Categories
Thoughts

Manmade Nature

There has been a trend as of late to move toward the use of a concept known as “rewilding” to combat climate change and realise a more functional relationship with nature, namely, restarting the ecosystem that may have emerged through evolution and eventual stability in the past. To rewild, as defined by Oxford Languages, is to “restore (an area of land) to its natural uncultivated state (used especially with reference to the reintroduction of species of wild animal that have been driven out or exterminated)”.

Many major bestsellers have followed, advocating such practices such as Rebirding by Benedict Macdonald or Wilding by Isabella Tree (aptly named). In both cases, the authors lay out potential solution, in theoretical or practical/experiential fervour. The latter being a real world example of the rewilding of an estate shows the benefits, the return to nature and subsequent healing it quantifies.

Although beneficial, there is a hidden irony in all of this practice and purpose, the fact being that we humans have to (as the definition even states) introduce a species of wild animal that may have otherwise been driven out or exterminated. Now it is entirely agreeable that the introduction of an animal given its driving out or extermination due to human activities, for example, deforestation, would validate morally and practically a decision of re-introduction. However, as of late, as an example, there is talk of resurrection of species that are extinct and which not be due completely to the existence of humans nor the industrial revolution that followed. To provide an example, one company (a privately funded organisation) intends to resurrect the woolly mammoth which they believe could be a tool to fight climate change through their landscape changing abilities. Yes, the woolly mammoth was very much like those rewilding animals being re-introduced today, but the difference being it has been dead for thousands of years. Does it deserve another opportunity? Are humans the one that should make that decision?

The point of all of this is that it could be argued that fundamentally nothing is natural anymore. Humans dictate the boundaries of national parks, forests, nature reserves, local parks, gardens, and any other plot of land deemed non-residential, commercial and/or agricultural. Humans also decide and/or determine what species should be expected where, what species are to be expected elsewhere, and subsequently what should be re-introduced or exist in a given place. Nature, as we call it, is now manmade and there is no turning back from this. Take our gardens as an example where we’re encouraged to invigorate nature by buying a bird feeder or plant wild flower for bees and butterflies. That in itself is unnatural, the closing off of an area of space, deeming it a garden and artificially subsidising “nature” with something that may otherwise be found if the garden was left ungardenlike without boundary and “care”.

We need to reconsider what is natural and what is not, the use of terms and/or labelling can at times seem pedantic and anal, but it lends understanding in what it is we are trying to achieve with this planet. Currently we are a parasite draining our host of all resource and energy, but soon we need to create a truly natural symbiosis without artificial decision making and subsidisation, instead bringing a balance to things that allows true nature to thrive.

By Anonymous

Categories
Discussions

The Problem of Political Obligation: Benefit Theory as Solution

The question of political obligation asks, why, if at all people are obligated to obey the state? One of many philosophical theories used to answer this question is benefit theory, which operates under the assumption that the state offers special benefits to citizens, and they are therefore morally responsible to obey the state. However, critics of benefit theory suggest that this only justifies the existence of a minimal state, therefore not offering up an explanation for the political obligation that deals with the modern state. So how can one justify the existence of the modern state using benefit theory?

The merit of benefit theory is expressed through those benefits that are provided to the people that promote state obligation. Philosopher Robert Nozick offered a thought experiment in which someone would toss books onto the properties of people in a neighborhood and then demand payment for these books even though none of the neighbors had requested them. Many would suggest that this is not fair, for even though he had provided the books he had no grounds to ask for payment. Nozick offers another thought experiment outlined by George Klosko in his essay “Presumptive Benefit, Fairness, and Political Obligation,” in which a group of neighbors had decided to create a collective entertainment and broadcasting network. These neighbors take turns operating the broadcast, but one of the neighbors, “A,” does not want to give up a day to operate the broadcast even though they still benefit from the entertainment and broadcast. Is this person obligated to operate the broadcast? Many would still argue no. If benefit theory does not hold up against any of these examples, then how can it explain political obligation? The answer lies in the types of benefits that the state provides.

The state provides what are known as presumptive benefits: benefits that are necessary for living a quality life. This includes infrastructure, law, and clean air, as opposed to the benefits that appear in Nozick’s thought experiments. The classification of benefits can be described by two categories: excludability and rivalrousness. If a good is non-excludable this means that the benefit cannot be provided to one without being provided to all. The use of a non-rivalrous good does not impact the ability for others to access the good. An example of a non-excludable, non-rivalrous good would be streetlights. Benefit theory states that obligation is generated when the state provides these kinds of public goods. Excludable, rivalrous, goods such as cars and electronics do not generate obligation to the state. This explains why Nozick’s thought experiments do not generate political obligation, whereas the state providing law enforcement and clean drinking water do.

