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.”

Advertisements

Climate March on NYC Planned for September 21

What organizers are calling the “largest climate march in history” is set to descend upon New York City in less than two weeks’ time (September 21). The event is meant to coincide with a key UN Climate Summit, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has organized to not only give global leaders in business, politics, and civil society a chance to discuss this important topic, but also to build momentum in advance of the crucial 2015 Paris 21st COP to the UNFCCC. (Don’t worry, by the end of the semester you’ll know exactly what these acronyms mean.) Amongst the projected crowd of tens-of-thousands of protesters will be the current leader (and Member of Parliament) of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May. “Taking it to the streets” in the hopes of hastening socio-political change is something with which May agrees, if her Twitter account is any indication:

Here is part of the Green Party of Canada press release announcing the climate march and encouraging other Canadians to join May in New York City:

On September 21, tens of thousands of concerned citizens from around the world will gather in New York City for the People’s Climate March. They will be marching to show the world leaders assembled there for the 2014 UN Climate Summit that our planet cannot wait for more negotiations – we need climate action now.

At the Climate Summit, Canada will stand out as having the worst climate policy record in the industrialized world.

From their dismantling of environmental regulations to their rush to expand Canada’s pipeline capacity, no government on earth has worked harder than the Harper Conservatives to speed up catastrophic climate change.

Maybe someday we can get the Honourable Member for Saanich–Gulf Islands to tell us what she really thinks about the Harper government’s climate policies.

Is Canadian government climate policy really the industrialized world’s worst? Worse than the USA and/or China? Will you also be increasing your carbon footprint to join the march in New York City?

 

 

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?

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?

 

Can the UN Keep the Peace?

Today in IS 302 we viewed the video “Can the UN Keep the Peace”, which looked at the challenges that face the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like the pairing of the perfect wine with the right meal, this video was (at least in my opinion) a perfect complement to today’s readings.

The “Genocide Olympics”?

china_darfur.jpg

(Image from the San Francisco Chronicle)

In a piece published today New York Times op-ed columnist, Nicholas Kristof, addresses the link between China’s foreign policy goals and the continuing genocide in the Sudanese region of Darfur. Hundreds of thousands have been killed or have died from starvation, disease and malnutrition, and millions have been displaced, whether internally or as refugees abroad, for which, Kristof argues, China bears some moral culpability. Kristof is not alone in this view and the NGO, Olympic Dream for Darfur, has decided to try to do something about it by establishing the “Genocide Olympics” campaign, which is meant to shame China into changing its policies toward Sudan.* Will this work? Is it good foreign policy? Is it morally acceptable to mix sport with politics? Remember, there is historical precedent for this type of thing as the United States boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics in retaliation for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Quoting Kristof:

The Beijing Olympics this summer were supposed to be China’s coming-out party, celebrating the end of nearly two centuries of weakness, poverty and humiliation.

Instead, China’s leaders are tarnishing their own Olympiad by abetting genocide in Darfur and in effect undermining the U.N. military deployment there. The result is a growing international campaign to brand these “The Genocide Olympics.”

This is not a boycott of the Olympics. But expect Darfur-related protests at Chinese Embassies, as well as banners and armbands among both athletes and spectators. There’s a growing recognition that perhaps the best way of averting hundreds of thousands more deaths in Sudan is to use the leverage of the Olympics to shame China into more responsible behavior.

The central problem is that in exchange for access to Sudanese oil, Beijing is financing, diplomatically protecting and supplying the arms for the first genocide of the 21st century. China is the largest arms supplier to Sudan, officially selling $83 million in weapons, aircraft and spare parts to Sudan in 2005, according to Amnesty International USA. That is the latest year for which figures are available.

As the highlighted portion of the quote above implies, China is acting in a fundamentally realist manner, eschewing moral concerns in order to increase its power and security.

*Please do not refer to Sudan as the Sudan, or to Ukraine as the Ukraine, but Sudan and Ukraine, respectively, as they are no longer regions within colonial empires, but are independent states in their own right. Adding the in front of their country names is anachronistic.