Archive for the ‘Environmental concerns’ Category

Please, Sounds Not Noise

By Jonathan Power

Everyone has their favourite sounds – a ball on a cricket bat on a summer’s afternoon, birds singing, waves breaking on the beach, the coffee pot perking on the stove, children playing scoobydoo.

Mine are the quiet sounds of the English Lake District – William Wordsworth’s:

“A flock of sheep that leisurely

pass by one after one;

the sound of rain and bees

murmuring; the fall of rivers,

wind and lakes, smooth fields;

white sheets of water, and pure sky.”

Noise is less and less sweet sounds. It is cars and trucks, airplanes and builders, canned music in cafes, a symphony playing an atonal concerto. Read the rest of this entry »

Overcoming nuclear crises

By Richard Falk* and David Krieger**

TFF PressInfo # 420
June 30, 2017

Prefatory Note
This jointly authored essay was initially published in The Hill on May 30, 2017 under the title, “Averting the Ticking Time Bomb of Nukes in North Korea.” We did not choose such a title that is doubly misleading: our contention is not that North Korea is the core of the problem, but rather the retention of nuclear weapons by all of the states pose both crises in the context of counter-proliferation geopolitics and with respect to the possession, deployment, and development of the weaponry itself; a second objection is with the title given the piece by editors at The Hill.

While acknowledging the practice of media outlets to decide on titles without seeking prior approval from authors, this title is particularly objectionable. The term ‘nukes’ gives an almost friendly shorthand to these most horrific of weapons, and strikes a tone that trivializes what should be regarded at all times with solemnity.

Alarmingly, tensions between the United States and North Korea have again reached crisis proportions. The United States wants North Korea to curtail any further development of its nuclear weapons program, as well as to stop testing its missiles. North Korea evidently seeks to bolster its security by acquiring a sufficiently robust deterrent capability to discourage an attack by the United States.

The unpredictable leaders of both countries are pursuing extremely provocative and destabilizing patterns of behavior. Where such a dangerous interaction leads no one can now foresee. The risk of this tense situation spiralling out of control should not be minimized.

It is urgent that all governments concerned make a sober reassessment in a timely manner. The following questions need to be addressed:

• What can be done to defuse this escalating crisis?

• What should be done to prevent further crises in the future?

• What could be learned from recurrent crises involving nuclear weapons states?

It is discouraging that the White House continues to rely mainly on threat diplomacy. It has not worked in responding to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions for the past few decades, and it is crucial to try a different approach.

Currently, there are mixed signals that such a shift may be underway. President Trump has turned to China, imploring that it use its leverage to induce Kim Jong-un to back down, and has even mentioned the possibility of inviting Kim for crisis-resolving talks. Also relevant and hopeful is the election of Moon Jae-in as the new president of South Korea, and his insistent calls for improved relations with the North.

In the end, no reasonable person would opt for another war on the Korean Peninsula. The only rational alternative is diplomacy. But what kind of diplomacy?

American reliance on threat and punitive diplomacy has never succeeded in the past and is almost certain to fail now. We assuredly need diplomacy, but of a different character.

It is time to abandon coercive diplomacy and develop an approach that can be described as restorative diplomacy. Coercive diplomacy relies on a zero/sum calculus consisting of military threats, sanctions, and a variety of punitive measures. Read the rest of this entry »

The sweep of perpetual famine?

By Jonathan Power

March 21st. 2017

Once again the media is presenting us with the images of the mother of all famines – stretching from the Yemen to Somalia, to Sudan and South Sudan, to the Central African Republic, to northern Nigeria.

It’s a bad famine but there have been bad famines in the not so distant past – the great Ethiopian one in 1985 which triggered the rock star, Bob Geldorf, to organise a massive world-wide popular response. (I remember running with tens of thousands of other campaigners in London’s Hyde Park.)

Before that, in 1974 at the World Food Conference, there was a real feeling that the world was running out of food and dramatic new policies must be put in place by the richer countries.

They were and much progress was made. Between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of children under five who were malnourished fell from 25% to 14% of the world’s children. People who are still underfed are less severely so. Their average shortfall in calories fell from 170 a day in 1990 to 88 a day last year.

Increased food production is happening all over the place.

In Rwanda peasant farmers produced in 2015 792,000 tons of grain which was more than three times as much as in 2000. In Ethiopia cereal production tripled between 2000 and 2014. Cameroon, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria and Kenya have all over the past decade increased their harvest by 50%.

If one deducts from the African statistics the famine in parts of the east and northern Nigeria then African progress looks especially good.

West Africa in particular has shown Read the rest of this entry »

New year – old wishes left and right

By Johan Galtung

This New Year announces itself with bangs all over, not whimpers.

Pope Francis made a tour d’horizon on all continents, strongly denouncing the violence in favor of his alternative: negotiation.

Much violence is copycat or copyrat; violence being a la mode. Copying–aka learning–is not wrong. But it depends on what is copied.