When benefit theory only applies to what is merely necessary for survival, or what is classified as a presumptive good, many of the actions of the state do not fall into this category and do not generate political obligation. However, the line of what is or is not a presumptive good is controversial. Klosko offers three examples of varying levels of severity that still generate political obligation. The first example is of a person that lives in a territory, X, that is surrounded by hostile territories, Y, that intends on killing the X-ites. The X-ites band together to protect themselves. Here, each person in X has an obligation to fight for the protection of all the X-ites. A less extreme example is that of the people in an arid area that depend on water usage for their agriculture. Therefore, the state imposes restrictions on water usage in daily life (gardening, showering, etc.) in order to conserve water for agriculture. Although the example is less extreme, the benefit of having an agricultural business that feeds and employs the community generates an obligation for the people to obey the state. This benefit, although less extreme, is still presumptive, non-excludable, and non-rivalrous, hence anything that extends beyond these requirements would not generate political obligation. Therefore, the argument for benefit theory can only justify minimal states.

Critics argue that by only justifying a minimal state benefit theory is flawed. However, in modern society, having excludable and rivalrous goods that do not generate political obligation allow for people to consent to whether they will receive these goods. Klosko offers an example of a drinking well being built in a community. Members A, B, C, and D want the well to be built, therefore they cooperate to build the well. After the well is built, they are able to drink from it. Community member E does not specifically want the well, although its existence does not hinder his quality of life at all, and therefore he does not cooperate in the building of the well. After the well’s construction he is unable to drink from the well. E has not consented to the well and therefore did not have to labor for its construction, but he also had no obligation to do so as he will not receive its benefits. Having these private goods that one can both consent to having and to not having allows people to have freedom over whether they must pay, in any respect, to have them or receive their benefit. Therefore, the existence of the private sector can help explain how benefit theory does justify political obligation in a capitalist state.

By understanding the concept of benefit theory and how the types of goods that the state can provide are classified it can be concluded that benefit theory justifies political obligation to a minimal state. Understanding political obligation and why it is that people do obey the state that they live in can better help legislators, and political thinkers, understand what their obligation is as a leader. This also highlights some political discourse about what is and is not beyond the rights of someone that lives under a state’s laws. Do these laws infringe on someone’s rights? Do these infringements benefit the greater good of the community? Are these laws or benefits excludable and non-rivalrous? By understanding these questions, we can have a better understanding of what people are and are not obligated to follow.

By Cora Fagan

Categories
Policy

Changing Electoral Systems in Singapore

Democracies are easily identified by the existence of electoral systems; however, there are distinctions between liberal democracies and illiberal democracies. According to John D Lewis, despite the presence of elections, “decisions simply imposed by a majority,  unaffected by the impact of minorities, cannot be considered genuinely democratic decisions” (Lewis 1940). Modern-day Russia is a traditional example of an illiberal democracy, as Vladimir Putin maintains control of the presidency by manipulating public opinion and elections for his support (Fish 2018). Nevertheless, there are governments capable of maintaining power without this overt undermining of democratic values. One example of this is found in Singapore where the current ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), has amended their electoral system to remain in power. By understanding the types of electoral systems, recommendations can be made to reform the Singaporean system to better represent the wishes of the people.

One distinction between different electoral systems is how many people from a district are represented in the national government. Some countries use single member districts and others use multi-member districts. In a single member district system the state is divided evenly into constituencies that are  represented by one person in the federal government. In a multi-member district system the constituencies are given varying levels of representation determined by the size and population of the constituency (Heywood pg. 409, 2019). Typically, multi-member districts are used in systems wherein the number of representatives from each party is proportional to the percentage of votes that the party received.  Singapore has a unique combination in which they have multi-member districts, but all of the representatives from a district are from one party that received the plurality of votes. The existence of this system is one of the reasons that the PAP has maintained power. In order to understand how this came to be, it is important to examine Singapore’s history.

Singapore is a former British colony, and, similar to other former British colonies, they originally adopted the Westminster system with single member districts (Tan 2013). PAP was originally formed as a radical left-wing party in the early days of Singaporean government. However, it wasn’t until 1968, when Barisian Socialis, a faction of the PAP, staged a mass boycott. This boycott led to the PAP’s clean victory and established their hegemony; the PAP has maintained a supermajority in every election since (Tan 2013). In 1988 PAP ensured their future hold on government by establishing Group Representative Constituencies (GRC) (Ganesean 1998). GRCs are multi-member districts where a party submits a list of four to six people, including at least one ethnic minority, and the constituency votes for their preferred party (Ganesan 1998).

Mandating minority candidates within GRCs means that ethnically homogenous smaller parties can no longer run, and it prevents potential parties from forming on ethnic lines and overtaking the PAP’s seats (Ganesan 1998). Although the GRCs were formed under the guise of increasing minority representation, there is little evidence that suggests the legislature was unequal before the GRCs were formed (Ganesan 1998). The GRC system also means that for a party to gain any representation, they have to win more of the votes than any other party in a large, diverse, district. If they were to win seats in a small district this would be quickly overshadowed by victories of the PAP in large GRCs.

