UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon Interviewed on Canadian Television

Host Peter Mansbridge, of the Canadian Broadcasting Coroporation’s (CBC) evening news program, The National, interviewed United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon earlier this week on issues related to climate change and the Alberta oil sands. (I’ll have more next week about the anti-pipeline protests on Burnaby Mountain (in the vicinity of SFU) next week.)

Here are some excerpts:

Ban Ki-Moon: I know the domestic politics in Canada and Australia…but this is a global issue.

Peter Mansbridge: But the Canadian argument has always been, if everybody’s not in, we’re not in. [This obviously refers to the Kyoto Protocol’s division of countries into those that are required to make cuts (so-called Annex I countries) and those (mostly ‘developing’ countries) that do not.]

Ban Ki-Moon: China and [the] United States have taken such a bold initiative, Germany has been a leading country now, and [in] the European Union, twenty-eight countries have shown solidarity and unity. Therefore, it is only natural that Canada as one of the G-7 countries should take a leadership role.

The Secretary-General also spoke about the Alberta oil sands, which have been in the news lately in our part of the world as the result of protests aimed at Kinder Morgan over its plans to increase (three-fold) the flow of tar sands oil (bitumen) through an existing pipeline that runs through Burnaby Mountain to waiting oil tankers in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet, to almost one million barrels per day.

Peter Mansbridge: Should Canadians, or the Canadian government, look beyond the oil sands to make its decisions about climate change?

Ban Ki-Moon: Energy is a very important, this is a cross-cutting issue. There are ways to make transformative changes from a fossil fuel-based economy to a climate-resilient economy by investing wisely in renewable energy resources.

Peter Manbridge: So back away from…

Ban Ki-Moon: Yes, Canada is an advanced economic country…you have many technological innovations, so with the technological innovation and financial capacity, you have many ways to make some transformative changes.

This is the key; the political and societal will has to be created and sustained to force our leaders to make the requisite changes, which will move our country towards an economy that is climate-resilient. An economically-sustainable future and economic well-being are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that not not only are they not mutually exclusive, but that that each is necessary for the other. If we don’t start moving away from our “extractivist economic structure”, we in Canada face the prospect of a future with tremendous ecological and environmental degradation coupled with economic despair, when our leaders finally realize that rather than using our current wealth to innovate away from the extraction and toward energy innovation, we have squandered our wealth on fining ever cheaper ways to dig up crap that the world no longer wants to buy.

“Polluted and poor”–how’s that for a political campaign slogan?

Canadian Minister Aglukkaq’s Opening Statement at the 19th COP in Warsaw

In a couple of weeks time, we will be finishing up the course with a UN simulation. Each of the participants will be required to give a 1-minute (maximum!) opening presentation to the conference. Here is the opening statement of Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency and Minister for the Arctic Council, to the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Warsaw, Poland in 2013. Your opening statements should follow a similar structure (but not length!).

Hayley Stevenson talks about who decides to fix climate change

I’m not certain that it’s cause for sustained consternation, but a few of my students (it was more than three) referred to the University of Sheffield’s Hayley Stevenson as a he in their most recent assignments. You may listen to her in the clip below addressing the topic of climate change and democracy. Not surprisingly, Professor Stevenson implicitly rejects my proposal of a global benevolent dictator (take that USA, China, and Stephen Harper) tasked with creating the global climate regime necessary to combat the potential effects of climate change. Stevenson prefers more democracy to less.

NDP MP Asks Canadian Parliament Why no PM Harper at UN Climate Summit

The UN Climate Summit of 2014 was held in New York earlier this week. More than 125 world leaders were present, including US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Amongst the most noteworthy no-shows were the leaders of some of the world’s largest GHG-emitting countries, such as China, India, Russia, and Germany. Joining his colleagues on the no-show was our own Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. The Canadian government did send a delegate from the ministerial level, however. This did not satisfy the official opposition–The New Democratic Party, as MP Megan Leslie used question period to ask the Conservative government to justify Harper’s non-appearance in New York on Tuesday. Here’s the clip (Leslie’s first offering is in French, so if you don’t follow, the English transcript is provided on youtube:



Proportional Represenation versus Plurality

In IS210 we will discuss the relative merits of the two most frequently instituted electoral systems–proportional representation and plurality (also called majority or “first-past-the-post” electoral systems.

In advance, here is a chart that I’ve created, which shows the electoral results (in terms of number of seats won in the House of Commons) of the 2011 Canadian Federal election. The bottom of the chart contains the actual number of seats won, while the top lists the hypothetical number of seats each party would have won if Canada’s electoral system were one of proportional representation. So, Canada’s electoral system is working as it should, correct?


How much does political culture explain?

For decades now, comparativists have debated the usefulness of cultural explanations of political phenomena. In their path-breaking book, The Civic Culture, Almond and Verba argued that there was a relationship between, what they called, a country’s political culture and the nature and quality of democracy. (In fact, the relationship is a bit more complex in that the believed that a country’s political culture mediated the link between individual attitudes and the political system.) Moreover, the political culture was itself a product of underlying and enduring socially cultural factors, such as either an emphasis on the family, bias towards individualism, etc. Although Almond and Verba studied only five countries–the United States, West Germany, Mexico, Italy, and the United Kingdom–they suggested that the results could be generalized to (all) other countries.

How much, however, does culture explain? Can it explain why some countries have strong economies? Or why some countries have strong democracies? We know that cultural traits and values are relatively enduring, so how can we account for change? We know that a constant can not explain a variable.

The 1963 Cover of Almond and Verba's classic work.

In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Professor Stephen L. Sass asks whether China can innovate its way to technological and economic dominance over the United States. There is much consternation in the United States over recent standardized test scores showing US students doing poorly, relative to their global peers, on science exams. (How have Canadian students been faring?)

Professor Sass answers his own question in the negative. Why, in his estimation, will China not innovate to the top? In a word (well, actually two words)–political culture:

Free societies encourage people to be skeptical and ask critical questions. When I was teaching at a university in Beijing in 2009, my students acknowledged that I frequently asked if they had any questions — and that they rarely did. After my last lecture, at their insistence, we discussed the reasons for their reticence.

Several students pointed out that, from childhood, they were not encouraged to ask questions. I knew that the Cultural Revolution had upturned higher education — and intellectual inquiry generally — during their parents’ lifetimes, but as a guest I didn’t want to get into a political discussion. Instead, I gently pointed out to my students that they were planning to be scientists, and that skepticism and critical questioning were essential for separating the wheat from the chaff in all scholarly endeavors.

Although Sass admits that there are institutional and other reasons that will also serve to limit China’s future technological innovation, he ends up affirming the primacy of political culture:

Perhaps I’m wrong that political freedom is critical for scientific innovation. As a scientist, I have to be skeptical of my own conclusions. But sometime in this still-new century, we will see the results of this unfolding experiment. At the moment, I’d still bet on America.

Do you agree? What other important political phenomena can be explained by political culture?

Electoral Systems

Here’s an interesting post by a student on the effect of different electoral systems on the strategic calculations of voters. Would Canadian voters vote differently if our electoral system were PR? The evidence suggests that for a substantial minority, the answer is yes.

Here’s an example: in many (most) ridings, there is no chance that a member of the Green Party would be elected to parliament. Thus, rather than voting for the Green Party, many voters in these ridings who would prefer to vote Green, vote their 2nd preference, meaning that the Liberal Party and the NDP receive more votes during our elections than they otherwise would under a PR system. (Very few voters whose favoured party is the Green Party have the Conservative Party as their 2nd preference). Check out the post…

Electoral Systems.