Thursday, 30 June 2011

IHT Opinion: Great Party, But Where's the Communism?

Minxin Pei, Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College, California, writes today in the New York Times on the state of communism in present-day China—useful in providing perspective on how far the 'nascent superpower' has come in recent decades, as well as where it may be heading...
There is little question that the Chinese Communist Party has come a long way since it was founded 90 years ago by 12 delegates representing roughly 50 members.

Yet however insignificant it may have seemed back then, there was no question about its ideology, identity and mission. Inspired by utopian Marxism, the party represented China’s idealist leftists, nationalists and the downtrodden. Its mission was to end social injustice and Western colonialism.

Today the party is a political behemoth, with 80 million members and control of the world’s second-largest economy. At home its grip on power faces no organized challenge; abroad its leaders are accorded a respect Mao and Zhou Enlai could not have dreamed of.

Indeed, we should give the party its due for having abandoned the Maoist madness of its first three decades in power — the mass terror, famine, brutal political campaigns and vicious power struggles — and for radically improving the material lives of China’s 1.3 billion people.

Yet if asked, “What does the Communist Party stand for,” few Chinese leaders today could give a coherent or honest answer.

This much we know: It no longer stands for a utopian ideology. If there is one ideology that the party represents, it is the ideology of power. The sole justification for the party’s rule is the imperative to stay in power.

Nor does the party stand for China’s masses. Despite efforts to broaden its social base and make it more connected with China’s dynamic and diverse society, the party today has evolved into a self-serving, bureaucratized political patronage machine. It is undeniably an elitist party, with more than 70 percent of its members recruited from government officials, the military, college graduates, businessmen and professionals.

So for all its apparent power, the party is in fact facing an existential crisis and an uncertain future. Apart from staying in power, it has no public purpose. The crisis is not only ideological, but also political; it explains much of the cynicism, corruption and insecurity of the party and its elites.

As the party has firmly rejected democratization, its only strategy for survival is to maintain the course it has embarked on since the Tiananmen crackdown in June 1989: drawing political legitimacy from economic growth but relying on repression to crush challenges to its monopoly of power. Although this strategy has worked well since Tiananmen, its effectiveness and sustainability are increasingly in doubt.

On the economic front, growth is about to slow down. Demographic aging, resource constraints, stalled economic reforms and environmental degradation are almost certain to depress China’s growth potential. An optimistic World Bank forecast predicts a growth rate from 2016-2020 of about 7 percent annually — a respectable number, but a 30 percent drop from today’s rate.

China’s economic revolution is also unleashing powerful social forces that will make maintaining a one-party state more tenuous. The party’s governing philosophy and organizational structure make it difficult to incorporate China’s growing middle-class politically. The convergence of an economic slowdown and rising political activism will challenge the party’s rule from several directions.

Now that the Chinese Communist Party has been in power for 62 years, its leaders might also want to note that the record for one-party rule is 74 years, held by the Soviet party, followed by the 71-year rein of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party.

So when Chinese leaders toast their party’s 90th birthday, they should harbor no illusions that the party can beat history’s odds forever.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Saudi prince: We'll build nuclear weapons if Iran does

Prospect of a nuclear conflict in the Middle East is raised by senior diplomat and member of the Saudi ruling family

The worrying, but somewhat unsurprising news, reported today by the Guardian newspaper:
A senior Saudi Arabian diplomat and member of the ruling royal family has raised the spectre of nuclear conflict in the Middle East if Iran comes close to developing a nuclear weapon.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, warned senior Nato military officials that the existence of such a device "would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences".

He did not state explicitly what these policies would be, but a senior official in Riyadh who is close to the prince said yesterday his message was clear.

"We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don't. It's as simple as that," the official said. "If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, that will be unacceptable to us and we will have to follow suit."

Officials in Riyadh said that Saudi Arabia would reluctantly push ahead with its own civilian nuclear programme. Peaceful use of nuclear power, Turki said, was the right of all nations.

Turki was speaking earlier this month at an unpublicised meeting at RAF Molesworth, the airbase in Cambridgeshire used by Nato as a centre for gathering and collating intelligence on the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

According to a transcript of his speech obtained by the Guardian, Turki told his audience that Iran was a "paper tiger with steel claws" that was "meddling and destabilising" across the region.

"Iran … is very sensitive about other countries meddling in its affairs. But it should treat others like it expects to be treated. The kingdom expects Iran to practise what it preaches," Turki said.

Turki holds no official post in Saudi Arabia but is seen as an ambassador at large for the kingdom and a potential future foreign minister,

Diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and published by the Guardian last year revealed that King Abdullah, who has ruled Saudi Arabia since 2005, had privately warned Washington in 2008 that if Iran developed nuclear weapons "everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia".
Take the time to read the rest... While additional analysis appears in another Guardian article: "Saudi Arabia worries about stability, security and Iran".

Monday, 20 June 2011

Foreign Policy Magazine: Failed States Index 2011

In the 7th outing for the series, Foreign Policy today released its Failed States Index for 2011. Not a single article, but rather a collection of insightful reports—including "Postcards from Hell", images from 'the world's most failed states'. The introduction provides a rationale for a state's inclusion in the index and provides a convenient overview of findings:
Three African states -- Somalia, Chad, and Sudan -- once again top this year's Failed States Index, the annual ranking prepared by the Fund for Peace and published by FOREIGN POLICY of the world's most vulnerable countries. For four years in a row, Somalia has held the No. 1 spot, indicating the depth of the crisis in the international community's longest-running failure.

