Archive for December, 2010

While I have my doubts that a global climate agreement is actually in the best interest of the planet (mostly because I think local adaptive management is likely to yield locally-appropriate, more accountable outcomes), it is worth remembering why there is so much debate about such an agreement.  Many people still fail to grasp why the developing world thinks it absurd that places like the US, Canada and Germany feel justified in demanding big cuts of them – there are two reasons:

1)Big cuts close the door to historical development pathways.  Most of the OECD countries went through a major industrialization phase that was hugely polluting.  China is going through this today on an unprecedented scale. While I think these pathways are, by and large, dead ends for development anyway these days, the fact is that a global climate deal more or less demands that currently poor countries abandon the very methods that we in the wealthier countries used to get to our current status.  This, by the way, is why there is a transfer of money and technology being built into the agreement – because the wealthy countries are not completely hypocritical, and therefore recognize that creating new development pathways will be expensive and beyond the means of most currently-poor countries.  If we are going to demand they change what they are doing, we should at least contribute financially to those changes.  So the next time you hear this deal called a huge wealth transfer, feel free to remind the speaker that the age of exploration, through colonialism, through the first 40 or so years of free trade was a giant wealth transfer from poor to rich.  We are only partially answering for that, no matter how large the transfers built into a climate agreement.

2) While we in the US like to point at China’s and (to a lesser extent) India’s total emissions as an argument they have to accept big cuts, and use the argument that 80% of future emissions growth will come from poorer countries to argue for cuts to all emissions, these demands fail to account for the per-person production of these emissions.  The Washington Post has two graphics, which they ran on their front page on December 10th, that capture this issue perfectly.  First, the total emissions graphic:

Yeah, that looks pretty bad – China produces more emissions than we do, and India is catching up quick.  Man, we’d better get those people under control . . . right?  Well, no . . .

Yep, per capita we in the US are big emissions hogs – per person, we crank out 385% of the average Chinese person, and a boggling 1333% more emissions than the average Indian.  Hell, Iran looks bad compared to China when we get down to per-person use.  This is the sticking point – what right do we in the US have to be sloppy with our emissions, yet demand cuts of everyone else?

Building a global deal that addresses both of these issues is damn near to impossible – we need to control total emissions, but at the same time recognize that not everyone emits equally.  Addressing the first of these is politically unpalatable for the poorer countries.  Addressing the latter is unpalatable here in the US and in many other wealthy countries. The result: weak global agreements that address neither.

Well, there’s nothing like continued empirical evidence for the arguments I have been making about Jeff Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project (MVP), and thanks to a Tweet from Michael Clemens, I’ve now got more.  Clemens is one of the authors of a report that is very critical of the MVP, and that report was good enough to find and cite my work on this topic – but how he dug up this story from a Liberian newspaper, I will never know:

“The project is a new approach to fighting poverty in post-conflict Liberia, but residents in the District have complained that they had seen no evidence of the project getting off the ground. In a brief statement to the President, Deputy Speaker Tokpah J. Mulbah indicated that the project, which seeks to improve the socio-economic and infrastructural development of the District lacked the residents’ involvement and that there was not tangible impact being felt by the villagers. He added that the people of that District were discontent about the way the project is being implemented in their village.”

But the brutal sentence is the one by Deputy Speaker Tokpah J. Mulbah that titles this post: “‘Madam President, millions of dollars have been spent on the Millennium Village Project but we have seen nothing concrete done for our people,’ he said.”

Clemens’ report is here.  My article is here.

Bill Easterly is one of the better public intellectuals in the area of development – I enjoy his writing, and I think that his work since leaving the World Bank has become more and more valuable as it takes on an ever-more critical edge.  I take him to task for some of his earlier work in my book, and I think that he does not quite question the workings of globalization and development to the extent necessary to really start to get at what is happening in the world, but by and large I think he is a tremendously valuable asset for the development community.

