söndag 31 juli 2016

Follow-up (spring 2016)

Ongoing or long-term projects usually generate follow-up blog posts. A submission to a conference will (if accepted) later generate a blog post about that conference. An ongoing research project will generate a new blog post some three, six or twelve months later. But I mostly write about things as they happen ("snapshots") and some blog posts don't generate follow-up blog posts even when they "should". I have tried to make amends by sometimes summing things up by going back half a year or even a whole year to look for "loose ends" to follow up and tie together. I've done it half a dozen times, but not lately (the last follow-up blog post was written in January 2015).

This spring (January - June) has seen the blog fill up with posts about various academic papers; the name of the game has been a constant and hectic production of academic texts reaching almost-hysterical levels of text production in May and June.

This follow-up blog post will exclusively follow up the various writing projects that I have worked on during the spring term (including two workshop proposals). They together add up to no less than 18 different texts (journal articles, conference papers, book chapters and workshop proposals). I have below organised them in chronological order of when they were (or will be) presented/published), linked back to the original blog posts and have also added helpful color-coding to the titles of the papers as follows:

- Published/presented (100% finished, no work remains to be done)
- Accepted for publication/presentation, 100% finished but has not yet been published (journal articles), presented (conference papers) or held (conference workshops)
Finished, submitted, reviewed but was rejected
- Finished, submitted and currently under review (might be rejected, might be accepted as-is or might need further work)
Submitted and conditionally accepted for publication but currently only exists as an (extended) abstract. The major part of the work remains to be done
Submitted but currently only exists as an (extended) abstract. Acceptance (or rejection) is pending. The major part of the work remains to be done (if accepted)

This is the comprehensive resource to keep up with what I've been writing during the last six months. It's also a great resource for me (when I need to update my CV, for finding links to conferences/special issues of journals or for to have at hand the next time I negotiate my salary with my boss)! Here are the texts:

- The journal article "The Internet at the eco-village: Performing sustainability in the twenty-first century" (Teresa Cerratto Pargman, Daniel Pargman, Bonnie Nardi) was published in the online journal First Monday at the end of May and is available on the Internet. Work on the text started a very long time ago (more than two years ago). I wrote about it on the blog in May. "Is the digital infrastructure and its footprint an ideological blind spot for recently emerging ecological communities, including eco-villages?."

- The conference paper "Limits to the Sharing Economy" (Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson, Adrian Friday) was presented at the Second Workshop on Computing within Limits (ACM LIMITS) in June and is published in the conference proceedings. I wrote about it on the blog in May. "In this paper ... we take a critical stance and will elaborate on the intersection between the Sharing Economy and Limits (including pinpointing potential conflicts)."

- The conference paper "Refactoring Society: Systems Complexity in an Age of Limits" (Barath Raghavan, Daniel Pargman) was also presented at the Second Workshop on Computing within Limits (ACM LIMITS) in June and is published in the conference proceedingsI wrote about it on the blog in May. "In this paper we attempt to answer a fundamental question: what is the appropriate response to excessive sociotechnical complexity?."

- The conference paper "Whose future is it anyway?: Limits within Policy Modeling" (Somya Joshi, Teresa Cerratto Pargman, Adreas Gazis, Daniel Pargman) was again presented at the Second Workshop on Computing within Limits (ACM LIMITS) in June and is published in the conference proceedingsI wrote about it on the blog in May. "Between the euphoric techno-utopian rhetoric of the boundless potential of BOLD [Big Open Linked Data] innovations and the dystopian view of the dangers of such innovations (e.g. ubiquitous surveillance etc.), this paper offers a critical understanding of the boundaries that are traversed by the implementation of BOLD within policy modeling.

- The workshop "Computing within Limits: Visions of computing beyond Moore's law" (Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman, Lorenz Hilty, Adrian Friday, Chris Preist, Teresa Cerratto Pargman) will be held on Monday August 29 as part of the 4th International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S). I wrote about it on the blog in April and then published an invitation in June. The workshop also has a webpage of its own. "What if we will come up against various ecological, material, energetic, and/or societal limits (c.f. “Limits to Growth”, Meadows et. al., 1973) that will also profoundly affect the field of computing in the coming decades?.

- The conference paper "Designing for Sustainability: Breakthrough or suboptimisation?" (Daniel Pargman, Edward Ahlsén, Cecilia Engelbart) will be presented on Tuesday August 30 at the 4th International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S). It will be presented again on Wednesday August 31 since it is one of the six nominees for the best paper award. The previous title of the paper was "Next generation screens: Breakthrough or suboptimisation?" and I notice that my last-minute change of title has not (yet) percolated into the conference program. I wrote about it on the blog in April. "This example thus raises important questions about system boundaries and about how to evaluate sustainable (or “sustainable”) technologies.

- The conference paper "Patterns of Engagement: Using a board game as a tool to address sustainability in engineering educations" (Daniel Pargman, Björn Hedin, Elina Eriksson) will be presented at the 8th Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD2016) in September. I wrote about it on the blog in May. "We here describe how we have worked to overcome students’ (potential) aversion to one particular GDEE [Global Dimension in Engineering Education] topic, sustainability, by incorporating a board game, Gasuco, into the introductory module of a course about “Media Technology and Sustainability”."

- The conference paper "Sustainable development for ICT engineering students - “What's in it for me?”" (Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman, Anna Björklund, Anna Kramers, Karin Edvardsson Björnberg) will be presented at the 8th Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD2016) in September. I wrote about it on the blog in May. "In this paper we describe and compare our efforts to plan and teach three introductory courses on SD [Sustainable Development] in three different ICT-related educational programmes at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

- The workshop "HCI and UN's Sustainable Development Goals: Responsibilities, Barriers and Opportunities" (Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman, Oliver Bates, Maria Normark, Jan Gulliksen, Mikael Anneroth, Johan Berntsson) will be held on Monday October 24 as part of the 9th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (NordiCHI’16). I published an invitation to the workshop on the blog in June. The workshop also has a webpage of its own. "In this workshop we want engage everyone who is interested in working towards a sustainable future in terms of and with the UN SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] as a starting point. How can Sustainable HCI be inspired by, and contribute to these goals?.

- The conference paper "The (Un)sustainability of Imagined Future Information Societies" (Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson, Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling, Mattias Höjer, Luciane Aguiar Borges) was submitted to the Future Scenarios track at the 9th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (NordiCHI’16) but was rejected despite getting an "Overall Rating" of 4, e.g. "Borderline, but somewhat closer to 'accept' than 'reject'". I wrote about it on the blog in May. "This paper emanates from the academic field of futures studies and it describes the results of a research project in the intersection of “the future information society” and sustainability, answering questions such as: what could the future information society look like and what would be the impact of that society be in terms of sustainability?.

- The conference paper "On the Design of Design Fiction: Exploring Sustainable Computing through Fictional Abstracts" (Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson and 13 additional co-authors of which Eric Baumer was most active) was submitted to the Future Scenarios track at the 9th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (NordiCHI’16) but was rejected. It got an "Overall Rating" of 3, e.g. "Borderline, but somewhat closer to 'reject' than 'accept'". I wrote about it on the blog in May. "As prediction of and speculation about the future can help to explore critical alternatives, this paper discusses the practice and value of design fiction through the creation of high-quality fictional abstracts."

