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:

Naomi Klein Interviewed about her new climate politics book

Naomi Klein, who has written extensively about global political issues was recently interviewed on Democracy Now about her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate. This is one of those books whose content is easily identifiable from the title. In essence, Klein posits that capitalism, at least in its current form as championed by right-wing think tanks world-wide (but especially in the United States of America), is inherently at odds with protecting the climate. This is a sentiment articulated by some of you during our session earlier this week. There can’t simply be tinkering at the margins. The protection of the global environment requires a radical re-thinking of the relationships amongst, civil society, the market, and the state. [Incidentally, Klein’s book promotion tour will hit Vancouver on October 26th (at UBC).]

Here’s part of the transcript from the interview, which you can view below:

NAOMI KLEIN…So the argument I’m making is really quite a hopeful one. I think if we do respond to climate change with the decisiveness that the scientist[s] are telling us we do, if we respond in line with science, we have a chance to remake our economy, the global economy, for the better…

AMY GOODMANNaomi Klein, in your book, This Changes Everything, you… talk about a number of these [right-wing think tanks] groups. You open with them in a chapter called “The Right is Right.”

NAOMI KLEIN: OK, well, let’s be clear: They are not right about the science. They’re wrong about the science. But I think what the right understands, and it’s important to understand, that the climate change denier movement in the United States is entirely a product of the right-wing think tank infrastructure…The Heartland Institute, which people mostly only know in terms of the fact that it hosts these annual conferences of climate change skeptics or deniers, it’s important to know that the Heartland Institute is first and foremost a free market think tank. It’s not a scientific organization. It is—just like the other ones I listed, it exists to push the ideology, the familiar ideology, of deregulation, privatization, cuts to government spending, and sort of triumphant free market, you know, backed with enormous corporate funding, because that’s a very, very profitable ideology.

And when I interviewed the head of the Heartland Institute, Joe Bast, for this project, he was quite open that it wasn’t that he found a problem with the science first. He said, when he looked at the science and listened to what scientists were saying about how much we need to cut our emissions, he realized that climate change could be—if it were true, it would justify huge amounts of government regulation, which he politically opposes. And so, he said, “So then we looked at the science, and we found these problems,” right? So the issue is, they understand that if the science is true, their whole ideological project falls apart, because, as I said, you can’t respond to a crisis this big, that involves transforming the foundation of our economy—our economy was built on fossil fuels, it is still fueled by fossil fuels. The idea in this—we hear this from a lot of liberal environmental groups, that we can change completely painlessly—just change your light bulbs, or just a gentle market mechanism, tax and relax, no problem. This is what they understand well, that in fact it requires transformative change. That change is abhorrent to them…

…So when I say “the right is right,” I think that they have a better grasp on the political implications of the science, of what it means to how we need to change our economy and what the role of the public sphere is and the role of collective action is, better than some of those sort of big, slick, centrist green groups that are constantly trying to sell climate action as something entirely reconcilable with a booming capitalist economy. And we’re always hearing about green growth and how it’s great for business. You know, yeah, you can—there will be markets in green energy and so on, but other businesses are going to have to contract in ways that requires that strong intervention.

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.


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?


Worse Than War

In IS 302 today, we viewed the first 2/3 of the PBS documentary, Worse than War, based on the work of genocide (note: not genocidal) scholar Daniel Goldhagen , who is probably known best for his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Many of the issues raised by Goldhagen in the documentary were relevant to the readings of this week by Kaldor, et al.

The “New Humanitarianism” and Rule vs. Act Utilitarianism (Consequentialism)

In chapter 3 of Humanitarian Intervention Weiss analyses “new wars” and “new humanitarianisms.”  The changing nature of humanitarian work is characterized by many things, but I’d like to focus on one particularly, which will lead us to a discussion of the importance of neutrality and the concepts of rule and act utilitarianism.

Weiss argues that humanitarian responses, by NGOs particularly,  are becoming more ambitious in scope and thereby shifting from a focus on short-term emergency relief to “attacking the root causes and post-conflict peacebuilding.” He continues,

“rather than provide band-aids, they [humanitarians] wish to use assistance and protection as levers. Many aid agencies desire to spread development, democracy, and human rights and create stable, effective, and legitimate states.” (76)

This has led, concomitantly, to a change in the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality. These principles, Weiss notes, “made sense if the objective was to provide relief and gain access to affected populations.” These principles, it is argued, foundered upon the reality that contemporary wars–“new wars”–were creating “unanticipated and unintended negative consequences.” Moreover, in a world in which the combatants are state militaries, neutrality and impartiality retained some internal logic. However, as genocidaires and other ty[es of rebel groups become the main combatants in civil wars and the predominant perpetrators of crimes against humanity, the principles of neutrality and impartiality come to be seen increasingly as relics of a bygone era.