The new edition of the index draws on some 130,000 publicly available sources to analyze 177 countries and rate them on 12 indicators of pressure on the state during the year 2010 -- from refugee flows to poverty, public services to security threats. Taken together, a country's performance on this battery of indicators tells us how stable -- or unstable -- it is. And the latest results show how much the 2008 economic crisis and its ripple effects everywhere, from collapsing trade to soaring food prices to stagnant investment, are still haunting the world.

Somalia's unending woes are the stuff hopelessness is made of. But elsewhere in the top 20, some countries showed improvement, even as others fell further behind. Afghanistan and Iraq both moved down the ranks, suggesting slight gains for the two war-torn countries as the United States seeks a sustainable exit strategy. Kenya moved out of the top 15, showing that the country continues to recover from its bloody post-election ethnic warfare of recent years. Liberia and East Timor, wards of the United Nations, largely stayed out of trouble. But Haiti, already a portrait of misery, moved up six places on the index, battered and struggling to cope with the aftermath of January 2010's tragic earthquake, which left more than 300,000 dead. Another former French colony, Ivory Coast, rejoined the top 10, grimly foreshadowing its devastating post-election crisis this year, while fragile Niger leapt four spots amid a devastating famine.

Africa's promise and peril are likely to figure prominently again this year, with 27 African countries scheduled to hold presidential, legislative, or local elections throughout 2011. As much as elections can contribute to democratic progress, they are often a flashpoint for conflict -- conflicts that invariably send already fragile states back up the ranks of the index. Uganda's incumbent President Yoweri Museveni won reelection in February, but the opposition has cried foul and his inauguration was met with violent protests. In Nigeria, steady in the rankings this year at No. 14, post-election rampages in April killed as many as 800 people. Sudan's closely watched referendum in January on an independent southern state was surprisingly free of bloodshed, but the country continues to hover on the brink of new violence.

As if its traumas last year weren't horrific enough, Haiti in 2011 is again proving to be a hard test for the world, with billions of dollars in donation pledges left unfulfilled and thousands still living in squalid tent camps, battling a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 4,600. After a fraud-marred first round, a presidential runoff election in March brought to power an untested stage performer nicknamed "Sweet Micky."

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all for 2011 will be dealing with the global fallout of the Arab revolutions, which began in Tunisia and quickly spread to Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Few could have predicted that a street vendor's humiliation would be the spark that set an entire region ablaze, with consequences that may reach far beyond the Middle East. After all, if peaceful protesters can unseat an entrenched dictator in Cairo, why can't they take to the repressed streets of Tashkent or Rangoon?
Do take the time to explore this valuable study of the world's most troubled spots...

'Shocking' state of seas threatens mass extinction, say marine experts

Overfishing and pollution putting fish, sharks and whales in extreme danger – with extinction 'inevitable', this the worrying news that The Guardian reports upon today:
Fish, sharks, whales and other marine species are in imminent danger of an "unprecedented" and catastrophic extinction event at the hands of humankind, and are disappearing at a far faster rate than anyone had predicted, a study of the world's oceans has found. Mass extinction of species will be "inevitable" if current trends continue, researchers said.

Overfishing, pollution, run-off of fertilisers from farming and the acidification of the seas caused by increasing carbon dioxide emissions are combining to put marine creatures in extreme danger, according to the report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (Ipso), prepared at the first international workshop to consider all of the cumulative stresses affecting the oceans at Oxford University.

The international panel of marine experts said there was a "high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history". They said the challenges facing the oceans created "the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth's history".

"The findings are shocking," said Alex Rogers, scientific director of Ipso. "As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean, the implications became far worse than we had individually realised. This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children's and generations beyond that."

The flow of soil nutrients into the oceans is creating huge "dead zones", where anoxia - the absence of oxygen - and hypoxia - low oxygen levels - mean fish and other marine life are unable to survive there.

Hypoxia and anoxia, warming and acidification are factors present in every mass extinction event in the oceans over the Earth's history, according to scientific research. About 55m years ago, as much as half of some species of deep-sea creatures were wiped out when atmospheric changes created similar conditions.

In recent years, human effects on the oceans have increased significantly. Overfishing has cut some fish populations by more than 90%. Pollutants, including flame-retardant chemicals and detergents are absorbed into particles of plastic waste in the sea, which are then ingested by marine creatures. Millions of fish, birds and other forms of life are choked or suffer internal ruptures from ingesting plastic waste.

During 1998, record high temperatures wiped out about 16% of the world's tropical coral reefs.

The scientists called on the United Nations and governments to bring in measures to conserve marine ecosystems. Dan Laffoley, of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, said: "The world's leading experts on oceans are surprised by the rate and magnitude of changes we are seeing. The challenges for the future of the oceans are vast, but unlike previous generations we know what now needs to happen. The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now, today and urgent".

Friday, 17 June 2011

BBC News: Argentine leader says UK 'arrogant' over Falklands

The president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, has called Britain "arrogant" for refusing to negotiate on the Falklands.
She was speaking a day after UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the issue of sovereignty was non-negotiable. President Fernandez called his refusal to hold talks on the sovereignty of the Falklands, or Malvinas, arrogant and bordering on stupidity.

Britain defeated an Argentine invasion of the islands in 1982. The Falklands are at the centre of a territorial dispute dating back to the 19th Century. Argentina has repeatedly requested talks on the islands' future sovereignty.

