The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (Mistra) invites research groups, jointly with relevant stakeholders in the society, to submit proposals for a new research programme. The submitted proposals should address significant environmental problems faced by society, with an emphasis on developing long term solutions. The focus of this call is on sport and on ‘friluftsliv’ (outdoor recreation) jointly, with the aims to forward our understanding of sustainability related to sport and ‘friluftsliv’, to reduce negative environmental impacts and to make a considerable contribution to the societal transformation for a sustainable development. Increased interdisciplinary collaboration connecting sport and ‘friluftsliv’ is expected.
Contact at Mistra: Åsa Moberg, +46 8791 10 21, asa.moberg(at)mistra.org
To meet the Paris Agreement’s target of keeping Earth’s temperature rise below 2°C, use of fossil fuels must decrease.
This far, almost everyone agrees.
Significantly harder is to know which road takes us there. We must know how best to use biomass, especially that taken from our forests. Harvest or leave it? That is the highly simplified question.
Already, bioenergy is the renewable energy source we use most in the EU today. And to meet existing targets for renewable energy up to 2020, the increase in the past few years has been substantial.
With the support of Mistra and others, three Swedish academies held a conference in mid-March, to highlight the consequences of this raised demand and open up a dialogue on forests and climate. These three were the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry (KSLA), the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA) and the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA). One purpose of the conference, entitled Forests and the climate — manage for maximum wood production or leave the forest as a carbon sink?’, was to identify some basic principles for forests’ role and their capacity as a resource in climate work. Another purpose was to think about what advice the research community could give to decision makers in this area.
Researchers from several countries gathered. During the two-day conference, they were able both to share their research findings and to discuss issues where a full consensus does not always prevail.
The starting point was that the interplay between forests and the climate system is complex. However, it is clear that climate change affects forests, while the forest industry in turn affects the greenhouse gas balance. The forest can both serve as a carbon sink and provide products that, in turn, store carbon dioxide and reduce the need for fossil products.
Forests also have the ability to affect the climate more indirectly by, for example, reflecting sunlight back into space instead of letting it warm Earth’s surface.
In the field, however, there are various heated debates about how forests and forestry methods affect the climate. One reason for the divergence may be that researchers often view the forest from different perspectives and entry points. Even if each may be correct from a narrow point of view, the divergent approaches lead to confusion among decision makers and the public alike. This in turn makes it difficult for them to judge which decisions are right and proper.
The conference was thus intended to start a dialogue on the role of forests and clarify various existing views. There was also a wish to see where in-depth knowledge is needed to enable a more modern view of forests and climate to be promoted.
Leif Gustavsson, Professor at Linnaeus University, can symbolise one side. His view is that a high biomass harvesting rate in forests, provided that biomass replaces fossil products and fuels, would yield significant climate benefits (compared with a reduced rate) and thus greater carbon sequestration in forests.
Gert-Jan Nabuurs, Professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said that the question of whether we should go in for increased forest production, or create carbon sinks, is in fact incorrectly formulated.
‘It’s more about what we should do where. Today, wood-based biomass accounts for about 6 per cent of primary energy use. It’s possible to increase this figure to over 10 per cent. But to achieve it, Europe’s countries must consider the many different functions of forests and create a balance between areas under active management and those that can serve as a carbon sink.’
‘If wood and biomass are to be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, forests must be managed sustainably. But the climate benefits claimed for biomass must also be based on verifiable, credible documentation,’ said Werner Kurz, Senior Research Scientist at the Canadian Forest Service.
‘If we manage that, biomass could play a key long-term role in bringing about net-negative greenhouse gas emissions.’
Researcher presentations took up a day and a half. Representatives of industry, government agencies and politics were then given a half-day to discuss what should be done. This discussion will probably continue in various contexts but now, it is hoped, with a more substantial research foundation.