- The journal article "At Odds with a Worldview - Teaching Limits at a technical university" (Daniel Pargman, Elina Eriksson) has been accepted for publication in the Interactions magazine special issue on "teaching sustainability". My UCI ex-colleagues Bonnie Nardi, Bill Tomlinson and Don Patterson are putting the special issue together and me and Elina got an invitation to write a piece for it. The final version of the text will be submitted with a day or two and it will be published the October-November issue. I wrote about it on the blog in July. "In this paper, we will first elaborate on two approaches to addressing and teaching engineering (computing) students about the environmental and other challenges. We have here chosen to call these two approaches “vanilla” and “strong” sustainability."

- The journal article "The sharing economy as the commons of the 21st century" (Karin BradleyDaniel Pargman) has been accepted for publication in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society's (CJRES) special issue on "Sharing Economies? Theories, practices and impacts". The final version of the journal article was submitted in July and the special issue will be published sometime in 2017. Work on the text started a long time ago and I wrote about it on the blog in June last year and then again in November last year. "This paper aims to make a contribution to the debate on how contemporary collaborative commons, as part of the wider sharing economy, can be understood and supported.

- The proposed journal article "The green democratic energy narrative" (Daniel Pargman, Ulrika Gunnarsson Östling, Karin Bradley) has been submitted for publication in the Energy Research & Social Science (ERSS) special issue on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research". If accepted for inclusion in the special issue, the deadline for the final version of the article is February 2017. I wrote about it on the blog in July. "In this paper, we aim to question and to “defamiliarize” the reader with the familiar story of renewable energy as a unique source of redressing everything that is wrong in society today.

- The proposed journal article "On the effects of the early 1970’s global peak in oil production" (Daniel Pargman, Joshua Tanenbaum, Elina Eriksson, Mikael Höök, Marcel Pufal, Josefin Wangel) has been submitted for publication in the Energy Research & Social Science (ERSS) special issue on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research". If accepted for inclusion in the special issue, the deadline for the final version of the article is February 2017. I wrote about it on the blog in July. "Our [paper] takes as its starting point the contrafactual statement “what if there ever only was half the oil in the ground when we started to use it 150 years ago?”". 

- The proposed book chapter "On the inherent contradictions of teaching sustainability at a technical university" (Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman) has been accepted for inclusion in the upcoming (2017) book "Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption" (edited by Mike Hazas and Lisa Nathan). We have as of yet only submitted an extended abstract and the deadline for the first full draft is August 31 and the deadline for the final draft is in April 2017. I wrote both about the book and about the proposed chapter on the blog in July. Paraphrasing the text we handed in only slightly, we said that "As university teachers, we must look at how we teach sustainability. If we teach our students vanilla sustainability, “we’ll achieve only a little” (McKay 2008, p.3) and that’s not good enough."

- The proposed book chapter "Limits to moneycomputing" (Daniel PargmanDaniel Berg) has been accepted for inclusion in the upcoming (2017) book "Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption" (edited by Mike Hazas and Lisa Nathan). We have as of yet only submitted an extended abstract and the deadline for the first full draft is August 31 and the deadline for the final draft is in April 2017. I wrote both about the book and about the proposed chapter on the blog in July. "An increasing number of researchers are contemplating and researching how ICT could be used to increase sustainability in our societies ... Few researchers however study or indeed even consider what is bad about computers in terms of sustainability, i.e. how computers are oftentimes used in ways that contribute to unsustainability."

- The journal article "Pluralizing the future information society" (Ulrika Gunnarsson-Östling, Mattias Höjer, Daniel Pargman, Luciane Aguiar Borges) was submitted to the journal Technological Forecasting and Social Change (TFSC) in February but we have not yet hear back from them. I wrote about it on the blog in April. "this study shows that there are alternatives to contemporary forecasted futures and exemplifies that ICT can be used to facilitate different societal developments. It is argued that creating parallel possible futures (plural) aids in the process of identifying potential benefits and drawbacks of technological development and situate current decisions in a longer time frame.

That's about it and that's quite a lot! Some of the texts above (the yellow and orange) might make a comeback and make guest appearances on the blog during the autumn term (August - December).

torsdag 28 juli 2016

Books I've read (Oct - mid-Nov)

These are the books I read last autumn (ten months ago). All four books, in one way or another, are about teaching sustainability to university students. I read them because I'm on a quest, trying to find suitable course literature. I would only consider the first book for that purpose though. Here's the previous blog post about books I have read. The asterisks represent the number of quotes from the each book (see further below).

**** The tiny 2013 book "Tio skäl att strunta i miljön: Om varför det är så svårt att förändra vardagligt beteende" [Ten reasons to not care about the environment: On why it is so difficult to change everyday behaviour] (sub-pocket-book sized and only a little more than 100 pages long) could in fact be a good resource for teaching. It is written by two researchers/teachers at Linköping University, Per Gyberg and Carl-Johan Rundgren and it treats the gap between what we believe is right (and necessary) and our own actual behaviours. How come we do things we in fact believe are "bad" or "wrong"? It turns out we are masterfully inventive when it comes to excusing our own behaviours and the authors systematically pick apart and reason about our most common arguments for not doing the right thing (e.g. "I don't have the time", "Why should I act green when no one else does?", "Better technologies are on the horizon" etc.). I think the book is a small gem but it can be a little hard to get hold of. It can't be ordered from anywhere else than directly from the university and I don't even know if they can sell fifty or a hundred copies all at once. From the back cover of the book:

"Most people know that we are facing huge environmental problems. Most also know how to reduce the impact and reduce the effects of the problems. In fact, most people know of many actions and changes in their daily lives which could actually make a difference. But the difference that I can do is on the other hand so small that it might not be so important on the whole. Besides, I already do a lot and I do think I have the right to do some things I do. 

There are many arguments for not doing what you yourself believe you really should do. This book highlights and discusses ten such reasons and discusses why it is so difficult to change everyday behaviors that affects the environment."

***** "Sustainability Handbook: Planning Strategically towards Sustainability" (2012) seems to have been written by a committee as it has no less than 14 authors (without being an edited book)! The number of authors did not however improve the quality of the contents. The authors are Karl-Henrik Robèrt, Göran Broman, David Waldron, Henrik Ny, Sophie Byggeth, David Cook, Lena Johansson, Jonas Oldmark, George Basile, Hördur Haraldsson, Jamie MacDonald,  Brendan Moore, Tamara Connell and Merlina Missimer, but, the book is unfortunately boring. The more interesting parts are about the background stuff (sustainability) while the more boring parts are about how to implement and "strategically manage" the proposed "Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development" in organisations and elsewhere. From the back cover:

"Sustainability handbook combines the academic and practical experience from a collection of authors. The content has been used, tested and refined over many iterations, and now serves as a primary resource for academic courses and programmes around the world. Any student or practitioner looking for more clarity on how to strategically plan and act towards sustainability in a structured, scientific, and collaborative manner will find value inside. Because of the generic nature of the Framework for strategic Sustainable Development, it can be useful for any discipline, from engineering, to product-service innovation, to business management, to urban and regional planning, and beyond."

