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.


“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.

Blog 4: Indigenous People

Indigenous people are impacted by climate change to the point where in recent years many uprisings and rallies have occurred in attempts for change. These people are often overlooked due to their small population numbers and the land that is desired for which they live on and have rights to. One could insinuate that indigenous people are impacted heavily based on their dependence on the land around them, they live off the land and rely on its production for a livelihood. The fact that indigenous people’s rights for their land has become an issue in the last few decades shows that the land is changing and climate change is impacting our planet and its people who rely on it.

The book Climate Change and Indigenous People by Abate and Kronk discuss how and why climate change disproportionately burdens indigenous people. They first open up by sharing that a history of colonization and oppression is a major reason for lack of respect and increased vulnerability that indigenous peoples have, and that, “many indigenous communities also share unique legal and spiritual connections to their environment” (Abate and Kronk), which together results in depreciation for their environment impacting their traditional sustainable lives and rights. Environmental changes including: severe drought, higher temperatures, deforestation, vegetation loss, ice melt, and species loss; have all impacted indigenous people’s lives because they rely on the land for their livelihood. It is becoming more difficult for indigenous people to continue their traditional farming practice, carry a steady food supply, rely on the same diet, and many more losses in daily activities which are conglomerating to the point where indigenous people are being pushed to their limits unrightfully so.

Last December the UNFCCC came up with The Paris Agreement, which had a heavy focus on indigenous people’s rights when considering environmental projects and climate change. This all stemmed from indigenous people’s involvement in activities to fight for change, so the awareness was brought to the attention of the higher ups making the calls on this agreement. It was stated that, “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, (and) the rights of indigenous peoples” (United Nations). In the agreement it was also discussed that non-party stakeholders need to take into consideration indigenous people’s knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts when considering responding to climate change. This agreement is the right step into helping the indigenous people deserve and regain the rights that are theirs. Raising the awareness on a large scale like this will make it easier for indigenous people to remain indigenous and one with their land.

Awareness of these issues has been raised and action is settling in to hopefully begin taking place soon. In Indonesia specifically there is a pressure for the government to boost protection for indigenous people’s rights after 40 cases of violation had been identified and brought to their attention. The Dayak Benuaq indigenous people of Indonesia have been struggling since the 1970s to claim rights for their forests as they face the pressure of logging and mining operations which has inevitably, “Violated the Dayak Benuaq people’s rights to a healthy and safe environment, property ownership, cultural activities, education, traditional knowledge and a life free of fear” (Jakarta). These development issues have raised skepticism over the Presidents promise to protect indigenous peoples rights and has resulted in the urge to set up a task force to deal with indigenous issues.

In Latin America there has been illegal mining for gold which has resulted in abuse of human rights and destruction of the environment impacting its indigenous people. Many illegal miners are exploiting members of indigenous tribes and using them as slave style workers. This illegal gold rush in Latin America has led to major deforestation and produces 30 tons of waste mercury every year that is being released into the waterways poisoning fish and causing damage to humans. “Global Initiative, a network of prominent law enforcement, governance and development professionals” says corporations, “must adhere to the UN guiding principles on business and human rights and do a better job of mapping out supply chains and ensuring that gold is sourced responsibly and ethically” (The Guardian). These issues of indigenous people being impacted by environment degradation are happening all over our planet and awareness and government involvement is finally beginning to surface. These are the first steps necessary towards helping the indigenous people of regions around the world become recognized and being respected for what is theirs and their rights.


Works Cited

Abate, Randall, and Elizabeth Ann. Kronk. “Commonality among Unique Indigenous Communities: An Introduction to Climate Change and Its Impacts on Indigenous Peoples.” Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: The Search for Legal Remedies. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2013. N. pag. Print.

Jones, Sam. “Illegal Gold Mining Drives Human Rights Abuses in Latin America, Claims Study.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 07 Apr. 2016. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

“Pressure Grows on Indonesia to Tackle Indigenous Rights Abuses.” Jakarta. N.p., 28 Mar. 2016. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

United Nations. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Adoption of the Paris Agreement. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.