Shortly after the seminar, the Government decided on a strategy for Sweden’s national forest programme. The main thrust of the programme is to create a broad dialogue on the role of forests in a sustainable society and a growing bioeconomy.
Read more here.
‘A broad research programme would be needed to integrate research on the environment and sustainable development with research on sport and outdoor life.’
So says Brian McCullough. Associate Professor and researcher at Seattle University in the US, he chairs the international expert group that recently submitted to Mistra a background report on the area.
Sport participation, spectator sports and outdoor life play an important role in the lives of many children and adults, but can also involve a significant impact on the environment. They may entail, for example, resources for arranging major sports events, transport to and from sports and outdoor activities, equipment and food. In addition, opportunities to experience nature often attract people to remote, unspoilt areas, affecting the local countryside as a result.
Ongoing climate change is, to some extent, modifying conditions for sport, and there are those who express fears about the future of their sport, McCullough says.
‘Representatives of the National Hockey League (NHL) in North America have pointed out that warmer winters are resulting in fewer areas of natural ice and eventually affect recruitment of both players and supporters,’ McCullough says.
During the spring, the international working group — with five well-reputed researchers from Norway, Finland, Austria, the UK and the US — have met via video link and also had a two-day meeting in Stockholm. Their mission has been to review current research and suggest areas for a possible research programme.
In its report, the group note that a systemic view and an interdisciplinary approach are needed for better inclusion of sustainability issues in today’s research on sport and outdoor activities. Two areas are identified as particularly important for making a change: first, research relating to policies and policy instruments for changing behaviour and, second, research on decision-making, at both individual and group level.
An initiative on increased sustainability in sport and outdoor life could also generate positive effects in other areas, McCullough believes.
‘Sport and outdoor activities have a huge range, and reach out to many people all over the world. That can be used to promote sustainable behaviours and alternatives that become important in other parts of these people’s everyday lives as well.’
At its June meeting, Mistra’s Board decided to launch a research programme in the area. The call for proposals will be published on Mistra’s website shortly.
Text: Henrik Lundström
There is considerable concern in society about what the consequences of our extensive use of hazardous chemicals will be.
Sometimes the worry is unfounded, and is not unusual for those who want to induce us to buy ‘chemical-free’ products to exploit it. At other times, there are good reasons to consider what effects various types of substances have on both health and the environment.
‘The problem’s often that we don’t always know what’s dangerous. Neither do we know what happens when chemicals in small, harmless amounts accumulate in various organisms and are later concentrated higher up in the food chain,’ says Christopher Folkeson Welch, Mistra’s Programmes Director.
At its meeting in June, Mistra’s Board therefore decided to launch a programme about how design can be used to reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals. This will include chemistry and management of life cycles and risk.
Before the decision, an international expert group had developed a background report outlining the objectives and purpose of the programme.
‘The programme should, above all, look ahead to new and better solutions. But to do that, they’ll have to study the situation today as well.’
There is also a hope that the programme will succeed in developing test methods to analyse, in their entirety, the health and environmental effects of composite products. Today, these analyses are performed mostly for individual elements, which means we are poorly informed about the actual effects of the products around us in our everyday lives.
‘Green chemistry offers a range of interesting solutions that we want to look into,’ Folkeson Welch says.
The call for proposals will be published on Mistra’s website shortly. After that, all interested parties will have until mid-December to form a consortium and present proposals on what the focus should be. Who will run the programme is expected to be decided in spring 2019.
John Warner of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry in the US, one of the better-known advocates for green chemistry, was a member of the working group that developed the report on which the call for proposals will be based.
John Warner, Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry
At a Stockholm work meeting, he also held a lecture for the interested public.
According to Warner, chemistry must change if we are to be able to move towards a more sustainable world. But this does not mean, as some companies claim, that we will create products that are chemical-free.
‘It’s a bluff based on ignorance and fear. Instead, we’ll move towards increased use of green chemistry.’