A few students took issue with this argument, insisting that there are also likely to be unintended consequences of humanitarian organizations repudiating the principles of neutrality and impartiality. They mentioned some of these in class. This prompted a quick excursion by me into the difference between act and rule utilitarianism/consequentialism. I’ll explain below the fold:

Bosnia Muslim leaders argued that the neutrality policy allowed Messrs. Karadzic and Mladic free reign in their campaign to ethnically cleanse large swaths of Bosnia of (well-fed) Muslims.

Continue reading

Japanese American Internment During World War II

Students in my Intro to IR class have turned in papers dealing with ethics in international relations. One of the papers has an interesting quote by a Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt (who [my student claims] ultimately ordered the internment).

According to my student (AA), this is what Lt-Gen. DeWitt said to members of a Congressional panel:

“I don’t want any of them [persons of Japanese ancestry] here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty… It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty… But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map” (Mullen)*.

*Here is the source: Fred Mullen, “DeWitt Attitude on Japs Upsets Plans,” Watsonville Register- Pajaronian, April 16, 1943. Reproduced by Santa Cruz Public Library, accessed April 6, 2008.

The Onion on UN Report Declaring China Air Pollution Champion

In their inimitable way, the fine people at the Onion have used a new UN report on air pollution as the source for this satirical report. China is now the world’s worst (or best–I suppose it depends on one’s perspective) air polluter. Some memorable quotes from the Chinese “Ambassador” interviewed in the report:

“The labor of my people have [sic] made the sky black with the smoke of progress. We are overjoyed!”

“The sky over China is now a rainbow of grays reflecting all the shades of our prosperity.”

“Close to one million people will die of cancer in China this year. Cancer is a very modern disease!”

Happy Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, a celebration of our planet and a day to reflect on all that it gives us and all that we do to make it less likely to continue to provide for us into the future. While we are unlikely to be entering a neo-Malthusian period, we are putting an ever increasing strain on the fragile ecosystem. Here, from the Vancouver Sun, are ten things that you can do to make a difference. How many of these are you currently doing? I hereby publicly commit that I will ride my bicycle to work until the end of the semester (that’s only about two weeks from now, but still two weeks is two weeks.)

1. Leave your car at home for a day (or a week or a month) and try walking or biking. If work is too far away to walk, take public transit or carpool. One city bus eliminates the emissions of 40 cars.

2. Turn off the lights, the computer and the television when they are not in use. Using only highly efficient and money-saving appliances can reduce the electricity consumption of an average household to one-10th of the national average.

3. Try eating meat-free at least one day a week. A meat-based diet requires seven times more land than a plant-based diet. Livestock production is responsible for more climate change gasses than all the motor vehicles in the world.

4. Choose foods produced organically, locally and in season. Support your regional farmers and farming industry: buying locally and in season is better for the environment than buying foods that have been shipped hundreds of kilometres to your local market.

5. Put a composter in your backyard or use your green bin to reduce household waste. Composting organics has two key benefits: it reduces the amount of waste going to landfills and when added to your garden, helps nourish soil and plants.

6. Turn off your car’s engine if stopped for more than 10 seconds. If every driver of a light-duty vehicle avoided idling by five minutes a day, collectively, we would save 1.8 million litres of fuel per day, almost 4500 tonnes of GHG emissions.

7. Set your thermostat above room temperature in the summer and below room temperature in the winter. For each degree you adjust, you can save 5% on your utility bill and 1% on your energy use.

8. Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). A CFL uses only 25% as much energy as an incandescent bulb and lasts 10 times longer.

9. The simple act of recycling has more impact on the environment than the average Canadian thinks. The amount of wood and paper North Americans throw away each year is enough to heat five million homes for 200 years.

10. This is a great opportunity to brag. Tell someone what you’re doing to make the world a better place. Support the cause. Encourage them to get involved too.

Source: Earth Day Canada