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.


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.”, 3 Apr. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2016.

Deforestation in Indonesia: Who is to Blame?

Deforestation. A looming concept that each one of us is familiar with. Whether it be the expansive tracts of the Amazon, the dense growth of the Congo, or the tall flora of Cascadia. While deforestation in each of these regions is attributed to specific causes, the deforestation currently happening in Indonesia, one of the world’s major rainforests, is a complexity of seemingly unidentifiable culprits and multiple issues.

In discussing the deforestation problem plaguing Indonesia, it is crucial to set up a contextual background for discussion. Indonesia, while one of the planet’s most thriving and upcoming markets, is home to 10% of the world’s rainforests, containing an astounding amount of endemic fauna that are hypersensitive to any environmental change. Roll in climate change and deforestation, triggering havoc to local environments and causing not only one of the greatest species disappearance rates of all time, but permanent shifts in indigenous life. Traditionally, locals practiced sustainable agriculture and slash-and-burn techniques called today “swidden agriculture” (Dauvergne). Combined with modern globalization efforts taking place in the country, the government places forests, and its inhabitants, on the backburner when money is on the line.

Past, current, and estimated loss of forest in Borneo, the largest island in Indonesia

Four key reasons exist for deforestation in Indonesia: tropical government, developmental, environmental, and public policy. The first places indigenous people and their way of life as the cause of the forest destruction, an almost laughable argument. The development explanation and public policy are closely tied. Both agree that development has led to greater situations in which deforestation is necessary, such as the poor attempting to make a livelihood. The public policy explanation even goes so far to say that, “Aid agencies, multinational corporations, international finance, and Third World Elites, motivated by profit maximization and the international market, all contribute to destructive forest activities,” (Dauvergne 501). Coupled with the fact that the Indonesian government is highly corrupt, with 40% of its aid being lost to corruption, it is plausible to see a link between government, international corporations, and deforestation. In fact, the environmental and public policy explanations stress the importance of this connection, with both stating that the government has installed policies that encourage illegal logging and deforestation for monetary profit.

However, the government is not the only person to blame, the globalization era has also created an insatiable hunger for products, notably timber, which Indonesia can provide. The global network of supply chains and multinational corporations are equally partakers in the destruction of the forests, exploiting and supporting not only the corrupt government, but destroying balanced ecological systems and local livelihoods in the process. As an UNEP article debriefs, “More than 74% of the poor [depend] on ecosystem services for their basic livelihoods, depletion of these services could be detrimental to the wellbeing of the poor and the country’s overall growth,” (Benson). Not only is this a siphoning of wealth to the corrupt officials and international corporations, but it is an exponentially growing problem if sustainable forestry and environmental education is not put in place. So how can it be fixed, and who can the blame truly be placed on?

While the most obvious answer is the creation of federal or international programs to monitor forestry rates, with an unreliable government, such actions can only go so far. I am not discrediting the actions of organizations like REDD+, IUCN, and WWF, in fact I am acknowledging the work done by these establishments as crucial, however more needs to be done. Locals are beginning to take power not only through activism and protest, but through education and support of local forests and economy in ecotourism. Ecotourism itself is tourism taken with an approach of education, sustainability, and appreciation for the natural world. One example is increased visitations and interactions in orangutan reserves, generating income for local economies while creating conservation oriented mindsets and animosity against deforestation. The effects of these projects are well noted: “Genuine socio-economic incentives, control over the direction and size of the ecotourism development and control over the possible impacts would empower local communities making them willing actors rather than reluctant subjects,” (Drewry). Not only are these people gaining economic power, but combined with ecotourists visiting these centers, a core group preventing unsustainable development and logging can be established.

