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The metaphor of ocean “health” is problematic

Susanna Lidström (researcher at KTH), Tirza Meyer (postdoc at KTH) and former division’s PhD-colleague Jesse Peterson (now postdoc at Sveriges Lantbruksuniversitet) have published an exciting opinion piece about our approach towards the ocean in the context of climate change and increased pollution. The authors argue that the health metaphor would be problematic in regard to describing the state of oceans.

In the following you can read their introduction. If you are interested in working through the original article, visit Frontiers in Marine Science – Global Change and the Future Ocean from 15 February 2022 by clicking on the link!

Fische, Meer, Graffiti, Streetart, Mauer, Wandkunst

Introduction of the article:

The state of the ocean is increasingly described in terms of ocean “health.” The Implementation Plan for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development describes the aim of the decade as achieving “a sustainable and healthy ocean” and refers to the ocean’s “health” throughout, including references to an overall “decline in ocean health” [Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), 2020], p. i, 6. Likewise, Sustainable Development Goal no. 14 aims “to achieve healthy and productive oceans” and “to improve ocean health” [United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), 2015, p. 23, 24]. In addition, scientific studies from all disciplines routinely use the same metaphor, including statements such as “the many benefits that society receives from a healthy ocean” (Duarte et al., 2020, p. 39), “the health of marine ecosystems” (Hagood, 2013, p. 75), and the “importance of ocean health” (Borja et al., 2020, p. 1).

However, we argue that the health metaphor (Suter, 1993; Jamieson, 1995) continues to be imprecise, ambiguous, and problematic. We suggest that the idea of ocean “health” misrepresents the Earth’s history of ever-changing and adapting ecosystems through time, wrongly suggests that ocean health is an apolitical and objective state and obscures how conditions in the ocean are irreversibly intertwined with human activities.

Sonne, Strand, Müll, Plastik, Natur, Meer, Ozean




Critiques and Practices of Sustainability – Spring Course for Doctoral Students and Postdoctors

Critiques and Practices of Sustainability:
Environmental Humanities Perspectives on Chilean and Swedish Ecocultures of Water, Land, and Air is 7,5 credit course, established by Division postdoc Nuno Marques, among others. Facing global contemporary environmental challenges and the need to imagine sustainable ways of relating to the environment (outlined by the SDGs), this course analyzes forms of connection with the environment elaborated in ecopoetry, ecofiction and ecocinema from Chile and Sweden. This course will address critiques and practices of sustainability from an environmental humanities perspective combining ecocriticism, cultural studies, sustainability studies, and decolonial theories and practices.

Learning outcomes:

  • identify, understand, and critically and creatively apply concepts such as sustainability, environmental justice, slow violence, sacrifice zones, ecocriticism, environmental humanities, deep time.
  • assess how cultural products and expressions (visual and literary) from Chile and Sweden relate to global environmental concerns, propose situated forms of connection to the biosphere, and how they intervene in environmental discourses.

Practical information

The course entails 5 weeks of synchronous and asynchronous work through Zoom and Canvas. It comprises 5 units: a theoretical and methodological introduction; three thematic blocks dealing with life below water, life on land, and life on air, through the lens of sustainability in cultural productions from Chile and Sweden mainly from the twentieth century to contemporary works in 2021; and a concluding interdisciplinary colloquium with invited discussants.

Read more about the course and how to apply on the course page: Critiques and Practices of Sustainability

The Ocean’s ‘Digital Twin’? Marine Environmental Data Through Time

Sabine Höhler, Susanna Lidström and Tirza Meyer from the Mediated Planet project at the Division will present in the WASP-HS seminar series #frAIday, organized by Umeå University. In their presentation they aim to sketch the history of opening the ‘black box’ of the ocean.

Seminar poster.

The Ocean’s ‘Digital Twin’? Marine Environmental Data Through Time

Sabine Höhler, Susanna Lidström, and Tirza Meyer

Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm

Much hope is tied to the creation of a digital twin of the ocean based on an ever more extensive body of ocean data. Representing the ocean in the digital space is a way of analyzing and modeling the ocean in a ‘laboratory’ setting. Studying the ocean stripped from its natural complexity, so the idea, can better inform and instruct humans on how to interact with the ocean environment. Our twentieth century understanding of the ocean as a central ecosystem in the planetary environment would not have been possible without long-term information gathering. However, also ocean data generation is a messy and contested process. Its history is even more important to study since we ‘know’ the ocean mostly in mediated ways. We observe the ocean almost exclusively through scientific instruments, and we formulate ocean policies, legislation, and development goals based on data and increasingly on digital information. That this data has a history makes the past, present, and future of the digital ocean not just a scientific but a political issue.