To boost knowledge, he has written the book Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice. Translated into 50 languages, this has almost come to be regarded as a ‘Bible’ among those who advocate a transition to less-toxic chemistry.
Warner’s view is that resistance to the concept of green chemistry is based on many people’s failure to understand what it is, not least because most chemists have so far been trained along the same lines.
‘This can change with the type of programme Mistra is now about to start.’
Other than Warner, members of the international working group were:
- Christer Hogstrand, toxicologist at King’s College in London
- Søren Hvilsted, polymer chemist from Denmark
- Sara Stiernström, Business Developer at Ragn-Sells Tyre Recycling
- Peter Kant, who works on regulatory issues at the OECD in Paris.
Jointly with his colleague Paul Anastas, Warner has formulated 12 principles of green chemistry. In a shortened version, these are:
1) Pollution prevention
2) Atom economy
3) Less hazardous synthesis
4) Design safer chemicals
5) Safer solvents and auxiliaries
6) Design for energy efficiency
7) Use of renewable feedstocks
8) Reduce derivatives
10) Design for degradation
11) Real-time analysis for pollution prevention
12) Inherently safer chemistry for accident prevention
The background report will soon be available on Mistra’s website.
To see and hear John Warner talk about his view of green chemistry, click here.
Text: Per Westergård
When Anna Pernestål Brenden starts talking about self-driving vehicles, a worry wrinkle appears on her brow. She sees them as a potential climate threat — above all in the event of one of the imagined future scenarios: that we each get a driverless car of our own… or two.
‘If that happens, the climate will be threatened. But so will the urban environment, because it would lead to considerably more traffic on the streets.’
One reason is that we are going to spend more time in our cars, she argues. Since we do not need to steer the car ourselves, it becomes a living room on wheels where we hang out, socialise, work or whatever we like.
Travelling will cost less for the individual, in terms of time spent, and electrification will also make travel cheaper per kilometre.
‘There’s a high risk of more traffic, and maybe that wasn’t what we intended,’ she says.
Pernestål Brenden also sees problems in a scenario where new taxi services take over parts of private travel.
‘There’s a lot of talk about self-driving taxi services. But the simulations we’ve made show that even if there’s a fall in vehicle numbers, there’ll be more vehicle kilometres for the same transport needs.’
There will be masses of empty cars driving around in towns and cities, or cars that take huge detours, she outlines. What the overall impact on climate and the environment will be is unclear, Pernestål Brenden says.
These are the kinds of ideas that engage researchers at the Integrated Transport Research Lab (ITRL) at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. This lab is one of Europe’s most prominent interdisciplinary research labs in the transport sector, and it is also one of the platforms in Mistra’s SAMS programme, Sustainable Accessibility and Mobility Services.
Researchers from various fields assemble here with the same objectives in mind: that transport must exert the least possible environmental impact, entail minimal cost and inconvenience to travellers, and enable companies to make money. The whole issue poses simultaneous questions about infrastructure, policy, business models, consumer behaviour and technical solutions.
But Mistra SAMS is also about possible avoidance of travel. How can we create an employment sector in which there is no need for us to spend so much of the day travelling? How can we establish suburban hubs, such as may be found as a niche practice in metropolitan areas today, where people can go and join a temporary work community?
‘We have an interesting living lab under way in Botkyrka that is testing work communities of that kind.’
Pernestål Brenden is linked to Mistra SAMS and has also headed ITRL for the past year.
The lab is housed behind a modest metal door on the KTH campus. The first thing that strikes visitors is that the doorbell hangs loosely by a cable, attached in a makeshift way with a few loops of household tape. For one of Europe’s more high-profile technological research environments, this makes quite a humble first impression.
Once inside, we find a somewhat messy lab environment with overhead cranes whiteboards scribbled on all over and, at the entrance, a homemade electric vehicle that resembles an oversized go-cart. The first impression is of a children’s playhouse, but this is succeeded by a sense of creativity beyond the boundaries of convention.
