The day freedom of speech died in Spain

Source: Pixabay (CCO Public Domain)

New muzzle law in Spain sparks protests

On the 11th of December Spains conservative government passed a new law that goes against basic human rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The law which is officially called "Law for the Protection of Citizens' Security" has been renamed the muzzle law by the Spanish public.

On 20th of December thousands of demonstrators took to streets in several large Spanish cities (Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid, Almeria, Granada, Valencia) to express their anger at the new law which sets huge fines for "offences" such as burning the Spanish flag or demonstrating outside government buildings or other strategic buildings. 

The new law could fine citizens up to €30,000 for disseminating photographs of police officers, €600,000 for participating in demonstrations outside parliament buildings, €600 for insulting police officers and €30,000 for burning the Spanish flag. 

The demonstrators included groups opposed to forced evictions because the law can levy fines of €30,000 for attempting to prevent home repossessions. Some protestors even said that "we are returning to the time of Franco and it is completely unconstitutional, we must protest because we cannot remain silent". Many believe the new law is an attempt by the Spanish government to muzzle protestors over their handling of the deep economic crisis that has gripped the country for several years.

Media Attention

Pieces of news have been reported in international media outlets, many questioning the Spanish governments decision. Here in Sweden, politician Gudrun Schyman has critized Swedish mainstream media for not writing about this important piece of news as well as the lack of public response in Europe, saying "Why is not entire Europe boiling in wild protests against what is happening in a EU country with 46 million inhabitants?"Instead it has been totally quiet when freedom of speech and freedom of assembly died in Spain. What is happening in Spain is shocking and should worry many Europeans, we cannot take our liberties for granted. Who knows, perhaps it will be our turn next time. 

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No Swedish Re-election in March 2015

The Swedish Parliament in Stockholm. Photo credit: Christian Gidlöf (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Swedish Politics

Since the parliamentary election, 14th of September this year, Swedish politics has been in constant turmoil. The prime minister declared re-elections only one month ago. A decision that has been widely critcized by both the left and the right. Today, six parties (S, Mp, M, Fp, C, Kd) held a press conference to present a deal struck over block party lines to negotiate on three main topics, namely pensions, energy, and swedish defence politics. Prime minister, Stefan Löfven, also said that there won't be a re-election in March 2015 due to this new deal which makes it possible for a minority coalition to rule in parliament. 

What does this mean for Swedish politics? 

It  looks like Swedish politics have entered a new era of six party politics. This has come about since the xenophobic Sweden Democrats (Sd) became the third largest party in Swedish politics, which created three blocs instead of two, making it difficult to rule in a minority position. This new deal, that covers a period of 7 years, makes it possible for a minority coalition to rule in parliament and get their budget passed. It also makes it impossible to break out parts of a budget, like the left did during last election term when the Alliance ruled in parliament. For voters this means that it matters less which party you voted for, but rather for which bloc you voted for. This deal has excluded the left party (V) and the Sweden Democrats (Sd). It is difficult to know what Swedes think about all this, but it has become increasinly clear that political contempt has risen during this fall/winter. Sd has called for a declaration of no confidence of prime minister Stefan Löfven but for that to pass they would need a majority in parliament, which is unlikely now that this deal has been struck.

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Ivory, terrorism and extinction

Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa. Photo credit: Brian Snelson (CC-BY 2.0)

Terrorism that we can do something about

One elephant is murdered every 15 minutes for their tusks. More and more conservationists and NGOs have become aware of the connection between elephant poaching and terrorism. Both species extinction and global terrorism are two major issues to the international community. Both involve the loss of innocent life and require urgent action.

Now the director of Hurtlocker and Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow, and the writer of Contagion and An inconvenient truth, Scott Z. Burns, have made a 3 minute animated short movie called Last Days that depict this connection and why it matters. Because many experts believe that elephants in the wild could go extinct within a decade the moviemakers chose to make an animated piece for a broader audience that could be released quickly. Despite there being plenty of graphic images on the internet of elephants being slaughtered, the killing continues. The short movie is an attempt to focus the viewer on the trail of money as well as the trail of blood. 

African terrorist organisations like Al Shabaab and Boko Haram use money from poaching to fund their activities. This is one of the reasons why elephant poaching has increased dramatically over the last years and become “industrialized”. Buying trinkets made out of ivory thus contributes both to species extinction and funding of terrorism. Illegal wildlife trade is the fourth biggest black market in the world, only surpassed by narcotics, arms trade and human trafficking. 

As a result of this movie a new foundation called promotes awarness and cultural change towards ending illegal ivory trade though encuraging people not to buy any ivory (see icon on the right). Other organisations have similar campaigns but that often does not include the terrorism connection. For example, the Chinese retired NBA basketball player Yao Ming has contributed to the cause of trying to get the Chinese to stop buying ivory by figuring in short information videos with elephants. By focusing on the terrorism connection, however, conservation organisations can gain more traction from the government to implement regulations since national security is of higher priority than environmental protection.  