With no other significant opposition party, and severe gerrymandering under the GRC system, voters are either left with no electable alternative to the PAP or no alternative at all (Tan 2013). In 2001 the PAP was running unopposed for 66.9% of voters (Tan 2013 pg. 640). The plurality system in conjunction with the multi-member districts led to a 22.3% electoral disproportionality based on vote and seat shares (Tan 2013 pg. 638). Therefore, in order for Singapore’s democracy to accurately reflect the wishes of the people, this must be reformed.

In order to decrease this disparity Singapore should introduce a single-member district system where the districts are approximately equal in size and population. This way there will not be an overrepresentation of one party that wins in districts with more seats. Reducing a large GRC to a few, smaller, districts will allow some of the areas to elect opposition candidates instead of sending up to six representatives for the entire district from one party. If these smaller parties were able to gain seats in the legislature, they would be able to form coalition governments, or even gain enough seats to act as a check on the ruling party. This is important because as of now, even controversial legislation passes through the House because the PAP has almost all of the seats.

By Cora Fagan

References

Fish, M., 2018. What Has Russia Become?. Comparative Politics, [online] 50(3), pp.327-346. Available at: <Lewis, J., 1940. The Elements of Democracy. American Political Science Review, [online] 34(3), pp.467-480. Available at: <https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/1949351.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A8412e28dd8d8068ec51d3f7fac25737d&gt; [Accessed 12 March 2021].> [Accessed 12 March 2021].

Ganesan, N., 1998. Singapore: Entrenching a City‑State´s Dominant Party System. Southeast Asian Affairs 1998, [online] 1998(1), pp.229-243. Available at: <https://www-jstor-org.elib.tcd.ie/stable/pdf/27912206.pdf?ab_segments=0%252Fbasic_search_gsv2%252Fcontrol&refreqid=excelsior%3A4a2ec1b4f08af9711fe806148373df53&gt; [Accessed 12 March 2021].

Heywood, A., 2019. POLITICS. 5th ed. London: Red Globe Press.

Lewis, J., 1940. The Elements of Democracy. American Political Science Review, [online] 34(3), pp.467-480. Available at: <https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/1949351.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A8412e28dd8d8068ec51d3f7fac25737d&gt; [Accessed 12 March 2021].

Tan, N., 2013. Manipulating electoral laws in Singapore. Electoral Studies, [online] 32(4), pp.632-643. Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261379413001145&gt; [Accessed 12 March 2021].

Categories
Thoughts

Singing birds in sickness, Sing the same blues songs

The title is poignant, a lyric from the band Song: Ohia in a song called Blue Chicago Moon. Fronted by the late Jason Molina who passed prematurely due to alcoholism, the song like many of those sung by him, is deeply seeded with pain and anguish. It’s a seeming pain of a man who maybe could not fit into the world coming up against its increasing modernity, individualism, free marketisms or ill gotten ways. That in itself is a speculation as to know exactly what went through Molina’s head is impossible.

Singing birds in sickness, Sing the same blues song. This lyric stands out and could be applied to the many voices through the ages that cried out in need of help, in warning, or in pain, repeating the bringing to attention a problem at hand. Those that hear the shouts are very often more willing to suggest its a cry of “wolf” than a true warning. It seems particularly fitting in explaining for the recent unsettling existential dread that seems to hang over us. If the Covid-19 pandemic was a fire alarm regarding our changing world, the latest IPCC report on climate change is the fire in the front room. It is more or less around us, the sickness if you will, whilst those in the know continue to sing the same blues song. Are we to continue ignoring it?

I have struggled recently with this seeming existential dread as some have termed it climate anxiety. I think applying such a label is not helpful and narrows focus to climate change and inaction solely, when in reality it’s a combination of many things, at least in my own case.

For example, I seek out philosophy likely to negate my lack of spirituality, but my lack of spirituality feeds my seeking out nihilism and existentialism in philosophy. The political structures of neoliberalism enforcing a culture of individualism, reinforced particularly in the Anglosphere to the point of stressing ownership of property or a home, and the competitiveness of you against others, reduces the sense of community and belonging.

This combination of commonplace belief systems already weighs heavy on many, specifically a lack of spirituality and neoliberalism, which restricts support, economically, socially and therefore fundamentally mentally. It already places many individuals in a position of apparent futility, broken or unmotivated to begin with, existing and occupied by their black mirrors. Couple this with the inaction over climate change, therefore current and coming disasters (even with dramatic action tomorrow) and you have recipe for a generational anxiety or angst, not solely climate related anxiety.

The so called “climate anxiety” is much deeper, it has many structural causes within culture, society and the economy. But some of us continue to Sing the same blues song, whether about climate, politics, economics, society which seems to fall on increasingly deaf ears, with those around us becoming passive and uninterested. The use of general labels introduces categorisation and therefore grouping of individuals reducing scope for collective action for the totality of our problems. Our song should be loud and in every wording so that is understood by many and not reduced to a few.

By Anonymous

Categories
Thoughts

A Way Out of the “Black Hole” of News

I grew up on a tiny island. Driving from one end to the other took around an hour and a half if the traffic was good. It was extremely conservative, but it put up a liberal front for the tourists. “Guilt-free trip to the Middle East!” it seemed to say, “Arab culture without all that pesky oppression.” If I was fully American, I would have had the time of my life. Unfortunately, I was also Bahraini and the relaxed “Arab-lite” image that had been so carefully constructed began to fall apart.