But most Falkland islanders wish to retain British sovereignty and 14 June is marked as Liberation Day in the capital, Port Stanley. In the House of Commons on Wednesday Mr Cameron said "as long as the Falkland Islands want to be sovereign British territory, they should remain sovereign British territory - full stop, end of story."

President Fernandez described his comments as an "expression of mediocrity, and almost of stupidity". She said the British "continue to be a crude colonial power in decline".

But during Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell urged Mr Cameron to remind President Barack Obama that "the British government will never accept any kind of negotiations over the South Atlantic archipelago".

Earlier this week a British man became the first Falkland islander to choose Argentine citizenship. James Peck was handed his national identity card by President Fernandez, during a ceremony to mark the 29th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War. Mr Peck's father Terry was a member of the Falkland Islands Defence Force and died during the conflict.

Sandy Woodward, the retired admiral who led the British taskforce which set sail for the Falklands in 1982, told a newspaper earlier this week he feared the islands were "now perilously close to being indefensible".

He told the Daily Mail: "Twenty-nine years ago today, we re-claimed the Falklands for Britain in one of the most remarkable campaigns since the Second World War.

"The simple truth is without aircraft carriers and without the Americans, we would not have any hope of doing the same again today."

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

BBC News: China extending military reach

As part of their "Power of Asia" series of reports, BBC News has published an article on Beijing's growing military power and reach:

Monday, 13 June 2011

BBC News: Global warming since 1995 'now significant'

Richard Black, Environment Correspondent at BBC News, provides an update on figures underlying the work of one key global warming research centre:
Climate warming since 1995 is now statistically significant, according to Phil Jones, the UK scientist targeted in the "ClimateGate" affair.

Last year, he told BBC News that post-1995 warming was not significant - a statement still seen on blogs critical of the idea of man-made climate change. But another year of data has pushed the trend past the threshold usually used to assess whether trends are "real". Dr Jones says this shows the importance of using longer records for analysis.
By widespread convention, scientists use a minimum threshold of 95% to assess whether a trend is likely to be down to an underlying cause, rather than emerging by chance. If a trend meets the 95% threshold, it basically means that the odds of it being down to chance are less than one in 20. Last year's analysis, which went to 2009, did not reach this threshold; but adding data for 2010 takes it over the line.

"The trend over the period 1995-2009 was significant at the 90% level, but wasn't significant at the standard 95% level that people use," Professor Jones told BBC News.

"Basically what's changed is one more year [of data]. That period 1995-2009 was just 15 years - and because of the uncertainty in estimating trends over short periods, an extra year has made that trend significant at the 95% level which is the traditional threshold that statisticians have used for many years.
"It just shows the difficulty of achieving significance with a short time series, and that's why longer series - 20 or 30 years - would be a much better way of estimating trends and getting significance on a consistent basis."
Professor Jones' previous comment, from a BBC interview in Febuary 2010, is routinely quoted - erroneously - as demonstration that the Earth's surface temperature is not rising.

The dataset that Professor Jones helps to compile - HadCRUT3 - is a joint project between the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA), where he is based, and the UK Met Office. It is one of the main global temperature records used by bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). HadCRUT shows a warming 1995-2010 of 0.19C - consistent with the other major records, which all use slightly different ways of analysing the data in order to compensate for issues such as the dearth of measuring stations in polar regions.

Shortly before the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Phil Jones found himself at the centre of the affair that came to be known as "ClimateGate", which saw the release of more than 1,000 emails taken from a CRU server.

Critics alleged the emails showed CRU scientists and others attempting to subvert the usual processes of science, and of manipulating data in order to paint an unfounded picture of globally rising temperatures. Subsequent enquiries found the scientists and their institutions did fall short of best practice in areas such as routine use of professional statisticians and response to Freedom of Information requests, but found no case to answer on the charges of manipulation. Since then, nothing has emerged through mainstream science to challenge the IPCC's basic picture of a world warming through greenhouse gas emissions. And a new initiative to construct a global temperature record, based at Stanford University in California whose funders include "climate sceptical" organisations, has reached early conclusions that match established records closely.
Do take the time to read the rest!

