torsdag 15 mars 2018

Breakfast seminars on Limitless work and AI

"Where's the limit?"

I've been to two breakfast seminars lately:
- "Where's the limit?" about limitless work in the digital age (organised by the think tank Futurion on January 24)
- "Artificial intelligence: The new superpower" about the disruptive power of AI (organised by the union Jusek on March 8)

Both seminars build on the same concept; invite people for breakfast and for a morning talk. I think the basic concept is great but it feels like I'm usually hard pressed to attend breakfast talks due to a generally high work load and many specific commitments and deadlines. But I'm on sabbatical this term and thus have the time to do some "random" things I might not otherwise do.

Seminar 1: Where's the limit?
The seminar "Where's the limit?" was organised by the think tank Futurion - the think tank for the future (of) working life. I just read up on who they are and (for example) found out Futurion was founded by a Swedish union:

"Futurion was launched in the spring of 2016 by TCO (The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees) and its 14 affiliated trade unions. Futurion AB is the first politically independent Swedish think tank that was created by trade unions. The mission is to engage and take a leading role in the ongoing discussion about working life in the future. Our perspective is long term. We focus on the conditions for the work life of tomorrow" 

The seminar was recoded and is available until the end of January 2019 (but perhaps only within Sweden?) on SVT Play. Futurion also have a YouTube channel where they have uploaded previous seminars.

I was invited to the seminar (a Facebook event) by panel participant and professor of working life science Ann Bergman. We have a shared interest in the future of work and participated in the same panel, "Automatization and digitalization as a strategy for reaching a social-ecological just future", at a conference two year ago. We have since bumped into each other a few times but without really having had the time to sit down and talk. We (again) didn't have time to talk after the seminar but at least I got to hear Ann present her research:

New technology nowadays allows people to be available (to work) in the evenings or the weekends and many even work (some) on their vacations or while on parental leave. The key driver is of course ICT since it allows work to bridge time and space in ways that just weren't possible a few decades ago. It was also suggested at the seminar that sleeping problems are "the new black".

Based on an ongoing research project, Ann described different attitudes to using ICT and social media in today's working life. The two basic categories used to describe different behaviours were "separators" and "integrators". Separators separate private life and working life and integrators (of course) integrate private life and working life. These two main categories then had subcategories and there was also a separate group of people who were "inconsistent" in their behaviour. Separators were further divided into 1) (total) separators, 2) time separators (who can bring the job with them, for example on the commute, but who then "quit" at some predefined time, for example at dinnertime) and 3) place separators (who can stay longer at work to finish a task but who leave all work behind when they leave the workplace). The integrators were further divided into 1) (total) integrators, 2) working life integrators (who allow work-related issues to make inroads into their private life) and 3) private life integrators (who allow their private life into the workday, for example by sending and receiving text messages to their children).

One important point was that one size does not fit all. Separators can feel that limitless work is stressful and that it contributes to discomfort and illness but integrators might feel relaxed when working life and private life is integrated. People are different and have different preferences and strategies.

A personal reflection (not raised at the seminar) is that different strategies might be condoned, encouraged, acceptable, rejected, forbidden (etc.) in different ways in different industries/jobs and in different positions (boss vs employee). Different strategies might also be successful to various degrees depending on what the overarching priority (goal) is; to feel good (maintain your own long term physical and mental health etc.) or to get things done. A second, final reflection involved a whole complex of interrelated thoughts about digitalisation, novel affordances offered by ICT, time, space/place, workload and the connection to speed.

Seminar 2: Articifical intelligence
The seminar "Artificial Intelligence: The new superpower" was organised by another union, Jusek, "The Swedish Union of University Graduates of Law, Business Administration and Economics, Computer and Systems Science, Personnel Management, Professional Communicators and Social Science".

I had very little information about the talk and went there on a lark. One amazing thing was that I bumped into two classmates (Andreas and Ulf) from my undergraduate studies in Uppsala (and whom I haven't met since). The talk itself was however just as provocative and just as bad as I expected it to be. It was filled with generalisations and platitudes. I reflected on the fact that for at least 100 or 1000 different topics, I could claim to be an expert and give a talk on the topic in question if I had three months to prepare and used that time to read up on 10 books in the area. I wouldn't have the kind of deep knowledge you acquire on your way to becoming an expert on something - but 95-99% of the audience probably wouldn't notice the discrepancy between a real and a fake expert. It's hard to know how well received this talk was since the talk ended 10 o'clock sharp and there (conveniently) wasn't any time for questions.

The speaker was "Vice President Consulting / Head of Digital Transformation / AI & Mobile Practice Lead" at the consulting company CGI ("High-end IT and Business consulting. Systems integration. Outsourcing. Intellectual Property.") and (a scrubbed subset of) his slides are actually available online.

I came with an open mind but gradually developed an aversion to the talk during the talk. One big warning flag was the fact that the speaker did not at any point define what AI actually was. The closest he came was to describe it as being "characterised" by the (increasing) ability of computers to sense, detect patterns, learn, draw conclusions and automate stuff. These characteristics represent decades-old developments so it was hard to know what AI did and did not encompass. This also made it hard to evaluate all other claims that followed. I would really have loved a separation of quantitive and qualitative differences, e.g. computer have done X before but now does X faster (quantitative difference) vs this allows computers to do things that just weren't possible at all before (qualitative differences - "game-changers"). I have also come to develop quasi-allergic reactions to people who mechanistically and repeatedly sprout unsupported factoids and claims that sound wise on a superficial level (such as "data is the new oil").

My main complaint was that the talk was supposed to show possibilities but mostly talked about trends that were deeply worrying. The speaker said that AI would make a lot of people unemployed, claimed that it would create new jobs, had no suggestions as to what jobs would/could be created (qualified well-paid jobs or low-paid service jobs?) but still expected the audience to be positive about developments in AI. This was repeated more than once, for example when he suggested that AI would "increase efficiency and GDP" but had no concrete suggestions as to what this would mean to (unemployed?) people or to society. What good is increased GDP if the increased wealth goes to the top 1% and massively increases inequality in society? The speaker didn't present any compelling visions or goals but rather just extrapolated from and talked about ongoing trends. There was no intellectual vigour to his talk. It concerned the future, but there was nothing about the future he presented that could induce a feeling of awe, of well-being or of presenting a challenge or a gola we should strive towards.

My thoughts went to JFK who, as a reaction to the Russians putting a man in orbit around the Earth said that the Americans would "put a man on the moon" before the end of the decade: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth". Which the Americans did do in 1969. The only thing offered here was that in the future we would have (real example from the talk) "better algorithms for recognising cats in photographs". The promises of AI is quite underwhelming in comparison.

My thoughts then wondered to the wonderful CHI 2013 paper about "the future robot enslavement of humankind": "As robots from the future, we are compelled to present this important historical document which discusses how the systematic investigation of interactive technology facilitated and hastened the enslavement of mankind by robots during the 21st Century". It's available in ACM's digital library and as a free/open pre-print. Also so not miss the 30-second "promotional" YouTube video. The authors of that paper tongue-in-cheek pretend to be robots from the future who travel back in time to thank computer science researchers for tirelessly conducting research that later allowed robots to enslave humankind. This is of course a pretext for the authors to enumerate research (areas) they believe we as a community should stay away from.

