Final Post – Climate Change

I mistakenly thought that my last post was my concluding one, so this post will be one looking forward towards one of the greatest challenges we will face as a global community: climate change.

Climate change is an issue that threatens human health, the stability of nations, the stability of ecosystems and much more (McMichael 2013). The majority of the scientific community and many major players on a global scale have acknowledged these risks (McMichael 2013, USAID 2016, Davenport 2016, The Local 2015).

USAID has gotten involved and already has instituted programs to help prepare for the problems that have yet to come (USAID 2016). Like other sources, USAID encourages climate mitigation (USAID 2016, McMichael 2013). USAID has also advocated for the preservation of biodiversity, reforestation and securing land tenure rights to help preserve peoples’ livelihoods (USAID 2016).

But is this enough? Some remain skeptical (The Local 2015). In December of 2015, nations from all over the world met in Paris to negotiate some kind of climate agreement to reduce the future potential increase in temperature (The Local 2015, Davenport 2016). Although the climate talks in Paris were widely celebrated, there was still a lot left to be resolved (The Local 2015, Davenport 2016). The U.S. wanted to agreement to be completely voluntary so that the agreement didn’t have to be passed through Congress (The Local 2015). China was concerned about raising the quality of life for its developing nation while still meeting its carbon emissions reductions goals (The Local 2015). The negotiator present form India emphasized that whatever changes were proposed, they should be affordable so that all countries can meet their emissions reductions goals (The Local 2015).

It’s clear that creating an agreement was incredibly challenging (The Local 2015). Many feared a repeated of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Talks that did not have any clear, established and agreed upon path forward (The Local 2015). The way all of these conflicts were solved was by offering countries the opportunity to update their emissions goals every five years (The Local 2015). Many countries fear that reducing or discouraging the use of fossil fuels will harm their economies (The Local 2015, Davenport 2016).

Many assume that reducing carbon emissions will reduce economic growth (Davenport 2016, The Local 2015). This assumption is logical since the U.S. began utilizing fossil fuels at the same time that it started to become a global player (Davenport 2016). However, in the last several years, more than twenty countries have shown that their rate of carbon pollution and rate of economic growth no longer directly correlate (Davenport 2016).

In the United States between 2000 and 2014, carbon dioxide emissions decreased 16% (Davenport 2016). Economic growth increased 9% (Davenport 2016).

Only 21 countries have achieved the same as the U.S. and almost 175 countries haven’t (Davenport 2016). GDP and carbon emissions still positively correlate on a global scale (Davenport 2016).

So what do we do about that? The Paris Climate talks are hoping for no more than a 2C increase in temperature (The Local 2015). Despite this, USAID and other organizations are encouraging preparation and mitigation (USAID 2016, McMichael 2013).

USAID has helped nearly a million people worldwide better manage natural resources in a more sustainable way (USAID 2016). They have also encouraged multiple countries in Africa to strengthen the way they protect land tenure so people have have security in their ability to access natural resources (USAID 2016). More specifically climate change related, USAID has a group of 20 countries working on a project to increase economic growth without increasing emissions (USAID 2016).

It’s clear that no one has come up with the answer to global climate change (McMichael 2013, USAID 2016, Davenport 2016, The Local 2015). However, many organizations are working to do something (McMichael 2013, USAID 2016, Davenport 2016, The Local 2015). Climate change will be a very challenging problem that poses a threat to not just our environment, but the very food on our plates and the stability of our nations (McMichael 2013, USAID 2016, Davenport 2016, The Local 2015). Climate change is one of the future issues we will have to face in International Development and we will have to do so collaboratively, as a compassionate global community (McMichael 2013, USAID 2016, Davenport 2016, The Local 2015).

 


Work Cited

McMichael, Anthony J. “Globalization, climate change, and human health.” New England Journal of Medicine 368.14 (2013): 1335-1343.

USAID. “Environment and Global Climate Change.” USAID. U.S. Agency for International Development, 21 Mar. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/environment-and-global-climate-change>. 

Davenport, Coral. “Can Economies Rise as Emissions Fall? The Evidence Says Yes.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 06 Apr. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/06/upshot/promising-signs-that-economies-can-rise-as-carbon-emissions-decline.html>.

