Tänk om ekonomiutbildningen!

Lina Isacs har varit på konferensen HIGHER EDUCATION SUMMIT i Belgien som handlade om behovet av att göra om ekonomiutbildningen. Här skriver hon om konferensen och olika aktuella böcker på temat rethinking economics

 

”Det finns uppskattningsvis 7 000 språk i världen. Ekonomspråket är ett av de nyaste och det växer i inflytande. Utan att kunna ekonomspråket är det svårt att göra sin röst hörd i frågor som rör samhällsekonomi och politik.”

Andrew Haldane, chefsekonomen för Storbritanniens centralbank 2016

Orden kommer från förordet till en av mina favoritböcker, boken The Econocracy som kom ut 2016. Den är skriven av tre före detta studenter i nationalekonomi från det internationella nätverket Rethinking Economics. Boken  handlar om följderna av att universitetsämnet nationalekonomi fått allt större Book cover The econocracymakt över hur beslut fattas i samhällsekonomiska frågor världen över. Författarna myntar begreppet ekonocracy (som i en nylig bok av Henrik Bohlin översatts till ‘ekonokrati’ på svenska) för att beskriva vidden av nationalekonomins påverkan på våra ekonomier och på demokratin.

”En ’ekonokrati’ har alla de formella institutioner som en representativ demokrati har – såsom politiska partier och återkommande val – men politiska målsättningar definieras i snäva ekonomiska termer och beslut fattas utan större insyn från medborgarna”, fortsätter Haldane i förordet.

Bristande mångfald i ekonomiutbildningen

Boken går igenom mycket av den kritik som jag själv och många andra fört fram mot ämnet nationalekonomi. Men The Econocracy innehåller också grundliga undersökningar av hur en typisk nationalekonomiutbildning ser ut idag (fokus ligger på Storbritannien men det här gäller globalt). Några exempel:

  • I kurslitteratur och på föreläsningar framställs ämnet som främst tekniskt och objektivt fastän det innehåller politiska, normativa och till och med ideologiska inslag som studenterna sällan får hjälp att tolka som sådana.
  • Kurser i ekonomisk historia och filosofi ingår inte (som det gjorde förr), trots att ämnet är historiskt och starkt kulturellt betingat.
  • Studier av de institutioner som faktiska ekonomier består av saknas (såsom vad pengar är och hur banker faktiskt fungerar).
  • Matematiska färdigheter premieras framför kvalitativ analys och kritiskt tänkande. Examinationen domineras av att kunna ”applicera modeller” istället för att kunna avgöra när de är relevanta och inte, och består till en förbluffande stor del av multiple choice-frågor.

De här bristerna gör ekonomstudenter dåligt förberedda för den verklighet de sedan ska arbeta i, säger författarna till The Econocracy. Det finns studier som visar att deras världsbild blir mer snäv och att det i sin tur påverkar institutioner där ekonomer arbetar eftersom ekonomer har en jämförelsevis hög status som tjänstemän.

De här frågorna engagerar mig. Som del i klimatledarskapsgruppen vill jag veta hur ekonomisk vetenskap påverkar klimatledarskap. De globala kriser vi är mitt i betyder att en mångfald av färdigheter och kunskaper om ekonomin behövs, men idag är alltså nationalekonomiämnet ovanligt likriktat för att vara en samhällsvetenskap – alla universitet i hela världen erbjuder studenter i stort sett exakt samma innehåll. Det som är särskilt oroande här är att miljö- och rättvisefrågor inte behandlas som centrala ekonomiska frågor.

Gör ekonomiutbildningen mer pluralistisk!

Precis som nätverket Rethinking Economics argumenterar författarna till The Econocracy för att nationalekonomiutbildningen borde göras om och ge plats för en större pluralism, alltså en mångfald av idéer och metoder från olika skolbildningar.  Sådana finns faktiskt men nämns aldrig i de gängse utbildningarna. De utgör delar av det som brukar kallas heterodox ekonomi. Det här är inte första gången idén om att reformera ekonomiutbildningen förs fram, men den här gången verkar den ha nått längre.

Nu i september var jag på konferensen HIGHER EDUCATION SUMMIT i staden Hasselt i Belgien där ett huvudtema var ”Rethinking economics education” med huvudtalare som Kate Raworth (Doughnut Economics) och Olivia Rutazibwa från London School of Economics. Jag var där tillsammans med Pernilla Andersson och Leif Östman från pedagogiska institutionen här på Uppsala universitet. I våras sökte vi forskningsmedel i samarbete med forskare på Hasselt University och Donut Economics Lab för ett projekt som riktar in sig på att tänka om ekonomiutbildningen – från gymnasienivå och uppåt. Oavsett besked (som kommer i november) har vi stärkt banden till andra ute i Europa i det syftet.

Higher Education summit konferensen tog upp frågan om ekonomiutbildningen

Ett av de mest spännande mötena från konferensen var det med Sam de Muijnck som är en av författarna till en helt ny bok i spåren av The Econocracy. Boken Economy Studies* är rätt och slätt en guide för den som vill tänka om och bygga en ny, pluralistisk nationalekonomiutbildning från scratch. Den är gratis att ladda ner, men jag har ett pappersex på nattygsbordet sedan i våras som jag läser som spännande kvällslektyr. Hör bara  på det här utdraget ur innehållsförteckningen:

“Know Your Own Economy”, “History of Economic Thought & Methods”, “Economic Organisations & Mechanisms”, “Political-Economic Systems”, “Research Methods & Philosophy of Science”, “Economics for a Better World”…

 

Här nedan kan ni lyssna på paneldebatten “Rethinking the economics curriculum” (från 17:40 min) från konferensen. Alla inspelningar från konferensen finns här.