My belief in his value just went up tenfold, however, with his op-ed comparing the celebrity activism of Lennon to that of Bono.  While I take his points about Lennon’s activism, I suspect that Easterly overstates the case for Lennon’s importance as an activist a bit – it is hard to change the system from completely outside, as there is often no way to engage with people constructively – all you get is parallel conversations.  But Easterly’s criticism of Bono is dead on:

While Bono calls global poverty a moral wrong, he does not identify the wrongdoers. Instead, he buys into technocratic illusions about the issue without paying attention to who has power and who lacks it, who oppresses and who is oppressed. He runs with the crowd that believes ending poverty is a matter of technical expertise – doing things such as expanding food yields with nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants or solar-powered drip irrigation.

Bono becomes a problem not through any fault of his own, really, but because he becomes a mouthpiece for people like Jeff Sachs (I have plenty to say about him, but look here, here and in the peer-reviewed literature here) who really seem unable to think about power relations, history and political economy when considering development.  Asserting that poverty is the result of a lack of development asserts a problem and a solution all at once, without ever really addressing a cause.  Further, as I tell my students, there is no such thing as a purely technical, apolitical development intervention – even putting in a well will have variable impacts across a community, creating winners and losers.  The technical is not the hard part in development – if it was, we’d have accomplished a hell of a lot more than we have up to this point.

I also must admit that I really appreciated Easterly turning his guns on the other celebrity activists:

Bono is not the only well-intentioned celebrity wonk of our age – the impulse is ubiquitous. Angelina Jolie, for instance, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (seriously) in addition to serving as a U.N. goodwill ambassador. Ben Affleck has become an expert on the war in Congo. George Clooney has Sudan covered, while Leonardo DiCaprio hobnobs with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders at a summit to protect tigers; both actors have written opinion essays on those subjects in these pages, further solidifying their expert bona fides.

But why should we pay attention to Bono’s or Jolie’s expertise on Africa, any more than we would ask them for guidance on the proper monetary policy for the Federal Reserve?

Why indeed?  I sure as hell don’t plan to lecture Clooney or DiCaprio on acting.  Affleck, well . . .

But I must take issue with Easterly a tiny bit here – yes, Bono is the frontman, but shouldn’t our frustration be directed at those who fill his and others’ heads with the belief that we can fix it all, with just a little more money (I’m looking at you, Dr. Sachs)?  I have no doubt that Bono, Clooney and all the rest have the best of intentions, and work hard to inform themselves rather than run around blind, but in the end they are manipulated by people with greater experience and what appears to be greater expertise to further agendas that these celebrities do not understand – Bono is backing Sachs’ push for more aid (which is in conflict with Easterly’s and others’ view that we need to focus on institutions, political systems and corruption).  Clooney is supporting a group that has one idea of how to address issues in Sudan, but may not have the best or the only ideas because they tend to deal in moral absolutes (like supporting an ICC warrant for Kony, which derailed peace talks in Northern Uganda/Southern Sudan/Congo/CAR).  We need to make sure we dig past the celebs to those who feed them these ideas, and address the problem at it source . . .

Well, Cancun did not totally collapse . . . but the outcome was maybe worse.  What we now have is a one-year stall with very little to show for it. The targets are basically useless.  The only thing this agreement has created is an excuse to keep talking without doing anything.  As I argued the other day, we might be better off if the whole thing just collapsed, creating the space and urgency needed to really push forward the various state, city and local initiatives that seem to be the only effective measures that are moving us toward real emissions reductions and a sustainable future.  Instead, this agreement creates a counter-argument – just hang on, don’t do anything yourselves, and the countries will figure this out soon.

First, I doubt the countries will get to a place where a real, meaningful agreement could be put in place in a timely manner.  Second, as I argued in the post the other day, there is empirical evidence, via the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s Scenarios, to suggest that a global agreement isn’t the best way to get to a sustainable future anyway.

I know everyone working on this was well-intentioned, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions . . . and we’ve not yet taken the off-ramp.

Hey, I’m a geographer by training, inclination, whatever . . . so this story in the New York Times is very cool.  Think of it as a very early GIS (geographic information system) plotting social data (number of slaves) on a map so they can be read spatially.  Basically, it is an early choropleth map (odd the historian writing about this did not use this term*) where shading of different areas represents different concentrations of whatever is being measured (here, the percentage of the population of a given county that was enslaved).  You can see how this map presented information about slavery that made it easy to see that secession was about preserving a labor system (as opposed to more noble principles about State’s rights).

