Archive for March, 2011

Athletic aid?  Do universities really subsidize their athletic departments in these hard times, and can they really make those subsidies back?  Phil Miller at Environmental Economics provided a link to data on athletic department revenues and expenses for most D-1 schools.  It is an interesting dataset, especially at a time when ever-contracting budgets make subsidies for athletic departments less and less attractive.  At the same time, I am a former college athlete (track and field, one of those sports that costs a lot more than it will ever make) and I don’t want to see athletic departments tossed entirely.  I wonder if public disclosure of these costs in such an easily accessible form will do anything in terms of public awareness and attitudes in a tough economy.  My guess is that the answer will depend on the school in question.  I assure you that no matter what the figures, even Tea Party central (or as you might call it, the state of South Carolina) is going to just keep supporting the athletic departments of Clemson and the University of South Carolina (where, in full disclosure, I should note that I am currently employed).

A quick glance at the data suggests that The University of South Carolina’s athletic department does quite well year-to-year.  When you subtract revenues from expenses, you get a profits of more than $2 million in 2008, a little over half a million in 2009, and nearly $1.6 million in 2010. This looks great, until you take the data apart a little.  In the good news column, the university has not paid any direct subsidy to the athletic department over the past three years.  However, they have been charging student fees to support the department.  A lot of student fees: in 2008, $1,987,931.  In 2009, $2,098,087.  And in 2010, $2,146,293.  That trend is probably going in the wrong direction, though not all that much.  But if we take the student fee subsidy (and let’s be honest, that’s what it is) out of the revenue column, the figures don’t look that rosy:

2008: a tiny profit, less than $200k

2009: a loss of $1.6 million

2010: a loss of more than half a million.

Yep, over the past three years, the athletic department has lost around $2 million.  Now, to be fair, that does not include the revenues to branded merchandise that is not attributed to the athletic department (i.e. bookstore sales, which are huge) that went to the university general fund, which likely pushed this figure back toward revenue neutrality.


Now, let’s look up the road to our in-state rival, Clemson (also a state school, though a lot of people seem to be unaware of this).  Again, a quick look at the numbers suggests that Clemson ran in the black, making more than $870,000 in 2008, losing $500,000 in 2009, and rebounding to make $780,000 in 2010.  But if you take apart the numbers, it gets ugly quick:

In 2008, the school subsidized the athletic department to the tune of $2,435,268, and charged students an additional $1,501,216 in fees to support the department ($3.9 million total).  In 2009, it was a subsidy of $2,924,005 and fees of $1,535,940 (nearly $4.5 million).  Finally, in 2010, the numbers were $3,233,520 in subsidy and $1,585,556 in fees ($4.8 million).  This is a lot of money in a state that is more or less broke, and in which tuition and fees continue to rise.  The net?

2008: A loss of over $3 million

2009: A loss of $5 million

2010: Another loss of $4 million

Yeah, there is no way they are covering that with merchandizing, and given the relatively poor quality of the teams coming out of their program in recent years, I doubt this is spurring serious alumni donations.

Oh, and WTF is going on with Virginia’s (my old athletic department) numbers?  In 2010, they ran an $11 million dollar profit, but charged the students $12 million in fees?  This makes absolutely no sense . . . I have to assume the data here is screwed up somehow, as that would work out to around $870 per student (including grads and professional students)!  There is no way that flies there.  I can only assume we are looking at a lot of misreported fees – I mean, looking at dollars in and dollars out, why not just cut the fees down to $1 million and go for revenue neutrality?

Otaviano Canuto, the World Bank’s Vice President for Poverty Reduction, had an interesting post on HuffPo yesterday in which he argues that we cannot understand the true cost of climate change until we can better measure poverty – “as long as we are unable to measure the poverty impact of climate change, we run the risk of either overestimating or underestimating the resources that will be needed to face it.”  I agree – we do not have a particularly good handle on the economic costs of climate change right now, just loose estimates that I fear are premised on misunderstandings of life in the Global South (I have an extended discussion of this problem in the second half of my book).

However, I find the phrasing of this concern a bit tortured – we need to better understand the impact of climate change on poverty so we can figure out how much it will cost us to solve the problem . . . but which problem?  Climate change or poverty?  Actually, I think this tortured syntax leads us to a more productive place than a focus on either problem – just as I am pretty sure we can’t address poverty for most living in the Global South unless we do something about climate change (which I think is what Canuto was after), I don’t think you can address climate change without addressing poverty.  As I argue in my book:

Along globalization’s shoreline the effects of climate change are felt much more immediately and more directly than in advanced economies. More and more, as both climate change and economic change impact their capacity to raise the food and money they need to get through each day, residents of this shoreline find themselves forced into trade-offs they would rather not make.

