This week's stories have no unifying theme other than they kind of capture the end of term mood, a certain grumpiness on the part of the writer (Bjorn Lomborg's tsk tsking of clean energy advocates, Paul Collier's screed against immigration) or not altogether pleasant images (a elephant run amok in a wedding, modern conflict with bows and arrows). Happy grading! Or dissertating! Or turning in those final papers! Enjoy. (My wife pointed out a hopeful Iranian "Yes We Can" video of Rouhani so all is not bleak!).
Sunday, December 1st was World AIDS Day, the annual reminder of the state of the epidemic, a way to focus attention on a problem that
This was a momentous week with the announcement of an interim deal on Iran's nuclear program. There were some critics to be sure of this effort, but I for one am hopeful that the six month effort to halt or at least pause some aspects of Iran's nuclear program will eventually lead to a permanent reduction of tensions between Iran and the West.
It's obviously too soon to say but as we give thanks this holiday season for our families and friends, we can only hope that the diplomatic overtures will ultimately bear fruit. With the past decade plus having yielded relentless military campaigns (some of them necessary but wars without seeming end nonetheless), we can only wish for pragmatic leaders to seize moments of opportunity to avoid yet another war. I know some people don't see it that way, so here's a set of links describing the deal, providing some links and commentary from critics, and some links to defenders of the agreement.
Following on my round of links on Thursday, this is a guest post from Jennifer Hadden from the University of Maryland who is in Warsaw at the global climate negotiations (follow her on Twitter here).
Yeb Saño, Climate Change Commissioner of the Philippines, opened the annual negotiations of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change last week by making an emotional appeal to delegates to "stop the madness" and act decisively on climate change. As of Thursday evening, there have been two three walkouts by the G77/China on the issue of 'loss and damage' and a substantial and broad-based civil society walkout over the general lack of progress in the talks.
Skeptical observers might wonder if this is not just the usual COP drama. Are these meetings becoming nothing more than a symbolic opportunity for developing countries to air their grievances while developed countries listen politely (or in the Australian case, impolitely)? Don’t NGOs always behave theatrically in order to draw attention to themselves? Does anything even really happen at these meetings anymore?
The annual climate negotiations are going on at the moment in Warsaw, Poland. For long-time observers of the process, they have a Groundhog Day-esque quality to them. Every year the same issues seem to come up again and again, and it's unclear if there has been any meaningful progress or if each negotiation is more or less a replay of what transpired the previous year, with divisions between developed and developing countries almost always ever-present.
Rich countries aren't doing enough while poor countries and environmental activists are demanding greater action because there is a climate crisis. Somehow, 10,000+ activists descending upon delegates of nearly 200 nations doesn't seem to do much, yet the annual dance. This year is no different, though it is an interim meeting before a new and improved climate agreement with some legal form set to be negotiated in 2015. In the meantime, here is what's going down this year...
This week, more news from the relief effort and typhoon Haiyan and how the events in the Philippines threaten to overshadow the on-going climate negotiations in Warsaw.
The Security and Relief Situation on the Ground
- U.S. military ramps up aid to Philippines with up to 1,000 soldiers likely on the ground from Okinawa in short order, ferrying Filipino troops and aid supplies
- Plenty of gasoline but gas stations won't open for fear of looting; mayor, a relative of Imelda Marcos, urges residents to flee, tells foreign aid workers "Please be self-sufficient, because there’s nothing"
- Tacloban so bad that some prisoners who were freed from jail during the storm turning themselves in to get food and water
- Fears of nearby guerillas coming to the area
- Mob ransacked food storage in Tacloban, rice bags collapsed killing eight looters, nearby Ormoc peaceful
- 1,000 Filipino troops deployed to the Tacloban area to restore order, curfew
I found two pieces that asked similar questions to my earlier post on why this typhoon appeared to be so destructive and why similar storms in Asia are especially deadly. Both raise interesting questions for scholars of security studies and environmental politics.
Max Fisher raises a similar set of concerns in the Washington Post asking why the Philippines wasn't more ready. Beyond the sheer size of the storm and the country's poverty, he also addresses the governance challenges, writing:
You probably saw the horrific photos and video of Typhoon Haiyan (also known as Yolanda) that made landfall over the weekend in the Philippines, with winds nearing 200 miles an hour and an immense 13 foot storm surge that decimated infrastructure, leading to wide-scale loss of life due to drowning and collapsed buildings.