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Ecosystem collapse in eastern Ukraine

Heavy artillery fire has started over 3000 forest fires in eastern Ukraine. But the biggest threat comes from flooded mines, according to Kyiv Post.

Seversky Donets River, Ukraine and Russian border in the Donbass Region. Source: Google Earth
It is not only humans that suffer in the ruins of a war-torn eastern Ukraine, entire ecosystems are about to collapse. The massive artillery fire that started this summer have burned down forests and poisoned the air.

Over 3000 forest fires have devastated the Donbass region. Two large nature reserves and 33 parks have been destroyed. More than 17% of the area has burned down, according to the environmental organisation Environmental People Law (EPL).

The state of environment in eastern Ukraine constantly deteriorates. Water and soil pollution, degradation of natural reserves, destruction of forests and steppe by fires, transformation of landscapes, mines flooding became everyday reality” - Alla Voytsikhovska, spokesperson EPL 

The air is full of harmful substances from burnt-out ammunition, with high levels of sulphur-, nitrogen- and carbon dioxide, that can cause irritation and burning in eyes and airways as well as weaken the body’s immune system. The consequences of the devastation will be more fatal to humans than to nature itself. 

But the largest environmental threat comes from flooded mines. Around 100 mines located within separatist territory have been abandoned due to the war and are now contaminating groundwater and rivers. This could poison the Siverskij Donets river which is the regions largest drinking water source and that flows out in the Don and Azovska sea. The TV-station reports that there are rising levels of radioactive mining water in the proximity of the Yunkom mine where the Soviet Union did nuclear tests in 1979. In the mine Oleksandr-Zakhid there is a layer with over 50 tonnes chlorinated hydrocarbons which have mixed with other toxic substances and now that the pumping of water has stopped risks rising up to ground level, creating a poisonous cloud. 

In order to start restoration of pre-war state of environment the scale of economic damage has to be assessed. But a full assessment of environmental damage and restoration costs is only possible after military actions in eastern Ukraine terminates. 

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Dreaming of a white Christmas?

Swedish Climate

Swedens climate is usually defined as temperate in the southern and middle region of the country and polar in the north. Despite being located so far north Sweden has a warmer climate than Canada has on the same latitude, mainly because of the Golf Stream bringing warmer waters that pass by the west coast. As global warming continues unabated most experts expect a higher temperature increase in the northern hemisphere than for the global average. This is due to polar amplification which refers to the phenomenon that changes in Earth's radiation balance tends to produce a larger change in temperature near the poles than the planetary average. When reflective snow and ice melts it gives way to darker marine and terrestial surfaces which absorb more heat from the sun, in turn melting more snow, which causes more warming (i.e. reinforcing feedback loop). Winter temperatures, especially, is set to increase significantly. 

Winter in Europe

In 2006 SMHI established that the mean temperature in Sweden had increased with about +1C degree since the beginning of the 1990s, a very high increase over such a short time span. Beyond rising temperatures concrete signs in nature of a warmer climate has been observed in form of longer plant seasons, less snow cover etc. The Winter of 2007/2008 was extremely mild in Sweden and record warming was measured, since observations first began in 1880. This year, 2014, is set to brake the 2007 record and become the warmest year ever recorded in Sweden. According to the World Meterological Organization's regional centre for Europe 2014 will likely also become the warmest year on record for entire Europe. The marginal increase is about +0.3 degrees Celsius, from the 6.7C record in 2007 to 7C in 2014. Warm periods have dominated the entire year. The Spring in Europe was the warmest on record and Winter was the second warmest on record. Around 20 countries from Italy in the south to Norway in the north have experienced record warming this year. And 9 out of 10 of the warmest years ever recorded ocurred during the 21st century. Looking at the Winter anomaly chart below we can see that the Nordic countries and central Europe have recorded above average temperatures this winter. It doesn't look like we will have a white Christmas this year, at least not in southern Sweden.


The role of Climate Change

Global warming significantly contributed to the high 2014 temperatures, according to new research from three independent climate science teams from the UK, the Netherlands, and Australia. "In the early 1900s, before global warming played a significant role in our climate, the chances of getting a year as warm as 2014 were less than 1 in 10,000. In fact, the number is so low that we could not compute it with confidence"  - Geert Jan van Oldenborgh. The analysis by van Oldenborgh concluded that global warming has made a temperature anomaly like the one observed in 2014 in Europe at least 80 times more likely. In other words, warmer climate can be due to natural variability but climate change increases the likelihood of warmer weather.