**** Håkan Gulliksson and Ulf Holmgren are both engineers and teachers at Umeå University and they have together written the book "Hållbar utveckling: livskvalitet, beteende och teknik" (2011) [Sustainable development: quality of life, behavior and technology]. It's an easy read, it covers both this and that but it feels like the perspective is a little bit too personal and a bit too non-theoretical for what I would like to put in the hands of my students. I'm sympathetic to the persons who have written the book and the perspectives they represent, but the actual contents feel a little bit too lightweight for me. Perhaps the book works for Swedish first or second-year students, but I would still want a book that has more theoretical depth. This critique of mine might say more about me than about the book. From the back cover:

"The book's contents have been used in courses on sustainable development at Umeå University. ... You will also find many strategies on how you as an individual should behave in order to become more sustainable. These strategies are complemented with practical tips. We who wrote the book want to make the world better and help where we can with our skills. If you are a teacher, you probably have your scene at school and if you are an artist or a priest, you have other venues to operate from. If you are you an engineer, as we are, you contribute with your technology skills. Whatever you can or whatever your interests are, your talents will surely be useful towards working for a more sustainable society. The book is intended primarily for those who realize that it is time to do something about the problems we face and who wonder what you personally can do about them."

******** Jon-Erik Dahlin has a ph.d. from KTH and has worked some as a teacher. He did in fact hold a couple of guest lectures in my course about sustainability the second year it was given (back in 2013). His book "Hållbar utveckling - En introduktion för ingenjörer" (2014) [Sustainable Development - An introduction for engineers] is written specifically for engineering students. I think it does an ok job - not stellar but not too bad either. My primary critique is that he, as an engineer, has too much faith in technology and economic incentives to "fix" our environmental problems. To him there are no deep dilemmas or conflicts of interests between industrialisation, capitalism and sustainability, so it is within our reach to find win-win solutions within the current political and economical framework (e.g. "ecological modernisation"). A typical book by an engineer for engineering students. From the back cover:

"Everyday life for different types of engineers can look very different, but the classic image of the engineer is the same: the problem solver and opportunity creator. The engineer sees how to change what we do today so that the world may become a little better. And that is exactly what sustainable development is all about - to find and implement continuous improvements, everywhere in society, contributing to a better life for all. This book is intended for students who will become engineers and for engineers who want to learn more about the challenges we face today."


 ----- On the difficulties of doing the right thing ----- 
"Regardless of if it's a matter of nations or individuals, it is relatively easy to find excuses for not caring about the environment and to defend a more or less dubious way of life. This book deals with what we perceive to be the ten most common arguments for *not* changing your behaviour, and, with how people explain why they do not do what they really believe everyone should do."
Gyberg, P. & Rundgren, C. J. (2013). Ten reasons to not care about the environment, p.12

 ----- Ten reasons to not care about the environment ----- 
Reason 1: "I don't have the time or money"
Reason 2: "I already do so much"
Reason 3: "Why should I act green when no one else does?"
Reason 4: Captured by the system
Reason 5: "Scientists disagree"
Reason 6: "Better technologies will surely be invented"
Reason 7: Enjoyment, pleasure and convenience
Reason 8: The right to do whatever you want
Reason 9: Nationalism
Reason 10: Growth - at any price?
Gyberg, P. & Rundgren, C. J. (2013). Ten reasons to not care about the environment, p.39-95

 ----- On environmental actions as negotiable ----- 
"Reason 2:" I already do so much"
In this category of subterfuge, environment acts are treated as a kind of quotas. There seems to exist an idea that each of us should do their fair share. But what that share is is not obvious, so you can choose from a smorgasbord of options. Owning a biogas car gives me the right to drive as much as I want. I sort and recycle all kinds of garbage, and therefore don't have to think about how many plastic bags I use. I go by bike to work, so I can travel to Thailand without a bad conscience. I buy ecological cucumbers (even though they are insanely expensive) so therefore I can buy "normal" coffee."
Gyberg, P. & Rundgren, C. J. (2013). Ten reasons to not care about the environment, p.45, 48

 ----- On conflicting messages as a pretext to do nothing ----- 
"Reason 5: "Scientists disagree"
In any event, many of our interviewees experienced *knowledge as fluid*. " One day it's like this and the next day it's like that". This is taken as a pretext for not having to change their behavior. One day it's fine with low-energy light bulbs, and the next day it's not; one day you should buy eco-labeled Dutch tomatoes rather than Swedish and the next day you shouldn't; one day is the ozone hole is huge and the next day it's not; one day you should use sunscreen to avoid skin cancer and the next day it's the sunscreen that causes cancer. It is difficult to determine what that is right and what is wrong in this stream of information. ... In such a world of conflicting messages from experts, it is often best to do what you have always done and to change as little as possible"
Gyberg, P. & Rundgren, C. J. (2013). Ten reasons to not care about the environment, p.12

 ----- On backcasting (vs planning, forecasting) ----- 
"Planning concerns what the world *should* look like, while forecasting is about what it *will* look like. ... backcasting is especially useful for solving problems that have any of the following characteristics:
- When the problem to be studied is complex, affecting many sectors and levels of society;
- When there is a need for *major change*, i.e., when marginal changes within the prevailing order will not be sufficient;
- When *dominant trends are part of the problem* - these trends are often the cornerstone of forecasts;
- When the problem to a great extent is a matter of *externalities*, which the market cannot treat satisfactorily; and
- When the time horizon is long enough to allow considerable scope *for deliberative choice*.
Robèrt, K. H. et. al. (2012). Sustainability Handbook, p.33-34

 ----- On the connection between social and ecological sustainability ----- 
"Sustainability relies not only on healthy ecosystems, but also on a healthy social fabric. In order to achieve sustainability, individual needs, most of which are met by being part of the social fabric, must be able to be met. The key element of the social system, the very glue holding it together, is *trust* among its members. If trust erodes and falls below a certain level, the strength and effectiveness of the social system can be severely weakened."
Robèrt, K. H. et. al. (2012). Sustainability Handbook, p.49

 ----- On delays and non-linear dynamic effects of biosphere changes ----- 
"There are numerous thresholds in the biosphere, but it is very difficult to predict the location of those thresholds at a detailed level. The richness of possibilities of both negative and positive feedback in ecosystems, as well as ecosystems' complexity and inherent non-linearity, makes it very difficult to predict the effects of human society's changes. There is also often a considerable *delay* of the effect in cause - effect chains, making it difficult to react before it is too late. Thus, by the time governments realize that there is an undesired change in the biosphere, the dynamics of that change may already be so strong that it cannot be controlled - no matter what actions are taken. It is actually possible that society has already pushed the biosphere over critical thresholds, because the full effects have not shown up yet."
Robèrt, K. H. et. al. (2012). Sustainability Handbook, p.100