Our presentation aims to sketch the history of opening the ‘black box’ of the ocean. We use examples of the Challenger expedition in the 1870s, of satellite oceanography in the 1990s, and of present-day autonomous ocean sensor systems. We ask how the specific tools and the information they generated mobilized different understandings of the ocean as resource and territory, as climate moderator and as carbon sink. Dredges, satellites and deep-ocean floats created new ocean knowledges, politics, and also new ontologies. No matter how inclusive, refined, and versatile the databases are, so our argument, the digital ocean will not be a simple 1:1 representation or “twin”. While the data corpus may be quite functional to model ocean behavior, it will always rest on selections serving particular purposes and interest

Click here for information and registration!


Computing the Nordic Way: The Swedish Labour Movement, Computers and Educational Imaginaries from the Post-War Period to the Turn of the Millennium

Lina Rahm investigates how problematisations of the digital have changed over time and how the goal for education on digital technology has been one of political control—either to adapt people to machines, or to adapt machines to people in this article published in the Nordic Journal of Educational History, volume 8, 2021. Abstract and link to open access below.
Binary System Bits Byte Binary Binary Code

Lina Rahm first came to the Division as a Ragnar Holm postdoc in 2020. On Janyary 1 she started an assistant professorship with us, in the History of Media and Environment with specialization in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems, funded by the WASP-HS Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program – Humanities and Society. Lina’s research focus is on sociotechnical and educational imaginaries with a span from the 1950s up until today.

Full article: Computing the Nordic Way: The Swedish Labour Movement, Computers and Educational Imaginaries from the Post-War Period to the Turn of the Millennium


Based on empirical material from Swedish reformist labour movement associations, this article illustrates how digital technology has been described as a problem (and sometimes a solution) at different points in time. Most significant, for this article, is the role that non-formal adult education has played in solving these problems. Computer education has repeatedly been described as a measure not only to increase technical knowledge, but also to construe desirable (digital) citizens for the future. Problematisations of the digital have changed over time, and these discursive reconceptualisations can be described as existing on a spectrum between techno-utopian visions, where adaptation of the human is seen as a task for education, and techno-dystopian forecasts, where education is needed to mobilise democratic control over threatening machines. As such, the goal for education has been one of political control—either to adapt people to machines, or to adapt machines to people.

Erik Isberg on “Jorden. Vår planets historia och framtid”

Division PhD-colleague Erik Isberg (SPHERE Project) has published an exciting review of “Jorden. Vår planets historia och framtid” (by Johan Rockström and Owen Gaffney) in Expressen Kultur on 24 January 2021. In the following we present a translated summary:

Profile picture of Erik Isberg

Erik Isberg: Will the climate lead Jeff Bezos to vote left?

Climate scientist Johan Rockström and sustainability analytic Owen Gaffney have presented in their new book not only their take on the planet’s geological and biological history, but also on human development and future solutions for the climate crisis. It is a mixture of popular science, civilisation history, and climate journalism, while at the same time presenting like an eco-political manifest. The book came out last year in English in combination with a Netflix-documentary. David Attenborough contributed to the film as speaker. Greta Thunberg wrote the foreword to the successful book.

As such it is a typical example of its time, as it combines the relationship between climate science, history and politics. Dipesh Chakrabarty said that scientists of earth systems, like Johan Rockström, would be the historians of our time, who write within a new narrative, combining the planet, life, and human history in one story. This would be an adequate description of the book at hand. It is divided into three parts: first it focuses on planetary and human history, second it elaborates on climate science and the situation of science today, and third it offers solutions to deflect the climate catastrophe.

Its main argument is that humanity would have developed in different distinct episodes, just like earth. Suddenly, the growth of unicellular organisms and today’s digitisation process look alike: both have swept over the world, without anything someone could have done about it. This would be a reductionist and well-known narrative. Yuval Noah Hararis “Sapiens” and David Christians “Berättelsen im allt” also use it. Humanity becomes a passenger in a journey, which  someone else has determined.  Industrialisation, colonialism and capitalism were processes working out of themselves, while humanity would watch from the stands and wonders. For example, the steam machine would have involuntarily started the industrialisation, as ostensibly all other options would have disappeared as James Watt started his machine for the first time.

