptualisations of innovative policy and institutional arrangements and mechanisms, planning, implementation/operations, monitoring, and evaluation that consider existing and future multiple overlapping roles and hierarchies, linkages, and networks; and
·      Ways of thinking about the future of energy: including approaches of knowledge production about the ‘future of energy,’ ‘energy for future generations,’ and ‘energy for the future,’ their processes, contradictions, trade-offs, frictions, and tensions, as well as their negotiations and settlements, which might led to the creation of new interdisciplinary fields.

Our submission below is (again) aimed at the theme "Ways of thinking about the future of energy". We have this time around shortened and sharpened the proposal a little, but we are basically interested in investigating the same question as last time around (half a year ago), i.e. what is the connections between current carbon-based energy systems and current systems of governance and what are the implications of shifting to other (renewable) energy sources in terms of implications for governance?

The green democratic energy narrative

Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling (1), Daniel Pargman (2) & Karin Bradley (1)
KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
(1) School of Architecture and the Built Environment
(2) School of Computer Science and Communication

It has become a truism that the current fossil energy regime is unsustainable (Aleklett 2012) and that CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions pose great risks for humankind as well as for flora and fauna (IPCC 2014, Steffen et. al. 2015). Proposed solutions – beyond hopes for urgent breakthroughs in breeder reactors or fusion energy – point in the direction of a rapid scaling-up of renewable energy sources, e.g. solar, wind and biofuels. Renewable energy sources is and have been a continuing source of hope for more than four decades, spanning the anti-nuclear movement, green political movements and the (European) proto-green political parties of the 1970’s and the 1980’s (Dobson 2007), renewable energy ideologist and German “Energiwende” architect Hermann Scheer’s visions about a “Solar Economy” (Scheer 2001, Scheer 2007, Scheer 2013) and super entrepreneur Elon Musk’s Tesla home battery for storing solar energy, “The Tesla Powerwall”.

These ways of thinking about the future of energy narrate a shift away from fossil fuels to ushering in a utopian, green, decentralised, affordable, democratic, equitable, renewable and resilient energy regime. This is a familiar story and it offers much-needed hope, but is it realistic? Is it possible to “have it all”, or, are there tension (Hornborg 2014) between (for example) having both renewable energy and an equitable democratic society? In this paper, we aim to question and to defamiliarize the reader with the well-known story of renewable energy as a unique source of redressing everything that is wrong in today’s society.

Timothy Mitchell has in his recent book “Carbon Democracy: Political power in the age of oil” (2011) argued that an understanding of specific characteristics of fossil fuels and their concomitant (political economy) consequences is crucial for also understanding social developments such as the spread of democratic ideas (first in the UK and later in other industrialised countries of Europe and North America). The growth of coal production (distribution, use) both in terms of volume and importance gave workers the possibilities to exert power over coal mines, railways and power stations and to leverage that power into concessions that eventually led to a more equitable and democratic division of power.

Mitchell explores the link between the origins of coal- and oil-based fossil fuel regimes (Debeir et. al. 1991, Sieferle 2001, Malm 2016), fossil economies and the emergence of democratic values and he also dares to ask (but not to answer) the question: What if the system of democratic governance in itself is carbon-based?

This leads up to this paper’s research questions:
If the system of democratic governance is carbon-based, what then happens when we either voluntarily wind down or involuntarily are forced to decrease our use of fossil fuels?
What if specific characteristics of present and future renewable energy systems, in our case solar energy, challenge some of the values we hold dear in Western liberal democracies?

We will explore this through a critical reading of policy documents and by conducting focus group interviews with experts and decision-makers in the field of solar energy.
Perhaps a “green”, decentralised future renewable energy regime is at odds with equitable and democratic developments (Desvallées 2016)? What if we are only telling ourselves stories when we imagine a future renewable energy regime as being green and distributed and affordable and democratic and equitable?


Aleklett, K. (2012). Peeking at peak oil. Springer Science & Business Media.

Debeir, J. C., Deléage, J. P., & Hémery, D. (1991). In the servitude of power: energy and civilisation through the ages. Zed books.

Desvallées, L. (2016). “Mais il ne fait pas froid au Portugal!”: comment une forme de pauvreté politiquement invisible affecte les ménages de Porto. Institute Sociologica, Working paper 3.a Série, No. 10.

Dobson, A. (2007). Green political thought (fourth edition). Routledge.

Hornborg, A. (2014). Why Solar Panels Don't Grow on Trees: Technological Utopianism and the Uneasy Relation between Marxism and Ecological Economics. In Bradley, K., & Hedrén, J. (eds.), Green utopianism: perspectives, politics and micro-practices. Routledge

IPCC (2014). Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland.

Malm, A. (2016). Fossil capital: The rise of steam power and the roots of global warming. Verso Books.

Mitchell, T. (2011). Carbon democracy: Political power in the age of oil. Verso Books.

Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto. Earthscan.

Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy: the economic, social and technological case for renewable energy. Earthscan.

Scheer, H. (2013). The energy imperative: 100 percent renewable now. Routledge.

Sieferle, R. P. (2001). The subterranean forest: energy systems and the industrial revolution. White Horse Press.

Steffen, W., Richardson, K., Rockström, J., Cornell, S. E., Fetzer, I., Bennett, E. M., Biggs, R., Carpenter, S. R., de Vries, W., de Wit, C. A., Folke, C., Gerten, D., Heinke, J., Mace, G. M., Persson, L. M., Ramanathan, V., Reyers, B. Sörlin, S. (2015). Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science, 347(6223), 1259855.

tisdag 10 januari 2017

Shifting away from oil (article)

Back in July we submitted a proposal to a special issue of the journal Energy Research & Social Science on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research" and I wrote about it on the blog. The proposed article we submitted back then is the first in a multi-article series about "Coalworld" (it was previously called "Consider Half") and we are still working on the first article. Mikael Höök and me recently however submitted a new proposal for another Coalworld article for a special issue of the same journal. While the first article is setting the scene for the whole project and what is to come, this new article in more detail "constructs a scenario in terms of natural resources, e.g. a “baseline natural resource scenario.”"