 ----- On the precautionary principle ----- 
"Given the complexity of the socio-ecological system and the characteristics of such a system, the *precautionary principle* should be embraced. However, it is important to point out that this principle does not say: *do nothing*. Doing nothing is a decision too, so the precautionary principle should be applied to inactivity as well. In some circumstances, inactivity may be just as dangerous as actively doing the wrong thing.
Robèrt, K. H. et. al. (2012). Sustainability Handbook, p.101

 ----- On pollution of the biosphere as evolution in reverse ----- 
"During the industrial age human society has produced, and is still producing, a large net input of substances from the lithosphere into the biosphere (for example, fossil fuels and metals). These flows are often large compared to the natural flows from the lithosphere. After steadily decreasing during the past few billion years of evolution, toxic substances are again accumulating in the biosphere. Industrial societies have "liberated" pollutants that were previously locked up as mineral and fossil fuel deposits. Many of these are intrinsically toxic - for example mercury and cadmium - basic elements that can never be broken down into less toxic components."
Robèrt, K. H. et. al. (2012). Sustainability Handbook, p.109

 ----- On happiness research ----- 
"Another important and interesting conclusion from the research is that happiness is statistically higher in democracies, when people move to cities, when a country becomes industrialized and when a country can be characterized as more individualistic."
Gulliksson, H., & Holmgren, U. (2011). Sustainable development, p.40

 ----- On the impossibility of being both poor and happy ----- 
"Consider a very deprived person who is poor, exploited, overworked and ill, but who has been made satisfied with his lot by social conditioning (thorough, say, religion, political propaganda, or cultural pressure). Can we possibly believe that he is doing well just because he is happy and satisfied? Can the living standard of a person be high if the life that he or she leads is full of deprivation? The standard of life cannot be so detached from the nature of the life the person leads."
Gulliksson, H., & Holmgren, U. (2011). Sustainable development, p.174

 ----- Specialization is for insects ----- 
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dyig, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
Robert Heinlein in Gulliksson, H., & Holmgren, U. (2011). Sustainable development, p.278

 ----- On taxing the shit out of air travel ----- 
"The number of direct trips [from Sweden] to Thailand doubled between 2005 and 2007. ... What then is the attitude (or the attitudes) to these trips? Let us presume that trips to Thailand would be banned. Would it be politically possible (apart from the fact that many would instead travel from Norway)? Probably not. Would it be acceptable to ration the number of air miles per Swede per years? For example to 10 000 kilometers? Probably not. Would a penalty tax on leisure flights be accepted if the money is used for helping developing countries? Probably, at least if the tax does not raised the price so much that the trip is made impossible. The worst-case result would be that only the rich could afford to go. Where then is the painful threshold for a trip to Thailand? ... Suppose that the cost would be SEK 20 000 [instead of just under 5000 SEK] ... How many would then go? How many would lose their livelihoods in Thailand? How do we assess the perceived loss in quality of life for those who then can not afford to go?"
Gulliksson, H., & Holmgren, U. (2011). Sustainable development, p.311

 ----- On energy use in Sweden ----- 
"Swedish total energy use is equivalent to a per capita power use of about 4.5 kW per person ... divided between 1.6 kW in industry, 1.8 kW in housing and services and 1.1 kW for transportation. Energy consumption in Sweden corresponds to that of many other industrialized countries, and is roughly at the EU average, despite the fact that we in the northern countries have the highest need for heating. ... The total of 4.5 kW used in Sweden corresponds to secondary energy use distributed at about 36% electricity, 41% thermal energy and 23% fuel. ... In transforming primary energy into secondary energy there are losses. The total primary energy supply in Sweden before losses are 7.2 kW per person. By comparison, the global average is around 2.5 kW per person, and is often at the level of 0.5 kW per person or even lower in developing countries. ... The United States ... has a total primary energy supply of 9.5 kW per person. "
Dahlin, J-E. (2014). Sustainable development, p.67-68

 ----- On nuclear power pros and cons ----- 
"There are in total over 400 nuclear reactors in the world and they account for around 6 percent of the global energy supply and 13 percent of the electricity production. In Sweden, nuclear power accounts for slightly more than 40 percent of all electricity production, and the expansion of the Swedish nuclear power is one of the main reasons for the Swedish carbon emissions being so low today. ... Nevertheless, nuclear power is controversial from a number of sustainability perspectives. The main reasons are:
- The potential risk of accidents during operation
- Environmental problems in the mining of uranium
- Environmental problems at the final storage of spent nuclear waste
- Uranium is a finite natural resource. "
Dahlin, J-E. (2014). Sustainable development, p.71-73

 ----- On hydroelectric power in Sweden ----- 
"Modern hydropower is probably to be the most energy-efficient way to utilize natural resources for electricity generation, with efficiencies in energy conversion that in large installations can get above 90 percent. ... In Sweden there are about 2000 hydroelectric plants, with big differences in size. 200 of them counts as larger, i.e. with a power of 10 MW or more. The smallest power plants has an output of just a few kW, while Sweden's largest hydropower plant, Harsprånget in the Lule River, has an output of almost 1 GW (which is more than what some of the nuclear reactors provide). The world's largest hydropower plant is the Three Gorges in China with a capacity of over 22 GW, which is more than the total electricity production of Sweden."
Dahlin, J-E. (2014). Sustainable development, p.73-74

 ----- On water use in Sweden ----- 
"In an average household in Sweden, each individual uses 168 liters of water per day, of which less than 10 liters is used for drinking and cooking. Adding the amount of water used in industry, in agriculture etc.,  the average Swede uses about 800 liters of fresh water per person per day. In many parts of the world, that figure is close to 10 liters per person per day. That does naturally not mean that it is wrong to use large amounts of water in Sweden where that resource is available in abundance (Sweden has a comparative advantage in water-intensive activities). However, it could be interesting to reflect on the fact that we use 2-4 liters of clean drinking water every time we flush the toilet. "
Dahlin, J-E. (2014). Sustainable development, p.100

 ----- Expect more storms in the future ----- 
"Cyclones and other low pressures contain large amounts of energy and can get still more energy to move by getting the air in motion, thereby driving winds which in turn drive the ocean currents. They thus play an important role in Earth's climate by smoothing out the temperature between the hot tropics and the cold poles. The warmer the planet gets, the more important this task becomes, and the more intensive the weather systems has to work to distribute the temperature."
Dahlin, J-E. (2014). Sustainable development, p.118

 ----- On us, living in an ice age ----- 
"One of the most successful methods for analysing climate trends have proven to be to drill for ice cores from ice sheets. In Greenland and Antarctica the ice has been stable for hundreds of thousands of years in many places. ... The normal state on Earth for the last 2 million years is that the planet is in an ice age, with ice sheets that cover large parts of the continents and a global average temperature of about 6-8 °C lower than today. Shorter periods of warmer weather, so calling interglacials, interrupt the ice ages for  about 10 000 years and the ice withdraws temporarily back to the polar regions. We are currently in such an interglacial. During the cold periods, the sea level is more than 100 meters lower than today because so much water is tied up in ice sheets. "
Dahlin, J-E. (2014). Sustainable development, p.130-131