Friday, 10 June 2011

Guardian: NATO faces dim future, warns Pentagon chief

The Guardian reports today on an extremely hard-hitting speech by US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates on the (possibly) precarious future of the NATO alliance (full article follows):
The US defence secretary, Robert Gates, has launched a blistering attack on European defence complacency, saying Nato has become a "two-tiered" alliance of those willing to wage war and those only interested in "talking" and peacekeeping.
In his bluntest warning in nearly five years as the Pentagon head under two US presidents, Gates announced that Washington's fading commitment to European security could spell the death of the 60-year-old alliance.
In a valedictory speech in Brussels three weeks before retiring, Gates bristled with exasperation and contempt for European defence spending cuts, inefficiencies and botched planning, and read the riot act to an elite European audience.
Nato faced a "dim, if not dismal" future, consigned to "collective military irrelevance", Gates said, warning for the first time that the organisation was living on borrowed time and that a new young generation of US leaders could abandon the key pillar of transatlantic security, established in 1949.
"If current trends in the decline of European defence capabilities are not halted and reversed, future US political leaders – those for whom the cold war was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America's investment in Nato worth the cost," he said.
He attacked Europe's conduct of the bombing campaign against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, told the Europeans to forget any notions of pulling their troops out of Afghanistan in a piecemeal manner, and said the big new factor raising questions about Nato's survival was the "political and economic environment in the United States".
"The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country," Gates said of the Anglo-French led campaign in Libya.
"Yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the US, once more, to make up the difference."
The US share of Nato military spending had soared to 75%, much more than during the cold war heyday when Washington maintained hundreds of thousands of US troops across Europe, he said.
He warned that the US taxpayer would not stand for it much longer – the US Congress and "the American body politic writ large" would rebel against spending "increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defence budgets".
Nato had degenerated into an alliance "between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of Nato membership but don't want to share the risks and the costs", Gates said.
Noting that he was 20 years older than President Barack Obama, he said Washington's security guarantees to Europe, embodied in the Nato alliance, were fading. His peers' "emotional and historical attachment" to Nato was "ageing out", he said, adding: "You have a lot of new members of Congress who are roughly old enough to be my children or grandchildren."
Generational change, economic hardship and European refusal to take responsibility for their own security were all feeding Nato's decline and possible end, he warned.
"The drift of the past 20 years can't continue," Gates said. "In the past, I've worried openly about Nato turning into a two-tiered alliance, between members who specialise in 'soft' humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and talking tasks, and those conducting the "hard" combat missions ... This is no longer a hypothetical worry. We are there today. And it is unacceptable."
In March, all 28 Nato members had voted for the Libya mission, he noted. "Less than half have participated, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission," he said.
"Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can't. The military capabilities simply aren't there."
In a withering attack on the European defence establishment, he blasted allies for slashing defence budgets, but admitted there was little chance of reversing the trend.
"The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the US Congress to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defence," he said.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Guardian: Syria referred to UNSC over suspected nuclear program

IAEA vote rules against Syria for failure to co-operate with inquiry into suspected nuclear project at Dair Alzour site

The Guardian brings news of Syria's referral to the United Nations Security Council by the IAEA with regard to its suspected attempt at nuclear proliferation:
The UN's nuclear watchdog has referred Syria to the security council for failure to co-operate with an enquiry into its suspected covert nuclear weapons programme.

The decision, by a 17 to six vote, with 11 abstentions and one absentee, at the 35-nation governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), increases Syria's isolation. It reflects a formal judgment that it is not in compliance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty after an IAEA report found that a site known as Dair Alzour, bombed by Israel in 2007, was "very likely a nuclear reactor" for producing plutonium, which Syria should have declared.

"Syria's nuclear intentions at Dair Alzour are clear; the reactor there was built for the express purpose of producing plutonium for possible use in nuclear weapons," Glyn Davies, the American envoy to the IAEA, said.

However, the security council referral is unlikely to lead to sanctions in the near future. The council is not required to act, and Russia and China have signalled that they will oppose punitive measures. Both powers voted against Syria's referral, which was proposed by the US and 12 allies at the IAEA board meeting in Vienna.
There's more—take a look!

Bright lights, world city - Stories told by dazzling London landmark

The Economist offers a short article citing the heart of London's West End as an apt symbol for globalisation now and throughout the years:
They are an instantly recognisable symbol of London, but, perhaps appropriately for such a global city, the advertising lights at Piccadilly Circus, first switched on in 1908, have mostly been a catwalk for foreign brands, rather than domestic ones. Now Sanyo, which has flashed its name at the site since 1978, is to make way for Hyundai, a South Korean carmaker, which will pay Land Securities, the firm that owns the electronic hoardings, around £2m ($3.3m) a year for a central spot.

For the past century, the glittery displays have reflected shifts in international influence in business and beyond. British and European brands predominated until after the second world war: Perrier, a French drinks firm, was the first to spell its name in lights; Guinness, Bovril and Schweppes, three other beverage-makers, were also early presences. Yet the London landmark has not hosted a British company for nearly 40 years.

By the 1960s Americans were well established: Coca-Cola has been adding life to the lights since 1955; other American torchbearers have included Budweiser and McDonald’s. As Asian companies began to conquer global markets in the 1970s, so Japanese businesses started to colonise the Piccadilly boards. Canon led, followed by Fuji and TDK. The South Koreans came next. The illuminations in New York’s Times Square, which feature multiple American brands and also advertise shows, are comparatively parochial.

As the geographical spread has tellingly shifted, so has the mix of products on display. Disposable incomes rose, consumers became more ambitious and the cheap and easy pleasures of Player’s cigarettes and Skol and Double Diamond beer gave way to the new opiates of the masses: Kodak cameras, Philips hi-fis and Panasonic colour televisions, as well as the aspirational pull of the Volkswagen Beetle and foreign air travel.

The lights have sometimes reflected momentous events, as well as commercial trends. Though overrun with American GIs, Piccadilly Circus was dark throughout the second world war, lighting up again only in 1949. The signs have since been dimmed for the funerals of Winston Churchill in 1965 and Princess Diana in 1997. With the rise of LED displays and decline of neon the lights are now brighter than ever. But they may yet need to find some greener hues in their multicoloured glory: they generate 1.9m kg of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to the emissions of around 2,000 of Hyundai’s bestselling cars. That is a lot of gas for a set of streetlights.