The new special issue to which we submitted our proposal is called "Energy and the Future". For some reason, the journal deletes the calls directly after the deadline to submit proposals so I can not at this moment go back and have a look at it, but there were five different themes and aimed our proposal (below) towards the theme "Ways of thinking about the future of energy":

Shifting away from oil: designing allohistorical production curves for studying global transformation narratives 

Mikael Höök (1) and Daniel Pargman (2)
(1) Global Energy Systems, Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden
(2) School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Continued reliance on petroleum and other fossil fuels is environmentally and socially incompatible with prevailing visions on sustainable development. Yet, little has happened with humankind’s oil dependency despite earlier and vocal concerns over resource scarcity and environmental impacts such as anthropogenic climate change and oil spills (e.g. Tainter and Patzek, 2011; Höök and Tang, 2013; Miller & Sorrell, 2014). Instead of shifting from petroleum to renewable energy sources, the world has in essence increased the rate of exploration and extraction - with a few temporary hiccups such as the Oil Crises in the 1970s (Borasi & Zardini, 2007, Merrill, 2007).

While there does exist historical analogies for societal development in the light of declining oil supply (i.e. Friedrich 2010, 2012), they are limited to individual nations. Visions that expresses concerns over continued (or increased) global reliance on oil has been countered by the idea that future oil discoveries will be sufficient and driven by higher prices and/or new technologies (e.g. Radetzki, 2010; Becken, 2014; Jefferson, 2016).

In this paper, we employ a special kind of narrative - an allohistorical scenario – to envision possible global developments using counterfactual history to model an alternative world (Fogel 1964, Todarova 2015). We more specifically model an alternative world where only half the oil ever existed, and, we have chosen to call this alternative world “Coalworld” in comparison to our world, “Oilworld”. By design, the global peak in oil production happened more than 40 years ago in Coalworld and that world has since had to manage with continuously declining oil supplies.

The design decisions and fundamental assumptions underlying the Coalworld scenario are presented in this paper. We further elaborate on a consistent narrative explanation for “removing” half of the world’s oil while compromising as little as possible of the other world characteristics compared to Oilworld (i.e. adhering to the “minimum rewrite rule” (Gilbert & Lambert, 2010)). How and where the oil was removed influences the resource endowment of key nations by limiting their possible trajectories of oil exploitation. The production curves of key nations are quantified and systematized into a set of scenario boundaries for oil production in Coalworld.  

We argue that this approach outlined here complements existing post-oil energy visions by providing a consistent framework for exploring energy transformations induced by oil scarcity while avoiding traditional counter narratives. Hence, this allohistorical scenario can in the here and now help us to illuminate and analyze what factors are hindering or aiding us in initiating a global transformation of the world energy system away from oil.


Becken, S. (2014). Oil depletion or a market problem? A framing analysis of peak oil in The Economist news magazine. Energy Research & Social Science, 2(6), 125–134.

Borasi, G., & Zardini, M. (Eds.). (2007). Sorry, Out of Gas: Architecture's Response to the 1973 Oil Crisis. Canadian Centre for Architecture.

Fogel, William R. (1964). ​Railroads and American economic growth: Essays in econometric history. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Friedrichs, J., 2010. Global energy crunch: how different parts of the world would react to a peak oil scenario. ​Energy Policy, 38(8), 4562–4569.

Friedrich, J., 2012. ​Peak oil futures: same crisis, different responses. In: Inderwildi O, Sir King D (Eds). ​Energy, Transport, & the Environment. London: Springer-Verlag, 2012, 55–75.

Gilbert, D., Lambert, D. 2010. Counterfactual geographies: worlds that might have been. Journal of Historical Geography 36, 245–252.

Höök, M., Tang, X., (2013) Depletion of fossil fuels and anthropogenic climate change-A review. Energy Policy, 52, 797-809

Jefferson, M. (2016) Energy realities or modelling: Which is more useful in a world of internal contradictions? Energy Research & Social Science, 22(12), 1–6.

Merrill, K. R. (2007). The Oil Crisis of 1973-1974: A Brief History with Documents. Bedford/St. Martin's.

Miller, R.G., Sorrell, S.R., (2014). The future of oil supply. Theme issue. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 372, issue 2006. DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2013.0179

Tainter, J. A., & Patzek, T. W. (2011). Drilling down: The Gulf oil debacle and our energy dilemma. Springer Science & Business Media.

Todorova, M. (2015). Counterfactual Construction of the Future Building a New Methodology for Forecasting. ​World Future Review, ​7(1), 30-38.

Radetzki, M. (2010) Peak Oil and other threatening peaks—Chimeras without substance. Energy Policy, 38(11), 6566-6569.

PS. For more information about the "Energy and the Future" special issue, see the following blog post.

söndag 8 januari 2017

Follow-up of follow-up

My last blog post summarized my academic output in terms of texts that I have been working on during the 2016 autumn term (July-December). As apart from the previous blog post - which treated only texts from the second half of the year - this blog post is a summary and an analysis of all the text I worked on last year.

Here's a top-level breakdown of the 31 texts I have been working on during 2016:
- 19 conference papers
- 6 journal articles
- 2 book chapters
- 2 workshop proposals

For more information about the contents and the status of individual texts, see the blog posts about the texts I worked on during the first half and the second half of 2016. As apart from my previous meta-analysis (from half a year ago), I have this time around enhanced this blog post by graphically representing a number of important aspects of my text production (explained below).

The second column is of course title of each text. The first column describes both when the text was (or will be) presented and the color designates the current status of the text (see my previous blog post about the color-coding). Columns three and on list the number of co-authors and their initials, as well as their institutional affiliation, e.g. me, students at my department, colleagues at my department, colleagues at my university, people at other universities in Sweden and people at universities abroad.

Half a year ago I structured my analysis in the form of eight observations. I'm now at nine observations a most are the same as half a year ago (albeit updated):

Observation 1: I am the single author of only one single text - all the other 30 texts have co-authors. Of those 30 text 12 have two authors (me and someone else), 7 texts has three authors 4 texts have four authors, 3 texts have five authors, 2 texts have six authors, 1 text has seven authors and 1 text has 15 authors. The two workshop proposals generally have numerous authors (six and seven respectively).

Observation 2: I'm the first (main) author of 13 out of 30 co-authored texts and the second author of another 14 texts. That means I either drive the process myself or I support the person who drives the process in 90% of the texts that I have had a hand in.

Observation 3: I have worked together with my colleague Elina Eriksson in 11 out of those 30 texts. Other frequent collaborators are Björn Hedin and Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling (four texts each), Mattias Höjer, Luciane Borges and Teresa Cerratto Pargman (three texts each), Karin Bradley, Josefin Wangel, Mikael Höök, Adrian Friday, Oliver Bates and Barath Raghavan (two texts each)

Observation 4: Of the 11 texts that I have been working on together with Elina Eriksson, we are together the first-and-second-authors of ten of these texts (first authorship being almost evenly split between us). We work closely together and I expect us to continue to do so now that Elina has gotten a permanent position as an assistant professor at KTH.