FOTNOT:

* Economy Studies låter fel för den som är (en vanlig) nationalekonom. Ämnet nationalekonomi på engelska heter ju economics, så boken borde i så fall heta “Studies in Economics”. Men titeln är väl vald. Den syftar på det faktum att nationalekonomi borde vara ett ämne som definieras mer av sitt studieobjekt, alltså våra faktiska ekonomier, snarare än som idag då det till stor del definieras av hur ämnet ska bedrivas (dvs. mer som en metod).

Sverker C. Jagers new Zennström professor in climate change leadership

Sverker C. Jagers, professor in political sciences at Gothenburg university and director of the Centre for Collective Action Research, has been appointed by Uppsala university as the fifth Zennström professor in climate change leadership, financed by donations from Zennström Philanthropies. Sverker C. Jagers has long standing experience working in environmental politics and environmental governance. His research area concerns psychology, sociology, national economy and political science. Sverker’s work is led by his deep interest in interdisciplinary science. The question that is of particular interest to him is how effective and socially accepted environmental and climate policy instruments can be conceived. An example is how a CO2 tax can be designed that decreases carbon dioxide emission without upsetting people.

Wants to work in an interdisciplinary way

“I am often working with researchers in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. I have done research on how countries with different political systems are successful in handling environmental questions. What is the effect if a country is a democracy or not, or if there are problems of corruption on environmental politics? As a Zennström guest professor at Uppsala university I would like to establish collaborations with environmentally oriented research groups that have a solutions-oriented focus”, says Sverker who is open to be contacted.

Sverker C. Jager’s Zennström guest professorship will run from September 2022 to December 2023. He is working at Uppsala university halftime and will contribute to research, teaching and external cooperation. Jagers is part of the Climate Change Leadership group at the Department of Earth Sciences at Uppsala University.

“The fact that scepticism towards climate politics is increasing raises the risk that climate goals will not be met, which entails enormous costs for society as a consequence. Therefore, Sverker Jagers’ Zennström guest professorship, with focus on effective and accepted climate leadership and governance, is a timely and delightful reinforcement of our team”, says Mikael Karlsson, associate professor and leader of the climate change leadership group at Uppsala University.

For more information contact:

Sverker C Jagers, Zennström guest professor in climate change leadership, Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University.
E-post: sverker.jagers@geo.uu.se
Mobiltelefon: 0732-59 43 69

Mikael Karlsson, Associate professor in climate leadership, Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University  
E-post: mikael.karlsson@geo.uu.se
Mobiltelefon: 070-3162722

Judith Lundberg-Felten, project coordinator climate change leadership, Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University
E-post: judith.lundberg-felten@geo.uu.se

Det är lönsamt att motverka klimatförändringen

  • Från och med den 28:e juli framåt resten av året lever vi svenskar på en ekologisk kredit motsvarande över fyra jordklot. ‘Overshoot day’ har infallit allt tidigare sedan begreppet etablerades på 70-talet.
  • Miljödocenten Mikael Karlsson menar att klimatförändringarnas ekonomiska konsekvenser motsvarar ett ekonomiskt världskrig.
  • Miljöpolitiska åtgärder skulle medföra positiva effekter på folkhälsan, arbetstillfällen och natur.

Klimatförändringarna kan kosta som ett världskrig

Climate Change and Swedish Evangelical Denominations

New article

Studies from the United States (U.S.) show that opposition to climate policy is strong among some Christian groups, especially White evangelical Protestants. Much of this opposition is channelled through organisations such as the Cornwall Alliance, which argue against climate measures on religious, economic and what they claim to be science-based grounds. In the present study, we investigated to what extent these convictions were present among Swedish evangelical denominations. Representatives from the Evangelical Free Church, the Pentecostal Alliance, the Swedish Alliance Mission, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church were interviewed to identify the denominations’ views on the scientific underpinnings of climate change and the moral implications of climate policy. Our data show that the denominations’ views differ markedly from those expressed by climate-oppositional evangelical groups in the U.S. The denominations held homogenous views on the legitimacy of climate science, expressed a clear biblical mandate for climate policy based on the notion of human stewardship, and believed that climate change was inextricably linked to poverty and, thus, had to be addressed. Our results point to the need for further studies on the factors behind acceptance and denial of climate science within and between faith-based and other communities in different countries.

Faithful Stewards of God’s Creation? Swedish Evangelical Denominations and Climate Change

Vad vill partierna i klimatpolitiken?

Naturskyddsföreningen har lagt förslag om fossilförbud år 2030. Hanna Berheim Brudin och Kristina Östman på Naturskyddsföreningen förklarar vad det skulle innebära. Men frågan är vad partierna tycker i frågan – och hur ser deras klimatpolitik egentligen ut? Mikael Karlsson, lektor i klimatledarskap kommenterar i samband med Klimatriksdagen.

