Global Civil Society(ies) begins to find its Collective Voice on Climate Change

In this week’s seminar, we had a rather spirited debate on which sector of society–the state, the market, or civil society–is most crucial to restructuring our world in a way that is conducive to protecting the global climate from irreparable damage. I think that most of us agreed that market-based solutions, such as cap-and-trade schemes, are not a panacea. At best, they do nothing and, at worst, they contribute to increasing GHG emissions, increase international injustice (rich countries are able to move pollution from the North to the South), and undermine the sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples.

What about the prospects for domestic/international state (i.e., government) regulation and civil society activism? It’s obvious that both will be needed. While governments have taken small steps over the last couple of decades, much more has to be done. The world’s greatest polluters–the USA and China–in particular, have to be much more pro-active.

Civil society groups, on the other hand, have begun to increase their pressure on political and economic leaders. Evidence of this was last Sunday’s climate march, which took place in over 2500 cities in more than 160 countries. Here’s a nice recap of that day’s action from the event’s organizers:

Patio Heaters versus Food

I was sitting on a restaurant during the evening this past weekend and coincidentally happened to be reading Chapter 2 of Hayley Stevenson’s Institutionalizing Unsustainability, when I looked up to notice the patio heaters had been turned on. This was done to make the patrons’ dining experience more comfortable and satisfying. It wasn’t necessary, since we could have simply been wearing a light jacket and things would have been quite comfortable. I looked up to the heaters just as I read the following lines:

This suggests that climate change is indeed an inherently political problem, [y]et a technical representation of the climate change problem has been institutionalized. Viewed through a technical lens, the specific sources of emissions and the social and political objectives they serve are treated as irrelevant, and the unsustainable nature of many emission-intensive activities [such as heaters on restaurant patios in September on British Columbia’s Pacific Coast] is rendered invisible. As Parikh and Parikh (1991, 43) have pointed out, we could prevent the annual emission of 1,000 tons of GHGs either by taking 800 cars off the road in the United States, or by asking 12,000 Bangladeshis to stop eating rice. These figures belie the assumption that GHG emissions are purely material phenomena that can be satisfactorily mitigated through technocratic processes divorced from social and ethical considerations.

The patio heaters below were in use for about 6 hours each that evening, and I counted 20 in total. Does anybody know how many bowls of rice could have been cooked instead with that energy?


There’s always Vancouver–if you can not make it to Climate March in NYC

Here is something of an update to a previous post on the planned climate march of 21 September in NYC, meant to coincide with the UN Climate Summit. If you are either unable or unwilling to go to New York, but also wanted to take part in this civil society manifestation, there is a local march planned for that day. Here is more information (note: this should not be meant as an endorsement/non-endorsement of the event or the organizers):

We are at the crossroads of the future. Vancouver stands as either the terminus or the gateway of a potential flood of oil, coal and LNG headed out to contribute substantial, irreparable damage to the world’s earth, air and water. We are uniquely situated to act in defense of our planet by helping to stem that flood. Now is the historic time! We have waited all our lives for this moment, to discover that we are the ones we have been waiting for.

Facebook page
We are staging an event in Vancouver to mark our solidarity with the largest environmental protest in history, at the UN Climate Conference in New York on September 21st. This event page is to keep everybody informed as we get closer to the date. If you have ideas and want to help plan, there is also a Facebook group. We also need volunteers! If you’d like to help, we need drivers, sign and banner makers, posterers, tent assemblers, crowd marshals … contact

Here is the trailer for a movie, Disruption, that has been produced to coincide with the Climate March.