Economist Daily Chart: Biggest Military Spenders (2010)

The Economist's Daily Chart series provides an update to global military spending:

On June 8th China's top military brass confirmed that the country's first aircraft carrier, a refurbishment of an old Russian carrier, will be ready shortly. Only a handful of nations operate carriers, which are costly to build and maintain. Indeed, Britain has recently decommissioned its sole carrier because of budget pressures. China's defence spending has risen by nearly 200% since 2001 to reach an estimated $119 billion in 2010—though it has remained fairly constant in terms of its share of GDP. America's own budget crisis is prompting tough discussions about its defence spending, which, at nearly $700 billion, is bigger than that of the next 17 countries combined.
Useful statistics for any discussion of hard power and emerging / maintaining superpower status.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Economist: The World Gets Back to Burning

Following on from our notice - late last month - of worrying reports from the IAE regarding rising carbon emissions worldwide, The Economist's Schumpeter (Business and Management blogger) has now produced his own assessment of this trend, based this time on BP's own figures:
Not since 1973 has world energy use increased by as much, in percentage terms, as it did in 2010. According to BP’s annual Statistical Review of World Energy, published today, 2010’s energy consumption was up by 5.6% on the year before. In part this is thanks to recovery from the economic crisis; in part it is down to the longer-term shift in economic activity towards emerging economies, which are less efficient in their energy use.

Robust growth was seen in all regions and in almost all types of energy use: the world consumed more of every main fuel bar one than it had in any previous year. Consumption of oil, which accounts for 34% of the world’s primary energy by BP’s calculations, rose by 3.1%. Coal, at 30% the number two fuel, was up by 7.6%, growing faster than at any time since 2003. Consumption of gas, which contributes 24%, was up by 7.4%, the biggest annual growth since 1984.
Schumpeter reviews the growth of other energy sources as well, but returns quickly to one of the main sources for the rising consumption of carbon-based fuels:
Most of China’s growth came from burning more coal: in 2000 China accounted for just under a third of world coal use; in 2010 a staggering 48.2%. Repeat that sort of expansion on a smaller scale for a number of other countries and you see why coal is going up in the global mix. You also see why the world’s energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions have grown even faster than its energy use—by 5.8% last year, on BP’s figures. That is the fastest growth since 1969.
Schumpeter is balanced but concerned in his final assessment, simultaneously pointing up why these particular statistics published today are now even more valuable:
That more energy is being used than ever before is a welcome sign of economic growth after a sharp downturn. That it is being used less efficiently than before, and producing record levels of carbon dioxide, is harder to welcome. A small mercy, though, is that there are numbers like BP’s available with which to perceive such unwelcome truths. Since the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, which would become BP a few years later, first put together its annual review 60 years ago—six typewritten pages, one graph, for internal use only—they have grown into a widely valued tool for economists and energy strategists in a field where reliable compendia of facts are rare, and growing rarer. In April the United States government announced that it would stop gathering the data on which various domestic energy indicators are based, reduce efforts to assure data quality in some others and cease publication of its International Energy Statistics. It is hard to see how, if such numbers have any value at all, that doesn’t represent a false economy.
Take the time to read the whole thing - a vision of the world we will all inherit!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Thomas L. Friedman: The Earth is Full

Seasoned New York Times op-ed commentator Thomas L. Friedman makes an ominous pronouncement (full article follows):

The Earth is Full
You really do have to wonder whether a few years from now we’ll look back at the first decade of the 21st century — when food prices spiked, energy prices soared, world population surged, tornados plowed through cities, floods and droughts set records, populations were displaced and governments were threatened by the confluence of it all — and ask ourselves: What were we thinking? How did we not panic when the evidence was so obvious that we’d crossed some growth/climate/natural resource/population redlines all at once?

 “The only answer can be denial,” argues Paul Gilding, the veteran Australian environmentalist-entrepreneur, who described this moment in a new book called “The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.” “When you are surrounded by something so big that requires you to change everything about the way you think and see the world, then denial is the natural response. But the longer we wait, the bigger the response required.”

Gilding cites the work of the Global Footprint Network, an alliance of scientists, which calculates how many “planet Earths” we need to sustain our current growth rates. G.F.N. measures how much land and water area we need to produce the resources we consume and absorb our waste, using prevailing technology. On the whole, says G.F.N., we are currently growing at a rate that is using up the Earth’s resources far faster than they can be sustainably replenished, so we are eating into the future. Right now, global growth is using about 1.5 Earths. “Having only one planet makes this a rather significant problem,” says Gilding.

This is not science fiction. This is what happens when our system of growth and the system of nature hit the wall at once. While in Yemen last year, I saw a tanker truck delivering water in the capital, Sana. Why? Because Sana could be the first big city in the world to run out of water, within a decade. That is what happens when one generation in one country lives at 150 percent of sustainable capacity.

“If you cut down more trees than you grow, you run out of trees,” writes Gilding. “If you put additional nitrogen into a water system, you change the type and quantity of life that water can support. If you thicken the Earth’s CO2 blanket, the Earth gets warmer. If you do all these and many more things at once, you change the way the whole system of planet Earth behaves, with social, economic, and life support impacts. This is not speculation; this is high school science.”

It is also current affairs. “In China’s thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humankind and nature has never been as serious as it is today,” China’s environment minister, Zhou Shengxian, said recently. “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation’s economic and social development.” What China’s minister is telling us, says Gilding, is that “the Earth is full. We are now using so many resources and putting out so much waste into the Earth that we have reached some kind of limit, given current technologies. The economy is going to have to get smaller in terms of physical impact.”

We will not change systems, though, without a crisis. But don’t worry, we’re getting there.