Peaceful protests started popping up all over the country. It was like a huge party to 8-year-old me. Hopeful voices all around me, finally the government would listen to us. The king didn’t have to go! We could have a constitutional monarchy like Britain. There were huge community cook-outs, I banged drums, shouted chants, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. This lasted a month.

I wasn’t there for what came next, but I remember it in the first person. My mind must have pieced together memories from pictures, videos, things I heard later. My dad was there working as a journalist for the Associated Press. His memories are real. We were gathered at a huge statue that had become a symbol of the rebellion. The riot police attacked without warning. They fired tear gas into the crowd who panicked, trampling each other. They shot the stragglers. Years later, I saw the videos. Boys bleeding on the ground _ a man, wounded, staggering toward the police. They shot him twice more in the stomach from two meters away. My neighbor was the first person shot that day.

After that, things changed. You couldn’t talk anymore, my American life and Bahraini life became two separate worlds. Phones were bugged, houses were bugged. My parents sat up until dawn waiting for the riot police to raid our house. We were lucky. I got used to the smell of tear gas and burning rubber, I stopped noticing the sound of gunshots. My dad went to a lot of funerals. I have a memory of the body of a cousin who was so swollen and bruised you couldn’t see his face. I wonder if I would have recognized him anyway, I didn’t know him that well. Two meters in front of me, a young boy got shot. The canister sank into his stomach and heavy tear gas flowed from the wound. I buried that memory and kept living. My life was normal. I was happy and optimistic. I didn’t know any other way of living.

I once heard my mother describe Bahrain as a black hole for news. A tweet could land you a jail sentence. Image was very important to the Bahraini government. They maintained friendly relations with other world leaders, and aside from a few petitions no global action was taken against them. 

My dad was a photojournalist. The government tried to buy him and he refused. Eventually, he was banned from working. We lived for two years scraping by. We heard rumors that he would be arrested or killed. We moved to Cyprus.  

I had lived in fear since I was eight. Without that fear to support me I didn’t know how to function. I joined a school for musical theatre and started to dance for the first time. Slowly I learned that there were other motivations. I could suddenly breathe _ surrounded by bright lights, sweat, smiles, and people who shared my dreams and passions. I spoke to them freely, knowing they couldn’t turn me in even if they’d wanted to.

I had a voice. I immersed myself in politics, educated myself on LGBTQ+ rights, and accepted my sexuality. I talked and talked at anyone who would listen. Sharing opinions without fear of retribution is exhilarating. I marched for gay rights, against climate change, for the rights of migrant workers. Every time I march, that old fear comes back, but slowly my triggers are gaining new associations. Smoke can be fog as well as tear gas, you can march to Lady Gaga as well as desperate chants, and not all angry teenagers become martyrs.

By Safiya Jamali

Categories
Questions

What is Terrorism?

Terrorism is without a doubt one of the most elusive and contentious terms in the political lexicon, and the question “what is terrorism?” is situated at the centre of most discourse on terrorism. The existence of multiple definitions of terrorism highlights the indefinite answer to this question and reveals the profound influence of power dynamics in the application of such labels. In many ways, the meaning and significance of terrorism is constructed and determined by the subjective viewpoint of whoever defines it at any given time, which fluctuates depending on the socio-political conditions in which they live, as well as their frame of reference.

Why does this matter?

Terrorism’s lack of comprehensive meaning has not only hindered the possibility for a more analytical and dispassionate approach, but its apparent malleability as a concept has created a vacuity for actors (state and non-state alike) to define what terrorism is according to their unique political and tactical involvements in both the international and internal arena. 

In this way, government bodies and associated terrorism academics are selective about what constitutes terrorism, producing terrorist activity and publicity in a way that functions to serve Western state interests. As Saul (2006) duly states, “the more confused a concept, the more it lends itself to opportunistic appropriation”.

The Global Terrorism Database (GTD), for example, defines terrorism as “the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by non-state actors to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal through fear, coercion or intimidation”. The GTD, which is maintained by the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, notably excludes the significant violence and terrorism that is committed by governments and state militaries, reflecting the selective processes, social biases and power-relations associated with specific interpretations of terrorism.

State-terrorism and the Contra War

Taking a more analytical approach highlights the bias and subjectivity rooted in mainstream perceptions of terrorism supported by Western states and exposes the harmful implications of such a narrow, restrictive conceptualisation of terrorism.

To use a historical example, the Contra War in Nicaragua under the Reagan administration (1981 -1989) is a prime example of U.S. control over the labelling of state-terrorism, which was alternatively defined as “internal defence” and “counter-insurgency” for the purpose of containing the spread of communism. The Contras were a U.S.-sponsored paramilitary group who were armed, trained, and financed by the U.S. to combat the revolutionary left-wing Frente Sandinista Liberación Nationale (FSLN) guerrillas, using tactics such as murder, rape, mutilation, kidnapping, and destruction. 