Islam, the Koran, and Women’s Rights from the Perspective of Muslim Women

For those of you who are writing on the influence of Islam on the prospects for democratization in predominantly Muslim countries, here is an interesting video, which asks Muslim women about their views on the compatibility of Islam with women’s rights and democracy. This is a nice complement to the Fish article that we read two weeks ago. Here is an illuminating quote from one of the women interviewed in the film:

“First of all I didn’t understand why my brother didn’t have to do housework and I have to do housework…as a little girl it did not make sense to me. Just because he’s a boy he doesn’t have to do housework?!? So for me the questioning was from the family, but the family never used religion to justify why [boys didn’t have to do housework], so I always knew it was culture and tradition.”

“We wanted to break the monopoly, that only the lama, only the religious authorities, have the right to talk about Islam and define what is Islam and what is not Islam.”

Zainah Anwar
Co-founder, Sisters in Islam
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Here is the very interesting video, which is about 26 minutes long. Throughout this film many of the concepts that we have learned this semester are brought into play.

Obstacles to Democratization in North Africa and the Middle East

In conjunction with this week’s readings on democracy and democratization, here is an informative video of a lecture given by Ellen Lust of Yale University. In her lecture, Professor Lust discuses new research that comparative analyzes the respective obstacles to democratization of Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. For those of you in my IS240 class, it will demonstrate to you how survey analysis can help scholars find answers to the questions they seek. For those in IS210, this is a useful demonstration in comparing across countries. [If the “start at” command wasn’t successful, you should forward the video to the 9:00 mark; that’s where Lust begins her lecture.]

Indicators and The Failed States Index

The Failed State Index is created and updated by the Fund for Peace. For the most recent year (2013), the Index finds the same cast of “failed” characters as previous years. There is some movement, the “top” 10 has not changed much over the last few years.

The Top 10 of the Failed States Index for 2013

The Top 10 of the Failed States Index for 2013

Notice the columns in the image above. Each of these columns is a different indicator of “state-failedness”. If you go to the link above, you can hover over each of the thumbnails to find out what each indicator measures. For, example, the column with what looks like a 3-member family is the score for “Mounting Demographic Pressures”, etc. What is most interesting about the individual indicator scores is how similar they are for each state. In other words, if you know Country X’s score on Mounting Demographic Pressures, you would be able to predict the scores of the other 11 indicators with high accuracy. How high? We’ll just run a simple regression analysis, which we’ll do in IS240 later this semester.

For now, though, I was curious as to how closely each indicator was correlated with the total score. Rather than run regression analyses, I chose (for now) to simply plot the associations. [To be fair, one would want to plot each indicator not against the total but against the total less that indicator, since each indicator comprises a portion (1/12, I suppose) of the total score. In the end, the general results are similar,if not exactly the same.]

So, what does this look like? See the image below (the R code is provided below, for those of you in IS240 who would like to replicate this.)

Plotting each of the Failed State Index (FSI) Indicators against the Total FSI Score

Plotting each of the Failed State Index (FSI) Indicators against the Total FSI Score

Here are two questions that you should ponder:

  1. If you didn’t have the resources and had to choose only one indicator as a measure of “failed-stateness”, which indicator would you choose? Which would you definitely not choose?
  2. Would you go to the trouble and expense of collecting all of these indicators? Why or why not?


install.packages("gdata") #This package must be installed to import .xls file

library(gdata) #If you find error message--"required package missing", it means that you must install the dependent package as well, using the same procedure.

fsi.df<-read.xls("")  #importing the data into R, and creating a data frame named fsi.df

pstack.1<-stack(fsi.df[4:15]) #Stacking the indicator variables in a single variable

pstack.df<-data.frame(fsi.df[3],pstack.1) #setting up the data correctly

names(pstack.df)<-c("Total","Score","Indicator") #Changing names of Variables for presentation

install.packages("lattice")  #to be able to create lattice plots

library(lattice) #to load the lattice package

xyplot(pstack.df$Total~pstack.df$Score|pstack.df$Indicator,  groups=pstack.df$Indicator, layout=c(4,3),xlab="FSI Individual Indicator Score", ylab="FSI Index Total")

Statistics, GDP, HDI, and the Social Progress Index

That’s quite a comprehensive title to this post, isn’t it? A more serious social scientist would have prefaced the title with some cryptic phrase ending with a colon, and then added the information-possessing title. So, why don’t I do that. What about “Nibbling on Figs in an Octopus’ Garden: Explanation, Statistics, GDP, Democracy, and the Social Progress Index?” That sounds social ‘sciencey’ enough, I think.