Observation 5: Of the 31 texts I have worked on, at least 90% are about sustainability in one form or another. Only one text touches on computer games - the topic I was most interested in ten years ago, (before I saw the light and switched my research in a more sustainable direction).

Observation 6: Almost all the five texts that were rejected are or will being reworked and resubmitted in 2017 and that's also true for the one text that was withdrawn. One of these texts was in fact written, submitted, rejected, reworked and resubmitted in 2017 and it has now been conditionally accepted for presentation at a conference in May 2017. That text appears twice in the list above - once as rejected (July 2016) and once as conditionally accepted (May 2017).

Observation 7: Of the 31 texts listed above, "only" 11 have, at the end of the year, been presented at conferences or are published in journals. That means that almost all of the other 20 texts will return in a future follow-up blog post (half a year or a year from now).

Observation 8: There are a lot of texts in play at the moment. There are also texts-in-the-workings that have not yet yielded any concrete outcomes (have not been submitted anywhere etc.). There is a very high chance that the number of published/presented texts in 2017 will be considerably higher than for 2016.

Observation 9: Only one single text is written in Swedish - my native tongue. I'm Swedish, I live in Sweden, but hardly anything of what I write professionally is written in anything but English.

torsdag 5 januari 2017

Follow-up (autumn 2016)

This is what I wrote in my previous follow-up blog post half a year ago:

"Ongoing or long-term projects usually generate follow-up blog posts. A submission to a conference will (if accepted) later generate a blog post about that conference. An ongoing research project will generate a new blog post some three, six or twelve months later. But [...] some blog posts don't generate follow-up blog posts even when they "should"."

From having written general follow-up blog posts about this-and-that, my previous (July 2016) follow-up was exclusively concerned with following up the status of various academic texts ("the name of the game has been a constant and hectic production of academic texts reaching almost-hysterical levels of text production in May and June"). This blog post will do the same. This year has been very productive in terms of the output of academic texts but there's a high probability next year "will go to eleven".

This follow-up blog post will be exclusively devoted to following up the various writing projects that I have worked on during the second half of the year and they together add up to no less than 25 different texts (journal articles, conference papers, book chapters and workshop proposals - all chronicled below). I do however not include papers that I'm working on (that haven't been submitted) yet or rejected papers that we will but haven't yet had time to work on (with the purpose of resubmitting).

I have organized the papers in chronological order in terms of when they were (or will be) presented/published or alternatively when they were rejected/withdrawn. I also link back to the original blog posts of the paper in question. I have furthermore added helpful color-coding to the titles of the papers as follows:

- Published/presented (100% finished, no work remains to be done)
- Accepted for publication/presentation, 100% finished but has not yet been published (journal articles), presented (conference papers) or held (conference workshops)
Finished, submitted and reviewed but the paper was rejected
- Withdrawn (plus justification of withdrawal)
- Finished, submitted and currently under review or conditionally accepted and being re-written at the moment (could later be rejected, could be accepted as-is or might need further work)
Submitted and conditionally accepted for publication but currently only exists as an (extended) abstract. The major part of the work remains to be done
Submitted but currently only exists as an (extended) abstract. Acceptance (or rejection) is pending. The major part of the work remains to be done (if accepted)

This blog post is the comprehensive resource to keep up with what I've been writing during the last six months as well as what has been published or presented (or rejected) during that same period. There are only a few ways that papers can "get off" this list; it can be published, it can be rejected or it can be withdrawn. That's it. No less than 13 texts are re-runs of writing projects that I wrote about in my follow-up half a year ago and 12 of the texts below represent brand new writing projects.

- The journal article "Pluralizing the future information society" (Ulrika Gunnarsson-Östling, Mattias Höjer, Daniel Pargman, Luciane Aguiar Borges) was submitted to the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change (TFSC) back in February but I only found out in August that it had been rejected. We will rework the article but a planned meeting was "kidnapped" by the acceptance of another paper by the same authors (see below). I wrote about this submission on the blog in April. "this study shows that there are alternatives to contemporary forecasted futures and exemplifies that ICT can be used to facilitate different societal developments. It is argued that creating parallel possible futures (plural) aids in the process of identifying potential benefits and drawbacks of technological development and situate current decisions in a longer time frame."

- The proposed journal article "The green democratic energy narrative" (Daniel Pargman, Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling, Karin Bradley) was rejected for the Energy Research & Social Science (ERSS) special issue on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research". They received numerous submissions to the special issue and when they instituted a strict one-paper-per-first-author policy this paper got the short shrift while another paper was invited to the special issue. I wrote about the proposed article on the blog in July. "In this paper, we aim to question and to “defamiliarize” the reader with the familiar story of renewable energy as a unique source of redressing everything that is wrong in society today.

- The workshop "Computing within Limits: Visions of computing beyond Moore's law" (Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman, Lorenz Hilty, Adrian Friday, Chris Preist, Teresa Cerratto Pargman) was successfully held on Monday August 29 as part of the 4th International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S). I wrote about the workshop (proposal) on the blog in April and wrote about the workshop itself in August. The workshop also has a webpage of its own. "What if we will come up against various ecological, material, energetic, and/or societal limits (c.f. “Limits to Growth”, Meadows et. al., 1973) that will also profoundly affect the field of computing in the coming decades?.

- The conference paper "Designing for Sustainability: Breakthrough or suboptimisation?" (pdf) (Daniel Pargman, Edward Ahlsén, Cecilia Engelbart) was presented at the 4th International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) and the paper as well as the conference proceedings are now available online. I wrote about the paper on the blog when it was submitted in April. The paper was in fact presented twice at the conference since it was one of six best paper award nominees (it didn't win). I have since reached out to one of the paper's reviewers and we are working on extending this conference paper with the goal of eventually writing a journal article (see further below). "This example thus raises important questions about system boundaries and about how to evaluate sustainable (or “sustainable”) technologies."

- The conference paper "Patterns of Engagement: Using a board game as a tool to address sustainability in engineering educations" (pdf) (Daniel Pargman, Björn Hedin, Elina Eriksson) was presented at the 8th Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD2016) in September and the full proceedings have recently been published online. I wrote about the paper on the blog when it was submitted in May and about thxe conference in September. "We here describe how we have worked to overcome students’ (potential) aversion to one particular GDEE [Global Dimension in Engineering Education] topic, sustainability, by incorporating a board game, Gasuco, into the introductory module of a course about “Media Technology and Sustainability”."