 ----- On reuse as good but also hard ----- 
"The major part of a product's environmental impact is determined already in the design phase, which both gives the engineer a special responsibility and great opportunities to through their professions influence the world for the better. ... Reusing products are often the most energy and resource-efficient way to return materials to the materials cycle, but it requires that manufacture and assembly is not so complex so as to make it hard to reuse components and that components and products will not be so worn down during the use phase that they can not be reused. Reuse often means that the product is used again, but in a way or in a market where the quality is lower"
Dahlin, J-E. (2014). Sustainable development, p.148, 151

 ----- Can air travel ever become "sustainable"? ----- 
"Tourist trips to Thailand and India as well as business and conference travel to all the corners of the world definitely have positive values in terms of sustainability: they contribute to cultural and intellectual exchange between nations and peoples. But they also have negative aspects in terms of sustainability through [their] emissions. ... The airlines and aircraft manufacturers realise that their products have both positive and negative sustainability impacts, and they have begun to develop new products that can make aviation more sustainable in the future."
Dahlin, J-E. (2014). Sustainable development, p.208

söndag 24 juli 2016

Limits to moneycomputing (book chapter)

This is blog post #5 - the very last blog post in my "summer spillover series" (here is #4). I'm on vacation but this blog post is again about something I "should" have written about when it happened (more than one and a half months ago) - long before I went on vacation.

Just as with the previous blog post, this is about a proposed chapter that I submitted to the upcoming (2017) book "Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption" together with Daniel Berg. I recently found out that we have indeed been invited to develop this proposed chapter of ours into a full book chapter. The (very preliminary) title of the text is currently "Limits to Moneycomputing" and I am writing it together with Daniel Berg who is a ph.d. student of economic history at Stockholm University.

Our extended abstract consists of a short abstract and a steam-of-consciouness "walkthrough" of different lines of reasoning we want to develop in the text. The walkthrough suffers from the fact that my co-author is finishing up his ph.d. thesis (it will be handed off to the printshop in a week, on August 1) and he has been very busy putting it together during the last few months. Daniel had furthermore isolated himself (to concentrate on getting his thesis written) right when the extended abstract was to be handed in seven weeks ago so I had to write it up myself based on our earlier discussions.

We now have to produce a first full draft of the chapter (5000-6000 words) by August 31, and I expect this text to take considerably more time to write than the chapter I will write together with Elina Eriksson mainly due to the following four reasons:

- I'm the first author and I have the main responsibility of writing this chapter. Elina is the first author of the other chapter and she thus has the main responsibility for that text.
- The ideas for this chapter are not as finished/polished as the ideas for the other chapter. For the other chapter we already have an outline (plan) for the whole chapter while we currently only have a steam-of-consciouness "walkthrough" of different lines of reasoning we want to develop in this text. I urgently need to plan a meeting with Daniel to "prune" the abstract and refine which ideas we should develop.
- The very ideas we are writing about are brand new. I (we) haven't written anything about the intersection of economy and computing before and few others have done that - to best of my knowledge (please do get in touch if you have tips for texts that I/we should read!).
- I have never written a text together with Daniel Berg while I have written many texts together with Elina. Me and Elina have a well-oiled routine for cranking out texts while me and Daniel Berg don't yet.

I here spare you of the rambling 2500-word extended abstract and instead present the considerably tighter 300-word short abstract. The abstract is however so tight that it might unfortunately be difficult to understand the main ideas that will carry the chapter and these ideas will have to be further "unpacked" to make sense. One idea (second paragraph below) is that our use of computers make our use of natural resources more efficient (which, in line with Jevon's paradox has "the same" effect as lowering the price of said resources). This is bad from a sustainability point of view as it increases the "social metabolism" and the material throughput in our societies. A second idea (same paragraph) is that by tightening the control and coordination of resource extraction, trade, transportation, production, marketing, sales (etc.), computers increase the velocity of money which again increases the material throughput in our societies (again bad from a sustainability point of view). With that in mind, here is the short abstract:

Limits to moneycomputing

Daniel Pargman (KTH Royal Institute of Technology) & Daniel Berg (Stockholm University)

Sustainability has become an increasingly important topic in computing during the last decade. An increasing number of researchers are contemplating and researching how ICT could be used to increase sustainability in our societies, and, great hope is attached to the potential of computing to help solve some of the greatest challenges of our time. Few researchers however study or indeed even consider what is bad about computers in terms of sustainability, i.e. how computers are oftentimes used in ways that contribute to unsustainability. Two of the top industries in terms of their use of computing power is after all the oil (exploration) industry and the financial industries.

Computers today help increase the effectiveness of our use of resources - with the effect that more numerous areas that make use of said resources are being found (e.g Jeevon’s paradox), thereby increasing the volume of material throughput in society. Computers today furthermore help increase the degree of control over processes of various kinds (Beniger 1986), thereby speeding up the use (and the volume) of material throughput in society. These are two important examples of how computers have, and how they continue to contribute to furthering the unsustainability of modern societies.

The intermingling of raw computing power with purely financial goals constitutes an especially potent witches’ brew that we here refer to as “moneycomputing”. We describe the origins of moneycomputing some 35 years ago, it’s development and its spread in lockstep with globalisation. We end the chapter by outlining some suggestions as to what can be done to counteract moneycomputing and instead allow computing to be used for more beneficiary and more sustainable purposes than it is oftentimes used today.  

torsdag 21 juli 2016

On the contradictions of teaching sustainability at KTH (book chapter)

This is blog post #4 in my "summer spillover series" (here is #3). I'm currently on vacation but this blog post is about something I "should" have written about when it happened (more than one and a half months ago) - long before I went on vacation.

The previous blog post was about an upcoming (2017) book that I have submitted two chapter proposals to. This blog post concern one of these chapter proposals and it has the (preliminary) title "On the inherent contradictions of teaching sustainability at a technical university".

There are quite some topical similarities between this chapter proposal and the previous summer spillover blog post about a text that has been written for the magazine Interactions (a special issue focusing on "teaching sustainability"). Both of these texts are about teaching ICT & sustainability and both are written together with my colleague Elina Eriksson. We originally thought that we could write a text for Interactions magazine and then extend it into a twice as long text/book chapter, but that didn't work out for various "dramaturgical" reasons. So despite the fact that these texts treat "the same" topic, they are in fact distinct texts with hardly any overlap at all when it comes to the actual text being written. Yet another difference between these two texts is that Elina is the first author of the proposed chapter (below) while I'm the first author of the text to Interactions Magazine.

We submitted an extended abstract (2500 words long) to the book editors in the end of May and not much has happened since then except for one thing and that is that we were recently invited to extend our extended abstract (proposed chapter) into a full chapter for the book "Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption". That means we have our work cut out for us in August as the deadline for the first full draft of chapters (5000-6000 words) is August 31.

The chapter of course has an introduction as well as some analysis/discussion/wrap-up, but the brunt of the chapter is structured around five examples that start with an anecdote (100-200 words) that is followed by an elaboration/analysis (400-600 words) of that anecdote. The anecdotes are harvested from our experiences of teaching a master's level course on sustainability for ICT students at a KTH Royal Institute of Technology during the last four years (we will teach the fifth cycle of the course during the second half of the autumn term). Instead of an abstract, I offer you the first of the five anecdotes (the only one that has been written this far).