According to reports, the storm left perhaps as many as 10,000 dead in the city of Tacloban alone and displaced hundreds of thousands. Even as domestic and international aid efforts ramp up, there have been
isolated widespread reports of looting, as people who lost everything have no water, food, or shelter are desperate for supplies. No doubt some unscrupulous others have taken advantage of the chaos as well.
First of all, if you have the resources, I'd encourage you to donate to Oxfam or the Red Cross. I'd also encourage you to volunteer with the Standby Task Force and Micro Mappers to lend your time to support volunteer relief efforts remotely.
In this post, I want to raise the question about what makes Asia particularly susceptible to such devastating climate-related hazards.
Here are a few articles for your consideration. For those of you interested in conservation, we have had a disturbing pattern of stories about rapid declines in species around the world, some of them due to poaching, what has been described as an "environmental crime wave," and others as a result of disease. All of this suggests to me that nature is in serious trouble as population, disruptive modernity, and consumptive pressures may be taking their toll on the natural world. On top of existing stories about declines in elephants, rhinos, bees, bats, and amphibians, we now have reports of a major decline in moose populations. Here are those stories:
In the northern city of Harbin, China, air quality was so bad ten days ago that concentrations of particulate matter reportedly reached 1000 micrograms per cubic meter at their peak, exceeding the World Health Organization's daily safe levels by a factor of 40 and shrouding the city in a fog so dense that commuters had trouble finding their way and a numbers of schools were forced to close. As China's pollution has reached intolerable levels, the air quality problem may pose an opportunity for China to address not only its dirty air but also its greenhouse gas emissions, as actions to reduce air pollution may produce co-benefits for climate change.
China's awful pollution situation and whether action to address climate change were the main subjects of discussion for a number of scholars and practitioners last Friday in a Webinar hosted by ChinaFAQs*. I was fortunate to be among the presenters, and though the event itself was subject to Chatham House rules, I'm making the first of my two contributions to the event available as a blog post (the second will follow shortly).
I've written on China, climate change, and energy in the past for CNAS and RFF. For me, this Webinar was timely, as I have just started a year long MA class on sectoral greenhouse gas emissions reductions strategies by the major economies. Our class has a group blog which we hope is a great resource for those interested in the domestic implementation challenges of climate change policies by the world's major emitters. In the comments that follow, I take up the issue of whether China can get its act together on air pollution and what this might mean for climate change.
Aside from major sporting events, there have been a few items of import in the news.
- A new polio outbreak in Syria is endangering the drive for global eradication
- A 2012 story that I missed, a drive to replace dirty cook stoves in India using experimental methods failed
- India not keen on addressing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) -- a short-lived greenhouse gas -- through the Montreal Protocol
- Washington, Oregon, California, and British Columbia join forces on regional greenhouse gas reduction scheme and coordinated carbon prices
Here is your morning linkage with stories on energy and the environment, conservation, conflict in Africa, and health.
Energy and Environment
- Alex Wang on the really bad air in the Chinese city of Harbin, buses getting lost, school canceled, video here
- 4.5% drop in GHG emissions in the U.S. between 2011 and 2012, but methane rising in shale gas producing states?
- Questions about whether China is last best hope for carbon capture and storage
- Newish IEA report on what is needed for redrawing the climate and energy map
Yay, pointless self-inflicted global catastrophe avoided. In between all the gnashing of teeth about whether the United States Congress would act to forestall a default on the country's national debt and actually reopen the government, some other things were happening around the world. I've been meaning to write about the energy and environment front for weeks, but my attention has been captured by the awful spectacle that was the U.S. Congress, namely the machinations of the radical Tea Party right. Before I delve into links about energy and environment, let me give conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat the last word on the government shutdown:
It was an irresponsible, dysfunctional and deeply pointless act, carried out by a party that on the evidence of the last few weeks shouldn’t be trusted with the management of a banana stand, let alone the House of Representatives.
The U.S. had two dramatic efforts to capture high priority terrorist targets, one in Libya and another in Somalia. The snatch and grab operation in Libya was a seeming success (though I'm wondering if last night's kidnapping of the Libyan Prime Minister was retaliation). The Somalia mission, coming one day after the 20th anniversary of the Black Hawk Down episode, was aborted when the team recognized that there was no way they could take their target alive, given heavy resistance and potential civilian casualties.
The question that emerges from all this is: what the hell is the United States doing? Ok, maybe I phrased this badly, but I'm wondering if our strategy of drone and/or grab is a winning strategy in the long-run? If a fractured Somali or Libyan state is the heart of these countries' problems, do our efforts hinder or help national reconciliation? From what I'm reading about Somalia, I worry that the United States once again has a military solution for a problem that ultimately requires considerable finesse and diplomacy. This week's links speak to the errors and issues with the Somalia mission and what it all means...