That said, the South was fighting for its life – it was already an agrarian, raw-material supplying cousin to the Northern states, dealing with massive income inequality and poverty issues.  Which should remind people of the situation in much of today’s developing world.  The Southerners who were wealthy needed slaves to stay that way . . . the entire South risked becoming, in effect, an underdeveloped area if slavery was abolished.  And if you look at post-civil war history, that is pretty much how it turned out.  Industry concentrated in the north until the Northeast moved on to biotech, education and other services, pushing the dirty production to the poorer South.  Now even that production is headed overseas.  That the Southern US is generally poorer and less educated (and therefore with fewer options) than much of the rest of the country is therefore not an accident, random or something inherent to Southerners themselves (my children are all Southerners, after all) – the South started off as a massively unequal raw material production zone, and it has been struggling with that legacy for the past 150 years.

And we expect countries that only emerged from colonialism 50 years ago to somehow do better?

*Geographers, why the hell is a historian writing our history, dammit?  We are better than this – surely we have covered a bunch of this already, but seriously, can we reclaim our disciplinary history from the people unclear on the concept of a choropleth map?

(h/t to Micah Snead)

No, really.  Realclimate cracks me up sometimes – and they have got the media response more or less down in this post.

Oh, and to save you the time: yes, I am a huge dork.  As made clear by the fact I just used the word “dork”, which most people abandon in junior high.

They put Ron Paul in charge of the subcommittee overseeing the Federal Reserve.  Really?  The man who wrote End the Fed?

Paul, in an interview last week, said he plans a slate of hearings on U.S. monetary policy and will restart his push for a full audit of the Fed’s functions.  (via Bloomberg)

Ah, let the overreaching begin.

Cote d’Ivoire gets a bit dicier, as the UN declares Ouattara the winner in the presidential election.  Russia was concerned about issues of sovereignty in this vote (of course they are – they have their own fairly entertaining electoral issues), but Gbagbo’s theft was so blatant, and so quickly condemned by the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS), that it took remarkably little time to get everyone on board here.  Well, that and Cote d’Ivoire doesn’t yet have viable oil or other resources anyone absolutely must have, so this turns out to be fairly “low stakes” for the Security Council.  Not so much for the Ivorians, of course.

Why is this decision, so clearly rooted in facts, possibly problematic?  Well, the likelihood is that Gbagbo will try to use this decision to rally his support around the “meddling of foreigners in Ivorian affairs” (or something to that effect).  Nationalism can be an ugly tool, and in this case the subtle argument will be that to support Ouattara is to cave in to foreign pressure, to sell out the country.  Once you have set this argument in motion, it is pretty easy for the situation to turn violent, as the fight becomes about nationalism, not candidates.  Hopefully the UN and ECOWAS are prepared to move quickly here, as their statements will likely precipitate this sort of crisis.  If not, we could see a resumption of armed conflict with great potential for regional spread (Sierra Leone and Liberia are still recovering from an earlier civil war/cross-border conflict).  Public pronouncements only do half the job – but create an awful lot of responsibility to which we must live up.

Turns out the leaks that shall not be named by federal employees have produced a document demonstrating that the State Department is, in fact, paying attention to China’s role in Africa.  The BBC is carrying the story.  Of course, the story also highlights the amusing lack of self-awareness in our own diplomacy.  Take the following from Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs:

“China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons,” he says. “China is in Africa primarily for China.”

He adds: “A secondary reason for China’s presence is to secure votes in the United Nations from African countries.”

Well, yes.  Of course, why exactly is the US involved?  Why has anyone been involved with Africa over the years?  To paraphrase The Who, “here comes the new expropriator, same as the old expropriator.”

On the upside, most Africans with whom I interact suffer no illusions about the sudden interest of the Chinese in their continent.  Seems a learning curve has set in . . .

Also interesting here is what appears to be a clear rationale for the apparent silence of the US Government on Chinese expansion in Africa – a set of “tripwires” that would trigger a reaction:

Have they signed military base agreements? Are they training armies? Have they developed intelligence operations? Once these areas start developing then the US will start worrying,” he says.