- The conference paper "Sustainable development for ICT engineering students - “What's in it for me?”" (pdf) (Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman, Anna Björklund, Anna Kramers, Karin Edvardsson Björnberg) was presented at the 8th Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD2016) in September and the full proceedings have recently been published online. I wrote about the paper on the blog when it was submitted in May and about the conference in September. "In this paper we describe and compare our efforts to plan and teach three introductory courses on SD [Sustainable Development] in three different ICT-related educational programmes at KTH Royal Institute of Technology."

- The proposed book chapter "Limits to moneycomputing" (Daniel Pargman, Daniel Berg) was conditionally accepted for inclusion in the upcoming (2017) book "Digital Technology and Sustainability" but was withdrawn due to a high work load as well as other complications with the text itself. The current plan is to rewrite and submit a shorter version to a conference during the first half of 2017. I wrote both about the book and about the proposed chapter on the blog in July. "An increasing number of researchers are contemplating and researching how ICT could be used to increase sustainability in our societies ... Few researchers however study or indeed even consider what is bad about computers in terms of sustainability, i.e. how computers are oftentimes used in ways that contribute to unsustainability."

- The workshop "HCI and UN's Sustainable Development Goals: Responsibilities, Barriers and Opportunities" (pdfACM Digital Library) (Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman, Oliver Bates, Maria Normark, Jan Gulliksen, Mikael Anneroth, Johan Berntsson) was held on Monday October 24 as part of the 9th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (NordiCHI’16). I published an invitation to the workshop on the blog in June and a blog post about the workshop itself in October. The workshop also has a webpage of its own. "In this workshop we want engage everyone who is interested in working towards a sustainable future in terms of and with the UN SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] as a starting point. How can Sustainable HCI be inspired by, and contribute to these goals?".

- The journal article "At Odds with a Worldview - Teaching Limits at a technical university" (pdf, ACM Digital Library) (Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson) was published in the November-December issue of Interactions magazine in a "special topic" on "Sustainable HCI education". My UCI ex-colleagues Bonnie Nardi, Bill Tomlinson and Don Patterson put together that special topic and me and Elina got an invitation to write a piece for it. I wrote about our submission on the blog in July but did not in fact write a separate blog post when the Interactions issue was published. The published text looks ok in html but gorgeous as pdf file. "In this paper, we will first elaborate on two approaches to addressing and teaching engineering (computing) students about the environmental and other challenges. We have here chosen to call these two approaches “vanilla” and “strong” sustainability."

- I submitted three paper to the notoriously selective CHI conference and one was rejected. The other two papers were accepted and information about them can be found further below. Due to the double-blind reviewing process, I have not and will not disclose the title of the paper or who my co-authors are, but we are planning on rewriting the paper and submitting it to another conference during the first quarter of 2017.

- The compact two-page (Swedish-language) discussion paper "Sagan om examensringen: En akademisk tragedi" [Lord of the graduation ring: An academic tragedy] (pdf) (Björn Hedin, Daniel Pargman, Olle Bälter) was presented at the the 9th [Swedish] Pedagogical Inspiration Conference in mid-December and is available on the Internet (pdf file). It's about a student-from-hell who cheated himself through our education and it has taken us more than 5 years to muster the energy to write this short paper. I wrote about our submission on the blog in September "If the organizational benevolence [of the university] is exploited, this can have consequences that seem unreasonable. If the organizational benevolence is maximally exploited, this can have absurd and Kafkaesque consequences. In this text we want to, based on a concrete case, raise questions about how we in our roles as responsible for educational programmes should handle such conflicts."

- The proposed conference paper "Useless games for a sustainable world" (Daniel Pargman, Björn Hedin) has been accepted for presentation at a workshop on "Uselessness" that is organized by the University of Amsterdam/Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis at that will be held at the end of March 2017. Me and Björn have had amazing discussion leading to counterintuitive conclusions and we think this paper is a springboard to at least one future full papers. I wrote about our submission on the blog in October. "Are computer games “useful” or are they “useless” when regarded through a sustainability lens and against a backdrop of problematising the relationship between sustainability and consumption?".

- The proposed conference paper "“I have no use for useless PhDs”: Interrogating the notion of uselessness in techno-scientific culture" (Leif Dahlberg, Daniel Pargman) has been accepted for presentation at a workshop on "Uselessness" that is organized by the University of Amsterdam/Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis at that will be held at the end of March 2017. The real reason this paper is being written is because the workshop and the paper offers me and Leif the opportunity to work and to write something together for the very first time. I wrote about our submission on the blog in October. "What is the understanding of uselessness in contemporary techno-scientific culture? We investigate this question through interviews with three high-powered, prominent professors at Sweden’s oldest, largest and (arguably) most prestigious technical university, KTH Royal Institute of Technology".

- The proposed conference paper "Using low-fi user-centered design methods to overcome barriers to adopting photovoltaics in Sweden" (Robin Chanapai, Daniel Pargman) has been submitted to the conference Energy for Society: 1st International Conference on Energy Research & Social Science. The conference will be held outside of Barcelona in the beginning of April 2017. This paper proposal builds on the master's thesis that Robin Chanapai wrote this past spring with me as supervisor. I wrote about our submission on the blog in November. "In this paper we [...] discuss how the use of low-fidelity user-centered design methods and the resulting user interfaces can be utilized to find out more about, and build upon the positive motivations of homeowners’ interest in investing in PV [solar cells/Photovoltaics]".

- The proposed conference paper "ICT support for collective energy management in housing cooperatives" (Hanna Hasselqvist, Daniel Pargman, Cristian Bogdan, Isaac Rondon) has been submitted to the conference Energy for Society: 1st International Conference on Energy Research & Social Science. The conference will be held outside of Barcelona in the beginning of April 2017. This paper proposal builds on the master's thesis that Isaac Rondon wrote this past spring with me as supervisor and Hanna as principal.  I wrote about our submission on the blog in November. "We have studied energy management in housing cooperatives, a common form of housing in the Nordic countries, where the household energy consumption (heating, hot water and electricity use) depends on collective decisions that affect all the housing cooperative members".

- The proposed conference paper "Municipal climate and energy advisors: A way forward or a “Mission: Impossible”?" (Björn Hedin, Daniel Pargman, Henrik Artman) has been submitted to the conference Energy for Society: 1st International Conference on Energy Research & Social Science. The conference will be held outside of Barcelona in the beginning of April 2017. This paper proposal builds work in the research project "Improved energy counseling and energy habits by Quantified Self Assisted Advisory". I wrote about our submission on the blog in November. "Sweden has chosen to finance “municipal energy and climate advisors” for providing impartial locally adapted energy and climate advice to individuals. [...] Our conclusion is that [they] harbour the potential to serve an important purpose, but that the regulations surrounding them make [their work into a] “mission: impossible”."