On the inherent contradictions of teaching sustainability at a technical university

Elina Eriksson & Daniel Pargman

It’s a sunny Friday afternoon, but the lecture hall is dark and cool. I am wrapping up my lecture, describing what Earth might look like in the worst-case scenario - if the average temperature on the planet was 6 degrees warmer, as a result of climate change. The slide-deck ends with a black slide and I smile a slightly ironic smile to the audience and wish them a great weekend. I feel rather shaken, but relieved. After weeks of reading up on planetary boundaries, climate change, ice core data, sea level rise and species extinction, I am now finished. When I pack up my computer, I see three students approaching the lectern in the corner of my eye. As I turn to them, I register the crossed arms, as if they are grasping for support, and that the student in the middle has tears in the eyes. One of them asks without prompting: “Can’t you say something more optimistic?”

As a lecturer, I stood dumbfounded. In this lecture, I had presented facts; all the measurements, calculations, all the observable changes of the planetary system. I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising that the student’s reaction to these facts were emotional since I, over the weeks that I prepared for the lecture, had myself felt an increasing sense of alarm, dread and sorrow over the state of the world, the direction we are moving in and the insurmountable predicaments we are now facing. Not to mention the anger and frustration I felt for the lack of concern from politicians, industry and media. Instead of admitting my own apprehension, I tried to say something chirpy along the lines of “we’ll talk about what possible solutions might look like later in the course”, quickly bid the students goodbye and scurried away. I carried an emotional backpack to a coffee break with my colleagues, put it down and described the incident. Had I done something wrong, evoking such feelings in the students? One senior colleague answered that yes, I should not dump something like that onto them, especially not on a Friday afternoon. 

But what was I really “dumping” on them, I had but accounted for a score of scientific facts {Stocker, 2013 #339; Steffen, 2015 #473; Steffen, 2007 #432; Füssel, 2012 #494}. Science-based facts, that we in every other situation revere at a technical university. But in light of this anecdote, many questions arise. Should we avoid evoking emotions - both my own and those of my students? Ought I instead to have wrapped my students in cotton wool and downplayed the scale and the urgency of the problems we are facing? If so, how exactly am I supposed to do that? By portioning out (moderately) bad news in-between cheerful accounts of what we are currently working on that might help, or at least to some small degree help? If it on the other hand is fine - or even commendable - to evoke emotions in my students, exactly what responsibilities do I then have as their teacher? Do I have a responsibility to take care of their emotions, and how exactly am I supposed to do that? And for god’s sake, I’m a university teacher and not a therapist and our seminars are academic seminars and not support groups! Again, what am I supposed to do? Direct them to the nearest health center or tell them to talk to a psychologist? Deliver my facts in a detached manner and let them deal with it as grown-ups as best as they can. Or should we embrace their worries and follow up the lectures with some structure that makes it possible for the students to vent their concerns? There are so many questions and so few answers...

As shown in this section, emotions are stirred when presenting facts about our current situation. There are many emotional barriers that are met when approaching facts about the planetary boundaries, as described in Norgaard’s (2011) book on the social construction of climate change denial. In her study she shows that the most common emotion management strategies to avoid fear and helplessness is to is to control the exposure to information, not think far ahead and focus on things that one can do (but perhaps not are the most effective). Unfortunately, educators were one of the groups that most frequently used these strategies (Norgaard 2011), which contributes to the inertia in tackling the problem. We would argue that this is not only an educational problem but is also present within HCI research (Knowles and Eriksson 2015). But there is no more time, we have to find other strategies to handle negative emotions that do not lead to inertia, and dare to talk about the hard facts, even if it hurts. 

söndag 17 juli 2016

Digital Technology and Sustainability (book)

On the Internet, the space for writing low-bandwidth (text) blog posts is infinite. I try my very best to impose artificial limitations on this blog though and my goal is and has always been to publish at least one and a maximum of two blog posts per week. This blog post is an example of something that for sure would have been rolled into the next blog post if it wasn't for the fact that it is summer and I can "waste" some bandwidth here. (For an interesting angle on "waste/wasting", on dysfunctional behaviours and on "conspicuous consumption", see this Wikipedia entry on "sinking champagne".)

This blog post is about an upcoming book that I will hopefully contribute to, "Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption". The book is edited by Mike Hazas (Lancaster University, UK) and Lisa Nathan (University of British Columbia, Canada) and it will be published by Routledge next year. I have had ideas for no less than four different contributions to the book, but later winnowed it down to two. The next two blog posts will concern my two proposed chapter contributions to the book.

The book has a relatively long prehistory at this point. I don't really know how it originally came about, for example how Mike and Lisa know each other and where and when they originally came up with the idea of writing/editing a book, but I first heard about it August last summer when Mike got in touch with me:

Hi Daniel,

Lisa Nathan and I are writing to ask if you would like to be involved in collaborating on a book that serves to invigorate the discourse within sustainable IT research (ICT4S, sustainable HCI, etc).  We are hoping you will consider crafting a chapter and engaging with other chapter contributors who join our broad inquiry into the field.
A brief note on the process:  Rather than an edited book which is made up of relatively stand-alone contributions in part based on prior publications, we are working to design a process whereby: contributors are invited to create new writing on particular aspects of the debate; draft chapters are circulated between authors; virtual discussions take place where authors can debate and respond to one another in detail; and then with further rounds of editing, writing and responding as needed. Think of it as an extended workshop which has the tangible outcome of collected writings that recognize and engage with each other.

If you would like to contribute a chapter, then all that is needed is your idea, a bit of discussion with us, and a draft chapter abstract (600-750 words, excluding references) towards the end of August.

We are intent on submitting the book proposal to Routledge on 1 October, and we hope for their formal approval by the end of 2015.  As such, the project would begin in 2016, when the majority of the work would be completed.  

This sounded really interesting and fun and I submitted two draft chapter abstracts. Or, I think I did. I think my colleague Elina Eriksson submitted the second proposal. Or not. Oh, it doesn't really matter anymore, but I have since retracted/replaced the abstract that I submitted last summer, "Learning from Limits". It currently rests "in the drawer" as I am right now working on way too many texts in parallell to embark on writing yet another! I do think the idea itself is exciting though and I have therefore chosen to share it here (below), despite that fact that it is not currently headed anywhere. Dear reader, do get in touch if you have suggestions for a suitable venue for an article/chapter based on the abstract below!

Mike and Lisa's relatively hefty book proposal was submitted to Routledge in October last year and Routledge's "Senior Commissioning Editor, Sustainability and Development Studies" said the book proposal was going out to reviewers and that she herself thought "the proposal looks very strong". At the end of January we found out that the recommendation of all three reviewers was for Routledge to go ahead with the proposal: "the reviewers were very positive about the people involved ... and also the potential of the abstracts to develop into strong chapters which push the boundaries of our topic". The next step was to circulate a more general call for contributions and this went out in the beginning of April:

Working Title: Digital Technology and Sustainability: Acknowledging Paradox, Facing Conflict, and Embracing Disruption

Edited book to be published by Routledge

Mike Hazas, Lancaster University, UK
Lisa Nathan, University of British Columbia, Canada

Important dates
28 May 2016 – Extended chapter abstracts due (2,500 words, plus references)
30 June 2016 – Acceptance notification
31 August 2016 – First full draft of chapters due (5,000-6,000 words)
Sept 2016-March 2017 – Feedback, Revisions, Contributor Conversations and Book Workshops
21 April 2017 – Final drafts of all chapters, responses, etc.