This supposed U.S. counterinsurgency was described euphemistically by the government as “coercive diplomacy”, yet if terrorism is indeed defined as “the threat or actual use of illegal force and violence”, then why are these acts not labelled as such when committed by the state? Accordingly, Richards states, “one danger is that if terrorism is not so clearly defined, the powers of the state may extend very far indeed”.

During this time, the Reagan administration was involved in a propaganda campaign in an attempt to portray the Contras in a positive light, while covertly funding and encouraging them to use terrorist tactics. This labelling (or non-labelling) of terrorism by the state functioned to align with state-endorsed definitions of terrorism, and these state-sponsored acts of terrorism are described by Chomsky as “a form of low-intensity conflict that states undertake when they find it convenient to engage in war without being held accountable for their actions”. This served to legitimise the actions of U.S. state-sponsored groups and undermine the civilian population and victims of terrorism in Latin America, as well as grant the U.S. acquiescence and detach the state from explicate acts of terrorism. 

What implications does this have for wider society?

Despite the West being the main source of terrorism in recent years, it has managed to deflect the terrorist indictment onto its victims, through construction of semantics that serve its ends, which is largely supported by opinion forming circles (namely the mass media). The Western model of terrorism views the West as an innocent target and victim of terrorism and maintains the view that it only responds to others’ use of violence.

It is clear that power dynamics and subjectivity are heavily entrenched in the usage of the term terrorism. It is frequently used as a pejorative epithet, and its subjective usage has become a notable impediment to achieving a universal definition of the term. The termsterrorism and terrorist hold intrinsically negative connotations and are laden with condemnation that is usually applied to one’s adversaries, seeking to delegitimise their political motives. Hence, the decision to label an organisation or individual as terrorist is an inherently partisan undertaking — definitions of terrorism are entirely dependent on who defines them, who controls these definitions, and why such definitions are used.

The realisation that self-interests and strategic objectives of the state are entangled in mainstream conceptions of terrorism is of paramount importance, and there are countless modern-day parallels to the above example of the Contra War. Most interpretations of what terrorism is are produced by and for the dominant, rendering both victims of state-terrorism and oppressed communities powerless in the construction of alternative discourses. 

The powerful (namely the state) are arguably the most responsible for actions of political violence, but if they maintain purchase on foreign policies and intellectual resources that shape and establish dominant discourses on terrorism, they will do so in their own favour, which affects wider society in both explicit and covert ways. 



References

  • Chomsky, N. (2003) Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
  • Global Terrorism Database (2018) Available at: https://www.start.umd.edu/research-projects/global-terrorism-database-gtd
  • Greene, A. (2017) “Defining Terrorism: One Size Fits All?” in International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 66 (2). pp. 411-440.
  • Richards, A. (2013) Conceptualising Terrorism. London: UEL Research Repository.

By Molly Wallace

Categories
Policy

Problems with the Paris Agreement

International climate change agreements formed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have strived for decades for states to collectively commit to emissions reductions targets, which has proven to be an extremely onerous undertaking. 

Different national interests and disparities in states’ economic development resulted in the implementation of a “common but differentiated responsibilities” principle, which granted developing nations the flexibility to increase their emissions while more developed nations were expected to reduce theirs. The first legally-binding agreement on this was the Kyoto Protocol (1997), wherein member states committed to emissions reductions equivalent to 18 percent below the emission levels in 1990. Nations such as China and India, which, at this time were undergoing fast-paced development, were not included in these commitments, which resulted in the U.S. refusing to ratify in 2001.

After much negotiation, a new climate agreement which included all nations was formed under the UNFCCC in Paris in 2015. This was seen as a positive step for the climate, but the Paris Agreement’s structure and its ability to tackle climate change have proven to be inadequate at best, and calamitous to the environment in actuality.

What does the Paris Agreement say?

As stated in Article 2, the Paris Agreement is aimed at “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”. However, the Agreement took a unique approach to achieving this – rather than setting legally-binding targets for emissions reductions, all states involved were required to set “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and undertake “ambitious efforts” which would “represent progression over time” to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. 

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement does not aim to achieve multilateral uniformity in all states’ emissions reductions but grants these decision-making powers to the states individually. Its NDC approach and “bottom up” structure is imperative to understanding the Paris Agreement’s acknowledgement of national sovereignty, as these allow states the flexibility to determine their own objectives for emissions reductions and climate-change measures based on their economic makeup and developmental stature. 

Why is the Paris Agreement problematic?

Article 4 (3, 9) and Article 14 of the Paris Agreement state that the “nationally determined contributions” of each state must be reviewed and increased every five years in regular “stock takes” and “each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution”. The volitional nature of the Paris Agreement relies on an Enhanced Transparency Framework, which allows it to function as a soft procedural agreement, meaning that parties must hold each other responsible instead of a legal compliance mechanism. The setting of targets by states themselves and reporting on their progress is mandated under the Paris Agreement, but the strictness and willingness to set and reach these targets is completely voluntary. This voluntary mechanism lacks cogency on both commitment and enforcement, and forgoes environmental integrity. These articles of the Paris Agreement promote a problematic incentive for states to act in their own national interests and to set their initial targets low in order to better facilitate an increase of these targets in five years’ time. 