- The proposed conference paper "When good intentions are not enough: How energy-stingy screen technologies can lead to higher consumption" (Daniel Pargman, Oliver Bates) has been submitted to the conference Energy for Society: 1st International Conference on Energy Research & Social Science. The conference will be held outside of Barcelona in the beginning of April 2017. This paper is our first attempt of extending the 2016 ICT4S conference paper "Designing for sustainability: Breakthrough or suboptimisation?". It is also the first time I write something together with Oliver Bates. I wrote about our submission on the blog in November. "We argue that when considering the environmental impact of innovative, energy-saving ICTs, the allure is to replace old devices at an accelerated pace. However, the energy savings alone do not come anyway near offsetting the energy cost of manufacturing these new devices."

- The proposed conference paper "Coalworld: Envisioning a world with half the oil" (Daniel Pargman, Mikael Höök) has been submitted to the conference Energy for Society: 1st International Conference on Energy Research & Social Science. The conference will be held outside of Barcelona in the beginning of April 2017. This paper is an attempt at summarizing and dissemination information about the multi-article Coalworld project. I wrote about our submission on the blog in November. "We argue that when considering the environmental impact of innovative, energy-saving ICTs, the allure is to replace old devices at an accelerated pace. However, the energy savings alone do not come anyway near offsetting the energy cost of manufacturing these new devices."

- The proposed conference paper "Homo colossus’ energy slaves" (Daniel Pargman) has been submitted to the conference Energy for Society: 1st International Conference on Energy Research & Social Science. The conference will be held outside of Barcelona in the beginning of April 2017. This paper calculates, conceptualizes and visualizes the vast amounts of energy we consume in our daily lives. I wrote about our submission on the blog in November. "We specifically propose the use of two strong concepts to help us visualize our extravagant use of energy, namely the concept of “energy slaves” (Nikiforuk 2014) and the idea that each of us is a “homo colossus” (Catton 1986, 1987). [...] This paper illustrates how even the poorest of us nowadays have an oversized ecological footprint, but how the richest 1% or 10% on Earth are creatures of mind-boggling proportions".

- The journal article "What if there was only half the oil? Envisioning the consequences of a global peak in oil production in Coalworld" (previous title: "On the effects of the early 1970's global peak in oil production") (Daniel Pargman, Joshua Tanenbaum, Elina Eriksson, Mikael Höök, Marcel Pufal, Josefin Wangel) has been conditionally accepted for publication in the Energy Research & Social Science (ER&SS) special issue on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research". The deadline for the final version is February 10 and we now have some work to do based on the reviews we recently received. I wrote about it on the blog in July. "Our [paper] takes as its starting point the contrafactual statement “what if there ever only was half the oil in the ground when we started to use it 150 years ago?”". 

- The conference paper "Means and Ends in Human-Computer Interaction: Sustainability through Disintermediation" (Barath Raghavan, Daniel Pargman) has been accepted to the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, the premier international conference of Human-Computer Interaction. This is a Big Thing for people in HCI. This is also the long-promised companion paper to our 2014 paper "Rethinking sustainability in computing: From buzzword to non-negotiable limitations". I wrote about the paper on the blog in December. "In this paper we observe that taking these broader contexts into account yields a fundamentally different way to think about sustainable interaction design, one in which the designer’s focus must be on a) ecological limits, b) creating designs and artifacts that do not further a cornucopian paradigm, and c) fundamental human needs."

- The conference paper "The (Un)sustainability of Imagined Future Information Societies" (Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson, Mattias Höjer, Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling, Luciane Aguiar Borges) has been conditionally accepted to the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, the premier international conference of Human-Computer Interaction. I wrote about the paper on the blog in December. Do also note that this is in fact a reworked and improved version of a previously rejected paper. "This paper describes the results of a research project in the intersection of HCI and Futures Studies as well as in the intersection between “the future information society” and sustainability. We discuss examples of what future information societies could look like and what the impact of these societies would be in terms of sustainability"

- The journal article "The sharing economy as the commons of the 21st century" (Karin Bradley, Daniel Pargman) has been accepted for publication in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society's (CJRES) special issue on "Sharing Economies? Theories, practices and impacts". The final version of the journal article was submitted in July 2016 and the special issue will be published sometime in 2017 (probably the first half), but we currently have no further information. Work on the text started a long time ago and I wrote about the paper on the blog in June 2015 and then again in November 2015. The lead times are absurdly long... "This paper aims to make a contribution to the debate on how contemporary collaborative commons, as part of the wider sharing economy, can be understood and supported."

- Or 500-word abstract "Estranging Energy: Teaching Abstract Concepts through Making Strange" (Jerry Määttä, Daniel Pargman) has been accepted for presentation in the academic track of the 75th World Science Fiction Convention next year (Helsinki, August). The theme of the academic track is “100 Years of Estrangement” and this is my first project together with Science Fiction studies literary scholar Jerry Määttä. My understanding is that we are not required to write a paper, but that is still our intention. I wrote about our submission on the blog in November. "Few people intuitively grasp [the energy use and carbon emissions] of our modern, high-energy technological lifestyle. The aim of this paper is to examine and discuss [...] the use of images, metaphors, and estrangement, enabling especially students to defamiliarise abstract concepts such as energy"

- The mostly-finished book chapter "On the inherent contradictions of teaching sustainability at a technical university" (Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman) has been conditionally accepted for inclusion in the upcoming (2017) book "Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption" (edited by Mike Hazas and Lisa Nathan). The deadline for the final draft is in April 2017. I wrote both about the book and about the proposed chapter on the blog in July. Paraphrasing the text we handed in only slightly, we said that "As university teachers, we must look at how we teach sustainability. If we teach our students vanilla sustainability, “we’ll achieve only a little” (McKay 2008, p.3) and that’s not good enough."

That's it for now but I assume I will write another follow-up six months from now. Remember, there are only three ways that a texts get off this list; either the paper/article has been presented/published (7 texts) or it has been rejected (3 texts) or it has been withdrawn (1 text).

