Entries tagged with “Global Dashboard”.

Whenever you write something, you hope that other people will like it . . . or perhaps hate it so much it spurs them to do something useful in response.  In any case, you want feedback.  A vast, echoey silence just sucks.  I have a weird version of this with my own academic work.  More often than not, I write things that land in the literature with a huge thud.  One or two people notice, read and cite it in the first two or so years it is out . . . and then all of a sudden lots of people start citing it in all kinds of places, ranging from academic journals to UN Reports.  This has become a pretty regular pattern for me, which to some extent reflects the fact that I have a habit of writing stuff on the edges of my discipline(s), and also reflects how long it takes new ideas to get into people’s work and show up in print (generally speaking, it takes between 9 months and a year, at least, from the acceptance of an article to its appearance in print – so any new idea has to be read, processed and incorporated into a new article, which takes a few months.  Then the article has to be accepted, and review typically takes 3-6 months.  Finally, after it is accepted, another 9-12 month wait.  Add it up, and you realize that it takes anywhere from 14-24 months for the first people who read a new idea to start responding in print).

Delivering Development has been a little different, as it is being reviewed in different kinds of venues – a lot of blog attention, for example.  I also had the good fortune of having two people review the piece for the back cover, so I got some feedback before the book even came out.  In any case, the reviews are now starting to flow in, and overall they are really kind.  Best of all, they seem to get what I was trying to do with the book – which are the best kind of reviews one can get as an author.  The reviews (with links to full reviews):

Back Cover

Carr’s concern is that development and globalization, as currently pursued, are creating more poverty than they solve, needlessly producing economic and environmental challenges that put everyone on Earth at risk. Confronting this paradoxical outcome head-on, Carr questions the “wisdom” of the traditional development-via-globalization strategy, a sort of connect-the-development-dots, by arguing that in order to connect the dots one must first see the dots. By failing to do so, agencies do not understand what they are connecting and why. This fundamental questioning of Post WWII development strategies, grounded in life along “Globalization’s Shoreline,” sets his approach to development in the age of globalization apart from much of the contemporary development literature.

— Michael H. Glantz, Director, CCB (Consortium for Capacity Building), INSTAAR, University of Colorado

Over the fifty years since the end of the colonial era, rich nations have granted Africa billions of dollars in development aid—the equivalent of six Marshall Plans—and yet, today, much of the continent is as desperate as ever for help. In Delivering Development, Edward Carr delves into the question of why the aid system has failed to deliver on its promises, and offers a provocative thesis: that economic development, at least as international donors define it, is not necessarily equal to advancement. Unlike many combatants in the debate over the causes of global poverty, who jet in and out of these countries and offer the view from 10,000 feet, Carr takes a novel approach to the problem. He examines the aid system as it is actually experienced by poor Africans.Delivering Development focuses on a pair of Ghanaian villages, which despite their poverty by statistical measures have nonetheless managed to construct sophisticated systems of agricultural cultivation and risk management. Carr doesn’t argue that these places hold the secret to ending poverty. On the contrary, his point is that there are no overarching solutions, that each community holds a unique set of keys to its own future. By delving into development at the grassroots, Carr reveals the rich and bedeviling complexity of a problem that, all too often, is reduced to simplistic ideological platitudes.”

— Andrew Rice, author of The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda

Summaries of Recent Reviews (with links to full reviews)

The book is a riveting read, horizon broadening and . . . takes a somewhat unusual path towards challenging the dominant paradigm that complements other, parallel efforts . . . All-in-all, a must read for aid wonks everywhere.

— Andy Sumner, Global Dashboard

Development often fails. This is not a new premise. Many have written about it. But Edward Carr offers a fascinating perspective on why he believes this is true in Delivering Development.”

— Robin Pendoley, Thinking Beyond Borders

This book makes an important contribution to critical literatures on globalization and development . . . [providing] an often overlooked perspective within critical development literature: the real possibility for positive change and for a more active role of development’s target population to participate and shape the direction of change in their communities.

— Kelsey Hanrahan, Africa Today

I’ve been at this blogging thing for a little over 13 months, and on twitter for maybe nine months.  I’ve found both venues tremendously productive – I feel like I have a whole new community to which I belong that has helped to expand my horizons and change some of my perspectives on development and aid.  Nearly every day I learn something from the folks I am connected to via these social media – and that is the highest praise I can offer anyone or anything.  I get bored easily, and when I am bored I get cranky.  My wife thanks you for keeping me interested and amused.

