Climate and energy in popular culture and geopolitics


I attended two very different seminars yesterday and today

Yesterday Studiefrämjandet together with Sverok (The Swedish Gaming Federation) organised an evening seminar about climate change, climate angst and climate apocalypse in role playing games, in game culture and in other media (science fiction literature, television etc.). The evening consisted of an invited talk by Leo Calandrella Rudberg, environmental activist and vice chairman at Fältbiologerna (Nature and Youth Sweden/the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation) and a panel about how environmental catastrophes are depicted and processed in gaming culture.

While it was really interesting to listen to an environmental activist who advocated civil disobedience, Leo’s talk was unfortunately not adapted to the theme of the evening so it felt a bit like I attended two separate events. It was however certainly very entertaining to hear about:

  • The role playing game ”Werewolf: The Apocalpyse” where werewolfs (players) hunt down and tear up corporate leaders who  actively pursue environmental apocalypse or who unwittingly contribute to it.
  • The roleplaying game ”Ur varselklotet” and the expansion ”Flodskörden” that builds on Simon Stålenhags retrofuturistic art.
  • The consumerist perspective of many role-playing games (and computer games) where you start with little and then work your way up by acquiring LOOT and better GEAR. How do you plant or propagate sustainability tropes when game mechanics seldom go beyond rewarding individual profit in most role-playing games?
  • The priceless comment that role-playing is a low-carbon hobby since you just sit around a table and talk.


Today Utrikespolitiska Institutet (The Swedish Institute for International Affairs) together with the Norwegian embassy organised a breakfast seminar about ”The geopolitics of the energy transformation” (to renewable energy sources). I bumped in to my colleague Leif Dahlberg at the seminar and my CESC ex-colleague Dag Lundén from TeliaSonera was also there.

The topic of the seminar was the just-released 2019 report ”A New World. The Geopolitics of the Energy Transformation” by the Global Commission on the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation (in cooperation with IRENA, The International Renewable Energy Agency.

I picked up a printed copy of the report and it looks really really interesting, but I also learned that some things were left out of the report (like the fact we are not on track to fulfil the Paris agreement, global population growth, the dilemma of phasing out fossil fuels for exporters like Saudi Arabia or who will bear the costs of closing down coal-fired power stations early (before their economic expiration date)). It’s unclear to me if such topics are untouchable for political reasons or if they were just outside of scope of the commission and the report. Some other things I learned at the seminar was:

  • One of the speakers, André Månberger, (Lund University) seemed like an interesting person to keep track of.
  • There is a Mistra Geopolitics research program (André is part of it). I’m sure that the research output from that program is of interest to me.
  • US president and environmentalist(?) Jimmy Carter said (in response to the oil crises of the 1970’s) that ”you can’t embargo the sun”.

This was not a Great Thunberg-approved event. The basic set-up was ”with the Paris agreement as a backdrop, here are some thoughts about the geopolitical consequences of a global transition from non-renewable to renewable energy”. While those thoughts were in fact really interesting, the elephant in the room is that we aren’t really on track to transition to renewables nor to fulfil the Paris agreement. According to Johan Rockström and colleagues and their ”Global Carbon Law”, we need to reduce global CO2 emissions by 50% per decade between 2020 and 2050 to fulfil the Paris agreement. That is equivalent to annual reductions of 7% per year for the next 30 years. So what currently actually happens (besides verbal promises) is very far away from what needs to happen.


KTH Water Centre

attended a workshop at the KTH Water Center (or WaterCentre@KTH) earlier this week. The topic of the workshop was ”Can the Internet of Things make water systems more efficient and sustainable?”

The main starting point was that Stockholm Water know what they put into the pipes and they know what comes out (the charge for the water that we use) but there’s a lot they don’t know about everything in-between, including exactly where the 23% difference between input and output is ”lost”. Leaking pipes? Stolen? Substandard measurements? Something else?

Also, it seems that some losses are acceptable, say about 10% or so. Also, Stockholm Water haven’t really cared about losses since Sweden/Stockholm has had plenty of water and it’s inexpensive too. But if people use more water and Stockholm keeps growing, then there will be limits and building new infrastructure is expesive. So, how would new technologies (sensors, data, APIs, digitalization) help us understand and manage water better? Just the task of detecting and localizing a leak in an underground network is a non-trivial task today and we also raised the question of what exactly a ”leak” is – how big (in liters/second) has to be lost for something to be ”leak” that you would want to fix?

During the workshop, all participants emphasized something our Stockholm Water guest mentioned but that wasn’t really a big part of the invitation to the workshop, namely the fact that we don’t really know a lot about how water is used by households/consumers. Perhaps the (future, expected) pressure on the water system could be decreased by trying to push for ”better” habits concerning water. I found this interesting since I was one of less technically oriented persons but even the other workshop participants recurrently raised this point.

So from having thought that my role in future Water Center activities would be peripheral, it could equally well be argued that methods and ways of thinking from Human-Computer Interaction could be central, for example:

  • Our tradition of working with the interface inbetween technology and ”users”, including our mixed computer science/social science backgrounds, interests and methods. I could for example see me and Elina representing ”user-centered design” perspectives. This goes for Cecilia too who could also bring ”practice theory” into the loop.
  • Mine and Cecilia’s SPOC project emphasizes collecting ”actionable data” from another context (grocery stores) to increase sales of organic produce. The data part (collecting, visualizing existing data or figuring out what new (actionable) data sensors could generate and finding ways to leverage this data to the shop owner, to shop assistantants and to customers seem to be very relevant to Stockholm Water’s problems.
  • When it comes to (big) data and quantified self, Björn’s skills would also seem to be very relevant.