Everything else is "in play" (14 texts that are either light yellow, darker yellow, orange or light green) and will for sure appear in the next follow-up. Texts that are rejected or withdrawn can also appear if they are repurposed and reworked and then resubmitted and I expect the next list to be considerably longer as there are many more writing projects planned for the spring term (not the least due to the fact that have less teaching).

tisdag 3 januari 2017

Books I've read 2015-2016

I regularly write blog posts about "books I've read recently", and just like two years ago, this blog post is a summary of all books I read during the last two years (2015-2016). This is the third time I do this and just a last year I top this blog post off with my top recommendations for books I suggest you should read.

Just as before, this blog post doesn't actually summarize the books that I read during 2015 and 2016, but rather the books that I wrote about having read on the blog during 2015 and 2016 and I'm more or less one year behind in writing about books I have read, i.e. if I write a January 2017 blog post about books I have read "lately", I will then in fact write about books I read a year ago, in January 2016! This blog post more specifically covers books that I read between November 2014 and December 2015 and during that period (14 months) I read altogether 39 non-fiction books:

- John Michael Greer, "Decline and fall: The end of empire and the future of democracy in 21st century America" (2014).
- Dmitry Orlov, "The five stages of collapse: Survivor's toolkit" (2013)
- John Michael Greer, "Not the future we ordered: Peak oil, psychology, and the myth of progress" (2013)
- Fabrizio Gatti, "Bilal: På slavrutten till Europa" [Bilal: On the slave route to Europe] (2007 in Italian).

- Baki Cakici, "The informed gaze: On the implications of ICT-based surveillance" (2013).
- Jacques Vallée, "Det osynliga nätet: En dataexperts bekännelser" [The network revolution: Confessions of a computer scientist] (1988/1982).
- Bruce Sterling, "Shaping things" (2005).

- Rasmus Fleischer, "Tapirskrift" (2013). The book title is an anagram for "Piratskrift" [piracy writings]. Out of print but available here as a pdf file.
- Eric Schüldt and Jonas Andersson, "Framtiden" [The future] (2011)
- David Holmgren, "Future scenarios: How communities can adapt to peak oil and climate change" (2009).

- Tom Standage, "The Victorian Internet: The remarkable story of the telegraph and the nineteenth century's online pioneers" (1998).
- Carolyn Marvin, "When old technologies were new: Thinking about electric communication in the late nineteenth century" (1988).
- Nicholas Carr, "The big switch: Rewiring the world, from Edison to Google" (2008).
- Håkan Selg, "Researching the use of the Internet: A beginner's guide" (2014).

- Worldwatch Institute, "State of the World 2010: Transforming cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability" (2010).
- Worldwatch Institute, "State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet" (2011).
- Worldwatch Institute, "State of the World 2012: Moving towards sustainable prosperity" (2012).

---------- 2016 ----------

- Jeff Rubin, "The end of growth" (2012).
- Kjell Aleklett, "Peaking at peak oil" (2012).
- Timothy Mitchell, "Carbon democracy: Political power in the age of oil" (2011).

- Raymond Kurzweil, "The Singularity is near: When humans transcend biology" (2005).
- Patrick McCray, "The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future" (2013).
- Robert Garaci, "Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality" (2010).

- Evgeny Morozov, "To save everything click here: Technology, solutionism and the urge to fix problems that don't exist" (2013).
- Jaron Lanier, "Who owns the future?" (2013).
- Astra Taylor, "The people's platform: Taking back power and culture in the digital age" (2014).
- Douglas Rushkoff, "Present shock: When everything happens now" (2013).

- Jared Diamond, "The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies?" (2012).
- Tore Frängsmyr, "Framsteg eller förfall: Framtidsbilder och utopier i västerländsk tradition" [Progress or decay: visions and utopias in the Western intellectual tradition] (1980).
- Robert Costanza, Lisa Graumlich and Will Steffen (eds.), "Sustainability or Collapse? An Integrated History and Future of People on Earth" (2007).

- Per Gyberg and Carl-Johan Rundgren, "Tio skäl att strunta i miljön: Om varför det är så svårt att förändra vardagligt beteende" [Ten reasons to not care about the environment: On why it is so difficult to change everyday behaviour] (2013).  
- Karl-Henrik Robèrt, Göran Broman, David Waldron, Henrik Ny, Sophie Byggeth, David Cook, Lena Johansson, Jonas Oldmark, George Basile, Hördur Haraldsson, Jamie MacDonald,  Brendan Moore, Tamara Connell and Merlina Missimer, "Sustainability Handbook: Planning Strategically towards Sustainability" (2012).
- Håkan Gulliksson and Ulf Holmgren, "Hållbar utveckling: livskvalitet, beteende och teknik" [Sustainable development: quality of life, behavior and technology] (2011).
- Jon-Erik Dahlin, "Hållbar utveckling - En introduktion för ingenjörer" [Sustainable Development - An introduction for engineers] (2014).

- Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman, "Networked: The new social operating system" (2012).
- Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green, "Spreadable media: Creating value and meaning in a networked culture" (2013).

- David Graeber, "The utopia of rules: On technology, stupidity, and the secret joys of democracy" (2015).
- Anders Forsell and Anders Ivarsson Westerberg, "Administrationssamhället" [Administration society] (2014).
- Roland Paulsen, "Vi bara lyder: En berättelse om Arbetsförmedling" [We just obey: A story about the Swedish Public Employment Service] (2015).

Last time, i suggested eight books as "best buys" (a combination of quality and price). I will do that again and these are my eight recommendations for best buys these past two years:

- Roland Paulsen, "Vi bara lyder" (44 SEK)
- Jared Diamond, "The World Until Yesterday" (97 SEK)
- Jaron Lanier, "Who owns the future?" (118 SEK)
- Evgeny Morozov, "To save everything click here" (118 SEK)
- Timothy Mitchell, "Carbon democracy" (139 SEK)
- David Graeber, "The utopia of rules" (158 SEK)
- John Michael Greer, "Decline and fall" (182 SEK)
- Patrick McCray, "The Visioneers" (262 SEK)

söndag 1 januari 2017

2016 blog stats (meta)

This is the fourth time I compilate annual statistics about the blog. As with many other things, that just didn't happen last year (due to my blog absence) but I have done it three times in a row before that (here are the blog statistics from 2014).  Two years ago I had published 320 blog posts, one year ago I had published less than 30 additional blog posts, but now I'm closing in on 440 blog posts and I suppose blog post #500 will be published sometime this coming summer.

The number of visitors shrank last year for natural reasons (little activity on the blog), but 2016 would have been "up there" if not for the abysmal Q1. The huge uptick in December is due to the fact that I published a massively popular blog post just a few days  before Christmas (my 3rd most popular blog post ever).

