Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Yemen's Insoluble Problems

Image: For how long will he stay happy?

In my previous text about Yemen, I wrote about how we in recent years have been able to watch this poor country slowly run out of its only significant export product - oil. While this is bad enough, it is not, unfortunately, the only problem facing Yemen. In this second and final text about Yemen, I describe the cavalcade of problems facing the country besides falling oil production and dwindling oil exports.

If Yemeni oil is running short, what else can a poor, overpopulated country with few natural resources export? Besides oil, the main exports have been agricultural products and cheap manpower to richer neighbors (who send money home, known as "remittance"). Since Yemen’s problems are so numerous and large, this text could be very long. I have tried to keep the length down by listing some additional challenges that Yemen faces in bullets:

- The unemployment rate is between 20 and 40 percent. Despite this, a few thousand refugees from Somalia arrive every month. These refugees now amount to at least 150-200 000 persons and they further increasing competition for jobs, and, presumably, social tension.

- 20 years ago, a relatively large number of tourists visited Yemen. The numbers have declined and fell further when the Al-Qaeda began to attack tourists in 2007. Today, tourism has fallen by at least 90% compared to the peak years. Many of those who now visit the country are Yemenis living abroad traveling home to see their families.

- Yemen has high military expenditures and is fighting against Al-Qaeda in the east, separatists in the south and, especially, (possibly Iranian-backed) rebel clans in the north. The rebels in the north threaten to draw Saudi Arabia into an armed conflict. For Al-Qaeda, Yemen has become an important country (they thrive in collapsing states). For strategic and geopolitical reasons, the United States are also being drawn into Yemen, which may become “the next Afghanistan". 'An impoverished country that is strategically located on one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, Yemen has declared war on Al-Qaeda under pressure from Washington and Saudi Arabia. " In January this year, Obama said "So as president, I've made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government".

- If Yemen advances from being a "failing state" to become a full-fledged "failed state" (they are currently in 18th place on the 'failed state index"), stability in the region will deteriorate further. With increased rebel, pirate and terrorist activities, it may be difficult for oil tankers and container ships to pass through one of the world’s most important sea lanes (with Yemen in the north and the "failed state winner" Somalia in the south) on their way to the Suez. Needless to say, traveling around Africa is a long and costly detour.

- The country has a very high rate of malnutrition - over one third of the population is undernourished (which is comparable to the poorest countries in Africa). Nearly half of the children between two and five years old are undernourished and show signs of stunted growth:

[The boy] is 18 months old and severely undernourished. In an effort to save his life, his parents traveled a long way to the therapeutic feeding centre here in Taez Town, leaving behind another seven children, all under the age of 15. […] The baby […] had hardly eaten in days. He looked miserable, with sunken eyes and a dry mouth. When [he] did not show signs of improvement, his desperate family – facing a huge hospital expense – took him home. “We decided to take him back to where he belongs and trust God for his salvation,” said the boy’s mother.

- In addition to oil, agriculture has been an important part of Yemen’s economy. But deforestation, soil erosion and expanding deserts make it difficult to maintain production. However, the biggest problem is the dry climate and water scarcity which has been "resolved" by (illegal) drilling of new wells to pump up groundwater. Over time, traditional crops which do not need much rain have been replaced by fruits and vegetables requireing irrigation.

- 50 years ago, an estimated 50 000 people lived in the capital Sana’a. To provide today's two million inhabitants with water is an enormous challenge, not least because the city is located 2,000 meters above sea level. Sana’a’s own groundwater is on the decline and is expected to run out completely in a few years. There have been talks about moving the capital as the situation is changing from bad to untenable.

- Did I mention the endemic corruption? The heavy administration? That the current President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been in office for more than 30 years (first in North Yemen and during the last 20 years in the united Yemen)? No? I may come back to that later ... if I get a small gift "under the table".

If you scrape on the surface, you will find many more other problems that could be highlighted. One historical example is how Yemen just two months after unification in 1990 bet on the wrong horse by supporting Iraq in the Gulf War - despite the fact that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia (until then) had provided important financial assistance to the country. As an effect of this gaffe, Saudi Arabia took the opportunity to expel almost one million Yemeni guest workers.