We’re currently caught in two loops: One is that more population growth and more global warming together are pushing up food prices; rising food prices cause political instability in the Middle East, which leads to higher oil prices, which leads to higher food prices, which leads to more instability. At the same time, improved productivity means fewer people are needed in every factory to produce more stuff. So if we want to have more jobs, we need more factories. More factories making more stuff make more global warming, and that is where the two loops meet.

But Gilding is actually an eco-optimist. As the impact of the imminent Great Disruption hits us, he says, “our response will be proportionally dramatic, mobilizing as we do in war. We will change at a scale and speed we can barely imagine today, completely transforming our economy, including our energy and transport industries, in just a few short decades.”

We will realize, he predicts, that the consumer-driven growth model is broken and we have to move to a more happiness-driven growth model, based on people working less and owning less. “How many people,” Gilding asks, “lie on their death bed and say, ‘I wish I had worked harder or built more shareholder value,’ and how many say, ‘I wish I had gone to more ballgames, read more books to my kids, taken more walks?’ To do that, you need a growth model based on giving people more time to enjoy life, but with less stuff.”

Sounds utopian? Gilding insists he is a realist.

“We are heading for a crisis-driven choice,” he says. “We either allow collapse to overtake us or develop a new sustainable economic model. We will choose the latter. We may be slow, but we’re not stupid.”
Overall, a good update—At least he finishes on an optimistic note!

Should Russia be in the BRIC club of dynamic economies?

Jonty Bloom poses the question above for BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight program—and attempts to find an answer...
When the term "Bric" countries was coined in 2001, it was used to describe the potential for development and growth of Brazil, Russia, India and China, but some now doubt whether Russia belongs in that "club".

The Red October chocolate factory sits on the banks of the Moskva river, just a few hundred yards downstream from the Kremlin. Once - as the name suggests - it was one of the pride-and-joys of Soviet industry or, at least, of Soviet confectionery manufacturing, but now it has been transformed into luxury city centre apartments for the new super rich of Russia. It is surrounded by trendy wine bars and restaurants and, in a small way, it symbolises how Moscow has gone from the capital of communism to the city with the largest number of billionaires in the world in a few short decades.

The Kremlin is now surrounded by swanky hotels and apartment blocks, top-end jewellery and clothes shops selling exclusive Western brands, and endless traffic jams which seem to consist mainly of BMWs, Range Rovers and Bentleys.

But all of this money does not necessarily mean that Russia belongs in the same club as all the other BRIC nations.

The term was coined by Jim O'Neill, a top economist at Goldman Sachs, when he was trying to come up with a word to describe where he thought world growth and economic power was going to come from in coming decades - Brazil, Russia, India and China. These days South Africa is often added to make the word BRICS but the idea is just the same. But does Russia belong in that exclusive club?

Certainly Alexander Morozov, chief Russian economist at HSBC in Moscow, has his doubts:

"I think it would be wrong to say that Russia will be able to develop strong growth rates in coming years. Brazil, India and China can do this - they have the potential to industrialise further and employ additional labour. All the labour that Russia has is already employed.

"Therefore the efficiency gains are not the same as when you have a green-field site and just employ workers from the neighbouring village or province."

While Brazil, India and China have seen large increases in population with huge numbers of young, educated workers desperate for jobs, Russia's population went into decline after the end of the Cold War. As did much of its heavy industry. While the other three Bric nations have started industrialising almost from scratch, Russia was left with a swathe of old and appalling, inefficient industries from the Soviet era.

Anders Aslund is a Swedish economist who helped Russia privatise much of its industry in the 1990s, but he says much of it was not fit enough to survive in the private sector.

"Much of machine building has simply collapsed," he says, "and much of manufacturing as well. They were producing bad products that nobody wanted to buy."

But some Russian industries are doing well - its commodity producers. Russia is now the largest oil exporter in the world and the second largest exporter of natural gas. Its petrochemical and steel industries have also prospered. Welcome though this is, it is not what is really happening in the other Bric countries.

Some think that Russia has more in common with Saudi Arabia than with China. The Russian government, for instance, relies on oil and gas sales for 40% of its tax revenues. That means the current high oil price is filling the Kremlin's coffers like never before.

But the country's infrastructure is crumbling and, as with many oil-producing countries, corruption is rife in Russia - a further brake on economic growth and development.

Perhaps the best judge of whether Russia really deserves to be counted amongst the BRIC nations is Alexander Lebedev, the billionaire Russian oligarch, who has been outspoken in his criticism of corruption in his home country. When I interviewed him in his luxurious and well guarded offices in one of Moscow's smartest districts, he was quite clear on the subject.

"Instead of Bric it should be Bic. For the real comparison, look at what is going on in infrastructure in China. You just stand there gawping in disbelief. Why are they not doing it here?"

Russia has many things going for it, a huge under-developed land mass, massive mineral resources and some brilliant industries - nuclear power and space technology among them.

But is it really a young, vibrant, industrialising country that is taking on the West and winning, like Brazil, China and India?

Because it certainly does not feel like it is.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Economist Daily Chart: IMF Influence - Light Weight BRICS

Today from The Economist's Daily Chart series:
How IMF voting shares compare with global economic heft
Many argue that IMF vote-shares (and the amounts countries are required to put into the fund's kitty) should reflect countries' relative economic heft. At the moment, however, that is far from being the case. Taken together, the economies of the European Union countries amount to just under 24% of the global economy. The economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa together make up about 21% of world GDP. But the European countries have 32% of the votes in the IMF, while the BRICS have 11%. No wonder the BRICS' representatives to the fund issued a rare joint statement deploring Europe's lock on the top job at the IMF, which is made possible in part by the fact that Europe and America between them have nearly 50%of the votes in the IMF's board. Proportionately, sub-Saharan Africa, (excluding South Africa) is the most over-represented region, with 3.1% of the vote but a mere 1.35% of the world economy.
An important update to the debate regarding the distribution of influence in global economic governance... Could be useful!