Vårt Klimat: Med Mikael Karlsson

Världens forskare har levererat tusentals rapporter om klimatet samtidigt som tyckare sprider sina åsikter på nätet efter att ha läst en blogg. Här förklarar klimatforskaren Mikael Karlsson hur vi ska tänka när vi inhämtar vår kunskap om klimatet. Inspelat på Humanistiska teatern i Uppsala den 10 mars 2022. Arrangör: Institutionen för geovetenskaper vid Uppsala universitet.

Titta på Ur Samtiden: https://urplay.se/program/227401-ur-samtiden-planeten-jorden-vart-klimat

Sustainability Frontiers: Final Session

This is the final in a short blog series written by Laila Mendy about the Sustainability Frontiers conference.


Matthew Fielding moderated the final session between William Clark, Åsa Persson, Emily Boyd and Somya Joshi. The aim of the conversation was to discuss the five themes of the conference in relation to a recent publication by Clark and co-author Harley, which reviewed the first generation of sustainability science research. You can read this paper here.

Clark began with a short presentation of his work, which suggested that a core red-thread in sustainability science was nature-society interactions, which he described as existing within intertwined co-evolving systems. It is a solutions driven science, he said, where the goals of the research is not only to understand the interactions but to explore how this science and those understandings may be used to advance the diverse, contested and socially-determined goals of sustainability.

Another common thread, he found, was the issue of resources, emerging as the ultimate determinants of sustainable development. Sustainable development is measured by whether the base of resources are increasing or dwindling. Connecting resources and goals of sustainability science indicates processes of consumption and production, primarily towards the good life. However these processes are not operating without the agendas of the agents, actors, individuals, communities, firms, states and so on, also pushing certain directionalities. Though a belated entry into the sustainability sciences, these issues can be turned towards questions of power and how distributions of costs and benefits of nature-society interactions occur unequally.

These interests point back towards the institutions studying them and how the work they do might help or hinder these systems and often, Clark suggested, the outcomes of these institutional activities hold up the status quo and benefits incumbents. However, sustainability sciences are all working in complex adaptive systems that are shaped by persistent heterogeneity and novelty. Sadly this means that scientists can not predict them particularly well, which leads to the question about what useful advice sustainability science has to offer.

Well, it does have much to offer in terms of operational capacities, according to Clark. These are categorised below as the capacities to:

  • Govern effectively
  • Measure progress
  • Promote Equity
  • Adapt to shocks
  • Transform development pathways
  • Link knowledge with action

Each of these capacities are interlinked and intersect with the conference themes, Clark claimed, though hesitating on the Degrowth theme, which seemed to him more prescriptive than opening up discovery on the issue of economy and environmental impact.


Persson had several comments on the paper, based on what had been heard from the past two days. She first queried the idea of capacities in terms of by and for whom. The question comes from much of the discussion had in the first session on Decolonisation: who needs capacities? who already has them? and whose capacities are not counted or visible? This, she said, comes from the tendency in sustainability science to look at “we” in recommendations without specificity. It was time to be honest over responsibilities and the roles that we have.

Related to that, she was missing the concept of leadership in this synthesis. Looking back to Stockholm 50 years ago, individuals did play a role: leadership was considered as very important. Is this an issue sustainability fields are forgetting? That said, she pointed to ongoing projects into the role of influences in mobilising change – a new form of modern leadership, perhaps?

In response to Clark’s hesitation to fit the Degrowth theme into his synthesis, Persson asked whether economics was a part of sustainability or a different field. She acknowledged the work of donut economics, regenerative and care economics and how to bring them in to sustainability science.

Finally, she commented on the word “transformation”, which is on everyone’s lips these days. What is the risk of transformation becoming a new floating empty signifier not unlike sustainable development? And to what extent does the scale or transformation lead to delay? The challenge might appear to be so big so that responsibility can be diffused.

Boyd reminded the panel that much of the discussion over the past two days did not necessarily probe new areas, but rather were the result of decades of challenging issues and constraints within the practises of sustainability science. This was further challenged by how sustainability was being mainstreamed across the university and instrumentalised in businesses and governments. She echoed a point from the decolonial discussion: these issues can not become check boxes with a measurable set of indicators, but are more reflexive processes of inquiry.

Such a challenge might, she suggested, require a coming out of the academic ivory towers in response to the changing world. AI, geopolitics, polarisation and other forms of resistances are part of transformations and represent varied forms of values and knowledges and the new contexts within which science-making occurs. To what extent, then, are the processes in sustainability reinforcing inequalities by not accounting for these?

This conference, according to Boyd, has been an exploration from the Swedish perspective. In her presentation she highlighted some important questions that emerged within the themes of the frontiers of sustainability science. Listed below:

  • Decolonisation: unlearning the what and how, bringing in care ethics and the material aspects of what we study;
  • Resistance: the idea of presence and making familiar the unfamiliar;
  • Degrowth: how to approach the issue of decoupling;
  • Digitalisations: The new stories, fragmentations and speeds of change;
  • Imaginaries: Mindsets, structures, and moving beyond existing models of creativity to open up beyond the scientific silo.

Somya Joshi finished the panel with a short presentation explaining that “the joys of going last is that most of what you want to say has been said already.” For her, however, the most provocative theme appeared to be inequity. Whether in the Decolonial themed conversations, or in Degrowth, or the Imaginaries session, many questioned resource extraction through an anthropocentric mindset. Therefore, sustainability science must question the idea of resource.