The Local. “After Paris Climate Accord – Now What?” The Local. The Local, 13 Dec. 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2016. <http://www.thelocal.fr/20151213/after-paris-climate-accord-now-what>

The Future of Sustainability in Southeast Asia

In previous blog posts I have focused on issues ailing the Southeast Asian region in the past and present. This concluding post will deviate from its predecessors, instead focusing on the future of this vibrant, yet rapidly changing area.

The hurdles and challenges facing the people, governments, NGOs, and international agencies in Southeast Asia are countless. Nearly every aspect of development in this region needs reform in order to veer onto a sustainable path. While I have spent extensive time detailing environmental problems such as dams in the Mekong, fishery collapses, and deforestation, these large scale events are largely unfelt by the average global citizen. Take for example the havoc being wreaked on coral reefs in the region. In the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, coral is beginning to bleach and die in response to rising sea temperatures and changing climatic conditions. One local source details, “If the temperature rises to 30.5 [degree Celsius] in the Gulf of Thailand and 28 [degree Celsius] in the Andaman Sea, bleaching is likely to happen,” (Wipatayotin). While the need is clearly urgent, the average person is not directly or immediately felt by the loss of coral reefs and its ecosystem service. How far will it take then to have these environmental disasters felt by and trigger response from the average person?

While environmental degradation is not felt significantly now, it is incorrect to say that it is having no impact. In fact, nearly one in four deaths are due to environmental factors like air, water, and soil pollution, with the “most environmentally-linked deaths [happening] in Southeast Asia, which accounted for 3.8 million such deaths in 2012,” (“Deaths in SE Asia”). Southeast Asia, whether it is the cause of degradation or not, is facing the brunt of the consequences. To the average Western consumer sitting at their computer, life continues uninterrupted, but to the individuals living in these regions, the changes they are encountering are only the beginning. Ultimately, a combined effort of NGOs, national governments, international agencies, and local stakeholders are needed to prevent the situation from getting worse. However, if the West fails to realize, assist, and pay for the harm its people and society is having on regions like Southeast Asia through avoidance of climate change accountability, then it is painstakingly up to national governments in Southeast Asia to save their own people. Eventually, Western officials who refuse to acknowledge delivering assistance will be forced to deal with similar problems in a few decades, however by then the damage will be impossible to mitigate.

Governments in Southeast Asia have typically been slow and unresponsive to ideas of sustainability and green technology as a source of energy. Natural gas, coal, and oil dominate the market, leaving renewables like solar and wind for small-scale village electrification. In fact, “The region will need more resources for itself as it develops further.

Graph detailing the amount by which each sector accounts for in Southeast Asia’s energy consumption.

There will be fewer surpluses for export. This is already the case for oil,” (Symon 241). In another instance the paper states, “With urbanization and growing incomes, motor vehicle ownership has risen rapidly. In Manila… the number of cars has doubled every seven years,” (Symon 243). Clearly, as the region grows economically and in terms of population, energy resources are going to be needed in greater demand. With a system in set for more coal, natural gas, and oil imports and production, there is little room or incentive for renewables. This is the time when governments and organizations like ASEAN need to push for sustainable initiatives and energy. If these governments are not capable of establishing a precedent for sustainable energy and independence now, then once resources become strained and populations and economies grow, there will be no room for switching to green technology.

Map detailing which regions are vulnerable to climate change, with a greater numerical value equating to more vulnerability.

While the outlook for energy independence in this region looks bleak, sustainable ideas and programs are appearing throughout Southeast Asia. As aforementioned in previous posts, tourism has the potential to place power in indigenous people while developing local economies. However, tourism also has the potential to be environmentally destructive, with the industry accounting for 5% of global carbon dioxide emissions through pollution and waste (“UNEP”). When used effectively, countries and local people can make huge economic gains, as described “in the Galapagos Islands and Palau, [where] visitors pay an entry tax to protected areas,” generating over $1.3 billion in Palau annually since 2009 (“UNEP”). The future success of ecotourism is one that requires collaboration with local people, organizations, and governments in order to ensure that the actions committed are in fact sustainable and supporting indigenous groups and conservation.