So, after 13 months I think I have a sense of the landscape around these here development/aid parts . . . and I am stunned to realize there is something missing.  How is this blog the only one I know of that engages both development and global environmental change at roughly equal depths?  Well, this one and Global Dashboard, sort of . . . I do like Global Dashboard, though.

Now, I can see why the aid/relief (as opposed to aid/development focused – see my parsing below) blogs really don’t spend a ton of time on climate change – mostly, they are coming from the front lines of work, the sharp end of the implementation spear, as it were.  Folks are caught in the immediacy of response to disaster, or buried in the myriad small tasks that can completely overwhelm staff at the implementation end of a recovery project.  There is an existential quality to these blogs, because there is an existential quality to that existence.  I can understand this.

Then there are the aid/development blogs – those that are focused on thinking about the long-term transition from poverty to something better for the global poor.  Yes, aid is part of how we address this challenge, but really development is about long-term social, economic and political transformation.  It does not unfold in rapid manner, and therefore lends itself to more protracted musings.  Further, because aid/relief is focused on an acute situation, there is a short time horizon for planning and thinking – ideally with some sort of handover to long-term development programs, though we all know this does not happen as often or as smoothly as anyone would like.  Aid/development, on the other hand, has a much longer time horizon – the intervention, ideally, should be producing results on a generational timescale (project reporting requirements aside, of course).  Yet even on these blogs, I see very little attention being paid to climate change or environmental change – though these are processes that are likely transforming the very future worlds we are planning toward with our development projects and policies.

Here’s the thing: both the relief and development communities need to be thinking about global environmental change. Period.

Today, my thoughts for the aid/relief blogs and thinkers – and I offer this with genuine sympathy for their situations as acute responders who are overburdened by various administrative requirements: climate/environmental change is not somebody else’s problem.  Nobody wants to hear this when they are on the front lines, as it were, but how we do relief and recovery has tremendous implications for global environmental change . . . and of course these changes will shape a lot of relief and recovery going forward.  I know that most relief agencies start from the mandate of saving lives – everything else is secondary to that.  I respect this . . . but it does not exclude the idea of thinking about and addressing environmental issues in their work.  If we are serious about saving lives, lots of lives, we’d better get ahead of the curve in thinking about future response needs – what is going to happen, and where.  For example, we expect to see ever-greater climate variability over the next several decades, which means that we are going to see less predictable weather, and perhaps more extreme weather events, in many places.  While there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the timing of these events and the ranges of variability we might see, we are already coming to understand where some of the most acute changes are taking place (a lot of them in Africa, sadly) – and we can plan our resources for those areas.  At the same time, we see fisheries collapsing around the world, with huge impacts on the diets and well-being of onshore communities – we know exactly where these events are happening, and we know exactly why, so we certainly can plan for this slow onset emergency.

As we think about recovery programs, we will have to do more than put it back as it was (the common mandate) . . . we will have to help build something that has the flexibility and resilience to adapt to a changing future.  Neither of these efforts requires a fundamental rethinking of relief and recovery work, just some will to spend a few minutes BEFORE a disaster happens to think through how to address these challenges.

More difficult is thinking through the impact of our relief and recovery efforts on the global environment.  What we use for temporary shelters, how we move and dispose of rubble, where we procure food aid, all of these things and much more result in varying levels and types of environmental impact.  When we are busy saving lives in the here and now, I understand it can be hard to think about these issues – but many times we botch this part of the relief work, creating long-term environment and health issues that end up costing lives.  Our recovery work often recommends new land uses and agricultural strategies, which have ecological and greenhouse emissions ramifications.  We often suggest new livelihoods practices, which involve the use of new natural resources, and therefore introduce new environmental impacts with uncertain long-term ramifications. Someone needs to do an accounting of how many lives are saved in the immediate post-disaster setting by ignoring these issues, and how many are lost over the longer term by the impacts of ignoring these issues.  I am willing to wager that there are many cases were the long-term losses exceed the short-term saved . . . mostly because I am not all that convinced that considering such issues will really slow things down that much if we have decent forward planning.  This holds true even for the greenhouse emissions – I wonder how many extra tons of carbon we put out unnecessarily each year because we don’t consider the greenhouse implications of our relief/recovery work?  Further, I wonder if those emissions are contributing in a meaningful way to the climate change trends that we see globally, or if they are just tiny noise in a giant ocean of emissions.  If these emissions are the latter, then I think we are free to ignore them . . . but I don’t see anyone presenting that data.