A comment came to Clark from Joshi: According to the paper, at the heart of human capacity is innovation. Joshi, however challenges this in the context of digitalisation. Lowering the threshold to participation through social media, for example, is fantastic in one level. But the risks of misinformation, or powerful elites instrumentalising these technologies are too large to ignore. Who is wielding these tools? Who is weaponising them?

For Joshi, then, this concerned knowledge – and structures of knowing – and required a shift to nurturing empathy and action. She echoed a question posed in an earlier workshop: How can imagined collective futures turn into something people could collaboratively work towards.

Read more on page two by clicking below.

Sustainability Frontiers: Inner Transformation and Imaginaries

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about the Sustainability Frontiers conference, written by Laila Mendy. The first can be read here, the second post can be read here, and click here for the third.

Diego Galafassi curated the next session and explained how this session appeared to be cross-cutting, noting how the idea of the imagination and imaginaries had been brought up throughout conversations in the conference. Galafassi introduced the topic, shortly explaining that imagination and creativity is a real component and important skill for transformation. He was joined by panellists Myanna Lahsen, Henrik Karlsson and Lara Houston.

Myanna Lahsen began, following the same structure as the earlier sessions, with a five minute intervention into the theme from her own field. She probed the idea of the individual when it comes to inner transformations, suggesting that this is an important component but also a significant hurdle in societal change. As a cultural anthropologist by training, Lahsen explained that looking at who counts and where impact happens in democracies gives an indication that it is the economic elites, business-oriented organisations and interest groups who matter. So when it comes to the idea of inner transformation, scaling that is critical.

What may seem inner and private, she suggested however, is deeply social and political. This is where Sustainability science is struggling to work. There is a tendency to put faith into groups of people and assume that people will mobilise around an issue; scaling happens through the numbers. Social activism is assumed to be progressive, but we know this is not always the case. Little attention has given to how people come to know what they know in the first place. Lahsen argued that the political economy and market place of ideas is neglected in this field.

Lahsen then explained this issue in the context of mass media communications. Cognitive sciences show that repetition is needed to shape people and give them the ability to collectively frame an issue. This, arguably, is not understood as a power agent. Yet much of media is owned by the same groups who legitimise certain political issues through their own agendas. The example of Brasil was given, where the media was not recognised in terms of power. Addressing this gap is critical for social action: social marketing can lead to change, she said, without leaving the movements pushing an issue without support.

Henrik Karlsson followed with a presentation on the diversity in futures in literature and fiction. He started by plotting a matrix with general images of a desired future, prompted by his reaction to a Chinese participant in a Thai workshop who said sustainability is only possible with a strong leader. This table is imitated below:

Replicated from Karlsson’s presentation at Sustainability Frontiers.
The dotted arrow indicates “wishful thinking” from the West on the behalf of China’s future.

The figure above demonstrated how there is an assumption about what other (groups of) people might find desirable when discussing sustainable futures. He had assumed that China would move to the upper right quadrant. This began a search for the different forms of futures and what could be understood as desirable. Was it to maximise happiness? Human utility? Or perhaps it was about minimising suffering.

Asking different groups of environmental philosophers will get you different ideas on what means can be justified for the ends of sustainability futures, he explained. He quoted a Finnish philosopher, Pentti Linkola, whom Karlsson described as an eco-fascist for making the statement that “We still have a chance to be cruel. But if we are not cruel today all is lost.”

It was not only literature that had such provocative ideas of the future. Karlsson offered an image from a recent exhibition which probed the questions about whether the future needed us. The idea of human extinction, though, is not necessarily something he wants people to aim for when opening up ideas about alternative futures. Rather this was mentioned merely to provoke new ways of thinking about what wider possibilities could exist.

The final presentation came from Lara Houston who discussed creative practises for futures transformations. This included different forms of aesthetic, experiential, multi-sensory and embodied experiences to enable transformations to sustainability.

One exemplification of this, The Hollogram, was elaborated on in the presentation during which it was described as having enabled a collective imagining of sustainability transformations through expanding shared meanings and feelings. The experience demonstrated how knowledge politics can be misunderstood in sustainability sciences. The idea of empathy was brought up here in how it can be motivating for mobilising action towards sustainability during processes of change.

The impact was a transformation on the understanding of relationships, particularly of friendship. The experience had challenged cultures of financialisation, in which some forms of friendship can be considered transactional. The move away from these modes of relationships may, it was argued, lead towards a shift in more sustainable living.

In the plenary, Galafassi asked the panellists to think more on imaginations as a type of transformative capacity. Houston responded first by discussing imaginaries in the context of art installations. Imagination points towards an individual cognitive experience, but this is done within a shared collective. Lahsen had similar approaches, this time considered in terms of agency and obstacles in new technologies and media systems. There are ways to overcome obstacles to opening up ideas and capacities, such as public wisdom councils. Social marketing really works, but there is aversion to this. Polarisation is happening, but these technologies can be used for good: VR empathy, for example. See the Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science for more examples. For Karlsson much of this discussion concerned interdisciplinary partnerships. He suggested that throughout history, academia has had better practises for moving across disciplines. These should be explored again today.

Sustainability Frontiers Conference: Degrowth

This blog is part of a short series written by Laila Mendy, PhD student at NRHU, as she attended the Sustainability Frontiers conference.

The third session of the day, and the topic of the second blog post, relates to postgrowth economics and the alternatives to GDP-focused growth mentalities. Below is a short summary of the panel discussion and reflections.