To summarize, I think that several people in our MID4S group as well as other people I know at CESC/ABE school could contribute to Water Center projects.

I also thought the workshop was well organized by the Water Center Director David Nilsson and would gladly take part in another workshop organized by him/them. I would also be interested in participating in a more directed workshop that aimed at brainstorming ideas that would be geared towards a specific project/research grant application.


After work/schmoozing with companies

For the second year in a row, we organised an After Work to hustle companies and organisations to generate mater’s thesis topics/proposals in the area of sustainability and ICT/digitalisation. The basic idea is this:

  • Our students do their master’s thesis during the spring (Jan – June). They are good at what they do.
  • Companies/organisations have tasks that would be suitable and we want to find sustainability-oriented tasks/thesis topics for our students.
  • Companies/organisations do now necessarily know what tasks are suitable for our students, how to formulate a proposal to make it attractive for our students nor know how to get in touch with our students.
  • So we (teaches/researchers) organize an after work where we tell them about these things and encourage/help them formulate suitable and attractive thesis topics.

I personally think the basic idea is brilliant and think that the people who showed up think so too. What could be improved though is that only about 10 people showed up. I do think it was a very productive event though and hope it will result in not just master’s thesis proposals but also (9 months from now) in presentations of sustainability-oriented master’s theses.!

Also companies/organizations that did not attend the event are of course welcome to formulate master’s thesis proposals and to get in touch with us – and the time do that is right now as our students are starting to look for projects at this time of the year! The invitation to the after work event could be a good start.

While there could have been more people coming, we now have a program and a structure in place so it will be easy to organise an event like this next year again. An event like this is also great as part of our public outreach – telling other societal actors about what we do.

I should finally point out that the event was co-organised with the CESC research center and with the KTH School of Architecture and the Built Environment. Some companies want things done that will be more suitable for their master’s students – so it’s great to co-organise and co-host an event like this.


Summer school: ICT4S (Leiden)

I was one of 11 lecturers in a summer school on the topic of ICT for Sustainability that was held at the Lorentz Center in Leiden (Netherlands) in the beginning of August. Around 25 ph.d student from primarily different countries in Europe attended the summer school. All lecturers belong to the ICT4S community and all had attended the ICT4S conference one or several times. It might have been the case that most of the lecturers knew most of the other lecturers.

Besides me, my CESC-colleague Mattias Höjer also attended (and organized) the summer school as a lecturer as well as two ph.d. student from KTH/CESC; Miriam Riviera Börjesson and Tina Ringensson. During the icebreaker exercise at the beginning of summer school, I was quite surprised to realize that I had met (though sometimes only briefly) no less than half of the summer school participants at one point or another.

The summer school was very well organized and besides the lectures, the most prominent thread throughout the week was to self-organize into teams (I think there were six) that aimed at writing a paper for the upcoming (2018) ICT4S conference in Toronto.

The Lorentz Center hosted the summer school and that’s actually the ”business” they are in. They organize scientific workshops – currently around 80 per year. Their experience and expertise meant that the workshop was very well organized. One example is the fact that they had 25 or 30 bikes for rent (a very popular option with the participants).

Everyone was really happy about the workshop and there was talk about organizing another workshop. I think that information would then be published at the ICT4S website (here).



What if there had only been half the oil? (article)

Our article about a world where there was only half the oil is in press but is as of today available online.

The article is/will be published in the journal Energy Research & Social Science, in a special issue about ”Narratives​ ​and​ ​storytelling​ ​in​ ​energy and​ ​climate​ ​change​ ​research”. The full name of the article is ”What​ ​if​ ​there​ ​had​ ​only​ ​been​ ​half​ ​the​ ​oil?​ ​Rewriting​ ​history​ ​to​ ​envision​ ​the​ ​consequences​ ​of peak​ ​oil” and it is written by Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson, Mikael Höök,​ ​Joshua Tanenbaum,​ ​Marcel Pufal and Josefin ​Wangel.

We are really proud of this article, and, it is in fact only the first in a series of articles that will be published about this contrafactual scenario of a world, ”Coalworld”, where there was ever only half the oil and where peak oil consequently happened back in the 1970’s.

The purpose of this thought experiment of ours is to try to figure out what the consequences of peak oil would have been back then (and up until now). The ultimate purpose is of course to tease out possible consequences of peak oil here-and-now, in our world (”Oilworld”).


Computing within Limits 2017

I attende the third workshop on Computing within Limits (Limits 2017) at the end of June. The workshop was held at Westmont College north of Santa Barbara, California and I am in fact one of the organizers of this great workshop.

The MID4S team presented no less than three papers at the workshop and they are all available in the ACM Digital Library as well as directly on the conference homepage. The three papers were:

Next year’s Limits workshop will be organized back-to-back with the mid-May ICT4S conference in Toronto so it’s an excellent opportunity to attend two conferences in a single trip!



Last CESC retreat

I attended the annual CESC 24-hour retreat last week, where CESC of course stands for the Center for Sustainable Communications. I not only work at CESC part time but I also physically sit at CESC all the time as of one year ago (together with MID4S members Elina Eriksson and Hanna Hasselqvist).

This was the fifth CESC retreat I have attended but it’s different from the previous retreats as it was also the very last. CESC is VINNOVA Centre of Excellence with financing for 10 years and those 10 years will come to a end in 2017. Much of the focus of the activities at the retreat were therefore on what we have accomplished in 10 years, how to wrap up CESC, how to manage its legacy and how the area of ICT, digitalization and sustainability can continue to develop also outside of and after CESC.

We still have the better part of a year to figure these things out and we all certainly hope that the overlap between ICT and sustainability will continue to thrive.