Royal Colloquium, day 3


The Royal Colloquium continued on Wednesday 22 May at Abisko Scientific Research Station.

The King began by thanking everyone for the previous day and welcoming the participants, particularly Kristina Zakrisson, who is the Chair of the Municipal Executive Board of Kiruna and who joined the Royal Colloquium on the third day. The King then shared his thoughts on the discussion topics of the previous day and about how he regards the Royal Colloquium as a meeting place for all the organisations represented by the participants. The King urged all the researchers to network and create new contacts, not just for themselves but also for their organisations.
Wolfgang Lutz and the presentation about human population growth. Photo:

Wolfgang Lutz and the presentation about human population growth. Photo:

The Geography of Knowledge – Human settlements, Migration

Following this, Wolfgang Lutz, Susan Martin, Göran Cars and Kristina Zakrisson gave a presentation entitled The Geography of Knowledge ­ Human settlements, Migration. Wolfgang Lutz began by providing an overview of human population growth from the year 1000 up to the present day. During the 1900s, technical and medical developments caused a dramatic increase in the population. In his research he has since linked the data with different variables such as economic growth and education to see whether resistance increases with environmental changes, and identified a link between education and increased life expectancy, even during environmental changes.

Susan Martin. Photo:

Susan Martin. Photo:

Susan Martin then took the stand and talked about migration and environmental changes. It is primarily via drought, raised water levels, increased frequency of natural disasters such as tornados, and conflicts over natural resources that environmental changes bring about migration. The first two factors cause migration in the short term, while the latter two cause migration in a longer-term perspective. Migration and environmental impact is an area of the research that has not yet been covered; this is largely due to the fact that migration often happens within states and there is no overall organisation for migration resulting from environmental issues. What is currently happening is that entire states are at risk of disappearing, and the issue of migration due to environmental problems needs to be become a matter for the global community, rather than individual states.
Kristina Zakrisson talks about moving Kiruna. Photo:

Kristina Zakrisson talks about moving Kiruna. Photo:

Following the talk, Göran Cars and Kristina Zakrisson took over and talked about the redevelopment of Kiruna External link.. It is a project that is globally unique, the idea of moving an entire city rather than tearing it down and building a new one. What is happening now is that several cities from all over the world are coming to Kiruna to learn from the city about how the move is being carried out. Göran began by talking about Hjalmar Lundbohm External link., who was LKAB's first managing director in Kiruna and is regarded as the city's founder, and the ideals he had when the city was established. When the mine was built it was an open mine, and in 1960 it became an underground mine, which in the long term created the unstable ground that is forcing the city to move, a move that will start next year. How do you take the best from a city and what do you recreate with the knowledge you have today?  The first phase will be initiated next year and the first new districts will be ready 2015-2017. The work will be based on the new Kiruna centrum, which will house the city hall, hotels, homes and businesses.  Political unity was also mentioned as a key factor in the successful implementation of the project.

Dirk Helbing, why did you agree to take part in the Royal Colloquium?
"I'm interested in the environmental issues and also curious about the other participants. I am a strong believer in dialogue between different research fields and it is important to step outside your own area to gain inspiration and new ideas."

And have you gained some new ideas?
"I've learned a great deal so far and I'm looking forward to the afternoon. There are some intensive discussions and a lot of commitment to the issues. The questions we discuss are matters that will be the focus of the entire 21st century. New solutions are essential for new problems."

Protecting the future – threats and possibilities

The next session began following a discussion and a brief pause. Ian Goldin and Björn Olsen each gave a talk entitled "Protecting the future - threats and possibilities".

Ian Goldin began by talking about complexity, research and how to predict events that seem obvious with hindsight. Why did no one predict the Lehman Brothers crash when all the signs were there?

Björn Olsen took over and talked about the emergence of pandemics. The first pandemics occurred 12,000 years ago, when humans began to work the land and the first settlements were established. From a disease point of view, seven billion people create the perfect environment, a massive monoculture that is now moving rapidly all around the world. From a global perspective, we are living in closer proximity both to one another and with pets and farm animals, and diseases spread when animal and human come in contact. H7N9 was highlighted as an example of a new influenza virus that is currently spreading. Björn also took up the issue of antibiotic resistance and how this affects our ability to fight off infections. The greatest danger is the use of antibiotics in the agricultural industry, both in fish farming and in relation to the production of chicken meat and pork. The inability to break down antibiotic residues and in sewer systems and overuse of antibiotics in hospitals are also reasons why antibiotic resistance is increasing around the world right now.