Now, to get to the point of this post: one of the most important research topics in international studies is human welfare, or well-being. Before we can compare human welfare cross-nationally, we have to begin with a definition (which will guide the data-collecting process). What is human welfare? There is obviously some global consensus as to what that means, but there are differences of opinion as to how exactly human welfare should be measured. (In IS210, we’ll examine these issues right after the reading break.) For much of the last seven decades or so, social scientists have used economic data (particularly Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita as a measure of a country’s overall level of human welfare. But GDP measures have been supplemented by other factors over the years with the view that they leave out important components of human welfare. The UN’s Human Development Index is a noteworthy example. A more recent contribution to this endeavour is the Social Progress Index (SPI) produced by the Social Progress Imperative.

HDI–Map of the World (2013)

How much better, though, are these measures than GDP alone? Wait until my next post for answer. But, in the meantime, we’ll look at how “different” the HDI and the SPI are. First, what are the components of the HDI?

“The Human Development Index (HDI) measures the average achievements in a country in three basic dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, access to knowledge and a decent standard of living.”

So, you can see that it goes beyond simple GDP, but don’t you have the sense that many of the indicators–such as a long and healthy life–are associated with GDP? And there’s the problem of endogeneity–what causes what?

The SPI is a recent attempt to look at human welfare even more comprehensively, Here is a screenshot showing the various components of that index:

Screen shot 2014-01-23 at 2.17.50 PMWe can see that there are some components–personal rights, equity and inclusion, access to basic knowledge, etc.,–that are absent from the HDI. Is this a better measure of human well-being than the HDI, or GDP alone? What do you think?

More on Milgram’s Methods of Research

In a previous post, I introduced Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience and authority. We watched a short video clip in class and students responded to questions about Milgram’s research methods. Upon realizing that the unwitting test subjects were all males, one student wondered whether that would have biased the results in a particular direction. The students hypothesized that women may have been much less likely to defer to authority and continue to inflict increasing doses of pain on the test-takers. While there are good reasons to believe either that women would be more or less deferential than are men, what I wanted to emphasize is the broader point about evidence and theory as it relates to research method and research ethics.

The 'sophisticated' machinery of the Milgram Obedience Experiment

The ‘sophisticated’ machinery of the Milgram Obedience Experiment

In the video clip, Milgram states candidly that his inspiration for his famous experiments was the Nazi regime’s treatment of Europe’s Jews, both before and during World War II. He wanted to understand (explain) why seemingly decent people in their everyday lives could have committed and/or allowed such atrocities to occur. Are we all capable of being perpetrators of, or passive accomplices to, severe brutality towards our fellow human beings?

Milgram’s answer to this question is obviously “yes!” But Milgram’s methods of research, his way of collecting the evidence to test his hypothesis, was biased in favour of confirming his predetermined position on the matter. His choice of lab participants is but one example. This is not good social science, however. The philosopher of science, Carl Hempel, long ago (1966) laid out the correct approach to  producing good (social) science:

  1. Have a clear model (of the phenomenon under study), or process, that one hypothesizes to be at work.
  2. Test out the deductive implications of that model, looking at particularly the implications that seem to be least plausible,
  3. Test these least plausible implications against empirical reality.

If even these least plausible implications turn out to be confirmed by the model, then you have srong evidence to suggest that you’ve got a good model of the phenomenon/phenomena of interest. As the physicist Richard Feynman (1965) once wrote,

…[through our experiments] we are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.