A contemporary example shows how several of the factors above interact. A camp with refugees from the unrest in the north houses 10 000 refugees. They people are poor and the children are undernourished. "Few of the displaced are used to washing regularly because water is scarce in Yemen, and few use toilets, preferring to leave waste in the open." This presents a problem when 10 000 people live close together and there are now fears of outbreaks of cholera in the camp.

In addition to geo-political and humanitarian problems that follow from reduced oil exports, a large and growing population, extreme poverty, internal strife and political instability, there is another major concern - perhaps the greatest of them all – which I would like to shed some light on, namely food and water.

"Yemen's water share per capita is less than 100 cubic meters a year, compared to the water poverty line of 1,000 cubic meters.” World average is 2500 m3 of water per person per year.

There is a shortage of water in large parts of the Middle East, but poverty and lawlessness makes the problem more difficult to address in Yemen than in most other places. Unlike wealthier neighbors, Yemen can not afford to build desalination plants, and tribal flare-ups and civil unrest makes it dangerous for engineers and hydrologists to travel to many parts of the country. Even water purification is difficult in Yemen. Existing facilities are poorly managed and some priests "have declared the reuse of wastewater to be a violation of Islamic principles".

Wells are drying up and the price of water has quadrupled in less than five years. The government is trying to prevent farmers from drilling new wells to the (rapidly receding) underground aquifers, but has little power – especially far away from the capital. It is easy to see a vicious circle with water scarcity and rising violence as its two main components.

A special problem for Yemen in particular is the strong cultural position of the mildly narcotic plant qat (khat). Most Yemeni men (and some women and even children) chew qat daily (some men can chew qat for 5-10 hours or more per day - see the picture above). "By 4 in the afternoon, most men walking the streets of Sana'a are high, or about to get high." Since qat reduces appetite, it contributes to malnutrition. In 2007, the World Bank noted that

"Qat […] drains the family budget; has adverse health effects; negatively affects work performance and thus contributes to poverty. Weaning consumers from the qat habit will be difficult, because its production accounts for some 6 percent of GDP and 14 percent of total employment. Qat consumption requires around 10 percent of the household budget of all income groups, which comes at the expense of basic food, education and health."

I have seen other (official) reports that almost half (!) of the money in some households is spent on buying qat. In addition, qat is a very thirsty plant that grows better when it gets more water. Different data indicate that between one quarter and one half (!) of all the water in this dry and thirsty country is used for growing qat. The output of qat has been growing every year, not the least because it is an easy plant to grow and because farmers earn much more by growing qat than by growing food. According to some reports, qat cultivation has increased 10-fold between 1970 and 2000 and has continued to grow explosively during the last 10 years. Like so many other things, qat cultivation is interconnected with other problems in a seemingly insoluble cluster:

"Despite the danger, Yemen isn't about to go cold turkey anytime soon. Not only are most of the country's leaders landowners deeply involved in khat production, the leaf may be one of the few things still holding Yemen together. [...] "Khat plays a big role in keeping people calm, and keeping them off the streets. But it's also delaying change. It's hard to convince people to act now."

It is hard to finish these two texts about Yemen with a "happy chapter" about how everything, despite all the problems, will be fine in the end for the 25 million people living in the country today (or the 60 million who are "estimated" to live there in 2050 - how that could ever happen). The best I can think of is to point out that Yemen, as far as I know, has not been affected by AIDS – in contrast to many poor countries in Africa...

But even without AIDS, Yemen is a dry, overpopulated, poor and violent country that lives on borrowed time. It is difficult to see how even very generous loans and assistance could keep an increasing societal disintegration at bay even during the next few years. Likely effects of a societal disintegration are migration, famine, growing lawlessness and more. We can expect to read more about Yemen in the newspapers in the near future (just as there are reports today about trouble in and around Somalia). A foretaste of what’s to come was given on Christmas Day, when the "underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to blow up an American passenger plane put the perpetrator’s Yemeni Al-Qaeda training in the spotlight.

Here is a recent text that does not really add much to my two texts about Yemen, but that still supports these texts by describing the interconnected problems of water, violence, qat, al-Qaeda and the fact that the Yemeni capital Sana’a may become a ghost town within a decade or two. "Yemeni water trader Mohammed al-Tawwa runs his diesel pumps day and night, but gets less and less from his well in Sana’a, which experts say could become the world's first capital city to run dry".