Media Reporting

In a opinion piece, on SVT Opinion published today, meteorologist Per Holmgren wonders why Swedish mainstream media has not picked up on this piece of important news and what it would take to raise public debate on climate change and sustainable development running up to the Swedish re-election in March 2015. He suggest that crop failures in Europe and the US might wake people up to the dangers we face. In other words, as long as its only the poor who feel the impacts of climate change the rich world is not motivated to action. Many climate scientists have stuggled a long time with trying to communicate the dangers of climate change but without much success. This probably says more about human nature than it does climate scientists. As i noted in my previous post, emotion = action. We humans need a strong narrative, a story, compelling us to act. Data and information is not enough. Here journalism plays a crucial role. But leadership is also necessary. To bad we lack both good journalism and leadership, at least in the area of climate action.

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Emotion = Action

We are emotional apes

Emotions are produced and experienced in the brain's limbic system (middle). Emotional impulses travel from the limbic system to the frontal cortex (front) where rational, logical thinking can take place. Neuroscientist have found that its the emotional part of our brain that moves us into action. Understandably, since we have evolved to respond to immediate threats that requires a quick response or single action. However, this is a major hindrance when it comes to solving problems such as climate change, that are complex, "invisible" and happen over long timescales. Environmental scientist have tried for decades to engage people in the climate change problem, but much indicate that they have not been very successful. On the other hand, many people probably understand the central problem of pollution but in this case there is no silver bullet and we have to cooperate on a global scale. That makes us feel like we have no agency. So we need leadership and good examples. 

This is not a Hollywood movie

In most action movies there is always someone who comes to the rescue. But in this case, it is not so. Poor leadership, too little civil society engagement, entrenched business interests and daily distractions keep us on the path of “business-as-usual”, despite our better judgement. We cannot wait any longer, we need to make our voices heard.

In Sweden, 3 out of 5 top worries among the public are related to environmental problems. Yet, last election no political party really talked about their vision of a more sustainable society or how to get there. We have to make some crucial decisions regarding: nuclear power, emergency response capacity, climate adaptation funding, transportation, flood protection, supply chain security and more. Planning for and adapting to changes takes time and replacing infrastructure or energy supply sources takes decades. If politicians are serious about reforming immigration policy they should focus on our climate dilemma, since if we fail to take action, there will be millions of climate refugees from poorer nations and perhaps even war and conflict. This fact is seldom talked about. We can only hope that the re-election engages people more than the last election, which was very dry and lacked clear topics.

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The Lima Accord: Some key points

Typhoon Hagupit. Source: NASA

The climate is already changing

One year ago, supertyphoon Haiyan unleashed havoc in the Philippines while world governments were discussing a global climate agreement at the United Nations Climate Talks. Now, one year later, another destructive typhoon Hagupit hit the country while the same climate negotiations were taking place in Lima, Peru. While no single storm can be directly linked to a changing climate, the increased frequency and intensity of severe storms, has been observed and reported on by scientists linking it to global warming. Some politicians and businesses herald the Lima talks as progress while many climate experts say it’s not enough. Let’s look at some of the issues with the draft agreement coming out of Lima. 

The Lima Accord: Some key points

First, the new agreement does not reflect the urgency of the climate crisis. One of the fundamental flaws of the negotiations is the lack of a clear global goal for limiting global warming based on science. The IPCC latest report made it clear that we have to get off fossil fuels and take urgent measures if we want to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius and avert global disaster (its even debatable if 2C degrees can be considered a "safe" limit). With the current agreement we are on a path to 3-4 degrees warming. Island nations face imminent danger from rising sea-levels but the agreement does not reflect this urgency. 

Second, while there are some good ideas in the agreement there are no measures to ensure implementation. One scenario included in the text coming out of Lima is a goal of phasing out carbon emissions by 2050, which was supported by over 100 countries. This is a big deal. However, the only way to achieve it is by moving away from fossil fuels but there is still no plan for how countries will achieve this or how to monitor their progress. Each country are expected to report in the coming months how they will make this happen. But nations won’t be held accountable for reporting their plans. This increases the seriousness of putting pressure on governments to ensure responsibility. 

Third, many least developed and vulnerable countries feel they have been left out in the cold. The agreement does not force rich nations to support countries that are being most impacted by climate change. Countries that have had little impact on global emissions will likely be the ones making the most efforts to create change but they will not be getting enough financial support. It’s a serious issue of climate injustice. Many rich countries are still treating the climate talks as business as usual and are not going out of their way to provide leadership. 

Fourth, the world’s nations are for the first time in agreement over that poorer nations should also lower their emissions. How much rich nations and poorer nations should lower their emissions, respectively, has not been agreed upon. This will be a difficult issue to solve during the 2015 Paris meeting. 


