Photo: Kristin Fransson, Dept. Economic History

Yesterday I felt extremely proud of being part of the department of economic history as our head of department, Mats Olsson, addressed the Master students at their graduation ceremony. In his speech (excerpt below), the climate crises and the Agenda 2030 took a prominent role. As he highlighted, it is our responsibility to start addressing the question of how can we steer the economy and society away from the current unsustainable path.

Climate change was also highlighted by the student representative -Fanny Zoe Meierhofer- as the most important current societal challenge. She could have been louder but not clearer when she demanded that we (teachers and researchers) start adapting our teaching and research curriculum to tackle these pressing problems since our students today are the leaders of the future.

The tide is changing and this brings hope for the years to come. And while I am writing about hope, I can not help but think about what Greta Thunberg said at the World Economic Forum “[…]I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic, I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act, I want you to act as if you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house was on fire, because it is […]”

So, the ball is in our court.

Excerpt of the speech by Mats Olsson, Head of the Department of Economic History at the graduation ceremony of the Master students (12th June 2019)

“Dear master students, dear relatives and friends, and dear fellow professors and other staff,

Welcome to the graduation ceremony of 2019!

My name is Mats Olsson. I am proud to be Head of the Department of Economic History in Lund. We have the pleasure to host three international Master’s Programmes, which are graduating today.

We have gathered in this beautiful hall to celebrate the successful conclusion of an academic year in these programmes. It has been an eventful year at the university, but even more so in the world around us.

The question of the planet’s future is bigger and hotter than ever. Economic growth and technological advances have contributed to an incomparable increase in living standards for many people. But these blessing is now threatening the earth and the living environment of mankind.

It is no coincidence that the most famous Swede of 2019 is a 16-year old girl, who demands action against these threats. Let my quote Greta Thunberg, speaking in front of the British Parliament in April this year:

“The climate crisis is both the easiest and the hardest issue we have ever faced. The easiest because we know what we must do. We must stop the emissions of greenhouse gases. The hardest because our current economics are still totally dependent on burning fossil fuels, and thereby destroying ecosystems in order to create everlasting economic growth.”

I could not agree more. And the technical side of the problem is quite easy, as compared to the societal application.

The United Nation’s Agenda 2030 defines sustainable development as: development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Furthermore, the Agenda 2030 goals include eradicating poverty, human rights for all, and reducing inequality – and these goals are interconnected with the climate change goals. 

We must harmonize three core elements: economic development, social inclusion and environmental protection.

So, what kind of decisions do we need to take the economy and society into sustainable tracks? Nobody knows all the answers, but everybody must ask this crucial question.

That is why social sciences and economic history is badly needed, in business, in government, and in research. And this must include questioning some of the old dogmas, for example everlasting and unrestrained economic growth and free trade at any cost”. Mats Olsson, Lund 12th June 2019

Note: this excerpt has been published with the authorisation of Mats Olsson.


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