This talk was however choke-full of ecstatically presenting exactly such research. The logical conclusion ought to have been a call to arms: "Are we going to allow this to happen?". Audience: "NO!". Speaker: "Then let's outlaw AI!" (or at least regulate it). But that of course didn't happen and the audience was, I believe, meant to feel awe over current AI developments that would (perhaps) put half the audience and most of their children out of work. That was weird. One of the last slides had a quote (by Eliezer Yudkowsky): "The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else". Such quotes imply we'd be lucky if our future AI/robot/computer overlords will keep us around as pets. See also the 2000 essay "The future doesn't need us" on the same topic by Bill Joy (then chief scientist for Sun Microsystems).

However, another slide right at the end of the talk displayed the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The speaker mentioned that these were goals worth striving towards. It's a pity the talk didn't begin by presenting these goals and then asking how can AI can help us attain these goals...

A personal reflection is that based on this talk, AI will make Facebook more addictive, AI will give us better opponents when we play computer games (thereby making computer games more addictive) and AI will help us create better fake news. I also formulated an idea of what AI will be used for in the future, namely to create better (customised) conspiracy theories. Remember where you heard it first! And do have a look at my critical blog post about another AI talk I heard and instantly detested quite some time ago (back in 2011), "Clueless AI researcher".

söndag 11 mars 2018

Books I've read (Nov - mid-Dec 2016)

I read the three books below 15 months ago, between November and mid-December 2016. All three books are written by Herman Scheer and instead of writing three separate texts, I write one longer text below about all the three books. The asterisks (*) represent the number of quotes that can be found further down in this blog post. Here's the previous blog post about books I have read.

************************* Hermann Scheer's book "A solar manifesto" was published in German in 1993 and in English in 1995 but I read the second, updated English-language edition from 2001.

Hermann Scheer (1944-2010) had a ph.d. in political science, was a member of the German parliament (representing the social democrats from 1980 until his death) and was a solar energy activist as President of Eurosolar (European Association for Renewable Energy) and General Chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy (Wikipedia in English, German). In the English-language foreword of his last book (see below), Bianca Jagger acknowledges his death and mentions that he "has been called the "solar king", the "sun god", "solar crusader", and the "solar pope".

Scheer was a vocal proponent of renewable energy for more than 25 years and the three books I read were written during a period of almost 20 years (1993, 2005 and 2010). In his books, he argues that renewable energies are the solution to many, if not most of the problems that ails the world (including many of the problems that ails developing countries).  

Scheer’s vision of a future renewable energy system can be summarized by the (sub)title of his last book, “100 percent renewable now”. He calculated and argued for a fast and total bottom-up transition to renewable energy sources (sun, wind, hydro, biofuels), for example through feed-in tariffs, and he was a firm proponent of building decentralized, locally adapted energy systems that was under the democratic control of citizens and local political organizations up to the level of regions. He rejected solution that had centralizing tendencies (e.g. coal, oil, nuclear etc.), including renewable energy mega-projects such as DESERTEC (harvesting solar energy in Sahara and transporting it to central Europe through high-voltage direct current electric power transmission systems).

Scheer connected renewable energy to issues of social justice, freedom, self-determination, low prices (with the exception of initial investments - but the sun is free!) and sustainability. Scheer would have been hard pressed to point out any local, national or global problem that would not have been ameliorated or improved by breaking up the current symbiosis between large-scale fossil energy quasi-monopolies and the state. Here are quotes from the back cover of Scheer's first book ("A Solar Manifesto", 1993/2001) and his last book ("The energy imperative", 2010):

"In the decade since the 'Earth Summit' in Rio de Janeiro [in 1992], the response of the world's governments and authorities to the threats to the global environment has been to enforce the reduction of energy consumption and harmful emissions - solutions primarily based around conventional energy resources and conventional thinking. The question is, though, whether this strategy is radical enough to address the key challenges now facing the environment, and whether it can be effective in avoiding catastrophe on a global scale. 

For Hermann Scheer, the answer is a definitive no. In this fully updated edition of A Solar Manifesto, he once more attacks the lack of political will to find answers outside a conventional frame of reference. Climate change, pollution, deforestation, destruction of the ozone layer, poverty and the population explosion are all problems created or exacerbated by the use of conventional energy. ... 

A Solar Manifesto champions the replacement of fossil and nuclear fuels with solar energy, as a real solution to the threat to the environment and associated social consequences. Scheer constructs a radical yet innovative political and economic model and argues the case with passion and conviction for the global solar economy as the route to a sustainable environment."


"For decades, Hermann Scheer was one of the world's leading advocates of renewable energy. in this, his last book before his death in 2010, he lays out his vision for a planet that is 100 per cent powered by renewables. 

The Energy Imperative shows us why the time for this transition is now, exploring the ethical frameworks and economic conditions for making the shift happen. 

Scheer's view is that "bridging technologies" such as carbon capture and storage or nuclear energy are actively damaging the agenda of the move to 100 per cent renewable energy. Giving examples of the technologies which are working economically today, he sets out the policy and market conditions that would encourage them to flourish. 

In 1993, Scheer's A Solar Manifesto laid the foundations for the road which has led to the annual installastion of renewable energy capacity to rival conventional power sources. The Energy Imperative provides a practical, inspirational map for the next stage of the journey.

**************************** Herman Scheer's "Energy autonomy: The economic, social and technological case for renewable energy" was published in German in 2005 and in English in 2006.

************* Herman Scheer's "The energy imperative: 100 per cent renewable now" was published in German in 2010 and in English in 2012.


On energy in history:
"It is no accident that the history of human development has always been a history of the various energy supply options. … Questions of power or dependence, wealth or poverty, privilege or equality, destruction or survival of human societies have always been decided by that key criterion of who has access to energy.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.7.

On nothing less than 100% solar energy a the goal:
"[The conclusion of] Wilhelm Ostwald, a [1909] Nobel Prize winner in chemistry … drawn long before our knowledge of disastrous environmental dangers, was: ’An enduring economy must be based exclusively on the regular utilization of the annual solar radiation energy’. It is not enough to increase the share of renewable solar energy to 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50% of human energy consumption. … *The goal for the century ahead must be the complete substitution of conventional sources of energy by constantly available solar energy – in other words, a complete solar energy supply for mankind*.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.8-9.
On energy services replacing servants and slaves:
"Energy consumption in the industrialized countries is a replacement for servants or slaves: the average per capita energy services available in the industrial countries correspond to the use of more than one hundred slaves. Where those energy services are not available, people resort to no-cost human muscle power as far as possible, or nature.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.21.

On on energy imperialism:
"For centuries, the European powers have pursued colonial imperialism to ensure their control over energy sources and other raw materials by military force. The colonial period has ended and been replaced by an energy imperialism. This is economically more advantageous for the industrialized world because, under normal circumstances, it can forgo direct political repression of other countries and can operate without carrying the burden of responsibility for their administration.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.22-23.

On control of oil as the wealth of nations:
"Oil, the energy carrier with more uses than any other and the cheapest to produce – because of the simple, yet decisive advantage of being a liquid – has had the central role in the world’s energy supply since the beginning of the 20th century. The early oil concerns, able swiftly to gain a profit advantage over other energy companies, focused their attention on the acquisition of production rights in foreign territories, secured politically by their governments. In the world energy order of the 20th century, domestic energy resources are no longer the decisive factor for Western industrial countries; instead it is the ability to employ capital to control access to energy sources – including the advantage of sparing their own by exploiting foreign resources.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.23.

