Water Society: future fiction

Linda Paxling and I wrote this speculative futures short story when we attended “Messy matters” at Blekinge Institute of Technology in 2016. The task was to take an environmental development and stay with the trouble, imagining both (in)evitable (un)editable futures. I think it is quite a fun task and I really suggest taking an environmental problem and a pen and imagining all the directions it can take.

Story time on the first day of preschool 2067

Dear children. Before we start please take a moment to think about yesterday. Think about when you came home and sat down to have your dinner hot off the 3D printer and drank your cold, pure water fresh from your in-home water distillery system. Think about taking your infinity shower with crystal clear recycled dish water. Think about when you brushed your teeth and the continuous, luxurious water stream. Feel how nourished and soft your skin feels in our moisture suits. Water feels so abundant today. It also felt like this 50 years ago in 2017, but the years between water was a scarce resource. 

Long ago in 2018 the first drought hit Öland. It barely rained for 2 years. Wells that had supplied families for generations sunk lower and lower and eventually ran dry. The island’s municipality was forced to shut off water mains, and drinking water had to be imported from the mainland. Blekinge and Skåne followed in 2019. There it was even more severe as Denmark – as the rest of Europe – was also suffering from lack of water and so water negotiations began, diplomacy became strained. Norway’s department of water tried to keep us supplied for as long as they could, but eventually even they ran up against water shortages. Soon the whole of Scandinavia was in water crisis mode. 

The rest of the world was already further down this path. The rain stopped and the water that was left was fiercely contested. Millions were displaced, forced to travel to find enough drinking water. It was publicly discovered that some multinational corporation had purchased the right to various reservoirs and tried to protect these with force. The legalities were fraught. Children, just like you, were not guaranteed access to clean drinking water.

In Africa, already conflict riddled, wars broke out and water supplies became less and less secure. Huge water refugee camps were built around remaining wells, and the communities that established around these supplies regulated use severely, rationing got as strict as 250ml per person per day. For those with moisture suits this was enough for survival. 

Because of overwhelming demand, moisture suits were released to the market before prototyping was finished. Earlier versions started to lose effectiveness after less than 1 year. Luckily innovations from Swedish manufacturer, Devan, succeeded in making a suit that came with a 10-year guarantee. Many of your suits are probably Devan, although not the original design. Along with sister manufacturers in New Zealand, Vietnam and Mongolia, Devan made enough moisture suites for everyone.

Aside from the moisture suits we had many other water saving devices. You probably know them from your own homes. In the beginning, there were slow-flow shower heads, low water washing-machines, super-efficient dish-washers. Soon however it became clear that these niceties were no longer viable and there was more and more emphasis on ensuring crop survival and drinking water for all. We all had to stop using water for cleanliness, so that everyone could have enough food to eat and water to drink.

In Sweden, we never went without drinking water for more than 24 hours, but like everywhere else we stopped using water for washing in the early 2020s. We had reusable bacteria cloths to wipe ourselves twice a week, this ensured healthy populations on our skins, and kept potentially dangerous bacteria at bay. The municipality acted quickly and replaced water based toilets with self-composting ones in 2020-2021, this also helped our local farmers who were still struggling to produce crops. As my sister and I were still young, our family was eligible for state help, and we were provided the alternative toilet, wipes and other water replacements. We started using a 24/7 dust sucker to keep the dust from our house. Our snot was still always black from the dust.

Mobile desalination plans were built by every coastal country who could afford them. This was used predominantly for basic food crops: genetically modified versions of amaranth, potatoes, cactus and peas were possible to grow in drought conditions. Waters retreat was relentless however and even the oceans ran dry.  This caught the scientific community by surprise, it was first predicted that sea levels would rise, but water was literally evaporating into space. Farmers had to move their crop lands nearly every season in order to stay close enough to the increasingly salty water supply. The planet was rapidly drying. I remember all the grown-ups being so worried. We could hear mum and dad’s strained voices talking about how to keep our Swedish cactus crop alive late into the night.