A similar worldview can be seen in the second part of the book, which presents a possible option to avert an climate catastrophe. Although many of the proposed measures, such as higher capital tax, state investments in green technology, and closing the gap between rich and poor, were not presented as a part of a political discussion apart from the goal of society’s change towards a green future, these proposals can nevertheless be called leftwing.

The hope is portrayed that everyone, from Jeff Bezos till Extinction Rebellion could unite for the common goal of what Rockström and Gaffney call “Jordresan” (Earth’s Journey) towards sustainable “Jorden 5.0” (Earth 5.0.).

The will to see future climate policy already as a step in earth’s development, rather than a part of an ideological conflict, leads to oblivion towards power relations and material interests within the corresponding political discussion. Maybe in reality, planetary and social change work according to another set of rules, rather than in the simplistic way the two authors present it. Rockström and Gaffney provide an acute reminder of the crisis we are in, but are probably wrong within their deterministic argumentation.


You can read the original in Swedish here.

Melina Antonia Buns joins the Division!

Nuclear-historical research at KTH is expanding! We are happy to announce that Melina Antonia Buns has joined us as a visiting post-doc researcher, based on a collaboration between NUCLEARWATERS, KTH’s Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment and The Greenhouse at the University of Stavanger. Melina was recently awarded a major research grant from the Norwegian Research Council, which will enable her to spend two years at KTH. The grant is linked to her project “Nuclear Nordics: Radioactive Waste Spatialities, Materialities and Societies in the Nordic Region, 1960s-1980s”. Read more about this exciting research endeavor at the website of the Norwegian Research Council.

Melina Antonia Buns at her new KTH office

Melina holds a BA in history, art history and Scandinavian studies from the University of Vienna, an MA in International and Global History and a PhD in history from the University of Oslo. In June 2021 she successfully defended her thesis “Green Internationalists: Nordic Environmental Cooperation, 1967-1988”. At KTH she will make use of her expertise in Nordic environmental history while moving into the nuclear-historical field.

Melina will present her research project “Nuclear Nordics” in the NUCLEARWATERS seminar series very soon. The seminar was originally scheduled for 26 January, but has been postponed. We will soon be back with a new date and time.

This text was originally published by Per Högselius on on 21 January 2022.

A multi-criteria analysis of building level graywater reuse for personal hygiene – new article co-authored by Timos Karpouzoglou

Timos Karpouzoglou has been with the Division since 2018, and is working closely with the KTH WaterCentre, where he previously was a research coordinator. His current research is focused on urban water infrastructure and is informed by social sciences and the humanities. In a new article, together with Jörgen Wallin (KTH) and Jesper Knutsson (Chalmers), Timos investigates how water demand globally exceeds over available water supply, and takes a closer look at the reuse of bathroom graywater for shower and bathroom sink hot water. The investigation focuses on water and energy savings, water treatment, economic benefit and investigates the main actors and institutions that are involved. “A multi-criteria analysis of building level graywater reuse for personal hygiene” was published in the 2021 December issue of Resources, Conservation & Recycling Advances.
Water Infrastructure. Photo: iStock


Globally an increasing number of people are facing water scarcity. To address the challenge, measures to reduce water demand are investigated in the world. In the present paper, a novel approach to reuse bathroom graywater for shower and bathroom sink hot water is investigated. The investigation focuses on water and energy savings, water treatment, economic benefit and investigates the main actors and institutions that are involved.

The main results are that there is significant potential for water and energy savings with a positive economic benefit. Water savings of domestic hot water up to 91 % and energy savings up to 55 % were observed. The investigated treatment plant produces recycled graywater with a quality close to drinking water standards.

The investigation also presents that the reason for the positive economic benefit will depend on the utility tariffs. Therefore, two locations with different utility rate structures were investigated, Gothenburg, Sweden and Settle, USA. In Gothenburg, the utility cost for energy was the driver of economic benefit and in Seattle it was the water and wastewater cost that was the driver. The return of investment for the system and installation was shown to be 3.7 years in Gothenburg and 2.4 years in Seattle.


Graywater recovery, Graywater reuse, Heat recovery in graywater, Energy conservation, Water saving, Water reuse, Recycled water


Coming up: Higher Seminar Series in Spring 2022

Gott nytt år! – Happy New Year! After snow-induced Christmas and winter holidays, the division is slowly but surely bustling back into busy work mode.