Here my 10-11 wishes:

Wish no. 1: copying peace rather than violence, for instance from ASEAN and the Nordic Community, making peace self-reinforcing.

Wish no. 2: reporting violence less prominently, more toward the end of newspapers-TV-radio news, and reporting peace upfront.

Wish no. 3: understanding war better, not only how many killed but how many bereaved; understanding peace better as model for others.

Wish no. 4: introducing Yin/Yang in Western thought: no totally good or bad humans or states around; they are all improvable mixtures.

Wish no. 5: linking the good in ourselves to the good in others for peaceful cooperation, yet keeping the bad in mind, for security.

Wish no. 6: identifying unsolved conflicts and unconciled traumas that may lead to violence; solving the conflicts, healing the traumas. Read the rest of this entry »

Nordic family meets with Big Brother Obama in his nice White House

By Gunnar Westberg

Very pleasant meeting. We all agreed on everything. We follow you, Big Brother, in all your ventures, we are so happy you like us.

Reports and family pictures have appeared in media from a dinner with 350 guests. Nice laudatory speeches, not a disturbing critical word.

There is a final document on everything that was agreed, already beforehand.

I recommend no one to read the paper, you can’t, it is such a soporific (= tending to induce drowsiness or sleep).

No journalist has so far given an overview, they fell asleep too, I guess. The section on Environment and on Energy seems good, but nothing new. The failure of the USA in energy conservation is not allowed to disturb in this Feel good report.

The section on Defence and Security is, however, very depressing. Read the rest of this entry »

Marinaleda: A concrete utopia

By Johan Galtung

Marinaleda, Spain

On a periphery road 108 Km east of Sevilla: one white Andalucian village after the other, traditional, poor; and suddenly this super-modern concrete reality, a utopia in many people’s minds!

The basic concept is well known: authorities expropriated land lying fallow in the midst of unemployed starving land labor, and it was transformed into a communal cooperative with very inexpensive housing, kindergarten, schools, clinics. Behind that was the vision, knowledge, skill, will of the mayor for over 30 years, Juan Grillo. With the mind, a reality, and the will to transform that reality.

We are dealing with more than economy and have to look beyond economics to capture what went and goes on. The old distinctions between public and private, and between owning and using, certainly enter. With comments, such as these.

Generally public vs private is seen in terms of state vs capital, the state using plan to advance it goals and capital using the market. That discourse is important and captures a major 20th century reality, the Bolshevik, Soviet experiment as opposed to the Western, Europe-US, ideology and reality, with social democracy in-betweens, both-ands.

As usual, there is a third possibility missing: the commune, the local authority, the municipality. Read the rest of this entry »

TFF PressInfo # 363: Can we give meaning to the destruction of Syria?

By Jan Oberg

Five years ago

In 2011 when it all began, an educated conflict analyst or otherwise conflict competent person would have said about the conflict in Syria that it was a very complex thing, caused by history, environment, traumas, external factors, the economic situation, etc. And that al-Assad and his government was certainly an important reason but far from the only one.

The conflict expert would have warned against at last four ways of thinking:

a) any interpretation that put all the good people on one side and all the bad people on the other – because there are no conflicts in the world with only two such parties;

b) any idea that the conflict could be solved by siding with the presumed good ones and going against the bad one(s);

c) every attempt to ‘weaponise’ the conflict and increase the level of violence, the duration of the conflict and the human suffering;

d) any and every idea that foreigners would know better than the Syrians themselves – government, opposition and citizens in civil society – what should be a solution.

Finally – the professional conflict and peace worker would have maintained that you can’t make peace by asking one person – not even brilliant ones like Kofi Annan or Staffan di Mistura – with a small team around him and some shuttle diplomacy to succeed with facilitation, consultations, brainstorming, proposal-making, mediation and, finally, some kind of negotiations leading to a peace agreement in what is undoubtedly one of the most complex and ‘hard’ conflicts on earth.

Peace-making requires a completely different approach to not just be a pawn in the wider war game – a game that according to Al-Jazeera today encompasses some 900 military groups – add to that government forces and all the political and civil groups that don’t carry weapons: 1500?

Five years later – at least 250.000 dead people, 3 million refugees and 6,5 million internally displaced people, cities, economy, cultural heritage destroyed – anyone can see that no one listened to such simple conflict rules of thumb.

Conflict and peace illiteracy

The self-appointed and completely un-educated, peace-makers of the international community – presidents, prime and foreign ministers of the US, NATO, Russia, etc. – did about everything else.

It seems to not even occur to them or to the media that Read the rest of this entry »

Climate versus planet

By Johan Galtung

Within the global eco-system humanity has – since industrialization – upset balances and now suffers the consequences, trying to tackle them. COP21, the UN 195 States conference in Paris, reached the unanimous agreement demanded of them after two weeks of hard work. However, as the U.S. points out, an agreement is not a treaty with legally binding targets.