Our father used to take the train to Småland every Saturday to buy drinking-water for the family. We could have purchased it here, but a family friend still had access to a deep well there, and the quality was better if we went to pick it up. It was also much cheaper. We knew some families who were spending more than a third of their salaries on drinking water.

The personal moisture suits started becoming popular here around then. We were used to seeing people on TV wearing them, so it wasn’t so strange when the Perssons got them for their whole family. They had four children so water was just too expensive, and the suits were the best way to keep the children hydrated. Soon even our parents made us wear them. We were less thirsty when wearing them so we didn’t put up too much of a fight. My sister got green and I got yellow. Not having to stay close to home and emergency drinking water, we felt we could do anything, go anywhere in our suits. It was a liberating feeling.

Eventually, even the wells up in Småland became drier. Every drop was precious and families were using the minimal amount of water for basic hydration. Still rain hadn’t arrived.

I remember reading in the newspaper about the three countries left in the world with a deep fresh secure water supply: Tuvalu, Canada and Greenland. These countries had been receiving requests to access their water from the rest of the world since the late 2010s. They were promised all sorts of treasures and power in order for other countries to use their water. The also received some strong political pressure, but thankfully this never led to open conflict. The military were too afraid of contaminating dwindling supplies.

Tuvalu, Canada and Greenland had been quite marginalized from decision making up until that point. Having other countries depending on them for access to their water and asking for their input was a very strange experience. Their political response was slow, trepidatious, they were well aware of the faults of power inequalities and wanted to engage in a meaningful, long sighted way. Rain patterns were still unstable, there had been no properly drenching rain for nearly two decades. Ground water levels were at crisis point, moisture suits or not, there was little hope for us earth creatures if drinking water was not shared. This was nearly the only thing my sister and I read about during this period. We even started staying up late like our parents and discussing different responses, different strategies. All our friends also became obsessed with water politics. We were so worried our city would evaporate into dust.

One auspiciously cloudy day in 2029, after what seemed like eternal deliberation, Tuvalu, Canada and Greenland came together. From what we read in the media, they had all been present at preceding decision making summits where their voices had been continually ignored. Tuvalu had even signed an agreement that would see their country go under water during the now abandoned Conference of the Parties discussions, in order to have at least some global agreement – to no avail. Nothing they had done before water became powerfully scarce had led to any progress. Countries with power abused their privilege again and again. In the name of ‘same but differentiated responsibility’ industrialised nations had continually dodged making any binding compromises to limit climate change. Instead growth narratives had continuously fueled their competition with each other, consolidating more and more power. By the 2020s, hyper-capitalist countries finally came to realize that sustainability, not growth, was the key to support their peoples. This historical finger burning made Tuvalu, Canada and Greenland extremely cautious. They wanted lasting and equitable decisions.

Now at the center of decision making, the three countries brought their understanding of marginalization to the global political process. To avoid future possibilities for power concentrations they agreed to ensure the future equitable distribution of water depended on truly egalitarian process. The outcome of the meeting between them was to implement a global decision-making system that would ensure a deeply fair world.

This lofty goal was soon populated with input from all the individuals in the world. In a herstoric win for participatory democracy everyone had their say via the Water Saving App. I remember that weekend in February 2031. My sister had just turned 18 and was able to vote. Our family had been discussing this for the best part of six months and when the app opened we were ready with our ideas. I particularly wanted having time to think about politics as part of the new decision making. My sister thought it was important to be able to see everyone else who was involved.

Finally, in September 2031 from the input of all global citizens, we came up with five principles to be applied when decisions needed making:

  1. Equality: All voices shall be included; each voice has equal worth. 
  2. Scale: All decisions should have local relevance, and contribute to positive global development.
  3. Transparency:  At all stages of decision making, all actors and potential interests shall be declared. 
  4. Response-ability – all shall have equal opportunity to respond, and equal responsibility for decisions. 
  5. Context: Care and consideration will be given to existing system to aim for continual improvement.
  6. Quality of life: All global citizens have the right to enough free time to ensure considered involvement with international decision making.