The Lima Accord resulted in that every nation has to present their emission plans during March 2015. The final text also opened up for the future agreement to be non-binding and voluntary, which most experts agree on is a bad idea. The major questions around how poorer nations will receive financing and technology as well as payments for losses and harms from a changing climate has not been resolved. Richer nations seem to once again have gotten their will while the poorer nations are the loosers. The issue of climate justice has thus not been adressed which was the major problem during the Climate talks in Copenhagen. It looks like most problems are pushed further down the road, to the climate meeting in Paris, November 2015. I have no major expectations since politicans has proved over and over again that they are incapable of coming to an agreement with teeth. We will have to look for other solutions that incurage low-carbon solutions and forces emitters to pay, for example, through dividends and fees on carbon from all trade and production.

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Oil and limits to debt expansion

Global Economic Slowdown

The global economy is slowing down and central bankers are getting nervous. Japan, Italy and Greece are all in recession. China is slowing down according to official statistics. Germany, France, Netherlands, and Sweden are all at stall speed (around 1% GDP growth). The US is doing better according to official statistics, showing nearly 4% growth for the two last quarters, but alternative statistics shows numbers closer to 2%. The Federal Reserve ended QE in October, now there are few forces left providing extra liquidity to the world’s markets. Oil and precious metal prices have fallen dramatically.

Deflation seems to be winning and could lead to major problems for the financial sector in 2015, similarly to what happened in 2008 when oil prices crashed to $45/barrel from hitting a price spike of $140/barrel, too high for the global economy to handle, fuelling a spiral of defaults and negative net credit creation that nearly caused the entire banking system in the developed world to collapse. Major price oscillations in oil could be the new normal as we encounter depletion of easy and cheap oil resources. The global economy cannot handle too high oil prices, but too low oil prices could also have big impacts, especially on exporting countries and financial energy markets.

Oil price crash 2014

The price of Brent crude crashed to $61/barrel this week, its lowest since 2009. The speed of the drop, from $100/barrel in September, has caused many commentators to argue that central banks have lost the battle against deflation. Copper, oil, iron ore, coal, gold and silver are all showing signs of major economic weakness ahead.

The global economy needs oil for many purposes, for example to power transportation and produce food. If the oil price is too low, its not profitable to extract it. With low oil prices production may drop off rapidly. This can lead to a bunch of secondary effects. With low oil prices, it becomes increasingly difficult for expensive unconventional drilling operations (e.g. fracking, shale oil, tar sands) that are highly leveraged to pay back the loans they have taken out. Energy debt currently accounts for 16% of the US junk bond market, and the value of Venezuelan bonds recently fell substantially because of the high risk of default. Similarly, the Russian rouble has been in freefall which has driven up inflation, decreasing the Russian bank’s ability to pay off foreign debt.

The G20 plan

After the massive bank bailouts in 2008 there has been lots of discussions on how to change the system so new state bailouts won’t be needed. One proposal that has been discussed recently by the IMF and other institutions is to force bank depositors and pension funds to cover part of the losses, using Cyprus-style bail-ins. According to some reports, this approach has been approved by the G20 at their meeting in Brisbane (November 16, 2014). If this is correct, ordinary peoples bank accounts and pension plans could be at risk already. Sweden is not a part of G20 so we should not be affected by this. 

Deflation winning?

Falling oil prices tend to lead to a lower price for producing food and other goods. The net result tends to be deflation. Not all countries are affected equally, some experience this to a greater extent than others. Those countries experiencing deflation are likely to eventually get problems with debt defaults because. Investers could flee the country since they can’t make an adequate return and this usually tend to push currencies down, relative to other currencies. In Russia this is the case right now. Since the dollar has been rising rapidly, debt repayment is likely to be of greatest concern to those countries where substantial debt is denominated in US dollars but whose local currency has fallen in value. Countries with low currency prices such as Japan, parts of Europe, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa could find it expensive to import goods of all kinds. The Chinese yuan is closely tied to the dollar which makes Chinese exports more expensive and may be part of the reason why their economy has slowed down recently. However, China also have massive debts and a shadow banking system that could be huge. No one really knows since the Chinese aren't transparent with their accounting.

Oil production break even prices. Source: Energy tracker via FT

Limits to debt expansion

There are limits to the amount of debt that a government, or business can borrow. At some point, interest payments become so high that its difficult to cover other expenses. The way around this have been to lower interest rates to zero. The problem is that we have a monetary system that is either expanding or collapsing. It has no steady state. Increasing debt has been a big part in pumping up demand for commodities and ensuring some economic growth. But interest rates can only go so low and QE does not work in the long-term, mostly it just creates asset bubbles and risky investments. The oil price fall started almost at the same time as the FED ended QE3 in October this year (the crash in oil prices in 2008 was credit-related and prices only picked up after the US initiated its program of QE in November 2008). 