Björn Olsen during his presentation. Photo:

Björn Olsen during his presentation. Photo:

After lunch, Paul A. Cox and Jerry Glover continued on the theme of Protecting the future.
Paul A. Cox began by talking about Carl von Linné External link. and his work with documenting the stories of the Sami people. Paul's talk was about indigenous peoples and something he refers to as 'indigenous knowledge'. One example is the way that houses on the Danish island of Läsö have sod roof External link.s. The sod roofs are watertight, sustainable for up to 400 years, are made solely of natural materials and help keep carbon dioxide emissions down. Indigenous knowledge is often traded and rarely documented. How can we gather this knowledge today and learn from the skills of previous generations to create a more sustainable society?

Paul A. Cox concludes with a quote from Mark Twain "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme". Photo:

Paul A. Cox concludes with a quote from Mark Twain "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme". Photo:

Jerry Glover then spoke about the challenges facing agriculture. Almost 40% of all ice-free land is now farmland, with wheat, maize and rice accounting for 60% of all crops that are cultivated. The roots of these three crops do not go deep and therefore do not hold the soil together. This causes erosion, which in turn results in more landslides and flooding. Major changes have started happening over the past ten years; an increasing number of perennial crops are being sown, which means the roots are not only binding the soil but also absorbing carbon dioxide. Jerry brought a type of wheat with him that clearly showed the length of the roots.
Jerry Glover, assisted by Anders Karlqvist, demonstrates the length of wheat roots. Photo:

Jerry Glover, assisted by Anders Karlqvist, demonstrates the length of wheat roots. Photo:

Jerry then spoke about the agriculturist Rhoda Mang'yana External link., who grows maize in Malawi. After she integrated perennial plants into her farming, harvests when up, which means that she now has the opportunity to invest in sheep and pigs, which provide fertiliser, thus boosting harvests further.
Susan Martin, what were your expectations of the Royal Colloquium?
"It's the first time I've attended. When Anders Karlqvist called I was attracted by the chance to be a part of something that brought together several different kinds of researchers, from both environmental and political science."

And now that you're here, does it meet your expectations?
"It's as exciting as I hoped it would be; that latest presentation by Jerry about agriculture was extremely interesting and wasn't something I had heard spoken about before. But I can see how it may affect my field of research, which is migration. In the same way, I think that what I spoke about this morning was new to some; I hope so, and I hope that it gives them new angles with which to approach their work."

Human ingenuity - Knowledge, trust and action

The next session began following a brief pause. Bo Rothstein, from the Quality of Government Institute External link. at the University of Gothenburg, began with a talk on trust in society and how it is based on the idea that "this is how everyone else does it". Bo continued by going through measurements and surveys that are linked to trust and community in various ways.

Following this, Garry Brewer initiated a discussion on how knowledge of research in general and environmental research in particular reaches the public. He quoted George Orwell External link.: "People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes".

After an extended discussion based on the last two speakers, Susan Owens began by talking about development, growth and the environment based on the concept of sustainable development, offering both a historical and a philosophical perspective on the concept.

Finally, John Hyman drew things to a conclusion with a comment on the value of knowledge that stems from the Bible, and the account of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden External link., which then went on to Plato's External link. Meno External link..

John Hyman, you are philosopher here among the other researchers. Were you surprised to be invited?
"Yes, I was a little surprised at first - my knowledge of environmental issues extends to what I read in the papers like everyone else. But then I understood that the idea behind the Royal Colloquium is to bring together different thinkers and I think my contribution is from ideas related to knowledge versus actions. How can we apply knowledge in practice? I hope to provide an answer to that today." 

Knowing to doing

The final discussion for the day was a talk between all participants based on the title "Knowing to Doing". When we have all the knowledge, how will it help create sustainable change and make society better for everyone?