Who owns the arctic? Environment and Security

Our next set of readings assesses the environment/conflict/security nexus. The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, is a fantastic place to find resources related to this topic. Based on the content on its website, it looks to be a very busy place. The ECSP takes a look at the changing environment in the Arctic (due to climate change), and the implications of this from various perspectives–energy, geopolitics, environment, etc.–by asking scholars working on this topic a series of important questions.

How to be an informed climate sceptic

We have spoken repeatedly about the difference between climate science scepticism and climate science denial. Scepticism is at the heart of the scientific enterprise; a sceptical approach to knowledge claims is consistent with the contingent, or provisional, nature of scientific knowledge.

Climate scientists are themselves sceptical about climate science in that they know that while they have learned a great deal about how our climate works, there is much that is either unknown or that can be known better. With that in mind, I provide for your enlightenment a skceptic’s guide to climate science published by the Berkeleyearth.org.  It’s interesting that the Professor of Physics Richard Muller, the founder and scientific director, is a self-admitted ‘converted sceptic’. Indeed, he once believed that the gaps in the scientific knowledge of climate change were so large that he doubted the very existence of global warming. In this op-ed in the New York Times, Muller writes:

Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.

These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming.

Although there is strong scientific evidence of human-induced global warming, there are still many issues that are scientifically not settled. Read the following short, but instructive document to learn how to become an informed climate science sceptic. The alternative is to look as uninformed as this guy:

Bill McKibben was a major force behind the Climate March

Here’s an article profiling one of the leaders of the September 2014 Climate March. Bill McKibben is a journalist and environmental activist whose career spans more than three decades.

Bill McKibben wrote the first big book about global warming, a work he hoped would startle the world like a fire alarm. But the planet just kept on hurtling toward an overheated doom, he noticed. So twenty-five years later, he’s come up with a shriller, more literal strategy for reform: actual alarms.

McKibben is also the creator of the 350.org website, which is must reading for anybody interested in environmental news and activism. (The 350 stands for the levels of atmospheric CO2 gas (measured in parts-per-million (ppm)) aove which climate scientists believe puts the global climate in serious peril. Another good resource is McKibben’s personal website.

Finally, here’s an interview with Bill Moyers, in which McKibben urges US President Barack Obama (the leader of the world’s greatest historical emitter of GHGs) to “say no to big oil.”

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?

patio_heater

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 aalarigakis@shaw.ca.

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

 

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?

R-code:


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("http://ffp.statesindex.org/library/cfsis1301-fsi-spreadsheet178-public-06a.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")

Global Debt Crisis and Relief

The issue of the global debt crisis–and particularly the onerous debt levels of developing world (“Southern”) countries–was a topic that we covered in POLI 1100 today. It will allow me to combine two class topics–issues pertaining development and underdevelopment, and interest groups (NGOs)–into one blog post. The interest group, Global Issues, is dedicated to analyzing “social, political, economic, and environmental issues that affect us all” and has a section on debt relief for the developing world. Here are some facts and figures related to the scale of the debt crisis in the developing world:

Consider the following:

  • In 1970, the world’s poorest countries (roughly 60 countries classified as low-income by the World Bank), owed $25 billion in debt.
  • By 2002, this was $523 billion
  • For Africa,
    • In 1970, it was just under $11 billion
    • By 2002, that was over half, to $295 billion
  • Debts owed to the multilateral institutions such as the IMF and World Bank is currently around $153 billion
  • For the poorest countries debts to multilateral institutions is around $70 billion.

$550 billion has been paid in both principal and interest over the last three decades, on $540bn of loans, and yet there is still a $523 billion dollar debt burden.

Here are some remarks by Professor Susan George on how to tackle the debt crisis. Money quote:

…there is no level of human suffering, which in and of itself, is going to change policy. The only way policy changes is because people demand it, and in this case, it has to be the people of the North, because the people of the South have very little political clout.