Infographic detailing which companies have been more successful in reaching their palm oil sustainability goals

One last tidbit about Indonesian deforestation that cannot be ignored is the dreaded palm oil industry. Thousands of acres per year of Indonesian forest are cut down, both legally and illegally, to support the unsustainable cultivation of palm oil and other palm related products. As one organization describes, “From Doritos to Colgate to Johnson & Johnson baby soap, palm oil is in so many products that it is hard to avoid,” (Rahmawati). While palm products are in nearly everything, I am a firm believer in consumers having purchasing power and the ability to dictate to multinational corporations what they will and will not tolerate in terms of consumer goods. Such is the reasoning behind projects like the RSPO, companies that have, after consumer demand and pressure, committed to the use of sustainable palm oil in their products. After all, if multinational corporations are driving Indonesian deforestation to produce products for consumers, do we not have at least some power, fault, or responsibility in fixing the crisis? All in all the Indonesian deforestation crisis is one that propagates and results from various levels, but one that can receive assistance and restriction on the national, local, and global consumer level.


Benson, Brittany. “Investment of $600 Million a Year Required to Maintain Indonesia’s Forest Cover, Critical to National Economy and Local Livelihoods – UN Report.” United Nations Environment Programme. United Nations Environment Programme, 8 July 2015. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Dauvergne, Peter. “The Politics of Deforestation in Indonesia.” Pacific Affairs 66.4 (1993): 497-518. JSTOR. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Drewry, Rachel. “Ecotourism: Can It save the Orangutans?” Inside Indonesia. Indonesian Resources and Information Program, July-Aug. 1997. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Rahmawati, Annisa. “Snack and Personal Care Companies Commit to End Palm Oil Deforestation – Who Is Taking Action?” One Green Planet. Greenpeace, 15 Mar. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 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. <>.

Diffen. “Capitalism vs. Socialism.” Difference and Comparison. Diffen, 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <>.

Foundation for Economic Education. “Why Socialism Causes Pollution.” FEE. Foundation for Economic Education, 01 Mar. 1992. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <>.

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. <>.

WorkPlaceFairness. “The Good, The Bad and Walmart.” The Good, the Bad, and –. WorkPlaceFairness, 2016. Web. 25 Mar. 2016. <>.

Externalities in Indochina: Mekong River Dams

The Mekong River. The backbone, the structural and economic lifeline of Indochina. This mystic river snakes through six countries, providing economic livelihoods to over 73 million people, sustaining local and national economies. As pictured by the map, the source of the river trickles from the Tibet Plateau, winding through mountains and hills to form farming rich regions before emptying into the Mekong Delta. However, the Mekong is a prime example of one of the greatest hurdles facing large scale environmental sustainability. Before the problem can be elaborated on further, the concept of externalities, the greatest issue facing the region, must be explained.

An externality, at a basic level, is any action done by a party or entity that has consequences on another party that held no direct relation to the action. A simplified example of an externality is when a person smokes in a crowded room. The action is smoking, and the party suffering the consequences are the individuals in the room. Situations like these play out all around the world, but they have a particular focus in environmental sustainability, as the actions of one group or nation often have lasting implications on that of other political bodies.

Before discussing the exact problems nations of the Mekong are plaguing each other with, it is important to note that the region has a long history of overarching regulation. Following two successive intergovernmental organizations, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) “was founded in 1995 to coordinate water resources planning and development across Southeast Asia’s lower Mekong River Basin,” (Jacobs 354). While organizations like the MCR and its predecessors are viewed as saviors of the Mekong, it is crucial to pinpoint that these administrations have been backed, sponsored, and funded by various development actors such as the United States, International Monetary Fund, and other regional stakeholders. More importantly, the goals of these organizations fluctuate widely, often enforcing the will of the institution providing financial support, typically placing economics over environmental security and local livelihoods. In the end, the MRC is nearly powerless in comparison to governmental administrations like Thailand or China, restricting the effective positive work it can do in the region.

As a whole, the biggest externality issue facing the region is the construction of dams upstream in order to create hydrological power. China in particular, has planned “at least 17 dams on the Lancang’s mainstream, though the most controversial project is the seven-dam Lancang cascade,” (Yeophantang). A general consensus exists that construction of dams upstream have permanent and lasting consequences on the nations composing the Lower Mekong Basin, including reduction of arable land and ecosystem failures. As if the ecological and local effect to livelihoods is not enough, the construction of dams also places power in the hands of players like China, who are capable of directing how much or little water nations and citizens receive, creating a political hegemony.