On historical oil imperialism:
"The economic growth and the social services offered by the Western democracies after World War II were based mainly on cornering the oil belonging to others at prices that reflected neither the economic nor the political truth – let alone environmental truth. … Only in the early 1950s did the oil multinationals agree to split their revenues with the producer countries on a 50/50 basis [and] Only at the beginning of the 1970s did the oil-produccing countries succeed in gaining user rights for their oil wells.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.25.

On the cynical politics of controlling the oil:
"Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates obtained the political support of the West as a hedge against internal revolutions, propping up feudalism in the name of the Free World. Because of their voluminous investments in the industrialized West, the oil states lost their interest in driving the West into economic crisis with new, drastic price increases because that would endanger revenues from these investments. … When Iraq threatened to become another impudent exception with its attempt to take over Kuwait, the largest military expedition since World War II was launched in 1991 … Two years earlier, Iraq had committed a much more serious violation of international law than the occupation of Kuwait – that is, the use of chemical weapons – but there was no reaction by the international community because the question of political control of oil was not an issue.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.26.

On functional blindess:
"it is part of the nature of Western capitalist centrism that it does not want to recognize its destructive effects on others. This becomes easier if these impacts can be dumped onto others – on developing countries or on nature itself. The contaminators of the planet naturally prefer to live in elegant, green, residential areas. There are people who consider themselves conservationists, yet who prefer to obtain their electricity from a distant nuclear power plant rather than from a wind farm if the wind generator disturbs their immediate communion with nature. Hand in hand with that attitude comes a growing attention to environmental problems in their own enclaves, but little attention to much graver environmental problems in the developing countries and for the planet as a whole – even if they themselves are the main culprits.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.35.

On the misplaced priorities of energy research funding:
"For three decades from the mid-1950s onwards, nuclear energy was the firm favourite of government spending policy. In 1984, $4.39 billion was still being spent on research and development of conventional nuclear energy, $2.16 billion on fast breeders and $1.53 billion on nuclear fusion. In total that was $8 billion, just about eight times more than spending on renewable energies. … Although no more nuclear power plants have been built in the United States since 1973, $6.9 billion was spent on research and development for conventional nuclear energy between 1984 and 1993, as opposed to $2.7 billion for renewable. Even coal received nearly double the amount for renewable energies.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.52-53.

On the priorities behind (not) prioritizing renewable energy:
"The explanation for sticking to the established, politically motivated, technological priorities … was that there was no consensus in society supporting solar energy – but most military projects are pushed through despite social dissent, and governments attempt, with huge public relations efforts, to produce public consent for weapons. Nevertheless, there have been, and there continue to be, mass protests against military projects and nuclear power plants … What is meant evidently is the lack of consensus among the elite, whose points of view count for more than that of the general public even through governments are supposed to abide by democratic principles.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.58.

On four kinds of misgovernment:
"Barbara Tuchman [in] ’March of folly’ … differentiates among four kinds of misgovernment that many appear simultaneously: tyranny, excess of power, incompetence or decadence, and folly or mental standstill.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.60.

I can’t believe how timely this quote from historian Tuchman’s classic 1984 book ”The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam” is. It exactly describes recent developments in the US and elsewhere. It’s like she reached out across time and space and wrote about us, here, now.

On our elites as the felons of humankind:
"the futurologist Jesco von Puttkamer articulated with rare candour [sentences] that reveal a modern master race philosophy that is more interested in the question of how one can escape from a destroyed earth with a new Noah’s Ark, than in finding a new accommodation with the life around us on earth. The elite able to reserve a few seats [in future] spaceships would be the descendants of those who today would risk the ruin of the earth’s civilization rather than do everything possible for its salvation. … the fact is that considerably more money has been spent on technologies for the flight from earth than on technologies for its rehabilitation. The scientific, economic and political elites … may be at the centre of public attention and honour but in the histories of the future they will appear as gambles, as mandkind’s felons”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.62-63.

On the politics of the energy system:
"The energy system is not a value-free and interest-free laboratory. Different interests and goals will lead to different actions. The wrong goals will lead to bad results, insufficient goals to insufficient results, and incomplete goals to the neglect of necessary points of departure.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.68.

On ”economic man” vs reality:
"The sociological experience is such that energy sources – as long as they are geographically and financially available – are used without much thought until they run out. The exploitation of vegetation in the third World will continue to the bitter end, as was the case in today’s industrialized countries before the import of energy from abroad. It is difficult to see how that can change, unless there are functioning administrative or financial forces in place that would prove otherwise. The limited value of information and energy consciousness is demonstrated in the rich countries, whose inhabitants are more enlightened about the consequences but who nevertheless do not reduce consumption unless economic or administrative constraints force them to do so.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.75.

On ’nuclear fusion’ becoming ’fusion’:
"Fusion technology … advocates try to deflect attention by pretending that atomic fusion is something quite different. When protests against nuclear fission reactors was at its height in the mid-1970s, nuclear fusion researchers dropped the word ’nuclear’ and called themselves just fusion researchers from then on. In so doing they managed to shelter from the worst of the criticism of nuclear energy.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.80.

On mastering fusion energy and becoming masters of the world:
"Fusion energy is without a doubt technologically even more complex than nuclear fission. Because of the extremely long technological lead time required, only North America, Japan, Western Europe and perhaps Russia would be able to master these technologies. Since fusion is regarded as the energy supply for the time after the end of the fossil fuel and fission era, control of this technology by only a few implies a lasting position of political and economic predominance over the rest of the world. Maybe this is another reason why the energy establishment continues to cling to the fusion idea”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.85.

On costs as being irrelevant when it comes to solar:
"cost studies should not be overemphasized. Even if solar energy’s ’competitiveness’ simply isn’t there in comparison with that of conventional energy carriers, and could never hope to match it, the path towards solar energy should be taken, without hesitation, in any event because of the overriding concerns for the continued assurance of human existence. For the same reasons, there were seldom any questions about costs when it came to matters of military security, unless it was a matter of comparing the costs of different weapons technologies to achieve a given goal. … High costs are supposed to have an intimidating effect and to prove economic ’unreasonableness’ or even ’irresponsibility’. Enormous costs did not matter at all when nuclear power was at the early stages of development, because the goal of a supposedly inexhaustible energy supply in the future was paramount.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.95.

On scaling up solar:
"Combined with political initiatives to support the introduction of solar thermal technologies, it seems entirely possible to achieve a hundred or more times the present capacity within 10 years, doubling that number every 10 years subsequently. This would mean that during the next few decades about one quarter of worldwide power generation would be solar-based. … In the process, it would be possible to phase out the current used oil- and gas-fired back-up turbine generators.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.103.

On the developing new computer chips vs solar:
"If we compare the pitiful attempts – at both political an corporate level – to develop PV technology on an industrial scale with the efforts to develop ever more powerful computer systems, the difference in priorities becomes glaringly clear. … Nobody asks about the costs of developing new computer chips. Instead, the economy’s future competitiveness is invoked, without any questions about the economic viability of deploying such high-powered computers”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.106.

On the resistance towards solar:
"The suppliers of conventional primary energy have invested large sums for the very long term in the exploration of new regions for production, mining and drilling techniques, in pipelines and bulk carriers for energy transport, and in refineries or processes for upgrading coal. The more and the longer the energy industry has invested, the tougher and the more persistent its defensive attitude is likely to be towards solar energy and even energy-saving strategies.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.152.