Mine Islar moderated a discussion between Eric Kemp-Benedict, Jennifer Hinton, and Giorgos Kallis. The session began with an introduction to the idea that degrowth, postgrowth and other “agnostic” ideas may have the potential to close the gap between economic interests and biodiversity. The panelists each presented their understandings of how to approach this potential and the implications of leaving the current economic system in place.

Eric Kemp-Benedict began by explaining how helpful he finds Kate Raworth’s idea of doughnut economics and how it frames human-nature relations in terms of human needs but more than that needed to survive, but enough to flourish. There are, he says, two questions raised by the doughnut framing. The first is “What political and economic systems are consistent with this?” and the second considers “How do we get there?”

GDP has been a useful but incomplete measure for politics and policy-making. Today we know that in many parts of the world people do not have enough to survive, let alone thrive. Meeting their needs, he argued, requires significant development of technologies that must be created, maintained and improved. On the other hand, there is research that demonstrates the limits to how comfortable and happy wealthier parts of the world live. In short, we have some places where people have not enough to live well, and others who have too much. This is coupled with the arbitrary nature of what is calculated within GDP, in terms of labour or work: home-based childcare is not, maintaining the home is not*.

Kemp-Benedict pushed the arbitrary nature of GDP, explaining that while employment rates and gas prices are of immediate interest to people, particularly in terms of inflation as it erodes wealth and steps into the political-economy dimension, stock market inflation is generally not of concern for most people, other than populating the 24 hour news cycle. Based on this assessment, GDP should not be replaced by another similar measure, but rather should reorient the question to understand what ways of living are consistent with sustainability. Political decision-making tools should reflect that reality, rather than this fairly arbitrary measure.

To the second question, he raised the issue of decoupling GDP from material throughput (and therefore environmental impact). If it can not be, then the only direction is through degrowth. However, this has not happened in the past as, seemingly, it is not politically palatable. Therefore, he concludes, other roots might be worth investigating to break the GDP material flow, including other political interventions.

Jennifer Hinton intervened here by explaining how most sustainability researchers approach the fields in terms of meeting needs now and into the future within the ecological boundaries of the planet. This approach, she says, does not clarify the role of the economy in sustainable society. We are living within the context of economic growth as the prevailing dominant narrative. Even in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), economic growth is a key measure of success. Economic growth is seen as necessary to lift people out of poverty, to produce technologies for reduction of environmental impact. There is, here, a profound assumption that society can decouple growth from environmental impact. But, Hinton stated, evidence points out that over the last few decades this has not occurred: the rich have been getting richer, the poor remain in poverty (in a global context) and there is, as of yet, no evidence that the economy can decouple from environmental impacts. By contrast as the economy has grown the environmental condition has worsened.

Hinton moved to the main thesis that economies should be reorganised to not drive for growth, and therefore the field starts with a post-growth ideology. She explained that there is more to postgrowth than degrowth, and gave examples from eco-feminism and ecological economics which pluralises the realm. How does it address sustainability, then, she asked?

Firstly, get rid the assumption that wealth equates happiness, needs could instead be emphasised. Secondly, money is a means not an end and should not be considered a measurement of success. Here she brought up the master servant binary: the economy must be relegated to servant. Third, is to consider methods for meeting needs outside of the market. Hinton gave examples of community sharing, swapping and mutual aid. Importantly, she summarised, postgrowth can entail higher levels of well-being, particularly when the harm of consumerism to both people and planet are understood.

Consumerism is not an instinctual aspect of human nature, she said in reference to the decolonial scholars from the first part of the day, but rather socio- and eco- justice is at the heart of postgrowth mentalities. In such a framing those who do not currently have access to all of their needs would be given the opportunities to increase their consumption, while those who currently live with excess would be required to learn to live with a lot less.

Hinton’s intervention finished with the suggestion that different proposals and interventions, which included democratic decision-making processes, material sufficiency, local production and consumption and share economies. These are concrete initiatives and seeds that exist, though at the margins or in the niche. Could these become mainstream? Well, she concluded, change in complex systems happens at nonlinear rates: “change is already underway, who knows when we might reach a tipping point?” she finished.

Giogos Kallis was the final panelist and pointed out that it had been 50 years since the book “Limits to Growth” had been published and that while many of their models and variables are since out of date – consider, for example, the computing power existing then in comparison to today – much of their models considered resources, food output, population growth rate and built a variety of scenarios. One of these scenarios was considered a business-as-usual future, where business growth and GDP growth would increase. This scenario is more-or-less, he claimed, what we have followed and lived through to today.

Kallis explained that the field of Degrowth finds similar patterns to those described in the Limits to Growth work. It finds that even taking into account the best possible efficiency increase, radically cleaner and greener technologies, these developments are not enough to keep us within the bounds of the system. Rather, they just postpone the inevitable collapse. The only stabilisation scenarios that the field of degrowth can develop considered the combination of technological improvements with the reduction of material output and population growth.

Despite the tricky conclusions from degrowth research, the more politically palatable models developed today, which are both used within the IPCC and in national roadmaps towards Net Zero around the world, add carbon reduction as a variable. Yet, without addressing continued GDP and population growth, they must be underpinned by the rapid development and widespread implementation of negative emissions technologies. This assumption, according to Kallis, however, has been dismissed as highly unlikely by climate scientists around the world.

