Monday, November 16, 2009

The Danes Are Trying To Save The World

Well it looks like the predictions that the Copenhagen climate change summit would be a disaster before it even began were true.  President Obama acknowledged today that the chance to secure a legally binding agreement at the summit has gone belly up.  Denmark of all places has come to the rescue to at least try to salvage something from this hot mess.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, proposed the summit should aim for firm political agreements, but may delay actual binding treaties until mid-2010.  This in theory will give the U.S. Senate time to pass carbon capping legislation, something the Dems have been aiming to get on the floor by spring.   This should have been signed, sealed and delivered already, in time to lend its crucial weight to the summit - but the Senate, I assume, have been overwhelmingly busy doing the bang-up job getting health care legislation passed so smoothly.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is The U.S. Playing Too Nicely With Russia?

Great post by Seth Weinberger at Security Dillemmas over the U.S.'s seeming inability to obtain a pledge from Russia to support sanctions against Iran regarding their possible nuclear ambitions.  He argues that Obama missed a golden opportunity to trade the decision to dismantle the anti-ballistic missile system (ABM) that was planned for installation in Poland and the Czech Republic, for guaranteed support from Russia regarding Iran.  Considering how much the possibility of ABM deployment in their neighborhood angered the Russians, it is strange that the U.S. did not seize upon this opportunity.

In addition, Secretary of State Clinton announced yesterday during her trip there, that the White House would no longer critisize Russia on their human rights record in order to improve relations.  Considering the rollback in democracy under Putin, this is very surprising, disturbing and again puzzleing...what is the U.S. getting in return? Still not a concrete plege - Prime Minister Putin announced today it is "premature to discuss sanctions against Iran".  Not what Hillary was hoping for one could guess.

Could there be any consequences to all of this soft peddling?  Weinberger argues that a weakened commitment to Eastern European NATO countries could embolden Russia to take advantage, leading to future scenarios similar to its invasion of Georgia.  Eastern European nations are not blind to this fact - they are already concerned with how the ABM situation panned out and are now aware that the U.S. may look away from human rights abuses such as those that took place in Chechnya in the 90's during their wars with Russia. Also, I would add to his argument, the concern that Russia is planning a new pipeline that would run along the bed of the Baltic Sea.  This new "Nord Stream" pipeline would allow natural gas to travel directly to Germany and Western Europe, eliminating the current need to pipe it through Eastern Europe. A NY Times article writes,
Officials in Central and Eastern Europe fear that while profits from the pipeline, a joint venture between Gazprom and a trio of German and Dutch companies, will flow to Russian suppliers and German utilities, the long trod-upon countries once under the Soviet umbrella will become more vulnerable to energy blackmail.  Such tactics are hardly without precedent. A Swedish Defense Ministry-affiliated research organization has identified 55 politically linked disruptions in the energy supply of Eastern Europe since the breakup of the Soviet Union. 
For Eastern Europeans, the pipeline issue evokes deep memories of a darker era of occupation and collaboration, and has become a proxy debate over Russia’s intentions toward the lands it ruled from the end of World War II to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  In an open letter to President Obama last spring, 23 former Central European heads of state and intellectuals, including a former Czech president, Vaclav Havel, and a former Polish president, Lech Walesa, pointed out that after the war in Georgia last year Russia declared a “sphere of privileged interests” that could include their countries.  With the control of gas pipelines, they wrote, “Russia is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics.”
Hopefully, there will be positive results from this recent visit to Russia, as well as improved relations and relationships.  Hopefully, Russia will slowly come around on the Iranian issue. Hopefully, Russia will not abuse its strengthened position in the region and bother its neighbors.  Fingers crossed...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The OTHER Nobel Candidates....

Whether you agree or disagree with the Nobel committee's decision to award the Peace Prize to President Obama, we should remember that there were more than 200 other candidates for the honor.  The Independent took a look at just six of them - each profile so utterly inspirational you wish more than one Nobel Peace Prize could be awarded.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Overpopulation - Our Greatest Threat?

Compelling article by Paul Farrell in MarketWatch the other day, describing a meeting which took place last May that gathered some of the most influential movers and shakers.  The goal: to reach a consensus as to what constitutes the greatest threat to humanity.

