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

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