Our Higher Seminar Series, the colloquium of our division, starts again in two weeks. We are very glad to announce that Aliaksandr Piahanau, Wenner-Gren postdoc at the division, will be presenting his ongoing research. His talk The Great Energy Supply Crisis: Fuels & Politics in Central Europe, 1918–21″ will be given on 24 January at 13.15-14.45 Stockholm time. If you want to join us from outside KTH, please send an email to before 10 am (CET) the day you wish to attend.


Even a short breakdown in fuel supplies can have profound and dramatic consequences for modern economies. This paper explores a major coal shortage in Central Europe after WW1 which shook local societies for two years. The dissolution of the Habsburg Empire in 1918 provides a narrower context to this study, while its immediate focus lies upon the development of diplomatic and economic relationships between Czechoslovakia – a WW1 winner state and an important coal exporter, and Hungary – a war losing state, which was a net coal importer. Underlining the scale of the Hungarian reliance on fuels from Czechoslovakia, this paper suggests that this dependence was one of the chief arguments that motivated Budapest to cede Slovakia to Prague’s control and, in general, to accept the peace terms proposed at the Paris conference. The paper demonstrates that cross-border energy interdependence substantially affected diplomatic relations in Central Europe immediately after WW1, privileging coal-exporting states over coal-importing states.

Karte, Kartographie, Reliefkarte, Berge, Mitteleuropa

Apart from this exciting talk focussed on the subject of Eastern Central European History, many more presentations are coming up. Here is the current schedule:

24 January 13.15-14.45 CET: The Great Energy Supply Crisis: Fuels & Politics in Central Europe, 1918–21. Aliaksandr Piahanau, Wenner-Gren postdoc, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment

7 February 13.15-14.45 CET: PM for PhD project. Erik Ljungberg, doctoral student, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment

21 February 13.15-14.45 CET: Air Epistemologies: Practices of Ecopoetry in Ibero-American Atmospheres. Nuno Marques, postdoc, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment

7 March 13.15-14.45 CET: From modern to modest imaginary? Learning about urban water infrastructure by comparing Northern and Southern cities. Timos Karpouzoglou, researcher, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment. Collaborators in this work: Mary Lawhon, Sumit Vij, Pär Blomqvist, David Nilsson, Katarina Larsen.

21 March 13.15-14.45  CET: Warriors, wizards, and seers: representations of Saami in 17th and 18th century Sweden. Vincent Roy-Di Piazza, Oxford Centre for the History of Science, Medicine and Technology, University of Oxford, UK

4 April 13.15-14.45  CET: Historian’s toolbox: Technical solutions for doing research. Kati Lindström and Anja Moun Rieser, Division of History of Science, technology and Environment

2 May 13.15-14.45 CET: Mid-seminar in doctoral education. Gloria Samosir, doctoral student, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment

16 May 13.15-14.45 CET: Nuclear Nordics: Histories of Radioactive Waste in the Nordic Region. Melina Antonia Buns, visiting postdoc KTH

30 May 13.15-14.45 CET: A theoretical seminar on Heritage and Decay. Lize-Marie Van Der Watt, researcher, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment

13 June 13.15-14.45 CET: Science, the arts and engineering – dialogues and co-creative methods between KTH and Färgfabriken. Katarina Larsen and David Nilsson, researchers, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment

You can find the full and always updated Higher Seminar schedule here.

Wrapping 2021

The year 2021 is coming to an end and this blog will have some well deserved vacation over the holidays. But before we go all  in Christmas, let us look back on some of the great things that happened at the Division this year!

While a few colleagues left us for other adventures, we welcomed new members to the Division. Klara Müller joined us as a new PhD student in the Making Universities Matter-project, and Linus Salö re-joined us as her main supervisor at the very start of 2021. About half a year later Erik Ljungberg started his PhD trainging with us aiming on the History of Media and Environment with a focus on AI and autonomous systems.

Nuno Marques started his international postdoc with us and the EHL in July with the project Air Epistemologies: Practices of Ecopoetry in Ibero American Atmospheres. Soon after him, Tirza Meyer join us as a postdoc in the project The Mediated Planet: Claiming Data for Environmental SDGs led by Sabine Höhler. We were also happy to recieve the news that Lina Rahm, who has been with us as a Ragnar Holm fellow since last fall, will start her position Assistant Professor in the History of Media and Environment with specialization in Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous Systems at the Division from January 1 2022.

Three doctoral students successfully defended their thesis this year:

New projects got funding! Harnessing the Heat Below our Feet, with Marco Armiero and Ethemcan Turhan (from University of Groningen). Lize-Marie van der Watt and Kati Lindström received funding from RJ for the project Decay Without Mourning: Future-thinking Heritage Practices. And as reported recently, both Eric Paglia and Fredrik Bertilsson was granted funding from Fromas this fall. To mention just a few projects.