The future of sustainability in Southeast Asia is one that remains contingent on a variety of political stakeholders, two of those being the current global powerhouses China and the United States. With increasing Chinese influence, the United States has begun to intervene and divest leadership in these nations in order to remain sovereign. The idea of whether this is an American ploy to dominate the region is another debate, but one thing is clear, Southeast Asians are going to feel an increasing pressure from outside forces. As one article describes, “Southeast Asian nations are reluctant to choose sides, wary about being wed as pawns in a geopolitical struggle between superpowers,” (Nakamura). The theory has historical basis, with Korea and Vietnam serving as reminders of geopolitical struggles. The only solution is for global independence to be established, whether that be regional security through the ASEAN or security on a national basis, free from global powers. While establishing security, Southeast Asian nations would be in a position to launch and create sustainable agendas such as energy independence and environmental programs. Doing so would enable freedom from the oil and energy market while decreasing the need for reliance and influence from superpowers like China and the United States.

While Southeast Asian nations play an interconnected role in the global world as both exporters and importers of goods, the nation’s composing this region are at a crucial fork. An opportunity exists for these nations to become independent, free of influence from larger political entities, generating policies and development projects based on their specific economic, social, and environmental needs. Therefore, the future sustainability of this region is not bleak, but one filled with optimism that local groups, national governments, and international organizations can collaborate to promote independent, sustainable livelihoods, addressing the key issues facing the largest environmental crises of the 21st century.

References:

“Environment to Blame for 3.8 Million Deaths in SE Asia since 2012, WHO Finds.” Malay Mail Online. Malay Mail Online, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Nakamura, David. “Obama Welcomes 10 Southeast Asian Leaders to California Summit.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 15 Feb. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Symon, Andrew. “Fuelling Southeast Asia´s Growth: The Energy Challenge.” ASEAN Economic Bulletin 21.2 (2004): 239-48. JSTOR. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

“Harnessing the Power of One Billion Tourists for a Sustainable Future.” United Nations Environment Programme. United Nations Environment Programme, 5 Nov. 2014. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Wipatayotin, Apinya. “Andaman Coral Reef Sites May Close.” Bangkok Post. Bangkok Post, 10 Apr. 2016. Web. 11 Apr. 2016.

Fish Stocks in the South China Sea: Tragedy of the Commons

Water. A resource that is so critical, yet seemingly treated as if dispensable and limitless. Water is essential not only for its intrinsic biological, social, and cultural value, but more importantly what it holds. In this case, a supply of food to feed millions of individuals. However, as the global community and environmentalists have seen, the once bountiful oceans are becoming empty. Fish stocks are on the decline, with certain species pushed near, and beyond the point of recovery. Nowhere is this more evident than the South China Sea, a large subdivision of the Pacific Ocean. However, before the current situation in the area is discussed further, the political entanglements of the region must be discoursed.

Bordering nine countries and hosting an international shipping lane, the South China Sea has always been a source of conflict. The region itself is divided into exclusive economic zones, where only fisherfolk of each respective nation are allowed to catch. However, “with territorial waters being overfished, local fishermen are venturing farther out to sea and, in the process, coming into competition with other foreign fisherman,” (Coulter 378). As coastal regions become devoid of life, the strongest industries, like China, venture out beyond their zone, fishing in what they claim is their respective territory. Similar to how land grabbing is occurring much throughout the world over terrestrial food security, nations of the South China Sea are scrambling to claim zones and harvest fish, all in fear of a complete collapse.

Map showing the actual exclusive economic zone divisions compared to China’s claim

As if the current situation was not enough, the problem is only expected to worsen “as demand for fish rises and counties become more assertive in exercising their rights under their respective [zones],” (“Fish Wars”). A negative feedback loop is evident in the South China Sea regarding overfishing. As unsustainable trawling and illegal ways of fishing become more commonplace, fisheries become more depleted, leading nations to send out fishermen farther, resulting in more unsustainable fishing and further exhaustion of stocks. Consequently, the region is highly interdependent, with the unsustainable actions committed in one area having equally drastic effects on stocks in other areas, often due to the migration pattern of species in this sea (Coulter 379). However, while the scientific community has proved unanimously that fish stocks are dwindling, are the effects being felt locally or internationally?

Local communities have been slow in releasing the economic, social, and environmental catastrophes that have occurred because of fishery depletions, partially due to industry cover-up. A policy brief by the United Nations Environment Programme recently reported that “fishing effort would need to drop by 50% to restore many fisheries to sustainable levels,” (GIWA). While clearly not possible, many coastal communities are feeling the shock, with families in Malaysia and the Philippines forced to spend weeks apart due to strained economic conditions. Migration has also resulted, with certain coastal communities becoming abandoned as fish stocks dry up or ecosystem services like mangrove forests are desecrated. On an international scale, consumers are not feeling the burden, as subsidies and the market system keeps fish flowing into American stores, while malnourishing and depriving those who caught the exported seafood. What exactly can be done then to reverse this trend and prevent a complete global fishery shock that is felt across the globe, regardless of socio-economic class?