Saturday, 4 June 2011

UN Report Declares Internet Access a Human Right

From Wired Magazine's Threat Level section yesterday:
A United Nations report said Friday that disconnecting people from the internet is a human rights violation and against international law.

The report railed against France and the United Kingdom, which have passed laws to remove accused copyright scofflaws from the internet. It also protested blocking internet access to quell political unrest (pdf).
While blocking and filtering measures deny users access to specific content on the Internet, states have also taken measures to cut off access to the Internet entirely. The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The report continues:
The Special Rapporteur calls upon all states to ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest. In particular, the Special Rapporteur urges States to repeal or amend existing intellectual copyright laws which permit users to be disconnected from Internet access, and to refrain from adopting such laws.
The report, by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, comes the same day an internet-monitoring firm detected that two thirds of Syria’s internet access has abruptly gone dark, in what is likely a government response to unrest in that country.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Johann Hari: The IMF itself should be on trial

Johann Hari, commentator for The Independent and Old Lyonian, inveighs against the International Monetary Fund in no uncertain terms in a lengthy opinion piece today (excerpt follows):
The IMF’s official job sounds simple and attractive. It is supposedly there to ensure poor countries don’t fall into debt, and if they do, to lift them out with loans and economic expertise. It is presented as the poor world’s best friend and guardian. But beyond the rhetoric, the IMF was designed to be dominated by a handful of rich countries – and, more specifically, by their bankers and financial speculators. The IMF works in their interests, every step of the way.

Let’s look at how this plays out on the ground. In the 1990s, the small country of Malawi in Southeastern Africa was facing severe economic problems after enduring one of the worst HIV-AIDS epidemics in the world and surviving a horrific dictatorship. They had to ask the IMF for help. If the IMF has acted in its official role, it would have given loans and guided the country to develop in the same way that Britain and the US and every other successful country had developed – by protecting its infant industries, subsidising its farmers, and investing in the education and health of its people.

That’s what an institution that was concerned with ordinary people – and accountable to them – would look like. But the IMF did something very different. They said they would only give assistance if Malawi agreed to the ‘structural adjustments’ the IMF demanded. They ordered Malawi to sell off almost everything the state owned to private companies and speculators, and to slash spending on the population. They demanded they stop subsidising fertilizer, even though it was the only thing that made it possible for farmers – most of the population – to grow anything in the country’s feeble and depleted soil. They told them to prioritise giving money to international bankers over giving money to the Malawian people.

So when in 2001 the IMF found out the Malawian government had built up large stockpiles of grain in case there was a crop failure, they ordered them to sell it off to private companies at once. They told Malawi to get their priorities straight by using the proceeds to pay off a loan from a large bank the IMF had told them to take out in the first place, at a 56 per cent annual rate of interest. The Malawian president protested and said this was dangerous. But he had little choice. The grain was sold. The banks were paid.

The next year, the crops failed. The Malawian government had almost nothing to hand out. The starving population was reduced to eating the bark off the trees, and any rats they could capture. The BBC described it as Malawi’s “worst ever famine.” There had been a much worse crop failure in 1991-2, but there was no famine because then the government had grain stocks to distribute. So at least a thousand innocent people starved to death.

At the height of the starvation, the IMF suspended $47m in aid, because the government had ‘slowed’ in implementing the marketeeing ‘reforms’ that had led to the disaster. ActionAid, the leading provider of help on the ground, conducted an autopsy into the famine. They concluded that the IMF “bears responsibility for the disaster.”

Then, in the starved wreckage, Malawi did something poor countries are not supposed to do. They told the IMF to get out. Suddenly free to answer to their own people rather than foreign bankers, Malawi disregarded all the IMF’s ‘advice’, and brought back subsidies for the fertiliser, along with a range of other services to ordinary people. Within two years, the country was transformed from being a beggar to being so abundant they were supplying food aid to Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The Malawian famine should have been a distant warning cry for you and me. Subordinating the interests of ordinary people to bankers and speculators caused starvation there. Within a few years, it had crashed the global economy for us all.
It is not only Strauss-Khan who should be on trial. It is the institution he has been running. There’s an inane debate in the press about who should be the next head of the IMF, as if we were discussing who should run the local Milk Board. But if we took the idea of human equality seriously, and remembered all the people who have been impoverished, starved and killed by this institution, we would be discussing the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission – and how to disband the IMF entirely and start again.

If Strauss-Khan is guilty, I suspect I know how it happened. He must have mistaken the maid for a poor country in financial trouble. Heads of the IMF have, after all, been allowed to rape them with impunity for years.
There's more, so do take a read. Nothing we haven't heard from other quarters before, of course. And tending to overlook instances of IMF success, despite its most influential members' self interest (these are picked up on by some making comments after the Hari article—note: always scan the reader comments for interesting additional insights).

BBC: Climate to wreak havoc on food supply, predicts report

BBC News provides a summary of an important, and worrying, new report on emerging zones of global hunger:
Areas where food supplies could be worst hit by climate change have been identified in a report.