Despite the slow start (zero blog posts in Jan-Feb and 4 in March), the tempo has picked up and I have, during Q4, for the first time ever had to publish more than two blog posts per week due to the pace of things happening in my (academic) life and despite the fact that my stated goal since 2010 has been to publish no less than one and no more than two blog posts per week. In the end, I beat the previous record from 2013 (89 blog posts) and ended up publishing 91 blog posts in 2016.

While the image above comes from one counter (GoStats), the numbers below come from Google and they show a quite different picture as to how many people visit the blog. I don't know how to reconcile these numbers and don't know why Google registers a lot more visitors than GoStats do. From the Google numbers it looks like 33% of the traffic ever has been to blog posts published during 2016, while GoStats says total traffic in 2016 (to all blog posts ever published) is below 20%. There is obviously something weird going on with Google's counter, but I will below stick with Google's numbers because I don't have any other:

Two years ago, the cut-off limit to make it to the top-12 list was 739 page loads. When I looked through the 437 blog posts that have been published since the blog started, by now no less than 83 texts have had more than 739 page loads (including more than half of all blog posts published in 2016), so I decided to extend the top-12 list into a top-14 list. The fourteen most-read blog posts in the history of the blog are currently:

Blog purpose and history (Sept 2010, 18353 times)
My near-death Airbnb experience (Jan 2014, 4920)
Lord of the Ring (Dec 2016, 4586 times - NEW!)
On students' cognitive inability (March 2013, 2516 times)
Design fiction workshop (May 2014, 2240 times)
Open letter to my dean - spare us from excessive administration! (August 2016, 2248 times - NEW!)
Can a student fail at a Swedish university? (March 2011, 1743 times)
My submission to ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) 2029 (Feb 2014, 1289 times)
The future of work (April 2014, 1171 times)
10 MID department retreat and reflections on organisation (June 2016, 1152 times - NEW!)
11 Follow-up (spring 2016) (July 2016, 1122 times - NEW!)
12 Fly or die (May 2016, 1085 times - NEW!)
13 Computing within Limits (June 2016, 1084 times - NEW!)
14 Limits within Policy Modeling (May 2016, 1080 times - NEW!)

It gets crowded right below the list's cut-off point, there are for example an additional 11 blog posts above the magic number '1000'. It is interesting to note that a blog post like "Future of Magazines - invitation to final presentation" was number 5 on the list two years ago and despite rising from 900 to 1069 views still didn't make it to this year's list (is was in fact number 16). The number of page views necessary to make it to the top-10 list has risen from around 200 in 2012, to 400 in 2013, to 800 in 2014 and to 1150 now (also taking into account that the list has grown from top-10 to a top-14). At the other end of the scale, I see that the bottom 10 blog post (32-53 reads each) were all published back in 2011 and 2012. While newer stuff gets read a lot, older stuff doesn't unless there is a compelling reason. In fact, blog posts published as late as in November 2016 typically has 300-400 page views, blogs posts published in October typically has 450-550 page views and blog posts published in June-August typically has 900-1000 page views. I have no idea exactly where these readers (or "readers") come from. Is it robots/spiders indexing the blog? Something else?

While the blog seems to get read quite some, it is for sure not getting commented. There are only 28 comments altogether on the 91 blog posts that were published in 2016 and I guess at least a third of them are my own comments (e.g. answers to others' comments). In fact none of the latest 38 blog posts has garnered a single comment. This is very much a one-way medium of communication, not the conversation or discussion it could be and I guess everybody is busy chatting on Facebook and elsewhere.

Looking at the all the blog posts from 2010-2016, here's a breakdown of how many times they have been read:
- 46 blog posts (10%) have been read less than 100 times
- 92 blog posts (21%) have been read less than 100-200 times
- 97 blog posts (22%) have been read less than 200-400 times
- 126 blog posts (29%) have been read less than 400-750 times
- 52 blog posts (12%) have been read less than 750-1000 times
- 25 blog posts (6%) have been read more than 1000 times

Two years ago only 28% of the blog posts had been read 200 times or more. That number has now climbed to 69%. Of the 319 blog posts that were published until the end of 2014, 58% has been read more than 200 times and the corresponding number for blog posts from 2015 and 2016 is kind of like 97%, i.e. only the last few blog posts (from December 2016) has not yet had the time to get that kind of readership. It in fact seems impossible for a blog post not to get read 200 times nowadays and that number is usually multiplied a few months later.

torsdag 29 december 2016

My new year's promise - blog mania continues

I have once before (in Oct 2013) declared a "Blog week" where I wrote seven blog posts in as many days to "catch up", and, I did it again in the beginning of november. I did however know that I needed to write a lot more than seven blog posts to catch up so I declared it "Blog week/Blog mania" instead. I then proceeded to write eleven blog posts in as many days (Nov 7 - Nov 17) before I had an involuntary eight-day hiatus due to a temporarily heightened work load. I have since Nov 25 however for the most part written three blog posts per week and this is a considerably higher tempo than the one to two blog posts per week that I have consistently aimed for ever since I started to blog back in September 2010.

One reason for the increase in the number of blog posts is due to the fact that a substantial part of the blog posts written this year (>40%) relates to texts (articles, conference papers) that I have submitted left and right. Each text usually generates around two blog posts; one when the text is submitted and another when it is published or presented. I have therefore come to realize that the heightened tempo might not just be temporary, but that I might have to get used to writing not one or (more often) two blog posts per week, but rather two or three blog posts per week. This realization is supported by the fact that I already have the first eight to ten blog posts for 2017 planned out topic-wise as well as a bunch deadlines for various texts coming up... I will however try to lower the ambition (i.e. the length) of each individual blog post as it can take an immense amount of time to write a long analytical blog post about, say,  a workshop or a conference I have attended. To summarize, I have two new year's promises for 2017:

1. I expect to for the most part write between two and three blog posts per week from now on.

2. I will in return try to keep the length of each blog post down. Not primarily to protect the time my readers spend on reading by blog, but to spare the writer's (my) time budget for writing blog posts.

My hope is that 1 and 2 together will not increase the time spent blogging - despite the expected increase in the number of blog posts.

måndag 26 december 2016

The US election and lessons from the Arab spring - what now?

This blog post is unusual in that it's not about my personal academic activities, nor musings that stem from (for examples) from a seminar of from an academic book I have read. It is instead an analysis of current events and it's written against the backdrop of Donal Trump becoming the 45th US president less than four weeks from now

Before I started this blog, I had another non-academic (but in fact much more analytical) blog where I wrote about (peak) oil, energy, geopolitics, sustainability, economy etc. This blog post is in fact much more in line with the kind of blog post I wrote on my previous blog and I also use blog posts from that blog as the starting point of this analysis.