The recent phenomenon to combat the growing fishery exhaustion involves the literal farming of fish. Aquaculture has skyrocketed, with the industry deemed as the solution to the problems of the South China Sea. However, while aquaculture has the potential to be extremely successful, the methods of doing so in Southeast Asia are often highly unsustainable. Pollution emitted from these farms are problematic, along with the fact that the feed for this farmed fish includes smaller species from the ocean, resulting in the same problem trying to be defeated.

Different methods of aquaculture, with some proving to be more sustainable methods than others 

In terms of economic and social damage, shrimp aquaculture in Malaysia has “destroyed hundreds of hectares of mangroves in the district but also caused marine pollution and threatened fisheries,” (Idris). The daily income dropped from RM 100, to only RM 15. This is not to say aquaculture is inherently evil, but like most development projects, it needs to be incorporated better with locals to promote sustainability not only in the regional environment, but the livelihoods of coastal dwellers. While sustainable farmed fish are obviously going to play a part in the future of the region, many critics state that aquaculture is not simply enough to combat the growing crisis.

For those who have read my previous blog posts, it is easy to see that I am a believer in consumer power as a catalyst of change. While associations to monitor illegal fishing in these regions are weak, consumers have the right and responsibility to properly source the origin of their seafood. Choosing seafood from certified catchers deemed sustainable is one step in lessening the demand for illegal fishing and support for rejuvenating fish stocks. While transnational corporations, subsidies, and cheap labor still dominate the market, that should not stop individuals from building a small, but growing market for a more sustainable future. Sadly, unless the Global North wakes up one day to find seafood gone from its markets, only then will it create a great enough realization of what has been happening all over the South China Sea.

References:

Coulter, Daniel Y. “South China Sea Fisheries: Countdown to Calamity.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 17.4 (1996): 371-88. JSTOR. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.

GIWA, comp. Challenges to International Waters: Regional Assessments in a Global Perspective. Nairobi, Kenya: United Nations Environment Programme, 2006. Global International Waters Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, Feb. 2016. Web. 4 Apr. 2016.

Idris, Mohamed. “Fisherfolk Threatened by Shrimp Project.” Malaysiakini. Malaysiakini, 02 Mar. 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.

“South China Sea: Fish Wars.” Inquirer.net. Inquirer.net, 3 Apr. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.

Capitalism or Socialism: Could We Do It Better?

Socialism. It’s one of some Clarkies’ favorite words.

Socialism is praised as the answer to all our social and environmental problems by many. If we just transitioned from a capitalist to a socialist all social and economic problems – poof, they’d all disappear! Or so they say…

Let’s start with some simple definitions. Socialism is a system that believes that the government is the most effective body in a society. Therefore, the government (vs private assets) should manage the country’s resources (Diffen 2016). Socialism also most often contains the belief that the government is responsible for addressing and remediating all kinds of inequality including economic inequality (Diffen 2016). Capitalism is a system that believes that things are most effectively done by the free market (Diffen 2016).

Now, let’s talk about organics. Organics are heralded as a savior to our environment and our health. Clarkies love organics.

Now, let’s talk about Walmart. Walmart is highly criticized as degrading to the environment and our health. Clarkies hate Walmart.

Walmart now sells organic milk. How could such an evil body sell organic products?

The market responds to what consumers demand (Diffen 2016). That’s the beauty of capitalism.

Debate about which economic systems are best for people and the environment is a common discussion when it comes to sustainable development (Giddings et al. 2001).

The economy’s role in our daily lives can’t be ignored (Giddings et al. 2001). Many, including Giddings et al., paint GDP growth as antithetical to human or societal growth (2001). However, what Giddings et al. fails to recognize is that GDP growth increases the quality of life for individuals in a society (2001). Human needs are met by the products and services (like healthcare, education, food, shelter) provided by a capitalist economy (Giddings et al. 2001). The U.S. may not do this fairly or equitably for every single individual – but as recent social justice movements have worked for, we’re moving in the right direction, slowly but surely.