I would think that we would have an interest in the Chinese locking down rights to arable land, minerals, etc., instead of such narrow concerns for military and intelligence operations, as these resources have strategic value.  But who am I to question State?*

*this, more or less, summarizes State’s attitude toward AID.

Not that anyone is paying attention, but Ghana’s next door neighbor Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast to my less cultured peeps) had an election last Sunday. Which was blatantly stolen by the current president on Friday, when it became clear that he was going to lose (again).  History is repeating itself, but nobody seems to notice or care.

The seeds of the civil war in Cote d’Ivoire were planted by Henri Bedie, who took power in 1993 largely by fiat (he declared himself president when the only president the country had known since independence, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, died).  There was a brief power struggle between Bedie and Alassane Ouattara, then the prime minister.  Why is that name interesting?  Because he was the opposition candidate in last week’s election.  Bedie was obviously concerned about running against Ouattara, and in 1995 managed to exclude Ouattara from candidacy for the presidency by changing electoral rules, effectively changing the citizenship rules of Cote d’Ivoire by arguing that Ouattara’s parents were from Burkina Faso, and therefore Ouattara could not be an Ivorian citizen.  Of course, the fact that Ouattara had served as prime minister before was pushed to one side in this decision . . .  In any case, this more or less effective change in citizenship rules (both parents have to be from Cote d’Ivoire for a person to be a citizen) became law in a hasty referendum right before the 2000 election, once again blocking Ouattara and basically disenfranchising many living in the northern part of the country, where movement across borders to Burkina, Mali, Northern Ghana and Guinea is quite common.  Combine this with the fact that the north of the country is heavily Muslim, with a dominantly Christian and Animist south (a common situation across West Africa), and you have a perfect storm – religion, ethnicity and citizenship all aligning, with one group getting nothing and one group gaining everything.  Bedie was deposed in a coup in 1999, at least in part over ethnic tensions that played out into the military, but this did not seem to teach anyone anything.  In 2000, Laurent Gbagbo won election as president by continuing this exclusionary process.  Two years later, civil war broke out.

So, after three years of power-sharing under a unity government, and an election meant to reunify the country, what did Gbagbo’s people do this time?  Oh, the Constitutional Council (run by Gbagbo’s friends) just annulled ALL OF THE RESULTS from the seven regions in the north of the country, which was obviously going to vote heavily for Ouattara.  Gbagbo’s friends didn’t challenge a few ballots, or a few polling places, or demand a recount of the votes.  Nope.  They just voided the ENTIRE NORTH OF THE COUNTRY due to “irregularities” (read: voting for Ouattara).  You know what’s really funny, though?  Even after voiding Ouattara’s strongest supporters, Gbagbo’s people could only claim that their man won with 51% of the vote!  Holy crap, he is barely loved in his own electoral stronghold!

Humorous and pathetic though this result might be, this probably just cost Cote d’Ivoire three years of slow progress toward reconciliation, and could be the trigger for more conflict.  Looks like the French military is going to have to get back to work in there . . . ugh.

But there is an important lesson here – this is a conflict that has an ethnic component, but it is not an ancient ethnic conflict that is unresolvable.  Ethnicity was, by and large, a nonissue in Cote d’Ivoire from independence to 1993.  The same might be said of religion.  It was not until political leaders decided that these differences were useful political tools that they were mobilized into drivers of conflict.  There are clear villains in this story, and clear pathways to reconciliation and resolution – this conflict is only 17 years old, and it comes after three decades of coexistence without major issues.  This is not a quagmire – it is a place where these issues can be resolved, and where guilty parties can be identified and brought to justice.  There is plenty of hope for Cote d’Ivoire – just look at how the country could come together around its Soccer National Team (Les Éléphants – how I love that nickname), and how much power players like Didier Drogba have in the country.  That team was a major factor in the formation of a unity government in 2007, and even today people will listen to Drogba, a man who wants the conflict to end.  Someone please get him the tools he needs to make it end before it all turns bad again . . .