In 2032 – the moment these principles were ratified by not only every country but every person – Tuvalu, Greenland and Canada simultaneously turned on the water to the global supply system. We watched the ribbon cutting ceremony right here in this school room. I think nearly everyone on the planet watched our screens that night. I remember turning on our vacuum pressure tap. It was wondrous to watch clean, drinking water flowing out. It tasted so good. For the first time since I could remember I drank until I was completely drenched.

The water distribution infrastructure was made possible through open collaborative design and utilized information and communication from many different sources in order to predict where water would be needed. Internal communication processes use weather forecasts, temperature scanning and population movements to instantly deliver water where and when it is needed. Functioning alongside, still disparate, yet more frequent rain patterns, the global water distribution system became a much-needed backup for the local innovations, like the infinity showers and pure drinking fountains that we now take for granted in our homes. Infrastructures become sustainable and now enable high quality of living. No-one ever has to wonder where their next drink is coming from.

In 2067 water remains a scarce resource, the threat of water limiting has been motivating enough to keep our six decision making principles front and center of all global processes. As we went through the 2030s and the 2040s there were more and more of us who had grown up with these principles – we did not remember the previous political system. These considerations form a deep part of life, underpinning every thought. Considering the well-being of all is inherent in everything we do.

If we think about decision making before the global water shortage, the global governance system we have now may be called radical. It is transparent, and serves the long-term interest of every person, rather than the short-term interest of select few. What we see as normal now, the people alive before 2017 may have described us as inter-dependent collaborative global community, maybe that is what we are. I think it is normal, of course we should all live together with the best conditions for everyone. Now you guys are heading into the first year of your education. It’s important to know where our society came from, and what we all went through to get here. Enjoy your time at school and take care of the water.

Thanks to the course conveners

Pirjo Elovaara, Blekinge Insitute of Technology, Sweden

Kristina Lindström, Malmö University, Sweden

Christina Mörtberg, Linnaeus University, Sweden

Åsa Ståhl, Linnaeus University, Sweden

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Response to my research

My research about washing less has appeared in a few places recently: P4, Allers and Hufvudstadsbladet. I usually get a few emails following these, and I’m always very interested to hear how people interpret what I’ve done and relate it to what they are doing. Once you say something and it goes out into the world you really have no control over what sense people make of it. Which is why knowledge creation is so democratic and exciting in many ways. But I digress. A responses to a radio interview I did recently arrived in the post, scrupulously hand-written on beautiful card, and I just want to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who takes the time to reflect over what I’ve been saying, thank you to all the people involved in imagining a better future and thank you to all the people actively engaged in making a more sustainable future possible.


Post card response to a radio interview I did recently. Thank you.

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Varför duscha vi så ofta? Jag pratar renlighetsnormer med Lena Nordlund på Vetenskapsradion

Sociologiforskaren: “Lär av festivallivet – var lite smutsigare!” https://sverigesradio.se/sida/avsnitt/1322016?programid=412
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Respons på en artikel i svd

En artikel om min foskning av Izabella Rosengren publicerades nyss i Svenska Dagbladet, till en divers respons. Här delar jag några av mina favoritar:

Svante Öquist

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bwmw06An7Sk/

Ulrika Liljeqvist

Jag skriver för jag kände mig så uppmuntrad av att läsa dagens artikel i SvD om din forskning. Äntligen får jag vatten på min kvarn, tänkte jag, äntligen är det någon som ifrågasätter allt detta tvättande och fejande och som lägger miljöaspekter på den delen av vår vardag. När jag var barn på 40- och 50talet minns jag att min mamma la fram rena kläder till mina mindre syskon på söndagarna. Jag minns det för att hon en gång glömde det, och då de två pojkarna klädde på sig tog de därför den andra broderns använda kläder från förra veckan utan att reflektera närmare. När jag själv hade barn hemma tyckte jag nog att de såg hela och rena ut även med måttligt tvättande. 70-talets oljekris gjorde dessutom att man sänkte inomhustemperaturen till en mer koftvänlig nivå. Nästa generation tycks se på saken på ett annat sätt och hygienkraven har skruvats upp. Ibland har jag häpnat. Renlighet har ju länge ansetts som en moralisk fråga, men det är kanske dags att se det som mer moraliskt högtstående att kunna acceptera lite smuts.