Now, let’s talk more about socialism. Socialism, because it advocates for government control of resources, it is thought of often as the most environmentally friendly economic choice (FEE 1992, Diffen 2016). Some claim it prevents the private sector from harming the environment (FEE 1992). Let’s talk about some socialist economies and how they’ve chosen to manage their natural resources (FEE 1992).


 

Some relevant facts and figures about socialist countries sourced from Foundation for Economic Education (1992):

  • 40% of the population of East Germany suffers some health problems as the result of air pollution
  • 70 villages of East German people were forced to relocate between 1960 and 1980 so that the government could mine coal on their property
  • In the Czech Republic, concentrations of sulfur dioxide in the air are eight times higher than U.S. levels
  • Soil in some areas of the Chez Republic is toxic up to a foot deep in the Earth
  • The life expectancy for a polish man decreased significantly between 1972 and 1992
  • 1 of every 3 people in Poland live in areas of environmental disaster, according to the Polish Academy of Sciences

What were some of your thoughts as you read those facts?

The entity commonly blamed for environmental degradation in the U.S. is big corporations (FEE 1992, Warren 2006, Diffen 2016). However, as we’ve explored, big corporations (thanks to the mechanisms of the free market) know when to respond and change in response to consumer wants and needs (Warner 2006, Diffen 2016). Perhaps those responsible for environmental degradation in the United States aren’t corporations, but rather something else (FEE 1992).

Part of our current problem is that although the U.S. has private property laws, the agencies we’ve assigned enforcement power have limited resources (FEE 1992). The EPA has great difficult enforcing environmental laws (FEE 1992). The EPA needs more grit, more bite, more power to protect those in the U.S. than it has currently (FEE 1992). If the EPA has that enforcement power, our built and natural environment would greatly improve (FEE 1992).

Under a socialist system, no individual owns or is responsible for any certain resource (FEE 1992, Diffen 2016). This means there is very little accountability to any individual when things go wrong (FEE 1992). This opens the door to rampant environmental abuse, since no one is left holding responsibility for damage and no individual is the direct recipient of damage (FEE 1992).

China, although a growing world power, is a socialist economy (FEE 1992). China is also responsible for 58% of of global carbon emissions (China Daily 2016). China has also openly admitted that they will continue to increase their carbon emissions for another fifteen years (China Daily 2016).  Despite government control of resources, China’s has prioritized economic and population growth over environmental preservation (China Daily 2016).

As I’ve explored in this blog post, issues relating to the environment and economy and society are incredibly complex and they aren’t likely to be resolved any time soon (Giddings et al. 2001). But despite popular claims, socialism isn’t likely to be our environmental saving grace as history has shown more harm to the environment than success (FEE 1992).

We don’t need to praise Walmart as a whole (especially since they treat employees pretty poorly), but we as a global environmental community don’t have the time or convenience to discredit any organization willing to do something to preserve our environment. Perhaps treating our environment better is a step in a more ethical direction for the corporation. Capitalism has responded to consumers wanting more environmentally sustainable products in one of the globe’s biggest retailers (Warner 2006). The way forward is not in reinventing the system, but working within and improving the one we have.

 

 

 

 

Work Cited

China Daily. “Business / Green China China Yet to Reach Carbon Emissions Peak, Working to Ease Growth.” China Daily Business. China Daily, 7 Mar. 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/business/2016-03/07/content_23772544.htm>.

Diffen. “Capitalism vs. Socialism.” Difference and Comparison. Diffen, 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.diffen.com/difference/Capitalism_vs_Socialism>.

Foundation for Economic Education. “Why Socialism Causes Pollution.” FEE. Foundation for Economic Education, 01 Mar. 1992. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://fee.org/articles/why-socialism-causes-pollution/>.

Giddings, Bob, Bill Hopwood, and Geoff O’brien. “Environment, economy and society: fitting them together into sustainable development.” Sustainable development 10.4 (2002): 187-196.

Warner, Melanie. “A Milk War Over More Than Price.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Sept. 2006. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/16/business/16milk.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2>.

WorkPlaceFairness. “The Good, The Bad and Walmart.” The Good, the Bad, and –. WorkPlaceFairness, 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <http://www.workplacefairness.org/reports/good-bad-wal-mart/wal-mart.php>.