    "Bill Gates called billionaire philanthropists to a super-secret meeting in Manhattan last May. Included: Buffett, Rockefeller, Soros, Bloomberg, Turner, Oprah and others meeting at the "home of Sir Paul Nurse, a British Nobel prize biochemist and president of the private Rockefeller University, in Manhattan," reports John Harlow in the London TimesOnline. During an afternoon session each was "given 15 minutes to present their favorite cause. Over dinner they discussed how they might settle on an 'umbrella cause' that could harness their interests." 
 The world's biggest time-bomb? Overpopulation, say the billionaires. And yet, global governments with their $50 trillion GDP, aren't even trying to solve the world's overpopulation problem. G-20 leaders ignore it. So by 2050 the Earth's population will explode by almost 50%, from 6.6 billion today to 9.3 billion says the United Nations. And what about those billionaires and their billions? Can they stop the trend? Sadly no. Only a major crisis, a global catastrophe, a collapse beyond anything prior in world history will do it."

The dangers of overpopulation have been argued over the years - indeed the centuries. Thomas Malthus, the classical economist famous for his theories on the limits of natural resources, wrote way back in 1798, in, "An Essay on the Principal of Population:  

"I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.  Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will shew the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.  By that law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal.  This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere; and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind."

Others, such as the the father of the Green Revolution, Norman Borlaug -  most famous for his stunning achievements in agricultural growth - was less widely known for his life-long belief that the greatest threat to food security was overpopulation.  

A debate remains as to the tipping point number...9 billion, 12 billion, even more, but it seems evident that natural resources such as water, energy and land can only sustain a limited amount of people before catastrophe occurs.  It would be a tragedy to see our world undergo a sudden population correction (a nice way of saying massive war, famine, disease etc.), when instead, sound policy direction and investment in family planning initiatives could steer us smoothly towards a more stable growth trend.  

This issue needs as much attention as the global alternative energy movement.  Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.  Politically, it's a touchy subject matter and attempts by countries such as China's "One Child" policies,  have left behind a bad taste.  Meetings such as the one last May are encouraging, but will real change happen in time?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Berkeley To Independently Comply With United Nations

From the west coast, it seems that the city of Berkeley has passed a measure that will allow it to independently comply with UN treaties.  This would be the first such measure passed in the United States.  It will also require Berkeley to file a report every two years on how it is meeting international human rights standards.

While very noble, this could very well be a potentially embarrassing situation if it turns out Berkeley is in fact, not up to par with certain UN standards. They've got a crippling homelessness problem, and let's not forget John Yoo, the Justice Department lawyer who co-wrote many of those infamous memos that would later be used to justify torture of terror suspects...he's a UC Berkeley law professor.

Friday, October 2, 2009

India's Ongoing Drought

An article by the Wall Street Journal yesterday looks at the severe drought which is currently affecting millions in India.  The monsoon season, which countless farmers and families rely on for survival, arrived late and supplied poor rainfall.  65% of farmers rely on these monsoons for their agricultural needs.  Any shortfall in rain directly hurts India's economy, where agriculture accounts for roughly 17% of its GDP.  Of even more concern is the growing lack of food.  Reduced output and rising prices have threatened the food security of almost 700 million Indians.  In August, the finance minister of India, Pranab Mukherjee, announced they would begin importing food to offset shortages.

These changes to India's weather patterns came as no surprise to many scientists, and were actually predicted. A Purdue University research study early this year concluded that ongoing climate change could precipitate weakened and delayed monsoon seasons in South Asia.  As quoted from a ScienceDaily article back in March, the research group,

"Found that climate change could influence monsoon dynamics and cause less summer precipitation, a delay in the start of monsoon season and longer breaks between the rainy periods.  Noah Diffenbaugh, whose research group led the study, said the summer monsoon affects water resources, agriculture, economics, ecosystems and human health throughout South Asia.  "Almost half of the world's population lives in areas affected by these monsoons, and even slight deviations from the normal monsoon pattern can have great impact," said Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and interim director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center."

As I mentioned in my previous post on food security and climate change, there is a wealth of information, analysis, and evidence that climate change is vastly affecting agriculture.  There needs to be some sort of international consensus that the way forward is not to ignore these warnings.  Let's be mindful of the numbers - only one weak monsoon season has already led to 700 million people facing hunger.  Can we afford to see these numbers grow and grow?