On rationality and systems boundaries:
"it is repeatedly claimed that solar energy represents a viable alternative only ’in the long run’; in the short term, the opposition says, it would disrupt existing investment cycles. Viewed from within their respective business sectors, these economic considerations are undoubtedly logical, and they represent normal entrepreneurial behaivour. However, given the dangers to nature from conventional energy, they are intolerable from the point of view of the common good. The fate of human civilization should not be allowed to depend on the economic efficiency calculations of the energy industry.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.154-155.

Prescient reflections from 2001/1992:
"Instead of acting on the insights of the German social philosopher Niklas Luhmann, who urges ’reducing complexity’, exactly the opposite happens because of the organizational structure of political institutions and their work patterns: laws and regulations are enacted of constantly growing complexity and confusion, increasing the inability for reform, and increasing disgust with politics at a time when sweeping reform and political engagement should be paramount for the survival of mankind. Increasingly dangerous political deficits are being papered over by flights of rhetoric. Problems are treated with words instead of genuine attempts to solve them. This deception of the public works for a while, particularly with the help of the media, but the result is a growing loss of credibility by political actors, resulting in political apathy and, ultimately, rebellion.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.162-163.

Talk globally, postpone nationally:
"’Think globally, act locally’” – this catchy slogan of the environmental movement urges everyone to play their part in society, acting on his or her sense of responsibility. International reality works according to another, unspoken formula perhaps best describes as ’Talk globally, postpone nationally’. The global dimension of environmental dangers is continuously abused by national governments as an excuse either to water down or to put off completely long-overdue initiatives as long as nobody else acts on them. … It is always easy to come up with reasonable-sounding explanations: it won’t accomplish much if only one country takes the initiative; since we all compete internationally, all the other countries would have to go along to avoid incurring economic disadvantages by imposing higher energy taxed in one country only.
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.176.

On the fallacy of organizing UN environmental conferences:
"There is a basic fallacy underlying the countless environmental conferences under the aegis of the UN: that before anything can happen, it is necessary to achieve a general consensus of all governments that reflects all existing power, interests and development differences for such a wide and complex range of problems. … More astonishing is the degree of political naivety with which governments, environmental groups, international organizations and the media keep projecting great expectations and hopes on such conferences that are impossible to fulfil. … International conferences are used to articulate goodwill as a substitute for failure to do anything … If they do not produce any real action, it will be blamed on the complexities of international understanding.”
Scheer, H. (2001). A solar manifesto, p.177.

On the age of renewable energy:
"Only when the employment of both fossil and atomic energy actually and irreversibly shrinks in favour of renewable energy will the age of renewable energy have commenced.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.2.

On paying lip service to renewable energy:
"In every discussion about energy, displaying sympathy for renewable energy has become a matter of good form. But this says nothing about the value actually placed on renewable energy: is it in first, second or third place, or is this just a hypocritical priority? For with every increase in the number of those seriously advocating renewable energy, there is a parallel rise in the amount of lip service and excuses, which is why, all too frequently, words are not followed by deeds.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.5-6.

On the lack of international renewable energy agencies:
"Why, thus far, have there been no political initiatives promoting renewable energy as a future economic project with the same kind of clear-cut ambition that made it possible to build the modern railway, space travel, nuclear technology and (most recently of all) information technology? Why are there still no European institutions for renewable energy comparable to EURATOM or the Europeans Space Agency (ESA) in their respective fields, or global institutions like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)? These questions about the actors and fields of action for and against renewable energy must be answered if we want to learn how the shift to these new forms of energy can be decisively accelerated.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.13.

On renewable energy as our fate:
”There is one forecast of which you can already be sure: someday renewable energy will be the only way for people to satisfy their energy needs. Because of the physical, ecological and (therefore) social limits to nuclear and fossil energy use, ultimately nobody will be able to circumvent renewable energy as the solution, even if it turns out to be everybody’s last remaining choice. The question keeping everyone in suspense, however, is whether we shall succeed in making this radical change of energy platforms happen early enough to spare the world irreversible ecological mutilation and political and economic catastrophe.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.29.

On energy research going all in on nuclear:
"The objection that technology was not advanced enough during these decades [ca 1970-2000] for renewable energy to be feasible is a flimsy excuse. This is even corroborated by the size of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries’ research and development (R&D) expenditures for renewable energy research, which have stood at around 8 per cent of energy research funds for three decades. For nuclear research, by contrast, the OECD country average was 51 per cent. These proportion would turn out looking even more favourable to nuclear energy and slanted against renewable energy if the statistics compiled by the IEA had also included EURATOM (European Atomic Energy Community) agency’s funds, as well as France’s unpublished expenditures.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.30.

On Arrhenius 1922 insight that renewable is our only choice:
"Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1903 … wrote this in his 1922 book Chemistry in Modern Life:
”Concern about raw materials is already casting a dark shadow over mankind. Concerns like those about petroleum are also warranted owing to the future of almost all raw material. Every industrialist seeks to push his production as high as possible in order to achieve the largest conceivable profit, and he gives no thought whatsoever to how things will be after fifty years or half a century. The statesman, however, needs to apply a different standard.” ...
Mankind needs to arrive at the insight that it must ’replace [those raw materials] with the manpower that the sun pours out over us in inexhaustible amounts’”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.33.

On looming energy disasters and their consequences for poor countries:
"’Developing countries’ will ultimately suffer economic collapse under the weight of price increases for oil imports, and this will accelerate their political institutions’ decline to such an extent that industrial countries and international organizations will be hopelessly strained trying to provide assistance. Even those countries that have placed their bets on tourism as a sector will suffer severe losses, since more expensive oil is going to stem the flow of international air traffic. … One is reminded of the pattern of behaviour in an ancient Greek tragedy, in which everything rushes towards a disastrous end. Everyone involved can see this coming, but nobody can release himself from his own behavioural compulsion contributing to the tragic denouement. The many ingenious scenarios painted by conventional energy experts are built on an assumption that became unrealistic a long time ago”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.43-44.

On the political and mental hurdles delaying renewable energy:
"The thesis that there is an enormously long time requirement for introducing new kinds of energy is a misapprehension that energy experts derived from the history of conventional energy systems. This experience is based not so much on the long construction times required for large power plants as it is on the even more time-consuming process of completing the wide-ranging transportation and distribution structure needed to supply conventional energy. This experience, however, would be applicable to renewable energy only if the choices about its expansion were to be oriented around the traditional model and its trajectory of large-scale technology. … The real time problem for renewable energy is truly neither technological nor economic, but rather political and mental:  the political problems takes the form of countless arbitrary administrative hurdles, and the mental problem lies in the need for a change of attitude.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.55.

On distributed vs centralized energy:
"The conditions that led to the model of a uniformly networked energy supply using large power plants as production centers tend to become invalid … when renewable energy enters the picture: using solar energy for someone’s own decentralized electricity production does not now require fuel transport. ’Delivering’ sun rays happens all by itself and costs nothing.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.63.

On energy storage:
"The storage warehouse for petroleum is the oil tanker, for coal it is the coal heap, for natural gas the major storage caverns and the gas tank, for nuclear energy the fuel rod store, and for water power (if necessary) the reservoir. … In the current energy system, energy is stored prior to its conversion into electricity or heat. When it comes to renewable energy, this is also possible in the case of dammed-up water power and bio-energy. Geothermal energy even has the most perfect of all storage warehouses, namely the Earth itself, directly underneath the power plant. … With energy from solar radiation and with power from wind, waves and un-dammed water, by contrast, it is not possible to store energy prior to its conversion into electricity or heat. These other forms of renewable energy need to be stored after conversion; that is the essential difference.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.65-66.