Monday, March 22, 2010

Yemen's Big Concern

Almost a year ago I wrote a text [in Swedish] about Mexico's problems with oil production dropping dramatically. The past summer, BP Statistical Review of World Energy was published for the 58th time, and Mexico was the country whose oil production decreased the most in absolute numbers during 2008. The decrease, compared to the previous year, was more than 300 000 barrels of oil per day. That is more than 9% of Mexico's entire production, but only slightly more than 0.3% of global oil production. However, I placed the text about Mexico in a larger context; which countries are more, and which countries are less vulnerable to the changes that peak oil will bring?

Here I choose to continue with that theme - "countries that will have a hard time after peak oil" - and look closer at the Arabian Peninsula. The Arabian Peninsula is dominated by Saudi Arabia, and there has been some "fuss" about Dubai fairly recently, but here I focus on Saudi Arabia's smaller and much poorer neighbor to the south, Yemen. Where both Saudi Arabia and Yemen are facing similar challenges (large populations in relation to food production and availability of water), the countries have significantly different abilities to deal with these challenges since Saudi Arabia is a very rich country whereas Yemen is very poor. But first a little detour.

Before a trip to Morocco 10 years ago I read a travelogue about "Arabia". The book, "Arabia Felix: The Danish Expedition of 1761-67", was about a scientific expedition to Yemen, where a disciple of the Swedish botanist Linnaeus, the talented Peter Forsskål, participated. The expedition started in 1761, and two and a half years later Forsskål died of malaria in the city of Jerim. Conditions on the expedition were tough to say the least, and only one of five expedition members returned to Europe six years after the expedition started. My memories of the book are now somewhat vague, but I remember that the image of "Yemen" (southern Arabian Peninsula) was not very attractive. Sparsely populated, very poor already then and with an unbearable climate:

"The climate is very hot and humid along the coast, temperate in the western mountain region with monsoon rains, extremely hot and dry desert climate in the interior of the country. There are significant differences in temperature, particularly between day and night. In the summer, daytime temperatures may reach 40 degrees [Celsius], in the winter the temperature at night may reach below freezing."

When South Yemen and North Yemen were unified and became Yemen in 1990, the new country was one of the poorest in the world, and it is still the poorest of all countries in the Arab world (GDP per capita is below U.S. $1,000/year). Approximately 40% of the population lives on less than $2 per day. Only 50% of the women are literate. The society is strongly patriarchal with polygamy and a high rate of infant mortality.

Demographic trends in this barren and resource-poor country, despite, or perhaps because of poverty and patriarchal traditions, have been explosive; in just 50 years the population has quadrupled! The average family size is seven people and two-thirds of the population is under 24 years of age. On a surface that is only slightly larger than Sweden, but considerably less hospitable, almost 25 million people live. Since the birth rate even today is the fourth largest in the world, population is expected to rise to 40 million by 2030 and 60 million by 2050. I am skeptical that this will actually happen, because Yemen has Very Big Concerns.

Yemen is not a very well known country, and since some Arab countries have huge oil reserves and others do not, it might not be easy to place a country on the world oil map. Yemen is a country that has oil, albeit in small quantities. And the oil reserves are shrinking rapidly. If Mexico was the country whose oil production fell the most in absolute terms in 2008, Yemen was the country whose production decreased the most in relative terms - the oil production fell by a whopping 11.6%.

It is difficult to know how to illustrate a country's oil production, but in an attempt to understand the figures one could compare Yemen with the fellow oil producing countries Denmark and Norway. All three countries reached their peak oil production in the first half of the previous decade (2001-2004). At its peak,Yemen's produced 457 000 barrels of oil per day (165 million barrels in 2002). That is almost 20% more than Denmark's maximum oil production (in 2004) and 1/8 of Norway's maximum oil production (in 2001). According to BP's figures for 2008, oil production in all three countries has since have decreased by between 26% (Denmark) and 33% (Yemen).