Not only are externality issues arising between powerhouses like China and the other Mekong nations, but also between nations in the lower basin themselves. In fact, Thailand has begun pumping Mekong River water into its own waterways, “[diverting] small volumes [of water, with] Vietnam [saying] it had recorded the lowest levels of the Mekong River since 1926,” (Cochrane). The power grab to seize control of the Mekong is one that holds not only hydrological power, but a ploy to maintain dominance over other nations. Conversely, due to a recent drought spell in the basin, China decided to release water from its dams, flooding the region, effectively demonstrating how these dams place too much ecological and political power in the hands of nations like China. Moreover, as one individual states discrediting what many describe as “goodwill” from the Chinese, storing water is already against the “natural flow” of the river, citing this as only creating more problems to come (Bopha).

Photo of Jinghong dam from above, alluding to the amount of water China released downstream.

While the problem highlighted does deal specifically with the ecological damage of dams and water diversion, the main concept I am displaying is a worldwide environmental issue of externalities. This concept is a common thread throughout development and one that is not often discussed, purely because few consider it. Too often, policies are focused on the “big picture,” whether that is economic prosperity, a development goal set by an institution, or just large scale infrastructure projects, as in the case of China with its dams. These actors are often “paying little attention to social considerations including local communities’ perspectives and concerns,” (Duong). Although, development is meant for growth of these local communities and livelihoods, often policies implemented by governments and institutions end up supplying economic growth as planned, but the growth does not extend to those that need it or often these local communities are harmed in addition to regional environmental degradation. An interesting question to pose, and one that warrants debate, is how can economic growth continue in areas like Indochina, while promoting sustainable development to local ecological systems and people? Is this feasible, or will externalities always be present and one group deemed to suffer while the other thrives in what developers term the development paradox?


Bopha, Phorn. “Cambodian Thanks, Caution, as China Opens Mekong Dam.” Voice of America. Voice of America, 18 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Cochrane, Liam. “Mekong River Diverted into Thailand’s Waterways, Worrying Drought-stricken Neighbours like Vietnam.” ABC News. ABC News, 17 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Duong, Hoang. “Vietnam’s Mekong Delta Study Misses Key Impacts from Upstream Dams.” Thanh Nien Daily. Thanh Nien News, 19 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Jacobs, Jeffrey W. “The Mekong River Commission: Transboundary Water Resources Planning and Regional Security.” The Geographical Journal Geographical 168.4 (2002): 354-64. JSTOR. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

“Mekong River Basin.” Great Rivers Partnership. The Nature Conservancy. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Yeophantong, Pichamon. “China in the Mekong: Building Dams for Whose Benefit?” Global Economic Governance Programme. University of Oxford, 1 Sept. 2013. Web. 24 Mar. 2016.

Consumers vs. the Consumed: The Beginnings

Today Americans consume food like there is no tomorrow.  We eat and eat and eat without a thought to where our food comes from and how it ended up on our plates.  While most of the food Americans eat travels long distances before it reaches the mouths of consumers “as much as 90 percent of Americans could eat food grown within 100 miles of their home” (Ferdman 1).  This privilege is the result of the United States being the global developed super power that it is.  While many Americans don’t think about where their food comes from, many people living in the Global South have watched their food disappear.

Diving deep into the tangled and confusing web of the agricultural world is no fun matter and may make you think twice the next time you sit down to eat a meal.  However, developing an understanding of how agriculture has changed to benefit consumers in developing worlds is a must for anyone who advocates for human rights.  For this reason, my blogs will explore agriculture from different lenses in order to highlight the exploitation of farmers and peoples in the Global South, both in the past and the present.

