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.
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.
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.
Today Mistra Centre for Sustainable Markets (MISUM) at Stockholm School of Economics launched the 2017 “Walking the Talk?” report on sustainability communication in 88 of the largest Swedish companies. I attended the launch event which included a presentation of highlights from the report and a panel discussion with sustainability managers from BillerudKorsnäs, H&M, SEB and ÅF. Here are a few points from the presentation and discussion:
- Compared to two years ago, when the first Walking the Talk report was published, companies are better at communicating both their sustainability ambitions and how they actually work with sustainability and are following up on sustainability goals.
- In general, the companies do more “talk” than “walk”, but interestingly the telecommunications and technology sectors differ from the other sectors in that there is overall slightly more “walk” than “talk”.
- Setting measurable sustainability goals, and following up on the performance, was discussed quite a lot. According to the report, more than half of the companies communicate no or only very short-term sustainability goals and only 8% of the companies communicate goals that go beyond 2020. The companies represented speculated that the relatively short time frame of a CEO may affect the time frame of sustainability strategies. They also thought some companies might find it difficult to set concrete goals related to complex issues such as human rights, but they argued that it’s definitely possible. The need for having independent third party organisations to monitor the companies’ performance was also stressed.
The report from both this year and 2015 can be found here.
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).
In the middle of July I made a break in my holidays to attend a summer school with the theme “Energy in the city”. The summer school was organised by the DEMAND centre in the UK and hosted by the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds.
The three-day programme included a mix of talks, discussions, field work and other activities (e.g. an outdoor version of floorball/innebandy with around 10 people in each team). Employees of the DEMAND centre, and some invited guests, gave talks on topics such as infrastructure and practices, food supply systems, consumption in cities, shopping practices, and the futures of work spaces. There is a nice summary of highlights from the event here.
We also did some more practical work in the form of fieldwork mini-projects that were supposed to be used for input for Leeds City Council. We were divided into groups and given a specific place in Leeds to explore from an energy perspective. My group got the legal district with the court and old town hall. The area also included a small business block with a very manicured and tidy park (with an excessive number of bins) surrounded by old, but well-managed, office buildings occupied mainly by solicitors and surgeons. From the empty bike racks and full street parking we drew the conclusion that it was not a place where people bike to work.
In contrast to the elegant front of the buildings, the back revealed more of a mess with air conditioning units attached to ensure the occupants’ comfort despite dressing up in suits also on a sunny summer day. During our three-hour work session we did not come to any conclusions or solutions, but we found the contrast between “the tidy front” and “the messy back” interesting and we thought that the desire to keep up appearances (both of the buildings and the people working there) could be relevant to further explore in relation to energy use.
The next day we continued discussing the fieldwork but not in the original groups. Everyone selected another group’s project and in the new groups we formulated a research proposal for a small project that the City Council could take on. I chose a project with observations from a large (private) workplace in the city centre that, despite its central location, seemed to have a very strong car culture. The workplace was located next to a huge parking lot and close to the entrance were parking spaces marked with “gold cones” where the “employees of the month” got to park their cars. We thought it might be a good idea look into both how car cultures are reinforced and can be challenged in workplaces, and the City Council liked the idea. And I’m sure there are better ways of rewarding excellent employees than by depriving them of daily exercise while at the same time contributing to climate change and air pollution…
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”).