At this point the panel ended and turned to questions from the audience. The first was directed towards Hinton and asked for more on the idea of turning money to a means from being the ends. Hinton argued that in today’s context money is a measure of success at multiple levels from the household income to GDP. However, money could become one of many means to satisfy needs. She nodded towards the idea of the 9 universal needs, including (but not limited to) subsistence, protection, leisure, freedom. These needs can only be met to some extent by money and material, and in the cases of freedom and leisure chasing money may be more harmful than good. Better means might be to invest in community development, take care of family bonds or connect with surrounding nature.

Kallis followed on from this answer, suggesting that we consider ideas from ecological economics. He proposed the analogy of measuring colour in kilos. However, Kallis was more pessimistic about the idea of change occurring: there is something powerful about monetary force in society, he said, and was not satisfied with the idea of a simple move away from money as ends.

Kemp-Benedict had the last word on this and echoed the idea of nonlinear rates of change, but pulled back to the idea of what creates money. When he hears about the idea of money as an ends, he considers the idea of debt in livelihoods and of monetary valuation. This discussion is about moving away from, what he argued, how money is created by providing loans underpinned by collateral and private property rights.


To pull this conversation into the ongoing work done at CCL regarding societal transformations to sustainable and fair fossil free futures, there are several interesting points. Firstly, each of these researchers agree that change is nonlinear and occurs within different temporalities. Kallis discussed the urgency of addressing climate change while Hinton admitted that societal changes are generally slower.

Secondly, there is the idea of something existing that does not particularly exist in the global level. These seeds and initiatives exist and are growing, yet global carbon emissions continue to rise, GDP continues to grow. Despite the emissions reductions measures within countries and some regions making some impact, on a global scale these are far from sufficient. I would also say that these economies do not exist in a vacuum. In Sweden there might be community share economies and clothes swaps, but this occurs within a society with a robust and growing housing market and loan inflation, and rapidly growing digitalisation.

The final intervention from Kemp-Benedict relates to my challenge of working to overcome delay in change. Processes of incumbency in the global economic structure, surely, would resist such niche efforts to change. Indeed, decades of research has discussed the different strategies used to resist regime change (see this paper, for example). And so too do these researchers sound pessimistic about the likelihood of such small and strongly resisted alternative economies coming to the mainstream.

Each of the researchers sound hopeful, without indicating how they imagine getting there. It almost seems careless or suspended beyond an attempt at answering this issue. I am reminded of Andy Stirling’s ideas of moving away from the idea of technocratic control to care in times of socio-technical transitions and change (See the STEPS center blog here). Perhaps, if such an approach is so common for those working in this field, the idea of overcoming delay is feeding too much into a narrative of control and therefore unhelpful in such rigid structures. Taking a more emancipatory-care approach could instead mean more to nurture the niche and allow change to emerge at its own pace.


*For more on this, the fourth Zennström Professor, Stefania Barca, initiated a project in 2021 addressing this exact issue. Read more here.

This blog is part of a short series written by Laila Mendy, PhD student at NRHU, as she attends the Sustainability Frontiers conference. Click here for part three on Digitalisation

Sustainability Frontiers: Decolonising Sustainability

This blog is part of a short series written by Laila Mendy, PhD student at NRHU, as she attended the Sustainability Frontiers conference.

Opening and Decolonial Perspective on Sustainability Science:

The day began with a demonstration of what much of decolonial scholars have been arguing for: by centring the perspectives and insights from decolonial scholars and indigenous researchers in the sustainability sciences conversation. Vasna Rasamar curated an panel discussion with Professor Lyla Mehta, Professor Bagele Chilisa, and Senior Lecturer Anna-Lill Drugge, all concerned with addressing what they see as a sustaining weakness of the sustainability sciences: the reproduction of colonial dynamics, practises and norms.

Rasamar began by asking each of the speakers to present what they consider to be an ongoing frontier in sustainability. These are summarised shortly below:

From Lyla Mehta: The term “Sustainability” came from German forestry management in the 1800s, which wanted to explore ways to continue resource extraction into the long term. From there it was consolidated and instrumentalised with – and alongside- other colonial practises of territory grabbing, othering and racialised categorisation, and removal of- and restriction of access to- indigenous peoples. Such practices adhere in much mainstream sustainable development today where, in the name of emissions reductions and conservation, indigenous and local communities continue to be restricted from living in their homes. Mehta highlighted instances of these in the REDD+ programme and other climate mitigation measures. In order to recognise that colonial practise is embedded in common socio-envionmental control mechanisms, there are three considerations to take:

  1. Firstly, seeking out hidden ways of knowing and being in this world. What knowledges and practises exist beyond the mainstream?
  2. Countering the narrative that unexploited land is waste. Grasslands, Mehta used as an example, are important contributors to biodiversity in South East Asia, and do not indicate wasted opportunity for afforestation or agricultural development
  3. To consider new ways of doing research: what are the assumptions underpinning much of what we problematise in development studies? Perhaps the grazing animal is contributing to soil health and the local eco-system.

Mehta concluded by explaining that decolonising sustainability science is also about looking at the institutions surrounding academia and considering how relationships and ways of working might be projecting harmful norms. Consider here, for example, the ways in which gender relations, power, race and ethnicity, sexuality, the languages spoken and – of particular relevance to the PhD student in Sweden today – the passports we hold. All these considerations implicate who might be invited to the discussion and how groups are convened.