Digital technologies are hailed as revolutionary solutions to the problems of environmental sustainability; smarter homes, more persuasive technologies, and a robust Internet of Things hold the promise for maintaining our lifestyles and sustaining our ecosystems. Yet, deployments of interactive technologies for such purposes often lead to a paradox: the tools algorithmically "optimize" heating and lighting of houses without regard to the dynamics of daily life in the home; they collect and display data that allows us to reflect on energy and emissions, while raising our expectations for comfort and convenience; we can share ideas for sustainable living through social networking and online communities, yet these same systems enable entirely new forms of consumerism. By acknowledging these paradoxes we make room for critical inquiry into digital technology’s longer-term impacts on ideals of sustainability.

This text brings together diverse scholars, researchers and practitioners willing to study, critique, and reorient dominant narratives and approaches to designing interactive digital technologies that support sustainability.

-  To articulate and address the conundrums (theoretical, methodological, practical) for digital technology, and sustainable HCI in particular, in a single definitive volume;
-  To advance an iterative, interactive process (e.g., virtual workshops and one-to-ones) between scholars in the field;
-  Create a touchstone that scholars, students and interested members of the broader public can use to develop their understandings of sustainability in a digital future;
-  To initiate accessible and engaging modes of broad dissemination to coincide with the release of the book (e.g., video shorts and animations).

A list of possible content areas for which we are seeking chapter contributions are listed below; but topics are not strictly limited to these. [...]

- Critical Ethical Reflections - Who Are We To Decide What Is Of Value, What Is Worth Sustaining?
- Politics/Economics – Fundamental To Any New Tool, Yet Rarely Explicitly Addressed
- Shifting Orientations: Lengthening Temporal Scales/Accepting The Unknown:  With The Uncertainty And Unpredictability Of Effecting Change.
- Shifting The Norms Of IT Development/Practice: Developing Ways Of Fundamentally Shifting Current Trajectories Of ICT Development And Education
- Proxies For Sustainability (Emissions, Energy, Reliance On Natural Resources), And Approaches For Addressing These Infrastructure Considerations
- The Role Of Activism In Scholarly Work Tied To Environmental Concerns
- Relationships Between Sustainability And Social Justice
- Criteria of Excellence: Development of a broad set of expectations for future research in sustainable HCI.  

That's where we're at right now. As mentioned, the next two blog posts will be about my two proposed contributions to the book. Below is my original abstract/proposal for a book chapter that I later retracted/replaced with other proposals (see the following two blog posts).

Learning from Limits (draft chapter abstract)

Daniel Pargman, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden

Nobody dares to state that sustainability is not important nowadays. More and more people – ordinary citizens as well as corporate and political leaders – at some level realize that 20th century “business as usual” is an impossible trajectory for humanity to follow in the 21st century. We live on a finite planet and we are starting to push up against various limits, of which CO2 emissions and climate change are the most well-known. While there is broad agreement that we have to change direction, there is less agreement about how to conceptualize the situation we find ourselves in, how grave the situation is and which of the proposed options are sensible, easy, difficult or even possible.

While most computer researchers and professionals would agree that sustainability is important, the majority would be hard pressed to see the connection to their own professional practices. Lately, there has however been an upswing of researchers who are interested in the overlap between computing and sustainability, and, many of the contributors in this book work with “Sustainable HCI” or “ICT for Sustainability”. Scratch the surface and you will however find fundamental differences in the perspectives even among people who do work in these areas. Some researchers will (based on the research they conduct) propagate the view that sustainability is within the reach of relatively modest variations of current practices and that life can, for the most part, go on much as it does today. Other researchers will instead argue that humanity faces monumental challenges that will force us to rethink everything we have come to take for granted for decades if not for centuries. Rethinking “everything” would also force us to rethink the history, current developments, the role in society and the future of computing.

Based on that backdrop, this chapter strives to unveil the conceptual lines that divide us by revisiting the discussion around the “Limits to Growth” report from the early 1970’s (Meadows et al. 1972) as well as the different positions that emerged and crystallized around that report and that can still be seen in the positions taken by contemporary researchers, policymakers, corporate leaders, politicians and citizens.

I will furthermore argue for the merits of adopting the minority view; a hardline, uncompromising perspective on limits (as presented in the original Limits to Growth report). This perspective has started to be elaborated in work on “Collapse computing” (Tomlinson et al. 2012) and “Computing within Limits” (Pargman and Raghavan 2015). I will finally discuss some of the implications to computing of adopting such a perspective and of taking various biophysical limits seriously.

torsdag 14 juli 2016

At Odds with a Worldview

This is blog post #3 in my "summer spillover series" (here is #2). I'm currently on vacation but this blog post is about something I "should" have written about when it happened (two weeks ago) - before I went on vacation.

My ex-UCI colleagues Bonnie Nardi, Bill Tomlinson and Don Patterson were in contact with the editors of the journal Interactions (Ron Wakkary and Erik Stolterman) some two and a half months ago and got a go-ahead for putting together a special issue focusing on "teaching sustainability". The special issue will consist of a brief introduction by Bill, Bonnie and Don ("The Troika") and three featured articles of about 2750 words each. The Troika will write one article, Me and Elina Eriksson have been invited to write another article and the final article will be written by Samuel Mann and Lesley Smith (from NZ).

Me and Elina thought this was a great idea and we submitted a draft of our article a few week ago. The draft title of the article is "At Odds with a Worldview - Teaching Limits at a technical university" and if everything works out for the best, it will be published in the October-November issue of Interactions Magazine. Here is some boilerplate info about Interactions from their homepage:

"ACM Interactions magazine is a mirror on the human-computer interaction and interaction design communities and beyond. It is a multiplicity of conversations, collaborations, relationships, and new discoveries focusing on how and why we interact with the designed world of technologies. Interactions has a special voice that lies between practice and research with an emphasis on making engaging human-computer interaction research accessible to practitioners and on making practitioners' voices heard by researchers.

The magazine is published bi-monthly by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the largest educational and scientific computing society in the world. Interactions is the flagship magazine for the ACM's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction (SIGCHI), with a global circulation that includes all SIGCHI members."

It is the case that that The Troika got the idea of putting together a special issue on teaching sustainability as an effect of writing the paper that they presented at Limits'16, "A Report from an Online Course on Global Disruption and Information Technology".

At my request, Bill wrote a 250 words long introduction to frame what The Troika wants/imagines the special issue to be about. I then took Bill's formulations and massaged them a little so that mine and Elina's proposed "specification" for our piece became as follows:

"The prevailing model [in education] is one of “vanilla sustainability” in which sustainability goals are pursued within a conventional industrialized model, but it may not be a viable path. Models of sustainability that much more vigorously challenge students’ previously uninterrogated assumptions about the world are needed."

