torsdag 12 december 2019

Homo Colossus at World Expo 2020!


Mattias Hansson, Program Director in the Committee for Sweden's Participation at Expo 2020 (front/middle) and the The Homo Colossus project team; Åsa Andersson Broms, Belinda Retourné, Daniel Pargman, Per Hasselberg and Mario Romero. 

I recently (less than two weeks ago) wrote a blog post about how we got an informal invitation to display our science + art + communications project "Homo Colossus" at the upcoming World Expo (October 2020 - April 2021). KTH will be part of the program in the Swedish pavilion during two separate weeks (in November 2020 and February 2021) and our project would then be part of KTH's program. We were invited by Karin Larsdotter who is part of the working group that manages the KTH Expo 2020 program. That working group had a meeting in the beginning of this week and Karin then reported back to them.

Apparently that meeting was also attended by Mattias Hansson who is Program Director in the Committee for Sweden's Participation at Expo 2020 in Dubai. That means he is responsible for the contents of the Swedish pavilion for the duration of the World Expo (6 months). I don't know exactly how, but Karin apparently managed to set up a separate meeting between Mattias Hansson and the Homo Colossus project and all five project members (me, Mario, Åsa, Per, Belinda) could, with short notice, liberate ourselves from other commitments and meet up with Mattias Thursday this past week (Karin also attended the meeting). The picture (above) was published on the Swedish Expo 2020 Instagram account the very day after we met.

Mattias started the meeting by stating that Sweden had decided to participate in the World Expo back in 2017, so whatever objections could be raised, participation was in itself not negotiable. I have since managed to find the original mission statement (the outcome of a cabinet meeting in December 2017) where the mission from the Swedish parliament is stated:

"The Government has decided that Sweden will participate in the World Expo 2020 exhibition in Dubai, provided that the state and the Swedish business sector [näringslivet] finance the Swedish participation in equal parts.
The purpose of Swedish participation in Expo 2020 is to strengthen a comprehensive and positive image of Sweden abroad, to promote Sweden as a knowledge nation, the competitiveness and creativity of Swedish trade and industry and to strengthen Sweden's attractiveness for tourism and investments and for research, innovation and cultural exchange. [...] Promoting Sweden and Swedish trade, education and research collaborations, economic relations and cultural partnerships with other countries also create platforms to discuss issues such as democracy, gender equality, human rights, sustainability and environmental issues.
The total cost of Sweden's participation in the world exhibition is estimated at about 165 MSEK, of which the business sector [näringslivet] and the state are expected to contribute 82.5 MSEK each. In the Budget Bill for 2018, the Swedish Government proposes that 3.5 MSEK is allocated for that purpose in 2018, and estimates that an additional 50 MSEK is allocated for the years 2019-2021 to cover the state's share of the costs of Sweden's participation in the exhibition. In addition, several state-sponsored actors will contribute to [implementing and financing] activities that are related to the Swedish pavilion."

Mattias then talked about the two main kinds of critique that the Swedish decision to participate in Expo 2020 regularly gets; concerns about sustainability and concerns about the the lack of democratic rights in Dubai. Here's a critical just-published report from the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs about "Human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the United Arab Emirates" (Dubai is one of the seven emirates that constitutes the United Arab Emirates). The official Swedish position is that it is only by participating (as one of 192 countries) that we have the chance to change things for the better (in terms of democratic rights, women's rights, guest workers' rights, sustainability etc.): "Our attitude is to go there and show them what we think we are good at, rather than sitting home and telling them what we think they do poorly."

It was apparent that Mattias had given this speech many times, he talked for at least 10 minutes straight and we hadn't even presented ourselves at that point. Mattias also mentioned that the World Expo expects 25 million visitors and that (at least) 1 million will visit the Swedish pavilion. These visitors will stay for different durations and can be thought of as "skimmers" (15 minute), "swimmers" (30 minute) and "divers" (2 hours).

I then presented (pitched) the Homo Colossus project and this eventually resulted in an offer by Mattias to be part of the permanent exhibition in the Swedish pavilion for the duration of the World Expo. We even started to discuss which particular spaces would be most suitable for Homo Colossus to occupy inside and outside the Swedish pavilion. Mattias was also particularly intrigued by my idea of sending KTH students to Dubai on a container ship bound for China (these ships stop in Dubai on their journey eastwards). The students would first go by train from Sweden to Genoa (Italy) and then by container ship to Dubai - a trip that takes around 17 days. I had framed such a trip as a way of decreasing the carbon emissions of a trip to Dubai but Mattias also saw such a trip as a huge opportunity in terms of a media campaign. What was really interesting for me though was that Mattias opened up the possibility of having Expo 2020 sponsor our students' trip.

This is the eighth (!) and last blog post about Homo Colossus during 2019. The project has morphed and changed and picked up the pace during the year and I suspect so much will happen in 2020 that I I could probably write a new blog post about the project every week. There are certainly many more things I could have written about in 2019, but the project is only part of what I work with and I feel I can't fill the blog with information about this one project when much else is also happening. I thus won't write a weekly blog post about Homo Colossus in 2020 - but I'm also sure I will write at least one blog post per month. The pace of the project is about to increase even further in 2020.

söndag 1 december 2019

Homo Colossus at World Expo 2020?

The Swedish World Expo 2020 homepage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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