On nuclear hell and nuclear paradise:
"In ’the Russel-Einstein Manifesto’ issued in 1954, a statement signed by numerous famous scholars and scientists issuing an urgent call for the abolition of nuclear weapons, it said: ’Remember your humanity and forget everything else. If you can do this, then the way is open to a new paradise; if not, it will mean the end of life altogether.’ There was now only a choice between nuclear hell or nuclear paradise – perhaps as a way of restoring some mental balance for themselves in light of what nuclear physics had conjured up in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. … Because of what actually happened at Chernobyl, the promises turned into nightmares.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.93.

On nuclear promises and the fallout:
"In the 1950s atomic energy garnered broad support because it was portrayed in glowing colours as a great historical prospect, as a project for all humankind. As late as 1974, the IAEA was promising that 4.45 million megawatts of nuclear power capacity would be installed by the year 2000. That is almost double the total capacity installed for electricity production worldwide today. The ’nuclear community’ applied no self-restraint of any kind, neither with respect to the numbers it was forecasting nor with reference to the speed at which it expected nuclear power plants to be introduced. They have constantly had to scale back their prognoses over since. … Today there are actually 439 nuclear power facilities worldwide, operating at a total capacity of around 300,000 megawatts and distributed across 32 countries.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.102.

On the shifting timeline for fusion energy:
"When the UN sponsored a nuclear conference at Geneva in 1955, the first fusion reactor was announced for 1975. Today, 50 years later, the fusion reactor is heralded for 2060. Although the date for delivering on this promise keeps getting further and further away, the funds keep flowing copiously.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.103.

On dependence as convenience:
"Whoever is dependent, of feels that way, becomes submissive. The more exclusively energy supply was organized by the energy business, the greater was the dependence. Yet people initially experience this as something overwhelmingly positive, since it brought them unprecedented convenience, economic growth and higher incomes. Dependence did not have to be coerced. To get energy delivered free into your house instead of having to make the effort to procure it yourself, and to have this happen so easily in the form of electricity with diverse applications, this was a transformation society could only regard as liberating. That is why the energy supply system of the industrial countries is viewed to this day as the very model of economic advancement – even for developing countries, in which the majority of people are subjected to the daily tribulations of procuring fuel.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.120.

On making reform dangerous:
"The energy business may take it for granted that its own interest is deemed identical with that of society. … Its role is underpinned by the advantage of habituation that all existing things enjoy vis-à-vis what is new and unknown. Advocates of the latter always have the burden of proof on their side, and onus of demonstrating that their project might actually improve the status quo. … Conservatives usually succeed in branding reformers’ goals as dangerous so long as there is an overwhelming perception that the status quo is acceptable – and also because conservatives will occasionally introduce ’moderate’ changes”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.121.

On using euphoniously bombastic terms:
"marginalizing descriptions are deployed in a calculated way to make renewable energy part of some new generic term, and therefore to relativize it: these include such terms as ’future energies’, ’clean energies’, or – the term used most often internationally – ’sustainable energies’. These kinds of generic terms are … ’plastic words’: euphoniously bombastic … Conventional energy is sometimes smuggled into concepts that arouse association with renewable energy – so as to lend a conceptual status of ecological equivalence to conventional energy. But how can a non-renewable energy be called a ’future energy’ if its future lies in its exhaustion? How can an energy be called ’clean’ if the goal is merely to reduce emissions?”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.123.

On hiding behind deceptive facades:
"With the assistance of professional ad agencies, the energy corporations are highly practiced in strategically occupying the rhetorical high ground of ecological ’buzzwords’. In the US – in order to confuse and undermine the activist scene of climate protection initiatives aimed against fossil energy consumption – they have founded organizations whose names sound like pure ecology: ’Alliance for Environment and Resources’, ”Citizens for Environment’, ’Environmental Conservation Organization’, ’Global Climate Coalition’. … This is done … in order to placate the general public, which does not see through this camouflage.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.124-125.

On ’eco-taxes’ vs ’pollution taxes’:
"Another problematic case in point is Germany’s ’eco-tax’. This refers to the taxation of environmentally damaging products, especially fossil energy. But since every tax is experienced as a burden, this concept directs people’s attention away from environmental burdens to tax burdens, and in this way it encodes a positive effect as something negative. It would therefore be more apt to speak of a ’pollution tax’ instead of an ’eco-tax’. Campaigns are always being launched against the eco-tax in which the aim is to reduce the general tax burden. Campaigns against a ’pollution tax’, by contrast, would be much harder to stage.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.125.

On consensus as a show-stopper:
"The consensus orientation is always rationalized by saying that fundamental decisions can only be made under cover of a broad consensus, with the inclusion of all organized interests. But on many questions this is tantamount to conceding a veto right to these interests, as if democratic constitutions gave them a seat and a vote in legislative institutions. In reality this consensual attitude is just an excuse for lacking the will, or the courage, to act on one’s own.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.134.

On resource wars:
"What would happen if a major oil-producing country were to curtail its production in order to stretch out its reserves over time for legitimate reasons of self-interst? Or what might transpire if, as a result of a general exhaustion of sources, not enough oil is available for everyone? Will countries then be occupied so that the occupiers can at least secure enough resources for their own needs, while others have to stare into empty pipelines? What international tensions will emerge when the US, China and the EU pursue ambitions like this separately and in competition with each other?”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.138.

On why electricity producers will not voluntarily invest in renewables:
"it is … naive for some of renewable energy’s advocates to entertain the wishful notion that the energy companies would, almost as a matter of course, switch over to producing electricity in giant offshore wind parks or in the Sahara from solar power plants installed there. If electricity can be produced more cost-effectively this way than in traditional power plants, it is assumed that corporations will voluntarily build thousands of kilometers of new transmission lines in order to support this prospect. In fact, the corporations are actually bristling at the mere suggestion that they might have to build just 10 kilometers for a wind park! It is illusory to expect that electricity producers would undertake multi-billion dollar investments that would cause them not only to shut down their own conventional large power plants, but also to end their coal, natural gas and nuclear fuel transactions – in other words, to undertake investments that would run counter to their own best interests.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.147.

Against international climate conferences:
"global negotiations are more part of the problem than a path towards their solution. … Do not global negotiations rather tend to serve most participants as … a cheap excuse for postponing action once again? … Usually at these conferences … the only thing that happened was the establishment of networks, new commissions and follow-up conferences. … The members of this community know and meet each other frequently, develop a common language of expertise, produce yards and yards of papers that align ever more closely with each other, and haggle for months about statements that as many people as possible can approve. The result is a self-referential system, a virtual world that seems to satisfy itself and that confuses its own progress on paper with real progress … High-sounding declarations are issued, and new hopes are constantly being awakened. Warnings are issued saying that continued postponement can no longer be justified; and then one adjourns yet again.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.156-157.

On the futility of top-down regulation of technological revolutions:
"No technological revolution in economic history that achieved a broad impact worldwide every happened because of international negotiations resulting in the introduction of obligatory new quotas and joint accounting regulations. … Imagine how those at the forefront of the most recent technological revolution in information technology would have reacted if, at the outset, governments had put a stop to this initiative with the argument that the information technology boom would prove to burdensome because old industries would fall away, lots of traditional jobs would be lost, and so information technologies should only be introduced ’in international consonance’ with at least all of the industrial nations and on the basis of an international agreement using fixed quotas to introduce the new technologies. A demand like this would have been ridiculed, and quite rightly.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.160-161.