When the Arab Spring started in Tunisia in December 2010, I naturally took an interest. The "unrest" later spread to Egypt where protests began at the end of January 2011 and where Hosni Mubarak was quickly forced away from power after having rules Egypt for 30 years. After some intermittent chaos, the islamist (Muslim Brotherhood leader) Mohamed Morsi won the ensuing election and became president in June 2012 only to a year later be deposed of by General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. See Wikipedia for more information about the Egyptian revolution of 2011.

In my own attempt to understand what was happening, I read up and wrote a series with five (Swedish-language) blog posts about Egypt's challenges already back in February and March of 2011:
- 1. Egypt and the abyss - not the best of these text
- 2. Egypt and the meat - ok text
- 3. Egypt and the bread - this is a good text
- 4. Energy and food (and Egypt) - this is my favorite!
- 5. Egypt and the military - this is my favorite too - I even hinted (in March 2012) that Egypt's shift to democracy might not be very long-lived in the face of the Egyptian military's might!

The basic point that I explored in these blog posts was that the problems Egypt was facing were of such a magnitude that a change of the system of governance (from military dictatorship to theocracy or democracy or any other system of governance) might make a difference, but that the basic problems would be hard or even impossible to solve (to everyone's satisfaction) even should the massively popular lovechild of Buddha, Einstein, Gandhi and Florence Nightingale take a shot running Egypt. Some of the challenges Egypt was (and is) facing were:

- Egypt was the most populous Arab country with more than 80 million inhabitants (up from 20 million in 1950) and the population increases by 1.5 to 2 million inhabitants every year. The population is in fact currently estimated to be 92 million and half the population is 24 years or younger!
- While Egyptian oil production is shrinking, oil exports (and incomes) have been eradicated. According to the US Energy Information Agency's information about the state of energy in Egypt, oil production has shrunk by more than 20% in the last 20 years while oil consumption has increased by 3% per year during the last decade and "Egypt's oil consumption [now] outpaces its oil production".
- Part of the Egyptian state budget has been used to subsidize food and fuel and these subsidies "eat up a big chunk of the budget". According to the "Executive Director of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies in Cairo, government subsidies made up about one-third of the government’s budget in 2014 and 75% of that amount is set aside for energy sector subsidies". People get pissed off when they can't fill their car any longer (despite only paying between 50-60% of the real costs of the gas), and, they get really pissed off when they can't buy bread.
- In 2011, around 20% of the Egyptian population managed on less than 1 USD per day and another 20% on less than 2 USD per day. The price of wheat and subsidized bread is a matter of life and death to many millions of Egyptians. While I have problems finding recent (2015-2016) figuresit seems that things have gotten worse since with more than 25% of all Egyptians now live in poverty and another 25% live just above the poverty line.
- Back in 2010, Egypt imported 40% of all food and 60% of all wheat. Egypt is the number one importer of wheat in the world - and this in a country that was once the breadbasket of the Mediterranean and of the Roman empire.

None of these big problems will disappear by a change of government or by a change of the system of governance. They are in fact likely to get worse every year no matter who governs the country.


So what the is the connection to the US and to Trump? My hypothesis is that the same kind of reasoning can be applied also to the US. The problems that plague the US are at this point not very likely to go away no matter what president or which political party runs the country. While we stare at the crest of the waves, the real shape and strenght of the wave depends on forces that act far below the surface. While this 2009 video about Obama's feats is hilarious (but do note the implicit critique of the massive financial crisis bailout!), it is unrealistic to expect so much from one individual even if he happens to be the president of the United States of America.

So I don't think Donald Trump (or anyone else) can "make America great again" - but I'm pretty sure that it's relatively easy to make things worse and that he will be great at that (i.e. at making things worse). I think the best Trump can hope for is to "kick the can" in front of him for another four years and hope that someone else draws the short straw and has to handle (or fail to handle) the problems the US will be facing at that time. I'm here thinking of poor Herbert Hoover who had the great misfortune of being the president of the United States of America during the onset of the Great Depression and who was widely blamed for it. A "Hooverville" was a shanty town built by homeless people in the US during the Great Depression and millions lived in them. Not a great way to be remembered. Hoover is also "one of only two Presidents (along with William Howard Taft) and President-elect Donald Trump, who had neither been elected to a national political office or governorship, nor served as military generals"

Just imagine if Trump will be remembered for something equally disgraceful ("Trumpvilles"?) five and ten and twenty years from now? The only thing I worry about in this context is that Trump in some way manages to dodge that bullet by adeptly pointing fingers at and "inventing" scapegoats left and right. As to the problems facing the US, there is not lack of factors to choose from. One of the more frightening pieces I have read is a recent text by British academic and journalist Nafeez Ahmed who, with Trump on his way to the White House, might be on to something when he points out "that the American establishment is now at war with itself" and that "the establishment is fracturing":

"now it’s not just minorities — Muslims, refugees, Mexicans or Black people — who are Otherized. For the first time in American history, mainstream establishment figures and movements are brutally Otherizing each other. ... It is no coincidence that this process of social and political polarisation is accelerating in what has suddenly been recognized as an era of ‘fake news’, or ‘post truth.’ ... We are witnessing, participating in, embodying the breakdown of the information age ... Information is in overproduction, and the more we are saturated with it, with social media and news reports and multimedia stories and soundbites and expert commentary, the less we collectively understand the world around us."

It's a pity his new book, "Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence" is so slim and still so expensive (thanks, Springer!).

A final example of someone focusing on the undercurrents instead of on the crest is the work of historian Allan Lichtman - who has correctly predicted the results of each of the last nine US election (e.g. each election since 1981). He can call the winner months and sometimes years in advance and sometimes even before both candidates have been chosen. He does so by looking at 13 key measures (true/false questions) of which only two have anything whatsoever to with the specific candidates, e.g. if the white house candidate or the challenging candidate is a charismatic, once-in-a-generation candidate or not. I heard a totally amazing podcast (28 minutes) with him and I very much recommend it. Lichtman tunes out during the election year and doesn't even follow any of the issues the media focuses on!

So peeking above the edge of my academic burrow hole, this is what I see and these are my two cents. And let's hope the world hasn't crashed and burned four years from now with Trump at the helm in the meanwhile. But enough with politics - my next blog post will of course once more treat academic matters.