Some areas in the tropics face famine because of failing food production, an international research group says. The Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) predicts large parts of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will be worst affected. Its report points out that hundreds of millions of people in these regions are already experiencing a food crisis.
"We are starting to see much more clearly where the effects of climate change on agriculture could intensify hunger and poverty," said Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist with the CCAFS initiative that produced the report.

A leading climatologist told BBC News that agriculturalists had been slow to use global climate models to pinpoint regions most affected by rising temperatures.

This report is the first foray into the field by the CCAFS initiative. To assess how climate change will affect the world's ability to feed itself, CCAFS set about finding hotspots of climate change and food insecurity.

Focusing their search on the tropics, the researchers identified regions where populations are chronically malnourished and highly dependent on local food supplies. Then, basing their analysis on the climate data amassed by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the team predicted which of these food-insecure regions are likely to experience the greatest shifts in temperature and precipitation over the next 40 years. By overlaying the maps, the team was able to pinpoint which hungry regions of the tropics would suffer most.
Read the rest—a picture of the world we are yet to inherit?

Thursday, 2 June 2011

ArsTechnica: A happy history makes for a relaxed nation

Kate Shaw in an article in ArsTechnica today summarises the findings of a recent report into what we might describe as "civilisational differences"—basically, how history affects a nation's or a region's culture:
Why is it against the law to sell chewing gum or to not flush a toilet in Singapore, but completely legal to smoke pot in the Netherlands? Anthropologists have developed a spectrum, called the tightness-looseness scale, to explain this kind of cultural variation. "Tight" countries have strong social norms, don’t tolerate much deviant behavior, and enforce strict rules and conventions. Meanwhile, "loose" nations have weaker social norms and are more permissive.

But what actually determines the type of culture that nations have? A study published in Science last week finds that where a nation falls on the tightness-looseness spectrum has much to do with its ecological, historical, and societal threats.

The authors surveyed nearly 7000 people from 33 counties to determine the tightness or looseness of each nation. Respondents were asked to respond numerically to several questions, such as "In this country, if someone acts in an inappropriate way, others will strongly disapprove."  They were also asked to rate how appropriate certain behaviors (such as kissing, crying, and singing) are in various situations (like in a park, at a party, and in the workplace) in their country. The answers were used to determine how strong social norms and social constraints are in each country.

All the answers were then combined into a single tightness score for each country; the higher the score, the tighter the country. The highest-scoring countries included Pakistan, Singapore, and Malaysia, while some of the loosest nations were Brazil, Ukraine, and the Netherlands.

The researchers then compared these scores with various aspects of the nations' ecology and history. Tighter nations tend to have higher population densities—along with faster-growing populations—than loose nations do. They also have fewer natural resources, smaller food supplies, less access to safe water, and poorer air quality. They tend to be hit with more natural disasters such as floods and droughts, and have higher incidences of pathogens and communicable diseases. Territorial challenges are also more common in tight nations than loose ones.

It seems that these historical and ecological factors may play a large role in determining how tight or loose a nation is. The social norms, practices, and institutions that develop over time in each country are most likely a result of this greater context, allowing the country to function in its own particular set of circumstances.

Ukraine and some other former Soviet nations were found to be among the loosest countries.  The authors suggest that this may be a type of "pendulum" effect: since emerging from the communist era, these nations have made an about-face and now have relatively few rules and very loose social norms.

In this era of globalization, it makes sense to understand how countries develop and how cultures evolve. To some people, Singapore’s ban on gum may seem a bit over the top, but in an extremely densely populated country where waste is a huge concern, strict laws may make a bit more sense. While other nations' societal norms may seem bizarre, immoral, or dysfunctional to us, it’s worth looking at the bigger picture to understand what might have brought those norms about.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

BBC News: US Pentagon to treat cyber-attacks as 'acts of war'

On the back of plans to beef up UK cyberwarfare preparations announced yesterday, the US Pentagon has now raised the stakes of those indulging in cyberattacks against the USA and its allies (as reported by BBC News):
The US is set to publish plans that will categorise cyber-attacks as acts of war, the Pentagon says.

In future, a US president could consider economic sanctions, cyber-retaliation or a military strike if key US computer systems were attacked, officials have said recently. The planning was given added urgency by a cyber-attack last month on the defence contractor, Lockheed Martin. A new report from the Pentagon is due out in a matter of weeks.

"A response to a cyber-incident or attack on the US would not necessarily be a cyber-response. All appropriate options would be on the table," Pentagon spokesman Col Dave Lapan told reporters on Tuesday. Col Lapan confirmed the Pentagon was drawing up a cyber defence strategy, which would be ready in two to three weeks.

Cyber-attacks from foreign nations that threaten widespread US civilian casualties, like cutting off power supplies or shutting down emergency-responder networks, could be treated as an act of aggression under the new policy. But the plan does not mention how the US may respond to cyber-attackers, such as terrorists, who are not acting for a nation state.

The Pentagon's planning follows an international strategy statement on cyber-security, issued by the White House on 16 May. The US would "respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would to any other threat to our country", stated the White House in plain terms.

"We reserve the right to use all necessary means - diplomatic, informational, military, and economic - as appropriate and consistent with applicable international law, in order to defend our nation, our allies, our partners and our interests."

The Wall Street Journal quoted a military official as saying: "If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks."

White House officials said consideration of a military response to a cyber-attack would constitute a "last resort", after other efforts to deter an attack had failed, the New York Times newspaper reported.
Read the rest!