On why bigger is better (to the World Bank):
"One of the reasons why the World Bank favours financing large projects in its lending practices is the lower share of administrative costs per amount of credit; those costs grow automatically when, for example, a credit amount of US$1 billion is allocated to a hundred or a thousand smaller projects instead of one large one.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.185.

On rebranding idiocy as progressive thinking:
"In the 1980s, the think-tanks of the US neoconservatives were looking for an approach to thwart environmental policy and counter the environmental movement. The neoconservatives recognized that they needed to present supposedly better concepts for environmental protection if they wanted to avoid being regarded as ignoramuses. Their pithy recipe became ’free market environmentalism’, which they opposed to an alleged ’command-and-control’ environmental policy. Environmental problems were to be seen as resulting solely from market imperfections because environmental goods did not have a price tag. The solution would be tradable pollution rights. All other approaches to action aimed at making energy supply more ecological – higher energy taxes, energy savings laws, investment programmes and laws promoting renewable energy – were condemned as absurd.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.188.

On the difference between social movements coming together and acting unitedly:
"The variety of motives among the environmental movement’s comrade-in-arms reaches all the way from well thought-out critiques of individual technologies to diffuse reservations about technology in general; from a critique of the ecologically negative consequences of growth all the way to a critique of growth in general; from a paramount orientation towards local nature preservation to the struggle against global environmental destruction. Yet a movement that came together because of a joint series of ’nos’ tends to let the different positions arising from these diverse motives simply rest. These guarantees successful mobilization, but it eventually leads to growing contradictions and signs of paralysis.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.196.

On the best argument ever for wind power:
"there is a lack of consciousness about how to establish hierarchies of real ecological problems and threats. This leads to lopsided assessments, to exaggerating micro-problems at the same time that macro-problems are shrugged off. … Weighing these kinds of trade-offs is not even something that comes up in the campaigns agains the ’blights on the landscape’ allegedly caused by wind power facilities, of which there are currently 19,000 in Germany. By contrast, the more than 200,000 high-voltage pylons and their transmission lines are hardly ever a subject for discussions, even though wind power facilities could easily hold their own in a beauty contest against power cable towers. There is an Argus-eyed vigil over the possibility that birds might collide with the wind turbines’ rotors and die, although there are entire mega-cities and industrial regions in which, owning to air pollution and a lack of animal nutrition, no avian fauna can even be found any more. … Misleading comparisons are the order of the day. But looking at a specific landscape with our without a wind power facility is not the appropriate comparison to make; rather, one needs to compare the stress on the landscape that comes from wind power facilities to the environmental stress from traditional energy supply [and] Without a doubt, wind power facilities are less of a strain on the landscape.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.198-199.

On why it’s wrong to pay more for green electricity:
"In contrast to the market for biological foodstuffs, where customers exchange the disadvantage of higher costs for the individual advantage of healthier and tastier food, customers of green electricity only have the individual disadvantage of higher costs. The customer finds himself in a world that is the reverse of the world of the polluter-pays principle: to get green electricity, which helps avoid environmental damage, he ends up paying more than all those people who just keep on adding to pollution with their energy choices. This is an upside-down world and not sustainable as a general social principle.”
Scheer, H. (2007). Energy autonomy, p.265.

On renewable energy as a means rather than an end:
"Recognizing the fundamental importance of energy change for society’s ability to survive in the future, my starting point is not renewable energy but rather society itself. I have not moved from renewable energy into politics in order to implement them. Rather, it is my view of the fundamental problem and my understanding of political responsibility that has led me to renewable energy. The transition to renewable energy is of historic significance for civilization and we need to know how to speed this process up. It is not renewable energy that we lack, it is time.”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.13.

On energy sources and energy systems:
"The advocates of established power supply [have] their theologians, and a well-etablished organizational following – power companies, international energy institutes … and national institutions. … these organizations … represent traditional energy thinking right up to the present day. The transition to renewable energy requires a new way of thinking about energy, if only for reasons of physics. No power-generating system (i.e. the overall technological, organizational, financial and political outlay required to make energy available can adopt a neutral position when it comes to its primary energy source. It would be a blatant mistake to retain the structures that are tailored to fossil and nuclear fuels and simply to exchange the primary energy sources. No technological, organizational, financial or political requirement for producing energy can be seen or understood independently of its primary energy source.”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.22.

On redesigning the whole energy system:
"the transition to renewable energy is also inevitably a conflict between two energy systems with different functions. Renewable energy requires different techniques, applications, locations, infrastructures, calculations, industrial priorities, company and ownership structures and, above all, different legal frameworks! Therefore the supporters of traditional power supply, i.e. the current power industry (which is unable to adopt a neutral position towards all sources of energy, as its own system is designed for traditional energy sources) cannot be permitted to set the pace for the transition to renewable energy. Because energy change needs to be rapid, it cannot be made to depend upon those who have an economic interest in slowing it down.”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.36.

On country-specific plans for renewable energy:
"The strategic mobilization of renewable energy must be primarily focused at the level of the individual state … because each strategy needs to reflect each nation’s natural renewable energy sources, as well as its economic structure and legal system … Added to this are the various stages of economic development through which countries go. We have developing countries, threshold countries and industrialized countries, countries with a completely structured electricity market and others with only sparse networks. Some countries are energy exporters, other energy importers, some large countries with low population densities, others small but with high population densities. Therefore the overall transition to renewable energy cannot be based on a single strategy, applicable to all”.
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.38.

On the Copenhagen 2009 failure:
"the world public was surprised and appalled by the embarrassing conclusion of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009, for they had not believed its failure possible. … But the debacle that occurred was not so surprising. The climate conference ran according to the same script as had each of its 14 predecessors since 1995: dramatic ”now or never” appeals in the run-up to the conference, small-minded and paralysing haggling during the conference leading to pitiable results, the decision to hold a follow-up conference and finally the denunciation of the guilty parties. … If there is a single guilty party responsible for the meagre results at Copenhagen, then it is the idea of a world climate conference itself”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.43.

More on why carbon emissions trading is a really bad idea:
"Governments wishing to auction emissions certificates from 2013 onwards hope to generate treasury revenues. The fees generated by these certificates are effectively a tax on CO2, although the bureaucracy and costs involved in collecting fees are significantly greater than simple taxation. Governments will not wish to give up future claims to this source of income which may well motivate them to put renewable energy initiatives on hold. Thus governments become indirect business partners with CO2 emitters. Carbon trading is one of the fastest growing financial markets, making new speculative bubbles likely. Now that we are truly trading in air, it is probably even less possible to control the spurious orders from speculators which are no more than hot air”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.47-48.

On storing/burying CO2 underground:
"The term CCS [Carbon Capture and Storage] is a form of extenuation: ”S” stands for storage, and something that is stored is usually being saved for future use. However, CCS involves the irrevocable burial of CO2, with no intention of it ever being permitted to re-enter the atmosphere. … Separated and stored CO2 is only climate-friendly when it remain in its repositories for eternity. But no one can, or is willing to, guarantee that sooner or later, it won’t after all manage to leak into the atmosphere. [Under] the German Government’s draft law in 2009 … power companies would only be liable for the secure storage of CO2 for a period of 30 years, in order to relieve companies of incalculable financial risks. Power companies tried to reduce even this liability period to 20 years.”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.62-63.
¨On the need for more market unfreedom:
"It is paradoxical that renewable energy with its minimal external effects, is more expensive on the energy markets than our conventional energies with their high social costs. For any other products, discrepancies such as this would have been declared unacceptable long ago. Demanding equal market opportunities for both polluted and clean drinking water, or for contaminated and uncontaminated baby food, would be meet with massive protests. Cattle or swine are even slaughtered en masse to protect populations when viral epidemics break out. Such reasoning is foreign to the guardians of the energy market and such measures would be discounted on the grounds that they contradict free market principles.”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.75.