For Bagele Chilisa the presentation considered how pervasive dogmas in Western thought were restricting people to see beyond certain assumptions of existence and reality. Building from what Mehta had initiated, Chilisa explained how decolonialism must address these dogmas in sustainability as understood in Western terms to not only open up for alternatives but to go beyond.

Firstly, Chilisa explained that Descartes and the idea of the individual could be pinpointed at the base of much practise and understanding in Western academia. The community and the people are forgotten: it is the individual that counts. Such an approach does not take into account the ways in which people are part of their community and part of the environment in which they live. This is problematic as teachings from the fields of Environmental Justice may not be heard beyond concern for the individual.

Secondly, the approaches to sustainability in Western academia can generally be categorised through four main approaches: the post-positivist turn to explain, predict and control; the conservative; the transformative; and the pragmatic.

Thirdly, that the environment is other-ised in Sustainability science, disregarding the essential embedded-ness of people and, therefore, discounting the valuable contributions that the environment can make towards knowledge creation.

Chilisa ended by asking open questions to the audience: what is development and for whom? What does it mean to live a good life? And, more fundamentally, how can we see and understand each other in a system that more and more pushes us as individuals?

The final speaker is Senior-Lecturer in Umeå, focusing on the Sami peoples. Anna-Lill Drugge, offered a similar list of three for the decolonial challenge in Sustainability science. Drugge’s approach focused more specifically on the experience of the Sami in Sweden, but might resonate with other peoples around the world.

The first insight looked at the exploitation of natural resources. Drugge explained that much of the green transition in Sweden poses the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy as the solution to the sustainability and climate issues. However, Drugge points out that too few reflect on which land and which natural resources are chosen in this transition. In the case of wind power, many of the potential areas of interest for development are on indigenous land. Despite the continued dependence on these areas for Sami livelihoods, development often goes ahead. Here, Drugge concludes, it is important to simply raise awareness of ongoing colonial structures in decision-making. Decolonialism is not possible if colonialism is not addressed first.

Secondly, the history of many research fields are problematic and foundational to ongoing conflicts today. Drugge explained that in recent history in Sweden the study of race biology categorised Sami people, separating the mountainous peoples from the forest peoples and contributing to existing conflicts to this day. Recognising the roots of today’s conflicts in historical processes of research was, for Drugge, another important insight for the decolonialism of Sustainability science.

Thirdly Drugge explained that the lack of knowledge meant these challenges will continue in to the future. Much Swedish knowledge of Sami people is based on stereotypes, due to a neglect on the subject in the national curricular. In the long run, these students will work in the green transition of tomorrow, which risk carrying and replicating colonial assumptions into the future.


The second block of the Decolonial session discussed questions posed by the moderator and the audience. The discussion mainly concerned concrete tools, approaches and methodologies to implement decolonial thinking in practise in academia.

Drugge began by admitting that doing is particularly challenging, but the first step is to acknowledge the field and work of indigenous scholars, particularly those whose work concerns relationships. These are not only important in sustainability and in relation to indigenous people, she suggested, but concern research ethics more widely.

Chilisa echoed this by explaining that many of the tools available can help communities and groups avoid the check-boxing so common in sustainability – think, why is the commissioner doing this study and will it actually be used? – and rather looks at the processes and intentions behind them.

Thirdly, Mehta cautioned against thinking in terms of a tool box and a check box, positioning decolonialism as an ongoing processes of self-awareness that should not be turned into another buzzword – not unlike what has happened to sustainability. That said, she went on to suggest methodologies from feminism for methods to raise the voices of the unheard and make visible the invisible, as well as practises from the field of Science and Technology Studies. Within the academic institutions themselves, it is making aware that power imbalances exist and continue to exist when those with the best of intentions can perpetuate inequality infrastructures.


In relation to my own doctoral work, much from this discussion has resonated with me. I am currently working on the idea of “overcoming delay” in the quest to reach Net Zero 2045 in Sweden. Considering recent review on the thirty years of political and scientific work done on climate change and the failure to bend the emissions curve, this feels like an important piece of work to contribute towards overcoming inertia and to avoid a tobacco industry-like conflict with climate policy-making. But there are deeper challenges in taking such a stance towards the future and towards the goal itself.

Firstly, the idea of overcoming delay towards a future assumes certain futures are viable and desirable, and that others are not. To overcome delay towards a certain future is, arguably, to depoliticise it. I think this is problematic because it questions the democratic nature of futures-making. With such an urgent need for emissions reductions, slowing down and questioning the idea of whose contribution towards such goals and targets is important. It indicates which voices are excluded and which injustices may be carried in to the future for the good of action on climate change?

Such a cause for concern in terms of time is strengthened by the implication of place in the goal of Net Zero itself. Climate neutrality indicates a necessary shift in infrastructure, which for Sweden may well mean a continued expansion of renewable energy development into Sami land. It also suggests that off-setting emissions beyond Sweden could perpetuate certain colonial mindsets about land access globally, its usage and whose claims to land are more important.

I am not sure how to reconcile the decolonial lens with the urgency narrative of climate action. However, the discussion this morning gave much food for thought on this conflict.