For example, most of the farmers in Dominase and Ponkrum agree that deforestation lowers the agricultural productivity of their farms, due to both the loss of local precipitation that accompanies deforestation and the loss of shade that enables the growth of sensitive crops, such as cocoa. At the same time, the sound of chainsaws can still be heard around these villages every once in a while, as a head of lineage allows someone from town to cut down one of the few remaining trees in the area for a one-time payment of a few hundred dollars. These heads of family know that in allowing the cutting of trees they are mortgaging the future fertility of this land, but they see little other choice when crops do not come in as expected or jobs are hard to find.

From a global perspective, this example may not seem that dire. After all, when one tree falls, the impact on the global carbon cycle is minuscule. However, if similar stresses and decisions result in the cutting of thousands of trees each day, the impact can be significant. All along the shoreline, people are forced into this sort of trade-off every day, and in their decision- making the long-term conservation of needed natural resources usually falls by the wayside.

Simply put, we have no means of measuring or even estimating the aggregate effect of many, many small livelihoods choices and the land use impacts of those choices, yet in aggregate these will have impacts on regional and global biophysical processes.  When we fail to address poverty, and force the global poor into untenable decisions about resource use and conservation, we create conditions that will give us more climate change.  If we don’t do a better job of measuring poverty and the relationship of the livelihoods and land use decision-making of the poor (something I have addressed here), we are going to be caught by surprise by some of the biophysical changes that persistent poverty might trigger.


I spend a lot of time thinking about the divide between humanitarian assistance (HA) and development – and contrary to what some would tell you, there is a significant divide there.  I am, by training, a development person – at least, that is how I tend to think.  I’ve no experience in the HA world – I have not done academic work on disasters and emergencies, nor do I have field experience addressing either.  Yet I find myself serving a fellowship in the HA Bureau of the world’s largest development agency, trying to find ways to better connect our HA efforts and our development efforts – like everyone else in this world, we have all kinds of problems fitting these two worlds together: delayed handoffs, no handoff at all, programs that have no bearing on one another, making planned handoffs impossible, etc.

Working specifically in the area of climate change, the gulf between HA and development work has become really striking.  I’ve been trying to find ways to bridge the HA/development divide via adaptation – thinking about how things like disaster risk reduction and our best practices for relief and recovery might be aligned with adaptation programming to create at least one threat that pulls us coherently from emergency intervention to long-term transformation.  What I have come to realize, in this process, is that the issue of climate change highlights the different cultures of HA and development, at least in this organization.

Simply put, it is not clear to me that the HA side of things has asked or answered the most basic of all questions: what problem are we trying to solve by addressing GCC issues?  Right now the only thing that seems to resonate with the HA side of the house is the idea that we work on climate change to reduce the need for future humanitarian intervention.  While important, that is not a development goal – that is the outcome of achieving other development goals that might lead to more resilient societies with lower sensitivity to and greater adaptive capacity for addressing climate change impacts.  To pull HA and development together around the climate change issue requires thinking about HA programming as furthering development goals – and this, quite simply, is not how most HA folks with which I interact see themselves or their work.  Instead, these folks seem to view the task of humanitarian intervention and crisis management as a goal unto itself.  If you think I am off-base, take the explanation I got from a (ranking) member of an HA office when he was asked about his office’s limited office’s participation in the planning phase of country development strategies: “That’s DA (development assistance) money. We program HA (humanitarian assistance) money.”  Really.  That was the response.  Welcome to my world.  Oh, and the world of a hell of a lot of people in this field, given how many implementing partners we fund.

So you can see the challenge here in linking things via adaptation.  Let’s look at disaster risk reduction (DRR), programming typically handled by HA organizations and specialists.  To link hydrometeorological DRR efforts (think floods and droughts) to adaptation planning requires seeing DRR as more than an end unto itself – DRR would have to fit into larger programs that contribute to development goals which have the overall effect of lowering vulnerability and therefore the need for future humanitarian intervention.  This is not how the HA community I interact with approaches DRR.  Instead, DRR is programmed in the context of specific HA assessments, and with HA-specific goals that may or may not align in any meaningful way with the much broader, longer-term project that is adaptation.