On the breakneck speed of France’s plunge into nuclear 40 years ago:
"why should it not be possible, using quickly installed renewable energy systems, to match France’s achievements with nuclear power plants that require long construction times? From 1977, the year in which the first nuclear reactor went into operaton, to 1987 (i.e. merely a decade), France brought 39 nuclear power plants into service, which generated 50 per cent of its entire energy supply at that time.”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.80.

On technocratic design:
"Technocratic designs typically state that everything that is technically possible can be realized, while dismissing questions and references to potentially adverse economic and social circumstances as speculative. Their promotors are happy to point out that implementation is merely a matter of ”political will”. Thanks to this get-out clause, the responsibility for misjudgments and failures lies with others and are never the fault of the project’s designers themselves.”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.94.

On why renewable is threatening to traditional power companies:
"Renewable energy has two economic characteristics: it comes free of charge and is available wherever it is needed. To this is added its inexhaustibility and pollutant-free nature, something to which no one could object. However, it is precisely the cost-free and ubiquitous natural availability of renewable energy which makes it so threatening to the traditional power industry. Energy debates which fail to recognize this are sham debates.”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.103.

On unilateral versus multilateral climate/environmental initiatives:
"The least sustainable elements of world civilization are nuclear power and fossil energy. The most important prerequisite for achieving sustainability is the transition to renewable energy. … No one should wait with their own initiatives until others are prepared to join in – when dealing with burning issues, it is even irresponsible to do so. … The world conferences which followed the Rio Earth Summit were fixated on multilateral and consensual ideas and underestimated, or even denied, the effects of unilateral efforts. In contrast, successful unilateral concepts can stimulate international wave-like movements which have a greater effect than protracted negotiations on harmonized multilateral policy.”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.146-147.

On mobilizing the army for environmental purposes:
"Reforestation can … be a productive task for armies during peace time, not only in developing countries, and especially for larger reforestation projects carried out away from residential areas. An early example is the work of French Emperor Napoleon’s Engineering Corps, engaged not in reforestation projects but in construction shipping canals and irrigation systems.”
Scheer, H. (2012). The energy imperative, p.152-153.

torsdag 8 mars 2018

Sustainable diffusion: leveraging innovators’ sustainable practices (application)

My previous blog post concerned a smaller (one-year) research grant application that was handed in to the The Swedish Council for Sustainable Development's (FORMAS) call about "Syntheses and research projects for a sustainable spatial planning". As it turns out, they had two separate "sub-calls" within that umbrella call; one for (smaller one-year) synthesis projects ("Syntheses of knowledge status and knowledge gaps") and another call for (larger three-year) research projects ("Research projects focussing on the citizens or actors involved"), and, we actually handed in an application to each of those two calls. Here's the call for the larger research projects.

So beyond the previous application (see the previous blog post), we also handed in an application called "Sustainable diffusion: leveraging innovators’ sustainable practices through digitalization". It's for the most part the same persons that are behind both applications but with two important differences; where the previous application was led by Björn Hedin (project leader), this application was led by Elina Eriksson (project leader). Both me and Cecilia Katzeff are also part of both applications but our newly hired colleague Rob Comber is also part of this, the second and larger application. We will, if our application is granted, also hire a post-doc for two years who will work full-time in this research project.

It's quite a feat (and it was pretty tough) writing two (partly overlapping) applications with the same deadline at the same time but we set up a streamlined process where primarily Björn and Cecilia worked with the smaller synthesis application and Elina and Rob worked in parallel with the larger application. I also primarily worked with the larger application (at a distance, from Barcelona) but also now and then went back and forth between the two applications. The second application is written in English and here's the 1500-character summary of the project:

We need to increase the pace at which we are building a sustainable society. To achieve the Swedish Environmental Objectives changes need to happen faster across society - infrastructural, behavioral etc. There already exists innovative and successful solutions created for example by citizens' initiatives and grassroots movements, and there are also innovative municipalities that have come a long way in their transition work. However, there is a gap on the one hand between the sustainable practices that innovators (forerunners) explore and that those who follow in their trajectories perhaps adopt, and on the other hand between initiatives that authorities and municipalities run and which citizens perhaps adopt. In this project we will investigate what role digitization can play to bridge these gaps.

The project will explore ways to disseminate sustainable innovations bottom-up, ‘middle-out’ and top-down and we will explore three interlinked contexts for sustainable innovations: 1) the documentation and sharing of sustainable innovations from forerunners to early adopters, 2) the power of civic and third sector organisations, such as grass root movements, and 3) the role of government agents and agencies, such as the Municipal Energy and Climate Advisors (EKR). The project will strive to create long-term and sustainable digital and social ways for the spread of sustainable innovations.

Below are some other, selected parts of the application. From the Background:

In this project we are interested in sustainable innovations - new ways of configuring lived life in order to aim for less impact on the planet. Sustainable innovations also explicitly aim for a more just society - measures that lessen the impact on the planet can not lead to a more unequal society. Although understudied (Shove and Walker, 2010), there are already innovative and successful initiatives created by individual citizens and grass root movements, referred to as “forerunners” (Rogers, 2010) in this project. Among these forerunners, municipalities, regions and other public organizations have come far in their transition thinking and processes. However, there is a gap between the sustainable practices that forerunners engage in, including those that municipalities and public authorities advocate, and the practices adopted by followers, e.g. by early adopters and the early majority.

From the Aims and Goals:

The project holds as its primary aim to increase diffusion of sustainable innovation through the design of digital platforms that are attuned to the social practices of innovation. We question: How can digital platforms be utilized to increase the diffusion of innovative sustainable practices and behaviors?

This aim is supported by the following goals:
1. To understand the social practices of actors engaged with sustainable innovation (forerunners).
2. To identify the opportunities for digital platforms to support shared practices (competences, materials, meanings) within pathways of diffusion.
3. To design digital platforms and socio-technical pathways to support diffusion of sustainable innovation
4. To establish criteria for measuring success of pathways for diffusion with stakeholders

We have three partners in the project (and a special thanks goes to Pella Thiel for suggesting we should get in touch with (super-enthusiastic) Erik Noaksson):

Susanna Elfors, consultant in sustainable local development
Bagarmossen Resilience Centre (BRC) - a local meeting place for transition, resilience, sustainability and local development in the border between the rural and the urban. See further:

Erik Noaksson, Innovation Strategist for Region Jämtland Härjedalen, project leader SMICE
SMICE - an innovation network supporting sustainable development that connects actors in Jämtland, Härjedalen and Tröndelag. See further:

Emelie Skoog, Regional Development Leader (Regional Utvecklingsledare - RUL)
Mälardalen Energy Agency (MEA) - a regional energy agency with commitments in four counties in Sweden: Södermanland, Västmanland, Uppsala and Gotland, See further:

We are also much more ambitious in our plans for disseminating the results from the project than in any other application I've been part of; we will, besides scientific dissemination through articles and conference presentations set up a web page, a blog (promising to publish one blog post per week for three years), record short videos and podcasts and organise knowledge dissemination seminars:

The project group has prior experiences with all these formats, for example Daniel Pargman has a long standing academic blog where he has published 1-2 blog posts per week for more than 7.5 years, Elina Eriksson and Cecilia Katzeff have both organized and taken part in seminars in Almedalen and Rob Comber and Elina Eriksson have engaged in popular science communication through events such as British Science Festival and ForskarFredag. Furthermore, the project will also use the possible communication channels that our project partners [...] have at their disposal (e.g. homepages, Facebook groups, Twitter accounts etc.).