We continue to degrade the U.S. brand, weakening America's ability to serve as a force for attraction around the world. Why would anyone want to emulate this particular crappy model of democracy? In terms of security, 70% of our intelligence community at the NSA and CIA have been furloughed (James Clapper and the WaPo raised the specter of a possible increased threat from terrorism and depending on your view of how active plotters are against America and its interests, you might find this logic persuasive). In terms of doing the nation's international business, staff at U.S. government agencies and federally funded institutions of higher education are furloughed. They are not able to do the nation's business and serve U.S. interests.
I was transfixed this week by the week's events in Kenya, the attacks by Al-Shabaab on the Westgate shopping center that resulted in the deaths of at least 60 people. With friends just a stone's throw away from that mall, it was hard to turn away from that unfolding set of events. So, this week, to give you some context, I've linked a number of stories that try to explain how the attack could have happened, why al-Shabaab appears intent on this kind of action, and what this means for security in East Africa.
At the same time as we have witnessed this horrific tragedy, there appears a positive opening between the United States and Iran, led by its interesting new president Rouhani. While no meeting occurred between the U.S. and Iran occurred at this week's United Nations annual gathering of heads of state in New York, the prospects for progress in this space are better than they have been in a long time.
Beyond this, I link to additional stories on global health, including a new UNAIDS report that shows continued progress on stemming new infections as well a new £1bn pledge from the British government to the Global Fund. Oh, and The Monkey Cage went live on the Washington Post site.
After last week's diplomatic overtures on Syria, we've entered a period of relative calm and back to our mixed bag of stories of interest. NPR is running a fabulous series on Brazil in the lead up to the World Cup, which is also timely since the Brazilian president cancelled her plans to visit the United States as a result of U.S. spying on her and other Brazilians, a revelation that came out of the Snowden affair.
In other news, I'm going to link to stories on Chinese extraordinary measures to address pollution, how much
energy electricity your average refrigerator uses, Nathan Jensen's cautionary tale on the peer review process, a story on poverty tourists in South Africa, and more from international politics and academia!
Over at the Woodrow Wilson Center's New Security Beat, I have a new post about a recent Science article by several economists on the connections between climate change and conflict. That article, which featured a reanalysis of sixty studies, sought to unambiguously demonstrate the climate effects contribute to conflict across a range of time periods, levels of conflict, and countries (see my previous Duck post with links to other critiques). However, as I suggested, the lack of serious attention to causal processes and the lumping together of quite distinct phenomena under a broad umbrella missed the point that climate effects are likely to have heterogeneous links to conflict. Rainfall abundance, rainfall scarcity, extreme weather events, and temperature may operate through different processes and in some cases may help ameliorate conflicts rather than foment them. Now, there is a section of that blog post that ended up on the cutting room floor, and I wanted to try to get some of it out here, mostly to elicit feedback from more quantitatively inclined social scientists who might be able to weigh in and explain whether what they did was kosher.
If you are like me, you have been transfixed by the unfolding story on Syria, the diplomatic gambit that has forestalled an imminent military strike. Alongside this important news has been the more picayune question of a Syria intervention advocate falsely claiming her academic credentials from my alma mater. Lost in the midst of all this Syria drama is the fact that the United States Men's National Team qualified for the World Cup. In my one vaguely nationalist refrain, we are going to Brazil! Read on about all of these things...
It's morning somewhere right? With military action possibly pending in Syria amidst a horrible ongoing civil war, I needed a more hopeful photo to accompany this post of news links (hence the duck and the kitten). But, the news out there is pretty grim so here are some links on Syria, the links between drought and the war in Syria, climate change and violence, and what happened to Al Gore on climate change.
Aaron David Miller makes the case that Obama had to go to Congress and made a virtue out of necessity
Under these circumstances, Obama has been risk-averse not because he's flawed, morally obtuse, weak, or traumatized. It's because he sees no real options and refuses to buy into the happy talk about this terrific military option or that. We couldn't fix Iraq with hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground and trillions expended; and we can't fix Syria from the air.
The president knows this, and that going to Congress and making it a partner and party to the uncertainties of the Syria situation will help distribute some of the risk of limited action. If strikes go badly, Obama will take the hit. But it would be much worse if he plunged ahead without public or congressional support.