Jag sa till en jämnårig väninna: ”Tänk vilken underbar lyx det är att alltid ha varmvatten” och fick svaret: ”Åh, tycker du det, jag tycker det är en mänsklig rättighet.”

TV är fylld av amerikanska såpor och i alla har alla kvinnor långt tjockt hår som ringlar sig som pälscaper ner över axlarna. Alla ser nytvättade och nybalsamerade ut, med eller utan hårförlängningar. Jag har funderat på om inte Californiens vattenbrist skulle avhjälpas om Hollywoodfruarna klippte håret till mera måttlig längd. Det måste gå åt mycket mera vatten för att tvätta ett sådant hår än ett lite mindre omfångsrikt. Detta mode är ju numera så utbrett även i Sverige, hårpälsarna brer ut sig över axlarna inte bara på varenda högstadieflicka utan också på åldriga damer i Akademin, EU-kommissarier och avsatta bankdirektörer. Ingen ser det som en miljöfråga. För rättvisans skull måste jag medge att vatten kanske sparas på renrakade herrhjässor.

Anders Persson

Läser artikeln om din forskning i dagens SvD och det är mycket intressant för att få balans. Jag har personligen dragit ner konsumtionen av t.ex. vatten och el till för svenska förhållanden relativt låga nivåer, men utan att funderat så mycket över orsakerna till detta. Kanske är det en sport eller att jag är mycket tekniskt intresserad?
När jag gör ekonomisk analys av dessa konsumtioner, så är det en sak, som motarbetar besparing, och det är att leverantörerna dels påtvingas en massa åtgärder, som fördyrar t.ex. efterhand nya krav på elmätare eller vattenmätare, som direkt ger en fast kostnad för varje hushåll och där leverantören kan ta ut denna utan konkurrens, och dels att det inte verkar finnas någon återhållande kraft på elnätsbolagens försök att höja sina marginaler, vilket gör att mätarna bytes oftare än vad som är ekonomiskt försvarbart. Således betalar jag idag 4.50 SEK/kWh i elnätavgift varav 0.67 SEK/kWh är rörlig och vatten 121.81 SEK/m3 varav rörlig 18.55 SEK/m3. Då blir det inte vettigt att spara eller sätta in besparingsåtgärder för att spara.
Därför tror jag det vore en effektiv åtgärd att förbjuda fasta avgifter till konsumenter t.ex. med säkring mindre eller lika 16 A eller vattenledning mindre eller lika 20 mm mätargenomlopp.

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The disappearing communal laundry room in Sweden: a symptom of individual comforts winning over sustainability?

An article exploring the disappearance of the Swedish ‘tvättstuga’ (communal laundry). It’s historically common in Swedish apartment blocks to have a shared laundry, usually in the basement. Recently however more and more househoulds have their own washing machine, a bad sign for the sharing economy.

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Climate smart in the 50s

I had a really nice correspondence with Leif recently after Aftonbladet published a piece about my research. He wrote about growing up in the 50s, using a wash cloth to clean up for the day ahead, suggesting that these things could help bring more sustainability into everyday life. I thought that this was very interesting and asked if he would like to write something about it. In the following he explores his memories from the 50s with its much smaller environmental impact.