Statistics indicate that there was an increase of 1.7 percent in global carbon emissions in 2017, and 2.7 percent in 2018 despite the implementation of the Paris Agreement. It is clear that many more economically developed states are failing to take adequate responsibility for their destructive influence on the changing climate, and set extremely weak NDCs to combating climate change. Some states (such as Singapore) also misrepresent their development status in order to continue to pollute. Analysis of the 184 pledges set for 2030 revealed that up to seventy-five percent of these are insufficient. Large emitters such as China and India are set to have even higher emissions by 2030, and the second largest emitter, the U.S. (although it withdrew from the Agreement under the Trump administration and rejoined under the Biden administration), also submitted a pledge which was too low. There are absolutely no consequences for those who fail to meet targets, misrepresent the state’s developmental status, or leave the Agreement (as seen in the case of the U.S.), which highlights not only the lacklustre nature of the Paris Agreement, but the unadulterated complacency and exploitation of the Agreement by member states.

What does this mean for the environment?

It is worth noting that even if all governments actually met their targets set in the Paris Agreement, it is calculated that the world would still experience 3°C of warming. However, this warming is likely to be even greater since most countries are not taking adequate action to achieve their targets. As such, the Paris Agreement’s NDC approach, which is aimed at respecting national sovereignty, encourages states to act in their own self-interests and disregard the Agreement, which is having an adverse effect on the climate.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in order to reach a trajectory which would limit the rise in the global average temperature to 1.5°C or 2°C, the global economy must reduce carbon emissions in order to achieve fifty percent less by 2030, and net-zero carbon by 2050, after which it must go carbon-negative. The changes required to meet these targets are sizeable, and require governments to act on a larger and more accelerated level than they currently are.

The changing climate is an issue which affects all of humanity, no matter their politics, nationality and beliefs. The Paris Agreement has already demonstrated itself to be an extremely inadequate mechanism for combatting climate change, and now, six years on, countries must face consequences for their lack of commitment and reciprocity, or the Agreement must be replaced.

What could be changed?

Creating international climate agreements with strong incentives for states to participate in is undeniably difficult. The central flaw of the Paris Agreement is its NDC approach to reducing emissions, which has been severely undermined by states’ self-interest, and has become detrimental to tackling climate change. A mechanism is needed to quicken the pace of climate action taken by governments, whilst also providing them with incentives to participate fully in the climate change prevention process.

Perhaps states can accomplish more collectively, rather than acting independently (as with the NDC approach of the Paris Agreement). Structural change is of paramount importance if an effective international climate change treaty is to be created, and a voluntary agreement should be discarded in favour of one that has visible incentives for countries to participate, reach targets, and to remain members of such a treaty. 

For future international climate change treaties, a “club” model would be beneficial, as nations that do not participate may be penalised or excluded at a low cost to club members. Reforming the Paris Agreement into a “climate club” may be a useful strategy to tackle the problems of climate change and to discourage states’ self-interested actions, whilst also promoting their shared responsibility in climate change action, which would be a welcome amelioration during this challenging period of extreme climate change.

References

by Molly Wallace

Categories
Discussions

The Exposure to Excess Information

The current environment socially, economically and politically is dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since its onset, the people of every country on Earth have had to adapt in one way or another, adhering to rules likely restricting their freedoms, adopt habits, take a hit mentally and economically, or begin a form of conspiracy mongering and resistance that, in many cases, was met with the breaking of relationships and societal shunning.

It is the latter aspects that is most contentious, that is the conspiracy mongering of and resistance to vaccination and compliance to rules. Some believe that that the virus is not real, or is a cover for the effects of 5G technology, is a means of control through the vaccination with government and corporation pulling the levers, with endless other variations. Others are resistant to the compliance of rules, particularly in the United States, due to the barriers to liberty that these apparently symbolise, and therefore resist otherwise through non-adherence. Both seem equally destructive especially in the harmful forms of protest many individuals in these beliefs utilise.

For argument’s sake, however, could it be information that is the problem here? The access to the Internet, an endless stream on everything anyone could ever think of, is both humanity’s likely greatest achievement, but also in many cases its literal downfall. Look to the use of the Internet by major corporations – more or less, monopolies controlling whole portions of the UI and content presentation on the of the Internet (think Facebook and Google) – effectively handing tools to dictators, amongst other nefarious players, to do as they please turning the masses into followers. But for argument’s sake, is it the individuals fault or the corporation and its leadership? The human brain is not built for the extensiveness of information the Internet holds, and the human condition leads to the taking of the path of least resistance in many cases. If told X and X seems to fit into individual A’s perspective or understanding of reality, then A is going to take X as true, especially if the supplemental information suggests X is the reason why Y and Z occur or exist or what have you.