Zero interest rates and QE allows more borrowing from the future than would be possible if market interest rates really had to be paid. This allows financiers to temporarily disguise a growing problem of unaffordability of oil and other commodities. The problem is that we live in a finite world and we have reached a point where it has become more expensive to produce essential commodities. Wages don’t rise correspondingly, in most countries, because more and more labor is needed to provide less and less actual benefit. Workers find themselves becoming poorer in terms of what they can afford to buy. So even if prices for basic goods drop, fewer  jobs and lower wages keep consumers from spending. Once commodity prices fall to levels that are affordable based on the income of consumers, they fall to levels that cut out a large share of production. 

The timing of defaults and debt-related problems can take time. Low oil prices take a while to work their way through society. It is also possible that central bankers decide to take up another round of QE early in 2015, or that oil prices hit a low and start going back up. Limits to cheap energy could play out through lower oil prices as limits to growth in debt are reached and demand is destroyed. A collapse in oil production as a consequence of low oil prices could be much more severe for the global economy.

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Plastic is not fantastic

Plastic is not nature

Plastic materials is any of a wide range of synthetic compounds that are malleable. Plastics often contain many chemical substances and are commonly derived from petrochemicals, but some are partially natural. It takes about 2 kg oil for every 1 kg plastic production, from a life-cycle perspective. The more advanced plastics requires more energy for production. Due to their relatively low cost, ease of manufacture, versatility and imperviousness to water plastics are used in an enormous and expanding range of products from food packaging to computers and cars. Motivated by the finiteness of oil and threat of climate change, bioplastics are being developed from cellulose and starch. Most plastics, however, are durable and degrade very slowly, some taking centuries. Plastic pollution pose as a major problem for the world's marine life and food web. 

Using the world’s oceans as a dump

Humans have little consideration for how much waste we continuously dump into the world's oceans and its effects on marine life. Plastic pollution is nowadays common throughout the marine environment. In a new study in PLOS, scientists from the US, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand report for the first time an estimated number of 5 trillion pieces of plastic in total afloat at sea. With a collective weight of over 250 000 tonnes, it weighs more than the entire biomass of humans (Guardian, 2014). The volume of plastic pieces, largely derived from products such as food and drink packaging and clothing was calculated from data collected in 24 expeditions during 2007-2013 across five sub-tropical gyres.
Seal trapped in plastic pollution. Photo: Nels Israelson CC-BY-NC

Plastics and Marine Life

Large pieces of plastic can strangle animals such as seals, while smaller pieces are ingested by fish and then fed up the food chain, all the way to us humans. Chemicals contained within plastics and the pollutants they attract once they’re in the marine environment are toxic and can cause great harm to animals and humans. It’s hard to tell how much pollution is being ingested by marine life but plastics definitely contribute to increased toxins along the food web. While spread out around the globe, much of the plastic accumulates in five large ocean gyres, which are circular currents that churn up plastics in a set area. The gyres contribute to the problem because they shred the plastic before dispersing it. This micro-plastic continue to disperse and interact with entire ocean ecosystems (see figure 1 and 2).
Fig.1 Pieces of plastic debris by size, pieces per square km

Fig.2 Weight of plastic debris by size, grams per square km

Plastic: the last frontier of recycling

Researchers predict the volume of plastic pollution will increase due to rising production of throwaway plastic, with only 5% of the world’s plastic currently recycled. Policymakers need to understand the scale of the problem and take action accordingly. Some countries have taken measures to restrict plastic pollution. Germany has changed policy so that manufacturers are responsible for the waste they produce. By putting more responsibility on producers a larger shift towards recycling in possible. Recycling plastic can save energy and reduce carbon pollution but a major hindrance is how to sort plastics effectively since its made up out of so many different chemical compounds (polymers). 700 000 tonnes plastic is thrown away unsorted in the Nordic countries every year. Three new reports (2014) from the Nordic Council of Ministers describe methods for improving collection, sorting, and recycling of plastic waste in the Nordic countries. “Collection and recycling of plastic waste” presents the first steps towards improved nordic systems for collection and recycling. Every year 65 000 tonnes of plastic is burned at recycling stations.“Guideline for plastic sorting at recycling centres” looks at municipal recycling station practices for increasing collection of plastic materials of higher quality. Despite usable recycling techniques being available, less than 30% of plastic waste is recycled. “Plastic value chains - Case WEEE” identifies a substantial potential for increased recycling of plastics from electronic waste. This field is an excellent case where circular economy principles could be applied, the potential for improvements being large.

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Crossroads ahead in Swedish opinion and politics

What does the Swedish public think?

Since there has been a major failure of governance and lack of cooperation in the Swedish parliament recently, maybe its time to scrutinize what the public thinks about different topics. In this post I present some statistics from the yearly national survey by the SOM-institute in Göteborg. You can find the report in full here. Let’s examine if the Swedish public is as divided as our dear politicians.