The concept of agriculture has existed for thousands of years.  Different cultures and peoples developed their own way of growing and producing food in order to survive.  Essential to agriculture is land, which is “fundamental to the lives of poor rural people since it is a source of food, shelter, income, and social equity” (Behnassi and Yaya 4).  Most importantly, agriculture was often the focal point of communities; it was the starting point that people would build upon.  However, the age of imperialism sparked a change in agriculture that forever altered the way people grew crops around the world.  Imperialism laid the foundation for the development project and globalization, the results of which can still be seen today.

Global and local changes in agriculture have drastically increased the global production of crops, but mostly at the cost of those living in the Global South.  In India, nutritional inequalities appear to be widening for vulnerable demographic groups, furthering gender and income disparities in the region (Pritchard and Rommohan 1).  The emergence of monoculture, genetically modified organisms, pesticides, and new legal systems are a few of the key issues that have negatively impacted millions of farmers in India and around the world.  Debriefing these key issues will allow me to shed light on the exploitative methods of agribusinesses, governments, and transnational corporations.

While it is important to be aware of the actors involved in exploitation I will also emphasize the views of the exploited.  The rationalization of agricultural development has changed throughout history, but the disregard of locals’ opinions and ways of life has always been a constant in the discussion.  A 2008 Human Development Report found that even though export-oriented agriculture can benefit subsistence-oriented farmers, greater involvement in the international economy can hurt the same farmers who don’t have the necessary tools to succeed (O’Brien and Leichenko 11).  However, this significant fact is often ignored in the developing world.  For this reason, I hope to incorporate the opinions and voices of those less heard; the voices that really matter.  As one of the many privileged Americans, I cannot experience the exploitation I can only share others accounts of it.

In order to amplify these voices, I will use local papers based in the Global South.  The Hindustan Times, based out of New Delhi, and Brazill, based out of Brazil, will provide current insight on how agriculturally dependent societies have faired during the global changes to the agricultural system.  Rather than projecting Western opinion onto a foreign matter, the locality of these papers will present stories of exploitation from the victims rather than the privileged.

The scholarly book, Sustainable Agricultural Development, edited by Mohamed Behnassi, Joyce D’Silva, Shabbir A. Shahid, will provide me with academic views of how agriculture has developed and changed throughout the course of history.  The book is composed of many scholarly articles that I can use to explain different aspects of agricultural imperialism and development and how each relate to the exploitation of local people.

As mass consumers Americans hold sway in the powerful agricultural system, but in order to release the consumed from their shackles Americans need to open their eyes and educate themselves.  Including research from major western papers such as The Washington Post will give me an understanding of what current attitudes and perceptions Americans hold on the matter of agricultural development in the Global South.

Even though I am not personally effected by the exploitative agricultural system, I am most certainly part of the problem.  However, I am only one of millions living in developed nations across the globe.  Even though this blog will only reach the eyes of a few I hope that my research and writing throughout the next few weeks will open my eyes to what I do not already know.



Behnassi, Mohamed, and Sanni Yaya. “Land resource governance from a sustainability and rural development perspective.” Sustainable Agricultural Development. Springer Netherlands, 2011. 3-23.

Ferdman, Roberto A. “As Much as 90 Percent of Americans Could Eat Food Grown within 100 Miles of Their Home.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 5 June 2015. Web.

O’Brien, Karen, and Robin Leichenko. “Human security, vulnerability and sustainable adaptation.” Human Development Report 2008 (2007): 1-2.

Pritchard, Bill, and Anu Rammohan. “How India’s Food Security Question Can Be Answered.” Hindustantimes. Hindustan Times, 15 Oct. 2013. Web.

Environmental Sustainability in the Orient: An Introduction


      The Asian continent as a whole has a long history of agriculture and human interference in terms of geography and the environment. Not only has the Orient been a source of natural wealth and economic growth, but also serving as a center of exploitation. The series of blogposts I am presenting not only highlight the former and current environmental degradation and sustainable planning taking place in East and Southern Asia, but the interconnection of the world in these issues. Not only is this an issue pertaining to the region in which I am focusing in, but it has lasting consequences on both the global community and the individual, a system development crafted.