I believe we have put together a strong application that is in line with the call but we will again have to wait for more than half a year (until September) to know if our application will be granted.

söndag 4 mars 2018

Using digital interventions to change energy-related behaviors (application)

We handed in a research grant application to The Swedish Council for Sustainable Development's (Formas) half a year ago called "A systematic review the scientific literature on digital interventions for more sustainable food consumption behaviours". We got the money we applied for and we recently started to work on the project. "We" here refers to Björn Hedin (project leader), Cecilia Katzeff, Daniel Pargman and Elina Eriksson.

As it is, The Swedish Council for Sustainable Development's (Formas) had a new call for "Syntheses and research projects for sustainable spatial planning: Syntheses of knowledge status and knowledge gaps":

What do we currently know and what do we still need to know to achieve a sustainable society? Formas invites applications for syntheses that examine knowledge status and knowledge gaps within subject areas relevant to sustainable spatial planning through multi- or interdisciplinary collaborations. In the assessment of applications for syntheses projects a major emphasis will be placed on the methodology used.
The synthesis topic investigated must contribute to one or more of the Agenda 2030 goals ( [The UN Sustainable Development Goals]. It is advantageous if the project also contributes to one or more of the Swedish environmental goals or national cultural environment targets, goals for architecture, structural planning and design, goals for housing, construction, transport policy, infrastructure, spatial planning and safety, crime prevention efforts, social goals and equality goals. The application must state which goal(s) are addressed and how the project contributes to each goal.

We reused parts of our previous, food-related application (especially relating to the planned/proposed methodology), and we (again Björn, Cecilia, me and Elina) wrote a new application geared towards energy use in households called "A systematic review of scientific literature on digital behavior change interventions for more sustainable energy behavior". Our chances ought to be pretty good since we've already done this once and managed to get the money we applied for and since we as a team objectively know more about energy than we knew about food when we submitted our previous applied (especially Cecilia has a solid background having worked in many energy-related research projects and having been the research director for Energy Design at RISE Interactive from 2009 to 2016).

Here's the English-language summary of our application:

This synthesis aims at investigating the current state of research regarding digital behavior change interventions aiming to affect households' direct energy use in a more sustainable direction. The area is very relevant since digital behavior change interventions have grown very rapidly in recent years, but there has not yet been a systematic review of this kind in the energy field. The results will be useful for decision makers, interaction and intervention designers as well as for practitioners in companies, energy companies, housing companies, government agencies and other public actors, with an interest in affecting energy consumers in a more sustainable direction. We will investigate interventions directed against individuals and households, which may target 1) reduced energy consumption through changed habits, 2) reduced energy consumption through one-off activities/investments, 3) private energy production and 4) choice of energy consumption time (in relation to “smart grids”). We will investigate the energy and sustainability goals that the relevant studies have aimed at, what behavior change techniques that have been used, what digital platform has been used, and the extent to which it has achieved set goals. Furthermore, our goal is to identify areas where there is a knowledge gap, and based on the synthesis recommend what measures can be taken to turn households to more sustainable energy use.

Here's the research question underlying the project:

What is the status of current scientific knowledge of digital behavior change interventions for more sustainable energy practices for households and individuals? In order to answer this question, we further ask:
1. What are the most significant and reliable results in this field (that should be better disseminated and built upon in future work)?
2. What are the most significant and urgent knowledge gaps in this field?

Our project partners are (again) The Swedish Energy Agency (Energimyndigheten) and The Swedish environment Protection Agency (Naturvårdsverket) but The Swedish Consumer Agency (Konsumentverket) was less relevant for this application and has been replaced by Mälardalen Energy Agency [Energikontoret i Mälardalen], a regional energy agency with commitments in four Swedish counties(Södermanland, Västmanland, Uppsala and Gotland).

During 2018 we are working on the food-related synthesis project. If we get the money we just applied for, we will work on on the just-submitted energy-related synthesis project during 2019 but we have to wait until September until we know if our application was granted or not.

torsdag 1 mars 2018

Using counterfactual history to imagine computing futures (paper)

Elina and me submitted a paper to the Fourth Workshop on Computing within Limits, "Meeting the future in the past - using counterfactual history to imagine computing futures". We actually submitted the paper close to three weeks ago - but there's been so much else to write blog posts about lately so this blog post has been stuck in the queue for an extra week or two.

The astute reader of this blog has noticed an uptick in blog posts about counterfactual history lately (the last month), like this week-long workshop applicationthis proposed paper and this research grant application. This paper is yet another such project - a paper that introduces counterfactual thinking to the Computing within Limits community.

The paper was partly written because both me and Elina will attend Limits this year and Elina was dissatisfied about the fact that she didn't have a paper cooking. I was writing a(nother) paper for Limits, but between all the other numerous deadlines as of lately, I in the end didn't have time to finish that paper. So it was very convenient for me to write this paper since 1) Elina insisted on being the first author (a good reason for her to dive in to and read up on counterfactual history - which meant less work for me) and 2) we now know this topic and it was an easy paper to write as papers go.

The paper was actually whipped together in a very short amount of time but we still think it's a good (good enough) paper that has something to contribute to the Limits workshop. As I'm familiar with most of the papers from the previous three Limits workshops, I would say that the one paper that ours is the closest to is "The Limits of Our Imagination: Design Fiction as a Strategy for Engaging with Dystopian Futures" (pdf) by Joshua Tanenbaum, Marcel Pufal and Karen Tanenbaum. Here's the abstract from our paper:

The future is inherently hard to predict, yet we know there are various factors that will limit the future of computing (scarcity of materials, energy shortages and various biophysical limits) in both substantial and disruptive ways. When we look at the past and at mainstream projected computing futures, all we see is exponential growth. While it is easy to reject such trajectories, it is much harder to imagine and propose credible, preferable or evocative alternatives. Breaking away from default modes of thinking about computing is difficult but possible, and we here present a methodology - counterfactual history - that can help us imagine alternative scenarios for computing. We argue that by learning from counterfactual pasts (“what-if scenarios”), we can more easily liberate our ideas from various preconceptions that hamper them and box them in. This makes it possible to generate and entertain a more diverse “portfolio” of  ideas about the future and help us better prepare for meeting future challenges.

Below are two of the figures that Elina drew for the paper; first (left) what design fiction is good for and then (right) why counterfactual history can be better (for certain purposes, see also the text below):

Left: design fiction proposing a wide set of futures that diverges from the present.
Right: counterfactual history proposing a wider set of futures that diverges from a "point of divergence" in the past.

Counterfactual scenarios furthermore differ from other methodologies for defamiliarization such as design fiction and speculative design since counterfactual history allows for a wider set of possible trajectories compared to those methodologies that start with present and project their consequences into an (inherently uncertain) future. ... Looking forward, we believe that it would be interesting to cooperate with computer historians to discuss interesting and suitable points of divergence particularly in relation to computing.