Published 2020-02-19

This post is also available in Swedish

Lively discussions on fossil-free rural life

For Sweden to achieve its climate targets, fossil fuels must be phased out. This is a tough challenge to rural inhabitants. But solutions have been proposed, and collected in a Mistra project from people who are personally affected.

In the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament), there is a large majority for making the country’s vehicle fleet fossil-free by 2030. However, this is easier said than done. In particular, people in rural areas have expressed concern that their everyday lives will no longer be practicable. Protests, especially against ideas about raising fuel prices, have therefore been common on social media.

The grassroots ‘Petrol Revolt’ counter-movement (Bensinupproret 3.0) has received less attention. A Facebook group, it both sees the need for a transition to fossil-free travel and actively discusses how to reach this goal, without turning a blind eye to existing challenges.

Examples of questions discussed by this movement are:

  • What conflicts and opportunities exist for the work to achieve Sweden’s climate goals?
  • What are the challenges facing rural areas?
  • What kinds of solutions are available?
  • Are existing policy instruments sufficient for these solutions?

Elisabeth Ekener, a researcher in social sustainability at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, found the Facebook page and started following the discussion.

‘At first, I was struck by how those who were active there were really looking for solutions, and how the general tone of the discussion was so constructive. Then I realised that this is a group of people who otherwise have no voice in the public debate.’

One person in the Facebook group suggested that all the proposals should be collected in a database. Ekener became interested and thought she and other researchers in the area could support the group, using the knowledge they possess.

‘So I contacted Mistra and asked whether they were able to support a project that’s a bit quicker on the uptake than their usual programmes. They’d had similar thoughts, so I got support through Mistra Dialogue. I then ran the project in close collaboration with Mistra SAMS, a multi-year project on mobility solutions hosted by KTH Royal Institute of Technology.’

The project has resulted in a report that presents a number of concrete proposals. However, it is not one-sided: obstacles to realising these ideas have been presented just as clearly. How, for example, can a car pool work for someone like me, with irregular working hours? And when my child and I travel in other people’s cars, should I take our own child seat with us?

Nonetheless, the clearest message in the report is that those who participated in the discussions about future travel so unequivocally indicated their willingness to solve existing problems, while expressing the need for support to realise their ideas.

In early February, the report was presented during a seminar in Härnösand. In a panel discussion, the proposals were aired further.

‘It struck me that many rural municipalities have these questions high on their agendas, and that they’re doing more than I’d expected. Perhaps it’s also because of the media representation of politicians as doing nothing, which is a shame,’ Ekener says.

Over the years, many municipalities have accumulated a great deal of knowledge. But their experience is not always disseminated to others. This is why Ekener now wants to go ahead and hold more seminars, with the aim of reaching not only rural residents and politicians, but also city dwellers and national politicians.

Report on sustainable travel in the countryside (in Swedish).

Video of The Petrol Revolt (Bensinupproret 3.0) on Facebook (in Swedish).

Text: Per Westergård