The point is the extent and breadth of information at users’ disposal allows the taking of a narrative, one that fits their world view, their reality. The overexposure to information through the media and Internet exasperates this as if, if there is something not fully understood, the individual can withdraw and retract in their niche corner of the informational realm in which they are reinforced and reassured by others as to whether or not their reality is true, which effectively acts as an echo chamber of anonymous agreement.

The reason this is being addressed is that in the case of vaccinations, not one but two (AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson) have been found to cause blood clots in some patients, to the extent that some medical regulators are now advising warnings on the vaccines. This is fuel to the fire of conspiracy. But it’s the current climate of continued coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought this to everyone’s attention. The counting of daily deaths, the progress of vaccination trials, everything is under a lens day-in, day-out. Many simple medications have had catastrophic impacts on individuals. Penicillin, an antibiotic, is often used to treat all sorts of illnesses, however, it is estimated that as much as 2% of the UK population are allergic and therefore could die on taking it. That’s a potential 1,333,000 people. However, there are no resistances (or at least if there are any they are not significant) to the use of antibiotics, penicillin in particular. There are no conspiracies surrounding them and someone visiting their doctor regarding an ailment will happily redeem their prescription and take their antibiotic with no questions asked.

These scenarios leave questions to be asked of what is the over-exposure of information doing to cause this apparent cognitive dissonance, in adherence and acceptance. Is it the sources of information, the reinforcement of one’s peers in world view, a true belief in liberty, fact in some cases, political leaning, a misunderstanding or incapability in understanding?

by Maurizio J Liberante

Categories
Discussions

Brexit: Political Sovereignty or Economic Prosperity

The United Kingdom left the European Union entering the year 2020. The country subsequently entered a transition period in which they would continue to have access to the Single Market, allowing unfettered trade access, and the other benefits of EU membership such as free movement of people for the duration of the period. A free trade deal was finally struck on the 24th December (the figurative 11th hour) when the UK would have crashed out of the temporary continued trading measures with no deal whatsoever.

However, this deal has come under a great deal of scrutiny, particularly by industries that were significant advocates of Brexit, specifically the taking back of control of rules and regulations governing practices in the United Kingdom. The taking back of sovereignty if you will. But it is ever clearer the trend over the past number of years toward nationalist sentiment, a degree of introversion, is working against what is likely of more importance moving forward.

It has been reported in the past week that the new customs checks that traders or hauliers must go through in order to trade with the EU has led to many companies refusing to either deliver or export to or from the EU. This is due to increases in costs caused by delays and the required documentation in order to successfully transport goods without the potential refusal of entry or in some cases destruction of some product. Of course these delays are detrimental to time constrained goods, such as fish and seafood. The longer left the more likely these goods in particular will expire. Even in the dead of winter as we are currently (at the time of writing).

Subsequently this led to protests amongst fishermen and demonstrations made against government to help due to £1000s worth of product having to be disposed of. Interestingly though fishing in itself was an industry that advocated Brexit for the reasoning of being able to take back control of British waters, of sovereignty over British waters allowing the upping of fishing quotas and therefore revenues generated. In the short term, however, since this change in quota is being implemented over a number of years, these fishermen are met with a new environment of not being able to compete effectively with their European counterparts due to the inevitable restrictions they called for in Brexit. Many fishermen may fall into financial ruin as a consequence even if these issues in trade can be ironed out in the medium term.

But what then does this have to do with political sovereignty and economic prosperity? It could be argued that the idea of a standalone political sovereignty, one tied to a sole nation state is non-existent in the 21st century. Over the course of the 20th century increasing globalisation has eroded nation states to the point of being second in power and reach to multilateral institutions such as the EU or NATO. Even if a nation state, such as the UK, was to remove jurisdiction of a higher governmental institution such as the EU, as it has, it still succumbs to the international order of things. In practice, the taking back of political sovereignty, of apparent self-determination sounds attractive, synonymous with freedom in individualistic and liberal democracies such as the UK and the US. Nonetheless, the reality is self-determination in today’s world requires bi-lateral and multi-lateral co-operation.

These fishermen may have the rights in the long term (if successful in weathering the current impacts being had on the UK industry as a whole) to fish more, but the reality is they need the multi-lateral cooperation of their government of which they believe instils their political sovereignty. Without the effective economic co-operation and therefore giving away of “sovereignty” to other nation states, the individual, the introverting nation state, must sacrifice economic prosperity. Obviously, this is if the individual or nation state is willing to do so then so be it.

Though it can be argued that the loss of economic prosperity is in itself a loss of political sovereignty. The loss of the trading relationship, the complete freedom of movement of goods, means these fishermen cannot do what they want because their product can be replaced, their trading relationship found elsewhere. Nation states move backwards in decisions like Brexit, the rights the British people have lost both economically and politically have proven true in the loss of ease of trade, business and competitive edge. The British are subject to less opportunity, less prosperity, and thus less executable rights with less wealth of which they could have used to insure their rights, better opportunity and sustain prosperity.

by Maurizio J Liberante

Categories
Thoughts

Uncertainties of a Beacon of Democracy in Africa

BBC Radio is one of my favourite channels. I love the phone-in-sessions especially World Have Your Say and other personal stories about overcoming difficulties. As I write this piece, I cannot but recollect a BBC Sports program about a certain period of the African Cup of Nations. In that session of the BBC Sports program, there were jokes about the African countries. And this was how the joke went: all African countries meet at a pub and they display their manliness by requesting a smorgasbord of strong drinks. When it was Ghana’s turn, in a quiet voice like that of a child, it said, “Can I have a glass of milk?” This of course set off a round of raucous laughter among the panelists.