KLIMATSMART PÅ 1950-TALET

av Leif Södergren

Vykort på Kungsportsplatsen i Göteborg c 1950
http://nostalgorama.blogspot.com

När jag skrev min bok PÅ SPANING EFTER MINNEN insåg jag hur klimatsmarta vi var på femtiotalet. Mycket berodde på vårt sätt att handla.  Jag minns när all mat vi handlade på femtiotalet köptes över disk. Kunden stod helt still på ena sidan med en köplista i handen och på andra sidan disken fanns expediten som sprang som en skållad råtta efter varenda vara och när varan sattes på disken skrevs priset på en papperslapp. Man köpte precis det som stod på köplistan. Varorna var inte placerade för att locka kunden till inköp, de fanns på hyllorna inne på lagret eller bakom expediten. De skulle vara lätta att nå, de mest frekventa varorna låg närmast för att minska springet för expediten. En expedit på femtiotalet måste vara duktig på huvudräkning eftersom hen måste kunna räkna samman hela den långa listan som låg på disken. Det gick oftast mycket fort. När sammanräkningen var klar kunde specerihandlaren stoppa pennan bakom örat  medan hen tog emot betalningen. Sedan stoppades allt ned i de medhavda shoppingväskorna.  
Vi hade tre shoppingväskor, två beiga och en blå. Ingen använde bärkassar, de fanns bara inte. Det var helt otänkbart att bege sig ut för att handla utan en eller flera rymliga väskor. En titt på inköpslisten gav besked om det behövdes en eller flera shoppingväskor. Hos specerihandlaren på landet fanns ett litet ställ på väggen där det hängde papperskassar med rephandtag men det var ingen som skulle komma på den befängda iden att köpa en sådan när man hade behändiga shoppingväskor med sig. En del använde också en virkad nätkasse. Våra väskor som stod på golvet i det rymliga skafferiet var sällan helt tomma, där fanns tomglas som vi lagt där för att de skulle returneras vid nästa inköp. De läckte och det var ofta kladdigt i botten. Där hamnade även mjölkflaskorna som var av genomskinligt glas. Kapsylerna var i olika färger och tillverkade av stanniol, en tunnvalsad plåt av tenn som ersattes av aluminiumfolie. 
Vi sparade på olika sätt. Mina systrar fick ärva varandras eller mina kusiners kläder. Alla kläder syddes i Sverige och de var inte speciellt billiga så det var återanvändning som gällde i första hand. Även lagning och konststoppning. Skomakare fanns det ofta flera i varje kvarter och skor sulades om, flera gånger innan de kastades eller gavs bort. Jag minns Lappcentralen där man kunde lämna in damstrumpor med maskor eller ett plagg med hål. När kläder var dyra lönade det sig att laga dem och kvinnorna som arbetade där  – det var ett dussintal som satt vid sina maskiner – kunde få fula hål i kläder att se nästan osynliga ut. Och damstrumpornas maskor fixades också. 

Svenska röda kosets tolv hälsobud, sokisamlingar.sormlandsmuseum.se

Vi sparade på vatten. Den dagliga tvättningen på femtiotalet var vid handfatet och en tvättlapp som man tvättade kroppen med – först ansiktet, sedan under armarna, skrevet och sist fötterna som man lyfte upp och satte i handfatet. Någon gång i veckan blev det av att bada i badkaret. Det där med vattenslösande dagliga duschar  kom senare.
Jag minns en tid när rinnande varmvatten inte var något man tog för givet. På landet värmde vi vatten på spisen i en kastrull och hällde det på emaljerade kannor som bars upp till andra våningen. I min barndom kunde man höra någon äldre kvinna säga “nu passar vi på och tvättar av golvet när vi har lite gott vatten”. På sommaren hade fastighetsägare i stan rätt att stänga av varmvattnet. Det skulle vi inte acceptera idag. Idag har vi fjärrvärme i de flesta hus i stan som via värmeväxlare levererar hur mycket varmvatten som helst, dygnet runt. Underbart bekvämt, så länge som det finns vatten och energi till uppvärmning.
Vi behöver spara på vatten idag och kanske vore det intressant att borsta och vädra kläderna lite mer? Jag minns att min mormor hade ett rum som kallades för “borstrummet”. Det var avsett för klädvård. Idag hade nog utrymmet använts till tvättstuga men då tvättades och torkades tvätten i bykhuset i källaren. I borstrummet strök man tvätt och höll kläder fräscha genom att borsta dem och använda fläckborttagningsmedel och laga eller sy i knappar. Kanske man handtvättade de vita löstagbara kragarna som ofta användes i klänningar för att spara in på tvätt. “Svettlappar” användes i armhålan av samma anledning. Sådant tänker vi kanske inte på idag när vi lämnar in våra kläder till kemtvätt eller kör tvättmaskinen med ull, silke och fina material som tidigare hade krävt handtvätt. 
Jag minns när de nya självbetjäningsbutikerna i början av sextiotalet började bli vanliga. De kallades för snabbköp eftersom det sades att det gick snabbare när man själv plockade sina varor. Det var ett lyft att få strosa bland varorna och bli inspirerad att köpa sådant som inte fanns på listan, så kallad “merförsäljning”. När vi nu riskerade att plocka på oss mer varor än vi tänkt från början och kanske inte hade med oss en extra shoppingväska då började de nya snabbköpen ge bort bärpåsar gratis. Vi liksom andra kunder, plockade med några extra hem, de kostade ju inget. Det inbjöd naturligtvis till  ett onödigt slöseri i all synnerhet när det så glatt talades om “köp-slit-och-släng”. Inte ett ord om att spara eller tänka på miljön. 