Mexico has "only" reduced its oil production by 17% since its peak in 2004, and Yemen also beats Mexico hands down in another respect. Whereas oil revenues account for 40% of the Mexican state budget, they account for more than 70% of Yemen's national budget! Moreover, oil accounts for almost 90% of the value of Yemen’s exports and as much as 30% of Yemen's total GDP. The figures for the entire year of 2009 are not yet ready, but the figures for the first 10 months of the year look disastrous. It was a bit difficult for me to get all the figures together, but some detective work from various sources yielded the following:

In 2002,Yemen’s oil production peaked at more than 450 000 barrels of oil per day. A few years later, in 2006, Yemen produced almost 390 000 barrels of oil per day (140 million barrels annually). Of this oil, 55 million barrels (40% of the production) were used by Yemen itself, and the rest – 85 million barrels – was exported.

Two years later, in 2008, Yemen produced only 305 000 barrels of oil per day (110 million barrels annually), and during the first 10 months of the year almost 40 million barrels were exported. If we assume that the country managed to export 50 million barrels in total throughout the year (which is doubtful, since oil production was declining), domestic consumption has risen from 55 million barrels to 60 million barrels (55% of the production) in two years. This is in line with figures indicating that domestic consumption rose by another 2.5 million barrels from 2008 to 2009.

This trend illustrates well the so-called "Export Land Model". The model states that exports from an oil-producing country may drop very quickly if the country chooses to increase (or maintain) its domestic consumption while production falls. And the domestic oil consumption actually has increased in Yemen. According to some data (from a good analysis which largely overlap with this text), domestic (subsidized) oil consumption increased by as much as 50% from 2001 to 2009, that is, during the same period that oil production declined by more than 30%. Consequently, from 2001 to 2009, oil exports declined by more than 50%!

The figures from the first 10 months of 2009 indicate that Yemen only managed to export slightly less than 25 million barrels (which implies at the most 30 million barrels for the whole year). Thus it looks like the domestic oil consumption during a period of four years from 2006 to 2009 has risen each year, while oil exports - the country’s largest, total dominant and almost only source of income – has fallen by a shocking two-thirds during that same period of only a few short years (from 85 to almost 30 million barrels). The trend is clear – oil exports have fallen by around 20 million barrels per year during the last three years and if nothing drastic happens, Yemen already would, at some point during 2011, have to import oil to meet domestic needs. But with what money?

In addition to the domestic oil consumption "stealing" oil which could be exported for much-needed revenue, the government spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to subsidize the domestic (increasing) energy consumption. Already in 2005, various subsidies were the single largest item in the state budget, and subsidies of fuel amounted to nearly 25% of total government expenditure. Despite demands from the World Bank, Yemen has failed to reduce its subsidies on oil and electricity (all electricity in Yemen is generated by oil-fueled power plants). When the government actually tried to reduce these subsidies in 2005, the result was riots. Because of the failure, the World Bank reduced its contributions to Yemen by a third.

From 2008 to 2009, in addition to a dramatic reduction in oil exports by one third, the average price of oil dropped from 107 to 60 dollars/barrel. This resulted in a decline in oil export revenues from more than 4 billion U.S. dollars to less than 1.5 billion U.S. dollars for the first 10 months of the year (an amazing decrease of two thirds from one year to the next!). Yemen’s oil production is projected to continue to decrease every year and may be a closed chapter within 10 years. Previous years' upward trend in oil prices did until 2009 mask Yemen’s problem of declining production and declining exports, but now the problems appear terrifyingly clear.

It is appropriate to point out that Yemen has recently started to export liquefied natural gas (LNG), "Production of LNG began in October 2009. The Yemeni government expects the LNG project to add U.S. $ 350 million to its budget." That this would fully compensate for the decline in oil production is, however, an impossibility; "Yemen has done little planning for a post-petroleum economy, and most analysts doubt state expectations that natural gas will be able to fill the void left by oil."