Photo: Carsten Tolkmit CC-BY-SA

Swedes are strongly against privatisation of the welfare sector

Since 2007-08 public opinion for privatisation of the public sector has dropped substantially and this could be viewed as a general disapproval of the last government's widespread privatisation reforms as well as a change in opinion after the financial crisis (Nilsson, 2013). In 2012, around 60% of Swedes were for a not-for-profit proposal in the welfare sector (health care, education, elderly care). Only 16% thought it was a bad idea (see graph). Left-wing voters were strongest for such a proposal while right-wing voters were most against it, but overall most people seem to be against privatisation of the welfare sector.

No to NATO, yet low confidence in the Swedish military

During the last couple of years swedish military capability to protect territorial borders have been increasingly debated. But despite all the critique towards the Swedish Armed Forces, public resistance towards a NATO-membership had not changed much by 2012. In 2012, only 17% of swedes thought a NATO-membership was a good idea and 45% thought is was a bad idea, while 38% said it was neither a good or bad idea (Bjereld, 2013).
When a debate broke out in January 2013 around the supreme commander stating that the army could only defend Sweden for a week, public opinion shifted a bit. But since no political party made it into a strategic goal or campaigned on the issue, public opinion shifted back (Bjereld, 2013). Ironically, Sweden is basically already a member of NATO since we pay high fees, cooperate and contribute with international forces even if we haven’t signed a full membership. At the same time, Swedish confidence level (share of positive minus share of negative) in the Swedish Armed Forces has decreased continuously since 1994 and hit a low point of -22 in 2008, but have since bounced back and is now at zero (see graph below). Surprisingly, young people (15-29 years) seems to have the biggest confidence in the military, while older people have much lower confidence. Four in ten young swedes want to re-introduce compulsory military service (allmän värnplikt). Support is strongest among Center Party (C), Moderates (M) and Christian Democrats (Kd)- voters which could be interpreted as a failure of/dissatisfaction with previous military and security policy driven by the Alliance (Ydén & Berndtsson, 2013).

The issue of immigration divides the country

Immigration opinion in Sweden from a long-term perspective, the last two decades, has become increasingly generous. Opinion has shifted from 65% in 1992 to 44% in 2013 thinking we should restrict immigration of refugees. However, resistance to immigration increased between 2011-2012, according to the SOM institute. The graph below shows in percentage the swedish opinion (2013) on the proposal of accepting fewer refugees into the country.

At the same time, during the last two decades, Sweden has had two xenophobic parties in Parliament (New Democracy 1991-1994, and the Sweden Democrats 2010-). Immigration sceptical and xenophobic parties successes is an effect of the ability to mobilize voters with negative attitudes towards immigration and refugee acceptance as well as the ability to politicize these attitudes. An important factor to such mobilization could be mainstream media's treatment of the party’s success or questioning and reporting around immigration and refugee related issues. During the fall of 2012 discussions around the Sweden Democrats politics and immigration politics in general were discussed a lot in the media (the term “immigration” got 2 330 search hits during 2012, compared to 1539 hits in 2011. An increase of 50%). Immigration as a political priority among the public also increased from 8th to 4th place between 2011 and 2012. According to Sandberg & Demker (2013), men and people with low education background are most negative towards immigration. The older generation is also a bit more negative than younger people, while the most positive people are located in the larger cities (Sandberg & Demker, 2013). People who are worried about another economic crisis are and have become increasingly negative towards immigration numbers. But surprisingly, its people who are not worried about their personal finances (middle class or above) that have become more negative in accepting refugees. The largest increase in negative attitudes has been among people over 50 that identify as far right on a left-right ideological scale.

Swedes are generous but confidence in foreign aid is decreasing

The share of swedes that claim to give money to a charity at least once a month has increased from 27% in 1998 to 36% in 2012 (Ekengren & Oscarsson, 2013). The global financial crisis that started in 2008-2009 have had an impact on many societal trends but not on swedes tendency to give money to charities. However, a corresponding increase is not seen in charity memberships. Women and the older generation tend to give more than men and younger people. Swedish citizens are thus becoming more generous with giving private funding to charities. However, public opinion on governmental foreign aid, which tend to decrease in time of economic crisis, has become more negative since 2007-08. In 2012, 40% of swedes regarded decreasing foreign aid to developing countries as a bad proposal while 25% thought it was a good idea (see graph below).

Public opinion on the proposal of decreasing foreign aid to developing countries (1986-2012) in percentages. Bad idea (single line) and good idea (dotted line). Source: Ekengren & Oscarsson (2013)

Foreign aid to developing countries have stronger support in smaller more liberal parties than among big parties and far right-wing voters. Peoples Liberal party (+9%), Green Party (+8%) and Christian Democrats (+6%) voters are more positive to foreign aid while Social Democrats (-7%) and Moderates (-13%) voters are more negative (1987-2012). The Sweden Democrats voters are much more negative to foreign aid (-25%) (Ekengren & Oscarsson, 2013). Finally, people who identify as religious tend to be much more positive towards charity membership, foreign aid and giving money.