Stockholm, 1950 ca, Cityköp, SV:s första självbetjäningsbutik ica-historien.se

Sverige till skillnad från England (som ransonerade mat ända in på femtiotalet) och många andra länder som efter andra världskriget var utarmade, hade en unik konkurrensfördel med en intakt industri och kunde traska rakt in i ett ekonomiskt välstånd. Lilla Sverige, nyrikt, beskäftigt och berusat av framstegsoptimism och inspirerat av folkhemmets jämlikhetstankar, gjorde upp med det förgångna i ett sällan skådat, och idag för många oförklarligt, rivningsraseri. Och sextiotalets “köp-slit-och-släng” filosofi, var en utmaning till de som 15-20 år tidigare hade levt med ransonering och förnuftig återhållsamhet under andra världskriget. Det tog tid att vänja sig vid det nya. De nya TV-apparaterna gjorde sitt och snart stod vi alla där, konsumtionslystna i snabbköpskassorna och plockade på oss några extra av de där plastkassarna som var gratis. 
Sextiotalet och de nya snabbköpen innebar en revolution i vårt sätt att konsumera som vi lever med än idag. Men globaliseringen har fullkomligt förvridit våra sinnen och proportioner. Anonym utländsk arbetskraft framställer varor för en spottstyver, ibland under omständigheter som vi aldrig skulle acceptera. Det sker långt borta och ibland utan insyn för de som vill granska arbetsförhållandena. Det enda vi tycks (vilja?) se är de låga priserna. Vi frestas att konsumera mycket mer än vi egentligen behöver och vår konsumtionsfrossa slukar kopiösa mängder av jordens resurser. Plötsligt en sommar håller hela Sverige på att torka ut och stora arealer brinner upp och många får sig en tankeställare. FNs rapport om klimatet är också en kraftig varningsklocka. Då tänker jag på tant Ingeborg (som kom till oss och strök tvätt på femtiotalet) som verkligen inte hade någon stor inkomst och levde sparsamt och förnuftigt. Jag undrar vad hon skulle ha sagt om hur vi överkonsumerar och slösar med jordens resurser idag. Hon bodde enkelt i en omodern etta i Landala med utedass på gården. Ändå försörjde tant Ingeborg och hennes syskon två bröder som av någon anledning inte kunde arbeta. Det fanns inget socialt skyddsnät då, så de hjälptes åt. Utan minnen kan vi knappast lära av våra misstag i nuet eller i det förgångna. Mina många minnen av tant Ingeborg är guld värda. Det är alltid ett kärt återseende att se tant Ingeborg med sin fasta integritet vid strykbordet. Där står hon så trygg och belåten. “Hej, tant Ingeborg, jag saknar dig!”
©Leif Södergren

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Blog Post on Extinction Rebellion for LUCSUS

Together with Stephen Woreniecki we wrote down some of our thoughts about Extinction Rebellion, the new wave of climate activism sweeping not only Europe but also Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We had some intense experiences participating in a demonstration that really opened up how we see direct action playing a role in decision making, especially as current decision-making is dragging us closer to climate disaster. This post was published by Cecilia von Arnold on the LUCSUS Blog in December.

Jesse Jones

Many readers may have noticed the increasing frequency of climate protests organised by Extinction Rebellion (XR) across Sweden. But what do these protests represent? Is this just another group of tree-huggers being a public nuisance? Or is this a needed development in taking our climate goals further? Two Lund University researchers argue that there are critical ideas to take away.