This text will be followed by a second and final text about Yemen’s problems (yes, Yemen has many more problems than "only" that the dwindling oil production). Already after this text one may conclude that Yemen is smoldering – and it gets worse...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"The last days of economic growth" by Forsberg (2007)

In the preface to "The last days of economic growth: Green clash over worldviews" (2007), Björn Forsberg describes how the book emerged from thoughts and ideas that did not fit his Ph.d. thesis in political science. The whole book, but especially the first few chapters, are written without any trace of mercy as Forsberg pummels his ideological opponent. Even if the environmental and climate challenges are central to the book, Forsberg’s furious accusations are primarily addressed at the "root of evil" – a society based on the idea of endless economic growth. This book is the fourth book I write about in this blog and it so happens to be the first book that is written in (and only accessible in) Swedish. It is probably pretty safe for me to state that this is the only place where you can learn anything about this book unless you happen to know Swedish.

Forsberg is very aware of peak oil, and behind his criticism of the growth cult there stands a man with an eye on the global and national energy situation, and with full knowledge of the fact that we will move towards more and more expensive energy in the coming decades. I happen to agree with Forsberg about much of what he writes, and when I read the book it felt like he had managed to beautifully formulate what I myself - with peak oil as a starting point - tentatively had begun to write about elsewhere. Therefore, this text will basically be an abstract of Forsberg’s book, even though I basically only treat selected parts of the book.

The cover photo (above) shows a picture of Las Vegas, an impossible city that may also serve as a metaphor for an impossible society and an unsustainable civilization. Las Vegas shines, flashes, beeps and sounds 24/7. A completely artificial environment where nifty watchmakers have even managed to "stop time" in order to entice guests to stay and gamble some more. And no one is cheated as all actors willingly play their roles on the Las Vegas scene while at the same time, this city in the middle of the desert, is a fragile colossus on clay feet, a city that could not exist without enormous subsidies of energy, food and water.

According to the prevalent green rhetoric, there is today consensus about the environmental objectives of [Swedish] society – because “we all want what is good for the environment". In addition and according to the same "narrative", we don't any longer only think the environment is important, but actually prioritize the environment in our actions.

Forsberg rejects these two "truths" utterly and completely, and his whole book treats the fundamental conflict between the environment and the (growth-based) economy. Forsberg assumes that economic growth necessarily ("demonstrably") means increased pressure on ecosystem resources, and argues convincingly that economic growth is always given priority when it comes in conflict with concerns about the environment. New technologies with significant economic potential, such as genetically modified crops or 3G phone networks always take precedence over the principle of precaution and over considerations about possible adverse health effects. Forsberg illustrates the problem with an example that is so obvious that it does not really merit any further comments:

"During only five years, from 2001 to 2006, the amount of electronic waste in Sweden tripled. [...] According to business professionals, part of the explanation is the sales boom for flat-screen television sets [...] and the trend towards an ever-shorter life span of consumer electronics products, white goods and other household technologies. That spells bad news for the environment, but, as we all know, it also means growth."

The conflict between the environment and the economy, and the systematic subordination of the environment vis-à-vis growth, leads to a situation where measures to improve the environment are possible and acceptable only if all of the following conditions are fulfilled:

1) Measures are not perceived as troublesome, as something that requires sacrifices.
2) Measures are not financially burdensome.
3) Measures do not threaten economic growth.

These conditions alone make many actions impossible, including the most effective ones, like reduced consumption of energy, transportation and goods. The basic problem is simply that it is impossible in our growth based society to cope with, or win legitimacy for measures that threaten economic growth. The measures a growth based society can cope with, and which today's environmental policies focuses on, instead meet one of the following four criteria:

- The measure is beyond the economy's vital interests and are not associated with any major expenses. Thus it is acceptable to protect remote and inaccessible nature reserves with low economic potential (note: the protection status of a nature reserve may be reviewed at the same moment it is discovered that the area contains some exploitable, economically valuable resource).

- The measure has a relatively marginal cost. It is possible to prohibit specific, particularly hazardous chemicals (DDT, PCBs, CFCs, etc.), since such regulations are limited to few products and the negative economic impact is only borne by a small number of firms and industries (note: serious efforts to try to limit CO2 or other greenhouse gas emissions would affect many sectors and companies negatively and the costs are thus perceived as too high).

- The measure is obviously necessary to protect long-term economic interests. The introduction of fishing quotas in order to prevent fish stocks from collapsing is an example of this (note: the fishing industry is routinely protesting loudly about such limitations).

