söndag 1 december 2019

Homo Colossus at World Expo 2020?

The Swedish World Expo 2020 homepage

I attended the annual KTH Sustainability Research Day this past week (Thursday). I unfortunately missed the first two hours (I had a seminar with the students in my course), but the second half was really good. This blog post is however not about the KTH Sustainability Research Day but rather about what happened right after the official program ended.

At the reception, I chit-chatted with various friends and acquaintances and ended up talking to Karin Larsdotter who works for KTH Sustainability Office (who organised the event). Karin was the moderator for the just-held event and I congratulated her for a job well done. It turned out she is also part of a working group that will put together KTH's contribution to the upcoming (October 2020 - April 2021) World Expo in Dubai.

Almost before I had time to understand exactly what she wanted to talk about, she gave me a short speech about all the possible sustainability-related objections one could have towards World Expos in general and towards organising the next World Expo in Dubai in particular (not the most sustainable of places for starters). She said such objections were in the end moot, because KTH has made already the decision that we should be part of the World Expo. It was in other words a "done deal" at this point, but KTH had also decided that all KTH contributions to the World Expo should relate to sustainability (one goal would for example bo to "minimise" the number of trips to Dubai).

That's nice, I guess, but what did that have to do with me? It turned out the main question Karin wanted to ask me was if I/we were interested in representing KTH at the World Expo with our Homo Colossus project during the two weeks that KTH has access to the Swedish pavilion. I have never been to a World Expo and was a bit confused (not the least since the Homo Colossus project has not yet officially started), but I did of course not outright reject such an offer. Another complicating factor was however that I only had time to talk with Karin for 10 minutes since I had a schedule phone interview with one of the candidates for the PhD position we announced the previous month. I did however at the same time feel a great need to know a lot more about this offer and then discuss it with the other Homo Colossus project members. As I am currently very busy teaching, I suggested me and Karin should meet and talk a bit more about it up right before the Christmas break (a few weeks later).

Still, it was hard to put the aside and not think about it so what happened was instead that I immediately got in touch with the other four project participants (Mario, Åsa, Per, Belinda). I have also spent a considerable amount of time since then reading up on the World Expo as well as ways to go to Dubai without flying (train? boat? see the map below!). It turns out it is possible to go by train, but it is oh so difficult. The trip from Sweden to Turkey is long but comparatively easy; the hard part is to go through the eastern parts of Turkey and pass the border to Iran. To do that you need to:
- First travel from Ankara with the "Vangölü Ekspresi" to Tatvan. The train leaves Ankara twice per week.
- Then take the ferry from Tatvan to Van. The journey only takes four hours but boat schedules are only available locally.
- Take the train from Van (Turkey) to Tabriz (Iran). This train runs only once per week and the border control is in the middle of the night.
- Finally continue from Tabriz to Teheran and then travel to the coast.

Walking from Istanbul to Dubai would take 100 days even if you walked for almost 8 hours per day (the trip ends by crossing the strait of Hormuz by ship).

Another interesting alternative is to go by container ship from southern Europe (Spain, France, Italy or Malta) to Dubai. Such a trip that takes 2-3 weeks and it is also quite expensive.

Instead of postponing a follow-up meeting with Karin by 2-3 weeks, I wrote an email to Karin the very next day (Friday - just two days ago) and told her we needed to talk! I don't yet know what will come out of this but it's certainly very exciting! I am also pretty sure we can deliver - although I don't know exactly what we would deliver (what is called for). I guess that remains to be seen so stay tuned!

So exactly how bad is a World Expo from a CO2 emissions perspective? That's of course hard to say but Mike Berners-Lee wrote the book "How bad are bananas? The carbon footprint of everything" in 2010 and one of the examples in the book is an analysis of the CO2 emissions from the 2010 football World Cup. The World Cup was held in South Africa that year and it was estimated that 1.2 million spectators saw the matches live. The total CO2 emissions from the World Cup were estimated to be 2.8 million tonnes and transport (of players, spectators and everything else) accounts for about 85% of all emissions. The World Expo is however much much bigger and it has been estimated that the 2020 World Expo in Dubai will be attended by 25 million visitors during the 6 months that it is open....

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