The Extinction Rebellion is a non-violent direct-action movement challenging inaction over dangerous climate change and the mass extinction of species which, ultimately they argue, threatens our own species. XR originated in the United Kingdom and has spread to more than 35 countries including Sweden in under 6 months. People are taking to the streets to express their incredulity that the climate crisis has been left unattended so long by the international community; inaction that dramatically increases the risks and leaves us with ever diminishing timescales and range of options. One of the key tenets of Extinction Rebellion is challenging the political class for its deep lack of commitment to addressing these very real problems.

We have had the chance to get to know the activists in Skåne and found that overwhelmingly XR comprises articulate, caring, well-read and surprisingly normal people; amongst them nurses, engineers, receptionists, teachers and a biologist. Many have never been involved in protests before. They have one thing in common however: the feeling of urgency to take peaceful direct actions to halt the growth obsessed paradigm of capitalism that is destroying our common future. From their perspective responding appropriately to the scale of the climate crisis as self-evident. None of them can comprehend why the so-called decision-makers have not responded appropriately, why the world is not taking climate change seriously.

For instance, it’s not commonly acknowledged that emissions reductions in Sweden have to occur much faster than currently to keep us on track. Neither is it common for the media to address the mass extinction we are currently facing.  XR draws attention to the scale and magnitude of damage and loss that we can expect if the world warms more than 1.5 degrees.  At this point all coral reefs will be lost, crops will fail, millions of people displaced. Many of these changes are becoming slowly inevitable through repeated inaction.

The sorts of responses that XR have been involved with in Sweden have been blockading roads by displaying banners, singing, dancing and handing out fliers and cookies, with breaks to let the traffic flow. XR have also brought attention to companies who blatantly ignore environmental responsibilities. These actions have been warmly received by the public, with bystanders expressing their support of these efforts, especially the home-make cookies. One driver wrote to XR Sweden afterwards saying “I was stopped by your demonstration in Malmö today. I wanted to say that I like your initiative and the way you met me was friendly and nice. It was a good reminder that I need to improve myself even more for the sake of the climate and environments, which I promise to do.” (Translation by authors).

Jesse Jones

These sorts of peaceful protests are part of wider social movements to make normal people’s concern over climate change visible. People taking to the streets can be a powerful way to not only share values, but also give a mandate to those in positions of power: to show politicians and business leaders that citizens are ready for change. They are prepared to start questioning our everyday assumptions around carbon intensive activities such as eating, transport, housing and leisure activities. Since starting just six months ago the movement has already witnessed some significant environmental policy successes, including Ireland divesting from fossil fuel and London declaring a climate emergency.

XR are right in that current efforts to protect the earth are not ambitious enough to match the scale of the threats. A new global deal for the earth, backed by concrete commitments from global leaders and businesses to tackle those threats, is imperative. There are answers to the climate crisis. But these answers don’t mean much if the rules and structures for organising society don’t change. We need to out-build – eliminate – carbon from society. But not without reference to social inequalities.

There was a strange symbolism a couple of weeks ago when cities on either side of English Channel were locked down by – at least superficially – matters of climate. XR shut down the bridges across the Thames in London, whilst at the same time Paris was on lockdown by the Yellow Vests, resisting what they saw was a regressive carbon tax hitting the poorest hardest. To be relevant, XR needs to acknowledge these politics and recognise that top down action like Macron’s carbon tax has consequences. Like the impacts of climate change, the poor can be hardest hit. Climate politics cannot be separated from the politics of inequality.

Jesse Jones

What can we learn from XR?

  • Combatting climate change needs to be part of everyday discourse
  • We need to fight the climate crisis together
  • Grass roots governance has potential in tackling climate change in a socially inclusive way

We can only hope that actions like those that are becoming increasingly more frequent across Sweden can help shift the conversation and help establish inclusive, forward facing climate policy. Regardless of what you might think of XR’s tactics, climate change impacts, or the social movements that arise from the recognition of such impacts, will change the global environment. In a world struggling to come to terms with climate change, one thing is sure: leaders need to look to the people.