Did the manner in which Milgram set up his experiment give him the best chance to “prove himself wrong as quickly as possible” or did he stack the deck in favour of finding evidence that would confirm his hypothesis?

Ghosts of Rwanda

In POLI 1140, we have read an excerpt from Rwanda section of Samantha Power’s prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, in which Power assesses the reasons for the lack of response by the Clinton administration in the spring of 1994 to the developing genocide in Rwanda. Power makes many points but one of the most trenchant is that despite the apparently early decision by Clinton that he would not send US troops to Rwanda (fearful that another Somalia could ensue), many other actions–short of sending troops-could have been taken by the US government and military. Something as simple as sending planes with the capability to jam radio frequencies may have slowed down the killing and saved countless lives.

Here is a compelling and very informative documentary by PBS’ Frontline series on the events surrounding the Rwandan genocide, paying special attention to the lack of action on the part of the United Nations and the United States. Many of the ideas in Power’s book are addressed here.

Universal Jurisdiction

Today in POLI 1140, we discussed and debated the topic of universal jurisdiction. What is universal jurisdiction? Universal jurisdiction is

a legal concept that permits states to claim legal authority beyond their national territory for the purpose of punishing a particularly heinous criminal that violates the laws of all states or protecting human rights. Mingst and Arreguin-Toft (222)

The most celebrated case in this relatively new area of international jurisprudence is that of former Chilean military dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet, about whom the New York Times editorial board wrote in 2004:

Thanks to a Chilean court ruling on Monday, the day at last seems to be approaching when Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former military dictator, will go on trial for crimes committed decades ago. General Pinochet is now a very old man, but normal feelings of sympathy would be misplaced. This trial should have begun years ago.

The long delay is entirely the result of General Pinochet’s effort to evade legal accountability. The charges concern one of the most chilling crimes of his nearly 17-year rule, an international conspiracy to hunt down and murder opponents of Latin America’s military dictatorships in the 1970’s. That plot got under way in the days when Henry Kissinger was running American foreign policy for Richard Nixon, and the the United States did too little to discourage it, even though one of the resulting murders was carried out on the streets of Washington.

Gen.Pinochet would die (at age 91) before facing his accusers.

What has prompted the recent emergence, and codification into both international–for example, Article 49 of the First Geneva Convention–and domestic–Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act–law, of the concept of universal jurisdiction? According to one of the world’s leading human rights NGOs–Amnesty International–it is because

As genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances are crimes under international law, all states should investigate and prosecute the crimes before their national courts.

Recognizing that impunity exists mainly when the national authorities of countries affected by the crimes fail to act, it is important that the national criminal and civil justice systems of all countries can step in to prosecute the crimes on behalf of the international community and award reparations to victims.

Of course, there are many detractors to the use of the concept of universal jurisdiction. The aforementioned Henry Kissinger has argued the concept not only risks “judicial tyranny” and cases like that of Gen. Pinochet set a “dangerous precedent” (though Kissinger is certainly less than a disinterested figure in this case!), but that

The danger [in pushing for universal jurisdiction] lies in pushing the effort to extremes that risk substituting the tyranny of judges for that of governments; historically, the dictatorship of the virtuous has often led to inquisitions and even witch-hunts.

In class, we viewed the first ten minutes of the video below in which advocates and opponents of the concept of universal jurisdiction debated the relative merits of the idea with respect to the potential arrest of Israeli diplomats on visits to Great Britain for alleged war crimes in Israel/the Occupied Territories.

In the video, Professor Dan Scheuftan, of the University of Haifa notes

[although] International Relations is political…[the increasing use of universal jurisdiction will] politicize the legal system as well. again by radicals, usually from the extreme left using it [universal jurisdiction] as a propaganda ploy.

What do you think? Is the concept a valid tool in the fight to bring perpetrators of heinous human rights abuses and war crimes to justice, or is it more likely to be abused (than used) in the politicization and propagandization (is that a word?) of international justice?