The gulf between HA and development is, therefore, probably only close-able if those on the HA side of the house are willing to reorient themselves toward larger development goals . . . and at least where I sit, that is not going to happen for both cultural reasons and reasons of mandate.  This is a serious problem – we need to close this gap, or we will prolong the programming of HA in places where a decent, coherent program of HA-development planning might get us out of a spiral of disasters.  I see HA as a foundation of development – something that could be built on to create robust change – but this will only be true when the HA side of the house decides it wants to be that foundation.

The Satellite Sentinel Project released a report the other day that detailed what appears to be violence in the villages of Maker Abior and Todach in the Abeyei region of Sudan.  The imagery in the report is fairly standard DigitalGlobe 60cm stuff – and nothing fancy has been done to it to enhance analysis – it’s not clear if the imagery is even georectified, though given its largely illustrative use it probably doesn’t matter.  In the images are clearly burned buildings, and what certainly appear to be fortified areas where the Sudan Armed Forces are moving in equipment, fortifying defenses and improving storage facilities.  They claim to have imagery related to a parallel buildup of forces on the South Sudan side of the border.

But what do these images really tell us that good, on-the-ground intelligence does not?  Nothing.  In fact, I would argue that these images might be leading to unwarranted conclusions . . . or the Satellite Sentinel Project needs to do a much better job of explaining how the imagery enhances their conclusions.  For example:

  • How are the structures on the South Sudan side of the border representative of military buildup? Do they share a construction or layout with other known military encampments? Or is this conclusion completely supplied by on-the-ground intelligence?  If the answer is the latter, what exactly to these images add to the analysis?
  • How are the burned structures in Maker Abior and Todach linked to the military buildup in the subsequent pictures? There is no imagery of an attack in progress – and there will likely never be this sort of smoking gun evidence from this project. Data is gathered irregularly, and often at fairly wide intervals – so what you will end up with are a lot of before and after photos that can only be explained by on the ground intelligence.  In this case, it seems the on-the-ground intelligence has provided (at best) a weak link between this buildup and whatever happened in Maker Abior and Todach . . . but in presenting the imagery in this sort of a sequence, it appears that the evidence for the connection is much stronger than the data allows.

These are major issues that the project should be thinking through carefully.  Inadvertent misrepresentation of events on the ground will greatly damage not only this project’s legitimacy, but indeed any efforts to use remotely sensed data to identify/verify events on the ground in this region.

Please note: I am NOT suggesting that there is no violence in the region, or that what is happening isn’t hugely problematic.  However, I want our interpretations and responses to be based upon clear evidence, not loose circumstantial data strung together into potentially flimsy arguments about what has happened, and what might happen next.

So, what can we do about the problems in this region with this sort of data?  Well, for one thing the project might think about how to use its considerable remotely-sensed imagery resources to fill some significant gaps in data and interpretation about the political economy of natural resources in this region. Abeyei has a long history of conflict between different groups using natural resources for their livelihoods – especially conflicts that occur when pastoral/semipastoral groups move their cattle through agricultural areas, damaging fields (this is a thin distinction – really, most everyone in this region makes a living through a mixture of pastoralism and agriculture. The question is which group’s crops are impacted by the other’s cattle.).  This may be one of the most significant challenges facing this region – how to address this ongoing challenge, especially once there is a border dividing the transhumance routes these different groups have used to move their cattle to new watering and feeding areas.  Given the potential impact of a border on these routes, and therefore access to needed natural resources, we’ve already seen the Dinka to the south and the Messiriya to the north laying out territorial and resources claims far in excess of any previously recognized situation.  It is nearly impossible to adjudicate these claims because, as my colleague David Decker at the University of South Carolina – Sumter has argued, there is very little literature on the political ecology of this region.  The bulk of our understanding of natural resources, livelihoods and political economy that we do have are derived from colonial accounts more than a half century old.  With good intelligence, some serious on-the-ground research and the mobilization of people like David, and the integration of satellite imagery of the region that we can use to analyze (no more pretty pictures, just serious analysis) things like land cover, soil moisture, biomass, etc. we might at least create a stopgap for this knowledge gap that can then enable a settlement in this area that meets the widest range of livelihoods needs possible, lowering the potential for future conflict.

This city is impressive – even more so from 61 stories up . . .