Pernestål Brenden thus sees, in self-driving vehicles, a range of opposing risks. If these vehicles become too numerous, they will take space and the risk will be greater traffic congestion than today. If there are fewer self-driving vehicles, the number of kilometres driven could increase dramatically, which would also do the environment no favours.
Although energy is getting cheaper, electricity is not infinite. Batteries deplete Earth’s resources, and solar cells occupy space.
‘There’s something sensible about being energy-efficient,’ says Anna Pernestål Brenden.
There are also technical limitations that remain to be fully resolved. Driverless cars work best on wide highways with traffic moving in one direction. In urban settings, where people throng around the vehicles, they tend to be cautious to a fault. And this makes them slow.
‘It’s hard for self-driving cars when lots of people are moving around them.’
Then there is this jungle of legal and ethical considerations. We touch on these issues only briefly during the conversation, but the questions are there, unanswered.
Who is legally liable for a crash — the vehicle owner, the person inside it, or the software programmer? Who owns the data generated by the vehicle — the car owner, the car manufacturer, the insurance company, or the authorities? The amount of information increases enormously when cars drive themselves. There are cameras, sensors, radar and ultrasound to position the cars, scan the surroundings and so forth.
But can self-driving cars bring any benefits at all, then?
Yes, if we just let go of the idea that we have to own the vehicle we travel in. Then the number of vehicles on the roads could theoretically, and by means of digitisation, be cut to a tenth of today’s number. And we could still travel comfortably from A to B.
There could be car pools for co-ownership, buses of different sizes, BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) services on main roads, small buses in residential districts, etc.
‘My vision’s that we share the journey — that we don’t own the cars — and that one person, one car becomes a thing of the past.’
Just increasing the average number of people in vehicles on the Essingeleden motorway in Stockholm from 1.2 to 1.8 per vehicle would involve a quantum leap, she maintains.
‘But it’s also about right-sizing. Perhaps we don’t need to own a sports utility vehicle just because we need to pull the boat up on land once a year.’
In rural areas, driverless transport services could be used to convey post, medicines and more to people. But silos in the structure of government agencies would then have to be dismantled.
‘Perhaps home nurses could also deliver ordered pizzas to their older clients.’
This kind of change calls for an upscaled approach and expanded thinking. It includes urban planning, indeed all spatial planning. Here, we need to think in new ways, Pernestål Brenden argues. Letting the market or politicians take the initiative is not good enough. Instead, to make progress the market and policy need to go hand in hand.
She cites a research project in her own lab with the Swenglish title ‘Smart Mobility kräver [requires] Smart Governance’ that is to delve into these questions.
Then we have the question of status. In the 20th century, a car was one of the possessions used to express our identity. A study from the University of Gothenburg School of Business, Economics and Law entitled ‘Honestly, why are you driving a BMW?’ points to the ‘savannah phenomenon’ — that who you are must be visible from a distance, as it is if you drive a BMW or Tesla.
What if we stop owning cars? Here, Pernestål Brenden says that the status symbols will be different. Perhaps we could show that we belong to a particularly fine car pool, or one with a green image.
But public transport, above all, is next in line for self-driving vehicles in the somewhat shorter term. In Kista, Stockholm, for example, self-driving buses are already on the roads.
‘They could boost public transport. Just look at the running costs: 60 per cent of the cost of a bus is the driver. Basically, you get two buses for the price of one. Then they could be twice as frequent. And service frequency is one of the most important factors in public transport
In September, for the first time, an environmental humanities festival will be held in Linköping. The organiser is Mistra’s programme The Seed Box, whose researchers are aiming for their research to have an outreach beyond the groves of academia.read more
Capturing more carbon in vegetation and land is a goal strongly supported by research. It could yield bigger harvests, improve soil structure and boost biological activity, while also slowing the global temperature rise.
How to achieve the raised rate of capture and storage in practice was recently discussed at a seminar held by Mistra EviEM.