Attitudes towards religion

45% of Swedes believe in god and 70% are members of the Swedish Church (Svenska kyrkan). Only 2% claim to muslims. But 82% think that everyone should be free to practice their faith (freedom of religion), and most swedes also agree that one should not mix religion and politics (see chart) (Bromander, 2013).

What Swedes worry about most in the long-term

Areas the the public worries most about are mostly related to environmental problems. Environmental degradation (42%), changes in Earth’s climate (40%) and marine degradation (39%) are among the top 5 areas where people feel most worried. However, this is a decrease since the highest values measured in 2007. Worries about organized crime (41%) and large unemployment (41%) have increased since 2011. This could be a reflection of the economic crisis in 2008 and the continuing european crisis as well as increased reporting on crime and violence in the media. Worries about increased amount of refugees also rose, from 19% in 2011 to 27% in 2012 (Weibull et al. 2013). Also this could be a reflection of increased debate and reporting on immigration issues in media outlets and politics.

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Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

The myth lives on

The Wolf has featured as the bad character in fairytales for generations, but what is the real problem between humans and wolves? How come people are so vocal about this specific animal that they will go to such lengths, even violating EU environmental law and pay millions in fines just to hunt it? Wolves have had a complicated relationship with humans. For much of history they have been persecuted as competitors, and out of fear and ignorance. Yet favourable legislation in the European Union have recently allowed this species to re-establish in parts of the continent, in which it's considered critically endangered by IUCN.
Gray Wolf. Photo: Gary Kramer - US fish and wildlife service

The EU is closely monitoring Swedish wolf hunting

Karmenu Vella, the commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, has sent a reply to a letter from WWF, Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), and the Swedish Carnivore Association (SCA). In the letter, Vella describe how “The Commission in July 2014 launched an infringement case against Sweden for failure to ensure appropriate access to justice, including to judicial review of administrative decisions, such as hunting decisions” and he goes on to write “Please be assured that the Commission is closely monitoring this issue and that it will not hesitate, if needed, to take all measures necessary to ensure that European Union environmental law is complied with in Sweden’s management of wolves”.

Wolf hunting in Sweden

Last december experts warned that Swedish wolf hunting may result in a fine of SEK 100 million if the issue goes to the European Court of Justice (SVD, 20 dec 2013). Thus, wolf hunting may become an expensive policy for taxpayers. That the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) granted licenced hunt for 16 wolfs last year lead to heavy criticism from the EU and an appeal by WWF, SCA and SSNC which resulted in a hunting ban awaiting the administrative court's sentence. The NGOs won the case but the sentence was appealed by SEPA and the Swedish Association for Hunters (SAH). The administrative court of appeal did however side with the three NGOs and sentenced the decision of 16 hunting licenses as unlawful. SEPAs motivation that hunting would lead to a decreased level of inbreeding in the Scandinavian wolf population lack sufficient evidence, according the the court. Even if the sentence would be appealed again it is unclear whether the Supreme Administrative Court would accept a trial.

Failure to comply with EU law

But now the government has opened up for hunting of more wolves, despite the administrative court of appeals decision that hunting 16 wolves was illegal. The general parliamentary motion period shows that many of the right-wing parties are positive to licensed wolf hunting. During 2014, 23 cases regarding hunting was brought up. But there is no general agreement on the topic (SVD, 2014) and SEPA has now transferred the decision-making to the county administrative boards in middle Sweden, which opens up for hunting licenses of up to 100 wolves according to some sources (SVD, 2014). Others claim the number to be around 44 wolves (Jönsson, 2014).

Facts about the Scandinavian wolf population

The wolf population in Sweden and Norway consist of a common Scandinavian population with spread over territorial boundaries. Yearly inventories are conducted over the entire Scandinavian peninsula winter time in respective country and also in Finland. During the winter 2013-2014 the Scandinavian wolf population has been estimated at 400 wolves in total (Viltskadecenter, 2014). Around 320 wolves are located only in Sweden, while 50 wolves are transboundary and 30 wolves live in Norway. In total 43 family groups have been documented. Finland registered 22 family groups in total, of which 14 live only in Finland and the rest are transboundary with Russia.The Scandinavian wolf population continues to increase. The population shows no significant change in growth rate during the last 16 years, with a yearly average growth rate of 15%. During this period the population has increased from 10 to 66 family groups. 40 wolf litters born during the spring 2013 were documented.