What else happened? Well, Kati Lindström became a member of the Estonian Polar Research Committee. Johan Gärdebo recieved the DHST Dissertation Prize for best dissertation 2019. David Nilsson was elected a member of WaterAid Sweden’s board. Daniele Valisena, received the ESEH Dissertation Prize from the European Society for Environmental History for best doctoral dissertation 2019-2020, Coal Lives: Italians and the Metabolism of Coal in Wallonia, Belgium, 1945-1980 (supervisor Marco Armiero ).

Above all this, Sverker Sörlin was awarded twice during the fall. First with the Grand Gold Medal by the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA), “for outstanding work as an innovative researcher, research leader and active public debater and for his significant contributions and deep commitment to research and higher education.” A few weeks later he was awarded the The Royal Society of Sciences at Uppsala awards Sverker Sörlin the Thuréus Prize, for “outstanding contributions as a pioneer in environmental history, or” environmental humanities “, in Sweden and internationally, and for his extensive activities as a research policy author and debater”

Nina Wormbs received the Nature & Culture popular science work scholarship of SEK 100,000 to write a book on Climate Grief (Klimatsorg).

And finally, on December 9 Kati Lindström was accepted as a Docent in History of Science, Technology and Environment with a specialization in Environmental Humanities and Uses of History.

Not to forget all the events and  publications, opinion pieces and worskhops. Some of them you will find if you scroll down the history of this blog. Again, just to mention a few things. Thank you to everyone who subscribed, shared and followed us during the year. We hope to see you in 2022 again!


Beyond Unprepared and Sustainability’s Formative Moment – Formas’ Grants Two New Projects

Division researchers Fredrik Bertilsson and Eric Paglia recieved funding for four years each in the Formas Annual Open Call 2021 – Research projects for early-career researchers. In 2022 the Division looks forward to two new projects: one on humanistic expertice and knowledge and one that question the earlier periodization of the sustainability narrative.

Summary Beyond “unprepared”: Towards an integrative expertise of drought

Profilbild av Fredrik Bertilsson

The overarching hypothesis of this project is that the understanding of preparedness is fundamentally transformed in the era of Anthropocene. In Sweden, recent events such as the corona pandemic and the extreme weather in 2018 have pointed out insufficiencies in public readiness. This project explores drought in Sweden, which until recently was a marginal problem on the national agenda but is now a priority of the Swedish government. Both public agents and researchers call for collaboration an “integrative expertise” that combine the expert knowledge of natural sciences, social science and the humanities to advance public preparedness. However, the potential of humanistic expertise and knowledge is under-researched. The potential of humanistic knowledge becomes relevant in new contexts where problems and potential solutions fall outside the domain of previously dominating expertise. The aim of this project is to contribute to the expertise for increasing public preparedness. The purpose of the project is to study: the identification of Swedish “unpreparedness” in relation to the drought in Sweden in 2018, the historical processes behind this present unpreparedness, and the formation of future experts focusing on the significance of humanistic expertise. The project provides a novel and timely assessment of integrative expertise of drought. It engages with actors in the public sector, NGOs, academic research, and arts and culture

Summary Sustainability’s Formative Moment: The Birth of the Boundaries Narrative and the Rise of the ‘Human Environment’

Profile picture of Eric Paglia

This project examines the emergence of the “Boundaries narrative” between 1968-1974 in connection with the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment. “The environment” as a problem was well known, but in 1968 there were no international political institutions for managing it. Neither developing countries nor the business community had an interest in imposing restrictions for the environment’s sake. In this struggle between scientifically and ideologically motivated demands for restraint, and economically and politically motivated demands for continued expansion, the idea emerged that growth and environment could be reconciled—what would later be called sustainable development. We will study in detail the interplay of different expert cultures, from governments via constellations of scientists, to smaller groups that could include executives, researchers, diplomats, activists, economists and others. We are particularly interested in three key individuals and their networks: Canadian businessman Maurice Strong, economist Barbara Ward and MIT management professor Carroll Wilson. We will both question the earlier periodization of the sustainability narrative, and develop a new understanding of its scientific and political basis. The project is of potentially great importance for the narrative’s legitimacy in a time of mounting conspiracy theories, when the world could at the same time be on a path towards decisive transformation through the implementation of Agenda 2030.