This blog is part of a short series written by Laila Mendy, PhD student at NRHU, as she attends the Sustainability Frontiers conference. Click here for part two on Degrowth

Sustainability Frontiers: Digitalisation and Sustainability Transitions

The fourth session at Sustainability Frontiers discussed Digitalisation and Sustainability Transitions, and will be the third in the series of blog posts about this conference written by Laila Mendy, PhD student at NRHU, Uppsala University. The first can be read here and the second post can be read here.

Somya Joshi moderated a conversation between Stefan Daume, Maja Essebo and Andrea Owe. Joshi introduced the hope and parallel concern about the relationships between technological development and innovation and the environment. She then invited each speaker to present their approach to this issue.

Stefan Daume began on the idea of digitalisation from the perspective of disruptive technologies and AI for Sustainability science. He pointed out the meta-quality of the conversation and how the online conference structure can facilitate fantastic connections around the globe more quickly and without attributed transport emissions.

Daume’s research spans the mature forms of technologies to the niche and cutting edge. He suggested that the internet acts as a mature tool for sustainability and pointed towards Greta Thunberg’s social movement enabled through the availability of social media. He considered open access research as another form.

To the more cutting edge innovations, he introduces the idea of AI, block chain and crypto. AI, he argues, has been around since the era of Alan Turing. Today’s machine learning, however, has the gigantic accessibility of computing powers available in the cloud. That said, these systems are not just virtual. He explained that there is an embodied and material element as these consume resources to run and are often designed to serve existing dominant interests.

The second intervention was given by Maja Essebo, who came from the point of storytelling and looking at how algorithmic technologies are not only disseminating stories but also storytelling themselves. A side note was given here, though, is that this is more about machine learning than AI.

Looking at the elements of storytelling you have character creation, the plot, events connected by relationships, place and more. Character creation is where machine learning technologies get particularly interesting. These technologies are interested in a group of people to understand what common characteristics occur within certain sets of the population. An example was given that individuals who liked KitKat pages were more likely to join anti-semitic hate groups. Such a connection would not necessarily be imagined by a human, but a machine noticed this trend.

Her conclusion was that algorithmic processes are performing character creation by noticing these trends and connections. But she is not sure how. These technologies are finding these connections in a black box. They are given input instructions such as “go look, go see, go search”, but how they solve that problem is not really clear. What the creator thinks is a fairly clear task can have wider interpretations by the machine.

There are two reactions from Sustainability scientists when they learn about the scale of stories these technologies are creating: interest and disgust. They might want to stay away from these technologies but, she concluded, the algorithms will not stay away from them.

The final presentation was given by Andrea Owe, who explained that the biases of humans are fed into AI. She started from the point that sustainability has complex socio-political associations and is more than a natural or technological issue. Much sustainability science is done from an anthropocentric approach, she claimed, which posits that humans are distinct and more important than the rest of the natural world. With that she argued that AI discourse needs to break away from those systems of thought.

Owe’s concern was that non-human animals and the natural environment is neglected in the field of AI ethics, which as of yet has mainly focused on the social implications of AI structures. The non-human is not considered in concepts of justice, but only appear to some extent as beneficiary of sustainability. This is a significant blind spot when developing AI for sustainability as it is neglecting how the environment is considered in those systems.

The presentation concluded by reiterating the concern in terms of environmental footprint: when selecting which AI to pursue a footprint might indicate that certain forms of AI should not be developed in the first place. This requires full and thorough life-cycle analysis during development stage. She finished by reiterating that while sexism and racism is perpetuated by AI and is, to some extent, being addressed, the abuse of nature must be addressed in research.

After the panellists presented their opening statements they were given the opportunity to respond to a number of questions. Much was said about the idea of agency in story telling: that it is not full agency, but that there are aspects within the black box issue. Daume continued by explaining that inbuilt biases certainly exist and in multiple forms including training data bias, transfer bias, and also interpretation bias by the people using the AI. Owe explained the challenge of interjecting ethics in systems we are still struggling to grapple with. She summarised in ways that echoed the decolonial scholars from the first session: ethics is not a to do list, and ethics washing is widespread. For ecological and environmental ethics in AI, the research is very new and underdeveloped.

A second theme of questions emerged from the audience Q and A which asked about whether – and how – AI can change human-nature relations. Owe pointed to incredible work being done by indigenous communities around the world who are developing their own AI based on their own data.

My own question was raised at this point, which concerned the reconciliation of technological acceleration with the degrowth of the economy. Owe suggested she was pessimistic about decoupling technological innovation from environmental impact. Essebo, however, offered a more optimistic framing, suggesting that these technologies can enable economic transitions at a more rapid rate. Daume reiterated this in terms of broadening access and participation but cautioned that the platforms on which these tools rely are provided for by companies who are not motivated by sustainability. They also, he said, have long been recognised for their emissions but there are now some transitions to more sustainable practices such as submerged data centres.


This was the third in a series of blog posts about the Sustainability Frontiers conference. Click here to read the fourth on Inner Transformation and Imaginaries.

Klimatledarskap för klimatmål

Alla behöver vara med på tåget för att klimatmålen ska kunna nås i tid. Men fortfarande debatterar världens länder om hur ansvaret för klimatlösningarna bör fördelas. Forskare delaktiga i nätverket Uppsala University Sustainability Initiatives (UUSI), menar dock att det finns en nyckel till framgång: klimatledarskap, skriver Uppsala universitet i en nyhetsartikel.

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