Droughts-storms-floods and surface warming: land-oceans-glaciers. As glaciers melt oceans and rivers will over-flood major settled land. With the current 1 degree C warming bad and 2 degrees intolerable, they settled for the 1.5C goal “if possible”; a compromise. Better .5 only.

The dominant theory sees greenhouse gases CO2-CH4 from using fossil fuels for energy, trapping heat in the atmosphere as the cause. Removing this cause, a sluggish process, calls for alternative energy sources, like wind and solar (the author got solar panels in 1975).

Human settlements and forests darkening the planet, attracting more heat from the sun, may be another source. Remedy: care with both. Read the rest of this entry »

Re-connect the world’s children with Nature

By Kamran Mofid

Here, this Blog, I am calling upon families, educators and community leaders worldwide to become as children and rediscover the benefits of paying attention to nature, and to take action to strengthen children’s connections to nature.

As adults, we should be opening the doors and providing the children and the youth opportunities that fully connect them to the natural environment so they can gain an understanding of the natural world in as many educational and recreational settings as possible. We cannot start too soon!

Today’s children and families often have limited opportunities to connect with the natural environment. Richard Louv called this phenomenon, ‘nature-deficit disorder’ in his influential book, The Last Child in the Woods, and opened our eyes to the developmental effects that nature has on our children.

Continue reading on Mofid’s blog – Globalisation For The Common Good Initiative.

After Obama’s Selma speech: Yes, we can!

By Jonathan Power

On Saturday President Barack Obama was at the commemoration ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the Selma March led by Martin Luther King which gave the push for legislation that ensured black people the right to vote. Obama’s speech was breathtaking oratory – surely one of the top three speeches in the American history of the last 150 years.

The fifteen minute speech was delivered without script or teleprompter. It ranged from history to philosophy, from politics to poetry. Every sentence was perfectly structured. The arguments were sharp and delivered with awesome authority and soaring elegance. Obama is the poet of prose.

For those who say the only significant thing about Obama’s presidency is that he is the first black to hold the post I tell them to watch this on YouTube. Obama’s speech should be remembered in 150 years time as much as is Lincoln’s speech of 150 years ago today.

It is quite appalling to see in Congress and the media people with far less brain power carping against him, resisting his legislation or mocking his foreign policy. Sometimes the criticism seems to be racially motivated even if subliminally.

To his credit ex-president George W. Bush (always reasonably good on race issues) joined Obama on the march. But the Republican leaders of Congress did not. And where were the foreign leaders who recently flooded to Paris to protest the murders of the staff of Charlie Hebdo?

Everyone will take away from that speech a sentence or argument that touches them. What struck me most was that it reminded us not to underestimate the politics of change.

Fifty years ago not only could no one have imagined that there would be a black president no one would have expected the rapid social and economic progress of black Americans. Their well-paid middle class has swelled producing CEOs of major companies like McDonalds and American Express. They are found in the top ranks of hospitals, banks, universities, government, diplomacy, the law, the military, film and theatre, not to mention politics.

It is true that too many have been left behind or put behind bars. But if this could be achieved then it is likely that in the next decades the poverty of poor blacks will also be greatly diminished now that Obama has restored the mighty engine of American economic growth, which is motoring at a pace far ahead of its European and Japanese partners.

I was on the Selma march.

It touched my life profoundly. It turned me at a young age into an optimist. I remain so today.

For 40 years I have written columns and books about the Third World and its development. I have watched those who say that bad leadership, a harsh environment and wasted aid could never make a dent in its poverty be proved wrong. The fact is the goal of halving the share of people living in extreme poverty has been met.

According to last week’s Economist, in 1990 36% of the world’s population lived in abject poverty. By 2010 it was down to 18%, and falling. So the number of very poor people has gone down from 1.9 billion to about 1 billion today. The World Bank has declared that its objective is to see the worst kind of poverty completely eliminated by 2030.

I have written about the village of Piloezinhos in the poverty stricken north east of Brazil once every ten years or so over 40 years. I’ve seen it move step by step from misery to successful growth. From no sanitation, no decent road, no health service and no school to where today it is a thriving village with flush toilets, a health centre with a full time doctor, a bustling primary school, a radio station and a good road to town.

Every visit I have made in recent years has refreshed my optimism about Third World development.

Some more statistics: In 1990 30% of the developing world lacked access to clean water. In 2008 the world reached the UN’s goal of halving that proportion to 15%. Today it is around 11%. In the same period maternal, infant and child deaths have plunged by 50%. In 1990 12 million children under five died each year. Today fewer than 7 million do. Global spending on vaccines has tripled since 2000. They are now saving three million children in developing countries annually.

There are new UN goals being formulated with a target date of 2030: to achieve universal access to clean water, to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health services, to ensure that all girls and boys have access to good quality childhood development and pre-primary education, the ending of child labour and the reduction of the worst of poverty by another 50%.

We optimists can make this happen. In the words of Obama: “Yes, we can!”

Copyright: Jonathan Power


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