Family groups in Sweden during the winter 2013-2014. Source: SLU (2014)

The estimated average inbreeding coefficient of pups born in 2013 was 0.25. This is the next lowest number since 1998. During the winter 4 finnish-russian wolves were documented in Sweden. One male is located in Gävleborg and has produced four wolf litters during 2008,2009,2010, 2012. The female that was identified for the first time during the winter of 2010-2011, and was re-located by SEPA at several occasions, was also documented this year. The two wolves that were re-located during 2012-2013 from reindeer terrain in Norrbotten to the border between Örebro and Västra Götaland stayed and had a litter.
Annual number of wolf litters confirmed in Norway (red ),
 cross-border Swedish-Norway (yellow), and Sweden (blue)
during a 16-year-period, 1998-2013. Source: SLU

During 2013-2014, 58 wolves were confirmed dead, 44 were found in Sweden. These numbers are included in the population estimate. In Sweden 26 (of 58) wolves were shot, 14 in self-defence and 12 in protective hunting. 9 died in traffic and another 9 died of unidentified causes.

Public opinion, nation wide

According to one public poll conducted by YouGov in 2012 (1009 respondents), commissioned by SSNC, the difference in opinions among city people and country side people is much lower than often claimed. The question posed was “The Swedish wolf population today consist of 260-330 individuals according to SEPA. Do you think the wolf population should be lowered through hunting?" The results showed that 59% answered No and 21% answered Yes across the country. Below is a chart showing the percentages divided by city size.

EU:s habitat directive

In order to ensure the survival of Europe’s most endangered and vulnerable species, EU governments adopted the Habitats Directive in 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora. It sets the standard for nature conservation across the EU and enables all 27 Member States to work together within the same strong legislative framework in order to protect the most vulnerable species and habitat types across their entire natural range within the EU. Through the EU:s habitat directive wolves have returned to unlikely places in Europe. The return of breeding wolves to Germany during the last 14 years, and the recent arrival of dispersing wolves in Denmark is a striking example of how adaptable wolves are. And it brings optimism to carnivore conservation.The most important threats for wolves in Europe are: low acceptance among the rural communities, illegal killings, habitat fragmentation due to infrastructure development, and poor wildlife management structures.

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New Election in Sweden?


It has now been decided, there will be a new election in March 2015. The prime minister has not resigned and the coalition will continue with their proposed budget but have separate campaigns running up to the next election. The question is however, even if there is a new election, will the outcome be much different?

Political Turmoil

Sweden's government crisis, since the Sweden Democrats (Sd) announced their decision to vote no to any budget that does not include some of their politics (i.e. reduction of immigration), will most likely result in new elections in the spring according to some experts. The current center-left coalition government (S, Mp, and V) will probably not get its budget to pass in parliament today. The impasse has taken sleepy politicians by surprise and is unique in Swedish politics as to what will happen next.

Ways forward?

One likely scenario is that the S, Mp, V budget fails and Stefan Löfven, who is currently prime minister, resigns. If he resigns then the speaker could ask him to try and form a new government without support of the Green Party (Mp). Its unclear if this will happen since the Social Democrats (S) does not seem to want to stand alone. But if it happens, the Greens could then perhaps start negotiating with the center-right opposition (M, Fp, C, Kd). Some may think that sounds weird but the Greens have historically been supporting a bit of both sides. Ideally, Löfven would like to forge deals with two of the smaller opposition parties, the Centre Party (C) and the Liberal Peoples Party (Fp), but they have rejected his advances so far. The current opposition are stong in their collaboration and have worked together for a long while. They probably want to continue to show themselves as unified. Former Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson has said that Sweden looks ready for a move away from the two blocs that have dominated the political scene for the last ten years. He is probably correct in that assessment, but most parties have not realized it until now.

Sweden Democrats position

The Sd are now in a strong position to force the other parties to give heed to their ambitions. At the same time no other party wants anything to do with them. But since Sd became the third largest party in the election they can't be ignored. They have announced that they want to make noise and try to hinder any suggestion that does not include some of their politics. By voting no to any budget that does not include their ambitions both blocs are in a troublesome position. At the moment it does not look like any bloc has met with Sd to discuss a deal.

New Election

Since there is no clear majority for any budget it is possible that Sweden will have an extra election. Sd would probably do well but maybe the two biggest parties S and M could gain some extra support from voters who seek out tried and trusted havens of stability. Right now everyone is blaming everyone and thinking less about how to find a solution. The government could also send back its budget to the finance committee, effectively postponing a decison until after Christmas. But this won't change anything. The prime minister may have already resigned but won't do so consitutionally until December 29th when he can call for new elections. The new election could come about as early as the start of Feburary. It will probably cost tax payers SEK 450 million. The latest opinion survey on party sympathies from October-November this year (8978 respondents) is shown in the graph below. S, M and Mp got higher numbers while all other parties backed. But one should note that people tend to say they vote for Mp but their numbers are lower in elections. And the opposite is true for Sd, people don't say they vote for them but do in elections.
Source: SCB

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