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Response and Responsibility

I have just participated in a panel on ‘everything is going to hell and we just go on like normal‘ at Sweden’s Architects Association, with two other very interesting thinkers. Obviously there was a very interesting discussion about working towards sustainability, and how designers can create sustainable systems and stories. One comment, however, really provoked me. One attendee let out some frustration, arguing that architects and designers are seen as the good guys, caring about the environment and society, but that they don’t actually have that responsibility. Doctors, for example unlike designers, take the Hippocratic Oath to make people healthy. Designers only have to build a house that won’t fall down, or a car that won’t crash. I think that facing the environmental challenges that are looming, requires us all as human beings to respond. Whatever line of work we find ourselves in, and whatever skills and knowledge we gather along the way, make us uniquely response-able. Being able to respond by choosing sustainable materials, suggesting eco-alternatives, requesting our unions to act and pressuring politicians to implement sustainability policies are all valuable in shifting the discourse around what is expected of our line of work. The ability to respond is also the responsibility to do so. I think we should all stop going on like normal ‘towards hell’ and start to respond and be responsible for sustainability.

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Things I can see through the window

I have to send my PhD thesis to the printers in four weeks, and right on cue nearly anything else seems fascinating. The view through the window for example. I can see the turning torso. It’s hard to miss. Two cyclists heading toward Västra hamnen. Four cranes. There is a lot of construction going on. I should probably open word and do some work on my kappa. Is that someone walking their dog? Yes! How nice. What is that up-side-down ice-cream-cone tower thing to the right? It’s covered with leaves and looks so beautiful in Autumn. I wonder what they are going to do with that beautiful old factory? Not more luxury flats I hope. But there are lots of people who want to live in Malmö. It’s an amazing city. It looks like an amazing day. I wish I was outside. No, I want to be writing my thesis. I have so much left to write, my supervisors probably think I’m an imbecile. Maybe I can write something really interesting and surprise them! I hope I am as opposite-to-imbecile, interesting and accomplished as they are one day. There are so many interesting and accomplished people in sociology. Especially the PhDs, we have a super quirky and also passionate cohort. I hope they all come to my defense party. My family are coming, it’s going to be so much fun. I should book a venue! Maybe after I send my thesis to the printers. Only four weeks left!!!

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Do less to save the environment

Indolent koala picture courtesy of Koala Worlds

Alison and I have been exchanging emails the last few days. We are both weary of Tim Jackson’s adage of “being persuaded to spend money we don’t have, on things we don’t need, to create impressions that won’t last, on people we don’t care about.” We are both aware of looming sustainability problems and lifestyles, and we are both trying to live low impact lives. However despite my best attempts I am using more than my fair share according to the WWF Footprint calculator.  We are not alone; a study published this year shows that conservationists often engage in environmentally harmful behaviours.

We are sharply aware of the impetus to save water and energy, emit less carbon and live more sustainably. Wanting sustainability drives us to engage with society. Between the two of us we subscribe to local veggie boxes, drink fair trade coffee from keep-cups, cycle, ride-share, train commute, carbon off-set flights, go to concerts and festivals, live collectively, use green energy tariffs, eat at vegan restaurants, buy organic cotton clothes, attend seminars with international speakers, travel to participate in sustainability conferences, write articles, teach in sustainability courses, blog… There is a lot of doing stuff.

This is a phenomena observed by Veronika Kalmus, Margit Keller & Maie Kiisel who write. “Green Consumerists have developed a critical awareness of problems and hazards inherent in consumer society and are trying to adjust their lifestyle and everyday practices to come to terms with the late modern ethic of sustainability… These people are, however, also active consumers who willingly purchase non-green goods and for whom self-expression and lifestyle are, to a large extent, linked with consumption of goods and services.”

Maybe we could have a better environmental footprint by doing less. Less food, less entertainment, less travelling, less energy use, less time at the office, more time snoozing in trees. I think the koalas have it figured out.

And evenings steep’d in honied indolence;
O, for an age so shelter’d from annoy,
That I may never know how change the moons,
Or hear the voice of busy common-sense!
 
John Keats, 1819

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