      It is no mystery that anthropogenic sources are factors in changing climate and landscape of the planet. Moreover, certain human activity is more destructive or altering than other behavior. For example, the Global North, while accounting for a significantly smaller proportion of population compared to the rest of the world, accounts for over two thirds of total carbon emissions. In a similar case, regions of Asia are also huge greenhouse emitters. As a Washington Post article describes, “Southern Asia has about 90% of the global rice fields and represents more than 60% of the world’s nitrogen fertilizer consumption,” (Mooney). The historical and economic context of this region with rice coupled with high fertilizer and agrochemical use illustrates it as an area of environmental concern. This facet only highlights these regions as needing specialized development care, as local economies are rooted in rice production associated with fertilizer use, something that cannot be easily altered.

      While the historical context of communities in these regions with agriculture and land use is deeply rooted and difficult to change, the role of East and Southern Asia on the global scale has shifted dramatically over the past few decades. Particularly in East Asia, stress has been placed on economic development. As one article describes, “The environment remains generally at the fringes of domestic and international politics and in East Asia conventional security concerns continue to dominate,” (Maddock 20). The concept of “security” is one that will be reoccurring in my blog posts, as individuals often place security in material or economic terms, not in agricultural or livelihood perspectives often tied to land use or the environment. Furthermore, sustainable development is often regulated in these areas due to externality issues, in which a decision made in one country, such as the construction of a dam, often has more drastic consequences on a country downstream of the project. Coupled with exponential population growth and agrochemical intensive agriculture, a context is created for serious environmental degradation and global climatic consequences.

      Although future prospects of sustainability remain bleak in these areas, a number of growing sources allude to hope in restructuring the rooted system. The Asia Pacific region of UNEP has recently taken major steps to implement environmentally sustainable livelihoods and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. For example, a meeting for major leaders of the Asia Pacific UNEP region has declared to “[finding] solutions to pressing environmental and health challenges, which can adversely affect the region’s future economic development and poverty reduction,” (“Asia Pacific Environment Ministers”). While the underlying focus is still on economic security over that of environmental safety, at least officials are pressing for urgency and action. On the other hand, companies are beginning to take initiatives themselves. Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest pulp and paper companies has agreed to derail itself from deforestation by 2020. In fact, the company has committed to the Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), in which it will produce “pulp and paper that is free from fibre or activity linked to deforestation,” (“Asia Pulp and Paper”). Not only is this directly assisting in creating a sustainable world, but also putting forth an eco-conscious business stance that will hopefully spread to other corporations. The attempts to establish a setting or culture of the importance of environmental security is one crucial to the long term economic and environmental wellbeing of the region.

      The continent of Asia is one that has long focused on economic security and outlooks in the short term over that of long term and community level environmental security. Spikes in population, increases in agrochemical use, and rising industrialization all have strained land use and natural resources, creating long term economically and environmentally unsustainable communities who have reached their ecological limits. The purpose of these blogposts is not to simply highlight the fragility in Southern and East Asia, but to pinpoint the exact actions being taken, whether they are sustainable or not, focusing on improvement for the long term. More importantly, connections will be drawn to illustrate how this not only a regional issue, but a global crisis and warning that affects nearly every market and individual, including you and me.


“Asia” from The General Gazetteer; or Compendious Geographical Dictionary by R. Brookes. Eighth Edition. Dublin, 1808.

“Independent Study Shows Asia Pulp and Paper Has Sufficient Plantation for Its Zero Deforestation Commitment.” Asia Today. Asia Today, 5 Sept. 2014. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Maddock, R.T. “Environmental Security in East Asia.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 17.1 (1995): 20-37. JSTOR. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

Mooney, Chris. “The Hidden Driver of Climate Change That We Too Often Ignore.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 9 Mar. 2016. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.

ROAP News. “Asia Pacific Environment Ministers Chart Course for Region’s Development.” UNEP Regional Office for Asia Pacific. United Nations Environment Programme, 12 May 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2016.