The result is our proposed article "At Odds with a Worldview - Teaching Limits at a technical university"

The article doesn't really have an abstract but here are some selected quotes that will give you a feeling for what it's about:

"In this paper, we will first elaborate on two different approaches to addressing and teaching engineering (computing) students about the environmental and other challenges presented above. We have here chosen to call these two approaches “vanilla” and “strong” sustainability.
many cases, especially in engineering educations, the foremost stance is to present problems in such a way that they become possible to solve through picking low-hanging fruit in the form of energy efficiency, incremental technological innovations and by applying “human ingenuity”.
We have previously defined this stance in terms of “vanilla sustainability” (Pargman and Eriksson 2013), a perspective where mitigation strategies are employed to avoid calamity and where the problems might be severe, but where they will somehow still always be manageable. It could be that this perspective is especially attractive to students (and professionals) in the information and computing sciences since it both defines the problem of sustainability as 1) manageable and relatively easy to solve and 2) as a problem that someone else will solve (someone working with transportation, energy, pollution, planning, policy etc.).
Strong sustainability ... challenges the sustainability (or indeed the possibility) of everyone striving to take on Western lifestyles, or, even for us Westerners to maintain current lifestyles.
Ultimately, the goal for us is to teach students a perspective that they will not only practice in their own lives but that they will also act as change agents and affect and convince others to work towards the endeavor of building a more sustainable society both in their private as well as their professional lives. ... In the best of possible worlds, we would like them to act as “tempered radicals” (Meyerson and Scully 1995), both maintaining a technologist identity while simultaneously identifying as change agents on behalf of strong sustainability."

söndag 10 juli 2016

On the effects of the early 1970’s global peak in oil production

This is blog post #2 in my "summer spillover series" (here is #1). I'm currently on vacation but this blog post is about something I "should" have written about when it happened (10 days ago) - before I went on vacation.

This blog post is about the second submission of mine to the Energy Research & Social Science special issue on "Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research" (the previous blog post was about the first submission).

The roots of the abstract below stretch back for more than two years but this is the first concrete outcome of the project "Consider Half" (with the exception of the blog post I wrote last month). I do however promise that plenty more is to come, with additional articles slated to be written in 2016 and 2017 (as outlined in the abstract below).

As apart from the previous submission (proposal) to the special issue, this is a bid for writing a full paper (6000-10000 words) and we will find out if we are invited to submit it to the special issue three weeks from now (at the end of the July). We have, if our proposal is accepted, a lot of work in front of us between August and mid-October, but I would very much look forward to it as it has been a long time coming!

On the effects of the early 1970’s global peak in oil production

Daniel Pargman, School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden
Joshua Tanenbaum, Department of Informatics, University of California Irvine, CA, USA (more Josh here)
Elina Eriksson, School of Computer Science and Communication, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden
Mikael Höök, Department of Earth Sciences, Natural Resources and Sustainable Development, Uppsala University, Sweden
Marcel Pufal, Department of Informatics, University of California Irvine, CA, USA
Josefin Wangel, School of Architecture and the Built Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm Sweden

Project and paper outline (instead of an abstract)

Our full paper proposal for the ER&SS special issue on “Narratives and storytelling in energy and climate change research” takes as its starting point the contrafactual (Ferguson 2000) statement “what if there ever only was half the oil in the ground when we started to use it 150 years ago?” E.g. what if there ever only was 1.5 instead of 3 trillion barrels of oil available in the ground back in the 19th century (Deffeyes 2006, Campbell 2013)

Taking that statement as a starting point, an interdisciplinary group of researchers spanning literature, futures studies, design fiction, social sciences, systems analysis, history and natural resource research have embarked on a project to envision what a contrafactual post-peak oil world could look like. The goal is to construct an alternative present where peak oil happened in the early 1970’s and were we now (2017) have lived with the consequences for more than four decades.

The first step will be to construct a scenario in terms of natural resources, e.g. a “baseline natural resource scenario.” What is, according to the best of our knowledge, the shape of the production curve that describes present, past and future oil extraction in our world? What would that curve look like in world where only half the oil ever existed? What would be the history of that world seen through the lens of petroleum geology, oil exploration and development options? Which half of the oil that did exist in our world would be missing from that world and how would that affect that world’s global oil production curve? The aim of this step is to develop a set of reasonable ground parameters and we will do so primarily based on geological, physical, and mathematical models for natural resources. 

The next step is to tease out the geopolitical implication of the new distribution and volume of oil, e.g. a “geopolitical reference scenario.” With only half the oil present, the North Sea oil would for example be totally or for the most part absent in that world. Norway would thus not be the affluent country it is today but rather a second-rate fishing nation.

The next step is to use theories and methods from historical research, narrative research, futures research, science fiction research and design fiction to describe (imagine, design) a scenario that depicts the state of the post-peak world of 2017 in terms of social, technological and economic factors, e.g. a “social science reference scenario”. This will naturally be the most difficult part of the project.

Each “step” above corresponds to a full paper and the first paper, containing the baseline natural resource scenario is slated to be written during the fourth quarter of 2017 with the next two papers slated to be written in 2018. The full paper we propose to write for the ER&SS special issue will be a “prequel” that describes the whole project, including the thinking about the project goals, purpose, audience, parameters, variables, challenges, solved issues, open issues etc. 

One example is that “half the oil” could mean very different things; it could mean half the oil in each place (in each oil well) where there was oil in our world or it could mean the first half of all oil that we have discovered in our world. We have in this case chosen the second option and an important part of the content of the article would be to highlight and justify this and other choices made by us. Another example is the fate of other fossil fuels (coal, gas) in that world. The topic of the ER&SS article will thus be the project itself and the text will also act as binding input to the work with, and the article about the baseline natural resource scenario.

The project as a whole has several goals, but a primary goal is to engage with the pedagogical problem of explaining the effects of peak oil by placing it not in the present (or the near future), but in the past. Since “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” (Niels Bohr), we believe that however difficult the task we have here set ourselves, it is much much easier for us to discern the global effects of peak oil in a world where oil production peaked in the early 1970s than what it is to predict the future of our world for decades ahead. Some have already used historical cases to identify possible trajectories for countries faced with an energy shortage (Friedrichs, 2010)

This work partly comes out of the community that has congregated around the workshop (conference) on “Computing with Limits”, where the second workshop(1) was held recently (June 2016). Many papers that were presented at the first (2015) workshop have been published in a special issue of the journal First Monday(2) and the proceedings from the second workshop are available through the ACM Digital Library(3). Computing within Limits “aims to foster discussion on the impact of present or future ecological, material, energetic, and/or societal limits on computing. [...]  A goal of this community is to impact society through the design and development of computing systems in the abundant present for use in a future of limits and/or scarcity.” There is thus a strong affiliation between Computing within Limits and the 1972 “Limits to Growth” report (Meadows et al. 1972). The year 1972 incidentally happens to be at or near the peak of oil production in the proposed counterfactual scenario.

1. See further: http://limits2016.org/
2. See further: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/issue/view/460/showToc
3. See further: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2926676&picked=prox