- The measure creates a lot of goodwill and economic growth. If an environmental protection measure has the potential to become an engine of growth for the environmental technology industry (so-called "cleantech" or "greentech"), and lead to increased export incomes, an irresistible "win-win" situation may occur (note: if an environment protection measure does not imply opportunities for (future) economic gains, or even restricts the industries' profit opportunities, it is relegated to the dunce’s corner).

In the rare cases where a (relatively radical) proposal for regulation (finally) is presented, powerful forces are immediately mobilized and will - with mechanical precision - claim that competition will be distorted, that the Swedish industry will risk collapsing, that the government should not interfere with the free market, and so on.

Forsberg's conclusion is that environmental issues nowadays have a prominent position in speeches, in policy statements and in political moves - but that this only gives the appearance of action, since the political will to actually back up these fancy words does not exist. What we have in abundance is an important but rarely noticed difference between what is said and what is actually done.

What is actually done is to commission a steady stream of environmental inquiries whose findings, conclusions and recommendations are then scrupulously ignored. Inquiries and investigations pile up and their ample existence as measured by the number of pages written provide an alibi and a semblance of national mobilization for the environment. Forsberg himself has participated in several such inquiries and questions the usefulness of his contributions to "the mountain of infrequently read and negligibly influential reports which are the harsh reality of environmental commissions".

Responsibility for this pitiful situation does not all fall on the shoulders of our politicians. On the contrary, no one is without blame, and apparently it is perfectly fine for me as an individual to demand “solutions” from politicians while at the same time refusing to accept environmental reforms which will have any direct consequences for me and my lifestyle! In summary, there is a "barrier of individual comfort, powerful special interests, economic short-sightedness and other layers of resistance that prevents a transformation of society."

Another blameworthy actor is the mainstream media. The supposedly serious morning papers have difficulties rising above their daily time horizon. The built-in dramaturgy of news media simply does not allow for long-term monitoring of complex issues. Sudden crises and disasters (like a couple of recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile) are better at driving sales, and thus get a higher coverage. Current events spread across multiple pages, while decisive trends are dealt with in short paragraphs near the bottom of the reader's attention span.

As readers we are lulled into a feeling that everything is (more or less) in order. Accidents certainly happen on a regular basis (usually at a comfortable distance), but we do not have to be confronted with stories that compel us to reconsider our way of living here and now. I propose that 9/11 and Katrina created such a trauma for Americans precisely because it was, for the American public, something that happened to "us" instead of (only) to "them". Forsberg gives an example of media's miserable coverage of important issues in the context of a two-day seminar in 2006 about how Sweden could cope with a future without oil:

"A participating economy reporter from the TV channel 4 honestly explained that the subject of our seminar was too ‘long- term’ for the evening economy news. The workshop could only become a news story for TV if we could also comment on short-term winners and losers of the increase in oil prices that happened to take place the previous day. The issue of long-term consequences of increased scarcity of oil [...] on the other hand, was not perceived as an economically relevant issue in the editors evaluation of economic news."

Forsberg’s conclusion is that (commercial) media only conveys messages that do not come into conflict with the current economic system and with powerful economic interests (advertisers). Maybe the editors of the evening newspaper do not even notice the contradiction between asking what politicians are doing about climate change and, on the same spread, encouraging readers to fly to Rome for 200 Swedish Crowns (less than 30 USD). Forsberg states that if a newspaper claims to take the climate issue seriously, while at the same time encouraging readers to fly on weekend trips or participate in "petrol revolts" (tame Swedish protests against the petrol taxes - usually involving nothing more than signing your, or a fake, name to a list - no Tea Party protests hereabouts) - then the newspaper is not a credible actor and it is a part of the problem rather than the solution.

Furthermore, society is permeated by a newspeak which tends to lead us astray, reduce the problems and mentally bind us to an ecologically destructive social order:

- A detergent is marketed as environmentally friendly, when it in reality is actually only less environmentally unfriendly. If the detergent was really environmentally friendly, then it ought to improve the environment, so that we would like to pour as much of it as possible into the Baltic Sea (compare this jargon with the term "green car").