So, to summarize for my aid/relief colleagues, despite your completely overtaxed, over-mandated and over-paperworked lives, you need to be reading blogs like Global Dashboard, Climate Science Watch, and RealClimate (OK, RealClimate is probably too technical).  You need to become aware of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and familiarize yourself with the Working Group 2 report (human impacts) – it gives you the scientific community’s best assessment of what the coming challenges are, and where they will occur.  When the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation goes public, that will be a crucial tool.  All the IPCC stuff is free for download, and written in relatively clear language (well, clear compared to the journals).  The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment might be useful, too – check the Current States and Trends report.  And, failing that, keep reading this blog – even the posts on climate change.  You’ll find them useful, I swear.

Next up:  the aid/development argument: seriously, I need to go over this? Fine, fine . . .

On Global Dashboard Alex Evans discusses a report he wrote for ActionAid on critical uncertainties for development between the present and 2020.  Given Alex got to distill a bunch of futures studies, scenarios and outlooks into this report, I have to say this: I want his job.

The list he produces is quite interesting.  In distilled form, they are:

1. What is the global balance of power in 2020?

2. Will job creation keep pace with demographic change to 2020?

3. Is there serious global monetary reform by 2020?

4. Who will benefit from the projected ‘avalanche of technology’ by 2020?

5. Will the world face up to the equity questions that come with a world of limits by 2020?

6. Is global trade in decline by 2020?

7. How has the nature of political influence changed by 2020?

8. What will the major global shocks be between now and 2020?

All are fair questions.  And, in general, I like his 10 recommendations for addressing these challenges:

1. Be ready (because shocks will be the key drivers of change)

2. Talk about resilience (because the poor are in the firing line)

3. Put your members in charge (because they can bypass you)

4. Talk about fair shares (because limits change everything)

5. Specialise in coalitions (and not just of civil society organisations)

6. Take on the emerging economies (including from within)

7. Brings news from elsewhere (because innovation will come from the edges)

8. Expect failure (and look for the silver lining)

9. Work for poor people, not poor countries (as most of the former are outside the latter)

10. Be a storyteller (because stories create worldviews)

I particularly like #10 here, as it was exactly this idea that motivated me to write Delivering Development.  And #7 is more or less the political challenge I lay out in the last 1/4 of the book.  #9 is a clear reference to Andy Sumner’s work on the New Bottom Billion, which everyone should be looking at right now.  In short, Alex and I are on the same page here.

I have two bits of constructive criticism to offer that I think would strengthen this report – and would be easy edits.  First, I think Alex has made a bit of a mistake in limiting his concern for environmental shocks to climate shocks.  These sorts of shocks are, of course, critical (hell, welcome to my current job), but there are other shocks out there that are perhaps not best captured as climate shocks on such a short timescale.  For example, ecological collapse from overuse/misuse of ecosystem resources (see the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) may have nothing at all to do with climate change – overfishing is currently crushing most major global fisheries, and the connection between this behavior and climate change is somewhat distant, at best.  We’ve been driving several ecosystems off cliffs for some time now, and one wonders when resilience will fail and a state change will set in.  It is near-impossible to know what the new state of a stressed ecosystem will be after a state change, so this is really a radical uncertainty we need to be thinking about.

Second, I am concerned that Stevens’ claim about the collapse of globalization bringing about “savage” negative impacts on the developing world.  Such a claim strikes me as overgeneralized and therefore missing the complexity of the challenge such a collapse might bring – and it is a bit ironic, given his admonition to “talk about resilience” above.  I think that some people (urban dwellers in particular) would likely be very hard hit – indeed, the term savage might actually apply to those who are heavily integrated into global markets simply by the fact they are living in large cities whose economies are driven by global linkages.  And certainly those in marginal rural environments who are already subject to crop failure and other challenges will likely suffer greatly from the loss of market opportunities and perhaps humanitarian assistance (look at contemporary inland Somalia for an illustration of what I am talking about here).  However, others (the bulk of rural farmers with significant subsistence components to their agricultural activities, or the option to convert activities to subsistence) have the option to pull back from market engagement and still make a stable living.  Opportunity will certainly dry up for these people, at least for a while, as this is usually a strategy for managing temporary economic fluctuations.  This is certainly a negative impact, for if development does nothing else, it must provide opportunities for people.  However, this sort of negative impact doesn’t rise to “savage” – which to me implies famine, infant mortality, etc.  I think we make all-to-easy connections between the failure of globalization/development (I’m not sure they are all that different, really, a point I discuss in Delivering Development).  Indeed, a sustained loss of global connection might, in the long run, create a space for local innovations and market development that could lead to a more robust future.

So to “be ready” requires, I think, a bit of a broadening of our environmental concerns, and a major effort to engage the complexity of engagement with the global economy among the rural poor in the world.  Both are quite doable – and are really minor edits to a very nice report (which I still wish I wrote).