The juxtaposition of Ghana to a child, in my view is not necessarily a denigration. It portrays Ghana as pure and innocent. Qualities which sum up the stage Ghana finds herself in several decades surrounded by countries of which have fallen into the very pit of hellish civil war. The kind which Dante would have been proud to use in his “Inferno”. Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Togo; countries that are the immediate neighbours of Ghana have always experienced one form of altercation or another but not Ghana. The consequences of the Liberian civil war exist in Ghana in the form of the Liberia Camp, occupied by refugees who have went through the psychological and emotional trauma of war, refusing to go back to Liberia after two decades. Just as some Liberians found Ghana to be a haven, the children I teach from Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Lebanon, etc. see Ghana as a haven of peace. Ghana indeed has been the most peaceful place in the African continent.

This is not to say Ghana has never had challenges. Like all Africa countries, Ghana has been marked by the indoctrination of European colonialism but has weathered it quite well. Despite that Ghana has not felt the serrating and the destructive effect of the underbelly of civil war (which have been felt by the Rwandans, or Nigerians with Boko Haram, to name but a few). Thus, the comparison of Ghana to a child is apt, an innocence of the devastating nature of civil war.

My fear however is that this child is gradually losing her innocence, the consequences would not be pleasant, thus the trepidation and uncertainties. In 2016, Ghana elected a new political party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) with Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo Addo as its flagbearer. The previous governing party, National Democratic Congress (NDC) led by John Dramani Mahama, was booted out of office because of the reported canker of corruption. Prior to its election, the then opposition party (NPP) which went on to win the 2016 election, fervently promised to drastically deal with corrupt politicians and act of corruptions. Upon its assumption of office, nothing has changed much, except some would say corruption is at its very peak. Perhaps the words of a Special Prosecutor for corruption, Martin Amidu, (appointed to prosecute all involved in corruption in politics and the economy) that his employer is the “mother serpent of corruption” affirms the horrifying state the country faces.

During the rule of Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo Addo, there were rumours and videos of civilians being trained in military warfare. This was reported by private media. The civilians trained in military tactics were called the Delta Forces. During the 2020 election, it was soon to become apparent why the Delta Forces were recruited and why the government appointed his relatives to the positions of the Electoral Commissioner, the justices, and key functions (who could have put a stop to any fracas the country experiences) in government. Indeed, for four years (2016-2020), the ruling government led by Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo Addo was playing a game of chess with rules the opposition (NDC) was not aware of. The result leading the opposition (NDC) to having their hands being tied, effectively being handed a checkmate.

The civilian militia, Delta Force, had a role to play in the 7th December 2020 election. It is alleged it stole and burnt ballot boxes at opposition strong-hold and put into force other skirmishers which resulted in the death of nine people of which the media reported. This is unheard of in the history of Ghana’s elections. The justices appointed by the government shows clear nepotism and their necessity in the election is clear. The current opposition (NDC) who have disputed the 2020 election are faced with challenging the result of the election in front of judges appointed by the ruling government. On the 6th of January 2021, the Members of Parliament had to propose and vote for a Speaker of Parliament, when the ballot papers were being countered, a member of the incumbent NPP government, tried to do away with ballot papers cast, to have a person of their (NPP) choice as the Speaker of Parliament. To some this is just a confirmation that that the incumbent government led by Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo Addo, rigged the 2020 election. And the very public figures who previously, could have expressed their views concerning the errors in the election have their hands tied, because they have been appointed by the government in several positions and therefore one cannot bite the hand that feeds it. Indeed this is almost admirable; it took foresight, effective planning and the ability to believe in one’s own lies to make this possible.

As a confirmation of the unease the country is experiencing, a movie, “Freedom and Justice” by a Ghanaian actor, dancer, musician, Kobby Rana was banned from its 25th December 2020 debut. A trailer of the movie portrays almost effectively, the corruption that has brought about the snail-pace or even a halt to the progress and development of the country. A country which gained independence at the same period as the likes of Malaysia, to use a comparative measure of development. With all that is occurring, the consequence is an undertone of unrest and uncertainties. Can Ghana continue in the midst of the lies, armed civilian militias (at the detriment of trained and qualified security officers), a disputed election, a government that practices Machiavellian and mafia-like tactics?  Will Ghanaians be willing to unify as the newly sworn in government of the Nana Addo-Dankwa Akufo Addo hopes for in his inauguration speech? Is this beacon of democracy in Africa losing its glow?

by Ali I. M.