söndag 21 oktober 2012

ASPO Sweden talk

ASPO Sweden is the Swedish branch of ASPO - The Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. These are the people who worry about peak oil and who try to disseminate information and get individuals and society to think about and prepare for a world with less oil/energy (and no economic growth!). I know people in ASPO Sweden (including the president) and was invited to give a talk about my recently-finished course, "Sustainability and Media Technology" at their meeting this weekend:


Daniel Pargman, Assistant professor in Media Technology, KTH
Title: Peak oil at the university?

Daniel will talk about his thoughts on designing parts of a new course on "Sustainability and Media Technology" around topics such as "limitations" and resource challenges. What was the outcome when engineering students at KTH were told that sustainability issues and resource challenges don't represent abstract issues that "someone else" will solve, but rather crucial issues that will have tangible impacts on their own lives? What happens when young people ("future captains of the industry") begin to weigh the possibility that ongoing problems (EU, U.S.) might be a sign not of a temporary slowdown but of an inevitable collapse?


The course finished recently and I would optimally have preferred a little more time to prepare, but I gave a 45-minute talk about the course and about the impact of the course (on students' thinking) earlier today. For this audience, I especially had a look at and analyzed seminar 4, "the Peak Oil seminar" in the course. The students had prepared by getting close up and personal with Heinberg, Rubin, Hagens, Hopkins (TED talk) and some other selected authors. The question my students had to think about before the seminar was:

Is it prudent (wise) for individual, companies and/or societies to prepare for a future of materials and energy scarcity and/or negative economic growth - or is it just plain stupid? Why? Furthermore, if therse are issues that we should care and think about, do you have any suggestion for possible implications on ICT and media (production, distribution, use, disposal)?
Although it can be difficult, you might also consider what (if any) the implications are for you in the future that you personally think we are most likely to face.

Part of the seminar preparations included formulating a question to bring to the table at the seminar. I have to say that it is not that often that I am truly and utterly proud of my students' performance, but this was definitely one of those times. Here is a selection of their great seminar questions (we did unfortunately not have time to discuss more than a fraction of the students' questions at the seminar):

  • How are we supposed to be more sustainable and consume less, when we at the same time are encouraged to consume more?
  • Are you willing to make the necessary sacrifices for a sustainable future? Do you think that enough people are? How do other people's sacrifices affect your will to make sacrifices?
  • How do we lead by example?
  • In a time of energy scarcity, will we see a change in the balance of power between nations? Who will become more and who will become less powerful?
  • If no other source of energy is found, can we go back to the local ways of living as practiced before oil was found, or have we gotten to used to our current lifestyle?
  • How can we make a transition and use less energy without inhibiting the development of new technology?
  • What will happen to the Internet when servers, storage and maintenance costs go up because of increasing energy prices?
  • Are ICT systems going to save our civilization or bring it down?
  • Is it possible to scale down and disassemble a large part of our (ICT) infrastructure?
  • Will computers and the Internet survive scarcity of materials and energy? Are we then not (still) assuming economic growth and infinite resources?
  • Who is responsible for developing a post-collapse informatics infrastructure? It's weird for government to do it since a lot is about preparing for a time without governments...
  • Le's say there is an economic collapse. Would we try to reconstruct the same economic system we live with today?
  • I was pretty affected by the videos and texts as I wasn't aware of the problem. Therefore I wonder how we should/could treat all this information?
I presented the ideas behind the course to the very receptive ASPO Sweden audience and got tons of questions as well as some constructive suggestions that we can take into account when we evaluate this year's course and as we prepare next year's course. Several people suggested I should try to integrate the crucial issue of the connection between (industrial) food (production) and energy into the course.

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