- When people talk about "accessibility" in relations to traffic, what they actually mean is accessibility for cars. The car is implicitly, but at the same time exceedingly clearly, the very model for how we "should" move around in society. Accessibility for cyclists or pedestrians is a subject that is most often ignored, and cyclists are by default treated as obstacles for (the cars’) mobility.

- Glass, newspapers and materials that can be composted are described as "garbage" or "waste" rather than "resources".

- In the midst of the Swedish election campaign in 2006, one of the biggest Swedish newspapers proclaimed that "The Green party harbors most eco-villains". The explanation behind this blown-up claim was that Green party voters on the average owned old cars than voters for other political parties. Being environmentally friendly was thus unproblematically defined as "owning a new car". But it is not unlikely that Green party sympathisers to a greater extent than others do not own a car at all (overlooked perspective). Nor is it unlikely that cars often play a smaller role in the lives of Green party voters’, making the voters drive less and therefore on average have older cars (overlooked perspective). Moreover, it is obviously better for the environment to lovingly maintain and use a car as long as possible before buying a new one (overlooked perspective). The claim could (should) just as well have been "Green party has the most eco-heroes".

- When fundamentally psychopathic companies locate their operations to countries that offer the best conditions (that is, countries that have the lowest social and environmental requirements), it is considered perfectly normal and a sign of "sound business strategies". On characteristics of psychopaths (equally applicable to companies?):

Psychopaths [...] do not experience shame, guilt, or remorse for their action. Psychopaths lack a sense of guilt or remorse for any harm they may have caused others, instead rationalizing the behavior [...] Psychopaths also lack empathy towards others in general [...] Psychopaths also have a markedly distorted sense of the potential consequences of their actions"

The framework for public debate and for our very thinking is formed in these and similar manners. To talk about limits to growth is regarded as character traits of a narrow-minded, fundamentalistic, reactionary person. Anyone who persists is dismissed and not allowed to participate in the "serious" public debate. Furthermore, he/she runs the risk of being labeled "eco-religious" or of being an "environmental Taliban". But, Forsberg asks, when was the last time you experienced an economist, business leader or growth-oriented politicians being called "growth religious" or a "growth fundamentalist"?

Gold Medal in newspeak, however, is awarded to the astroturfing company-funded networks and organizations that are responsible for promoting a growth agenda and obstructing and keeping the environmental issues away from public debate - but that gives the impression of working for the environment with names like "Information Council on the Environment" and "The Climate Coalition.” The former was funded by, among others, the National Coal Association, and in the list of members of the latter organization, you could find some of the world's largest oil companies (Exxon, Shell, Texaco, BP) and car manufacturers (Ford, GM, DaimlerChrysler). Forsberg quotes author Andrew Rowell:

"Since its inception in 1983, the Citizens for Sensible Control of Acid Rain has spent over $7.5 million attempting to defeat acid rain legislation, without a sensible citizen in sight, just some large electricity companies."

Forsberg's book addresses many other issues, such as the problems (the growth-oriented thinking) of the green movement and of the Left, the problems with a debate climate shaped by Right-wing growth worshiping think tanks and "lomborgians" (after the discredited Danish environmental skeptic Bjørn Lomborg), the problem of "ecomodernism" (the popular and politically viable idea that sustainable development and economic development go hand in hand and that environmental problems may be viewed as the next economic growth engine), the personal problems trying to decrease your environmental footprint in a society that is configured for a high-and-increasing level of consumption, and, the problems for a researcher to obtain funding for research that is non-growth-oriented or even critical of economic growth (for example relating to peak oil).

Forsberg’s thoughts and suggestions for possible solutions are mainly about localization (the opposite of globalization). Forsberg advocates "an economy guided by proximity and transparency", which is nurtured by positive social visions of a sustainable society. It is not possible to do justice to these ideas in a few short sentences and it is a pity the book has not been translated into English!

My only complaint is that the book sometimes feels slightly "messy". The sources to some of what I have written about above (media, newspeak) are found in at least two or perhaps three different places in the book. A text that has grown organically during a period of five years would have benefited from more help from an editor with a firm hand and an eye towards making the text better structured. Beyond that complaint I advice anyone (the few of you read this text and who can also read Swedish) to buy the book and read it for yourselves.