Sunday, October 30, 2016

Wallonia Threatens to Veto the E.U.-Canada Trade Treaty: Complicating State Sovereignty in the E.U.

"The European Union and Canada signed a far-reaching trade agreement on [October 30, 2016] that commits them to opening their markets to greater competition, after overcoming a last-minute political obstacle that reflected the growing skepticism toward globalization in much of the developed world."[1] The obstacle may indeed have reflected increasing resistance at the time to globalization, but this veil can be pulled back to reveal the underlying political obstacle--that of states' rights in the E.U., taken to a crippling extreme.

1. James Kanter, "Canada and E.U. Sign Trade Deal, Bucking Resistance to Globalization," The New York Times, October 30, 2016.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

CO2 Record-Level in Atmosphere: Implications for Human Population

In 2015, average global CO2 levels for the year surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time, the WMO revealed in its 2016 annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. At the time, any scientists regarded that ratio of carbon dioxide to other gases in the atmosphere as a “climate change touchstone.”[1] Curiously, however, 400 ppm was not considered a tipping point. It was still possible to reverse the progression of the ratio—yet no one seems to ask how long that would take. In this regard, the ratio’s accelerating rate is particularly telling. Practically speaking, 400 ppm may in fact be a tipping point.

CO2 concentrations in 2015 “were about 144 percent higher than pre-industrial levels. Other emissions measured in the report, methane and nitrous oxide, were up 256 percent and 121 percent from pre-industrial levels, respectively. Among those, however, CO2 contributes the most to warming and [was] responsible for about 81 percent of the increase in radiative forcing from 2005 to 2015.”[2] Ralph Keeling, who runs the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s carbon dioxide monitoring program, pointed to the irreversibility of the ratio of CO2 in the atmosphere. “[I]t already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year ― or ever again for the indefinite future.”[3] Practically speaking, 400 ppm may be a tipping point in that the likelihood of getting below it again in the foreseeable future is nil.
Lest it be thought that the Paris treaty could turn things around, that the vows are voluntary and without repercussions for failing to adhere to the promised cuts. Moreover, “even if all Paris pledges are fully implemented, predicted emissions in 2030 will still place the world on track for a temperature rise of 2.9 to 3.4 degrees this century,” according to UNEP in 2016.[4] CO2 emissions would have to be cut an additional 25 percent by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change.[5] I assume even that would not be enough to get CO2 levels down below 400.

Sadly, we weren’t even going in the right direction at the time of the U.N. Environment Program’s report. In other words, the CO2 ratio’s rate was accelerating. “The increase of CO2 from 2014 to 2015 was larger than that observed from 2013 to 2014 and that averaged over the past 10 years,” the report noted.[6] Predictably—though not in terms of the acceleration—studies at NASA and the University of California at Irvine showed in 2016 that Smith and Pope Glaciers in Antarctica were “growing thinner” and “retreating at the fastest rate ever observed.”[7] Since 1996, “Smith Glacier’s grounding line retreated at an annual rate of 1.24 miles per year and Pope’s at an annual rate of 0.31 mile per year,” according to NASA.[8] Smith Glacier “lost between 984 and 1,607 feet of ice thickness between 2002 and 2009.”[9] That this pace “is nearly six times faster than a previous estimate” is in line with the accelerating ratio of Carbon parts per million in the atmosphere. I contend that the estimates of the impact of the ratio were low because the ratio’s accelerating rate of increase had not been detected. By implication, estimates of how much carbon-emissions should be reduced by have also been too low.
In fact, even the focus on reducing carbon-emissions may be insufficient. The accelerating rate of the ratio as well as the likelihood that we won’t see anything less than 400 ppm may indicate that we have not yet gotten to the underlying causes. According to the WMO’s report, the bulk of the increase in the ratio was due to unbridled human activities ranging from “growing population, intensified agricultural practices, increase in land use and deforestation, industrialization and associated energy use from fossil sources.”[10] Even among these causes, that of growing population is most fundamental. The human being necessarily takes energy from the environment and expends waste, including pollution. Simply put, our species has been too successful genetically; we have multiplied. Yet the climatic data suggests that we have over-multiplied.

Crucially, the rate of increase in the global population has been increasing. It took 123 years for the total to go from 1 to 2 billion, then only 33 years to reach 3 billion in 1960.[11] The population reached 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1999, and 7 billion in 2011.[12] How could there not be an astounding impact on the planet’s climate? As a maximizing variable, human population may be out of control, with the ecosystems bearing the brunt. An analysis in 2014 claims there is a 70% chance that the human population “will rise continuously” from 7 billion in 2014 to 11 billion in 2011.[13] This poses “grave challenges for food supplies, healthcare and social cohesion”—not to mention climate change.[14] The head of the research team stressed that population should return to the top of the international agenda.
Unfortunately, population decrease is typically viewed as a problem in many countries, while those with the largest populations—China and India—have not set population decline as a policy goal. To be sure, decreasing population too fast presents social problems, such as not having enough wage-earners to support retired people. Even so, the accelerating feature of the CO2 ratio and its effects on the climate—most notably, on glaciers and oceans more generally—suggests that serious attempts to reduce reproduction-rates globally—and especially where the rates are highest—are warranted. In addition to international agreements to decrease CO2 emissions, declining population targets should also be negotiated. Both individually and as a group, governments can no longer afford to skirt the underlying cause of the problem, which looks increasingly likely to result in the extinction of our species.

Genetically speaking, our species has been very successful in terms of multiplying our DNA in many, many individual members, yet this very success may be short-lived; it may be breeding extinction, which is failure in genetic terms. Put another way, our short-term thinking that reigns on Wall Street may apply even genetically. It may be up to the people serving in governments around the world to make hard choices in order to extend our species’ perspective enough that we can self-regulate our species back to a reasonable number rather than continue to spiral out of control and be at the mercy of nature’s constraints rather than those of our own choosing. Considering the population growth during the twentieth century alone, we can no longer afford as a species to skip over the underlying cause of climate change, for the acceleration is not limited to the ratio of CO2 and glacier-melt. Add in the lifespan-extending advances in medical science, and it becomes clear just how severe we need to be as a species in limiting our reproduction.

[1] Lydia O’Connor, “The Planet Just Crossed Another Major Carbon Milestone,” The Huffington Post, October 25, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid, italics added.
[4] Nick Visser and Dominique Mosbergen, “UN: Paris Deal Won’t Be ‘Enough’ To Stave Off Worst Effects Of Climate Change,” The Huffington Post, November 3, 2016.
[5] Ibid.
[6] O’Connor, “The Planet.”
[7] David Freeman, “Glaciers’ Rapic Retreat Should Be ‘Alarm Bell to Everyone’s Ears,’” The Huffington Post, October 26, 2016.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] O’Connor, “The Planet.”
[11]The World at Six Billion: Introduction,” United Nations (1999).
[12] Jasmin Coleman, “World’s ‘Seventh Billionth Baby’ Is Born,” The Guardian, October 31, 2011.
[13] Damian Carrington, “World Population to Hit 11bn in 2100—with 70% Chance of Continuous Rise,” The Guardian, September 18, 2014.
[14] Ibid.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Saudi Arabia Beheads a Member of the Royal Family: Justice for All, Atrociously

On October 18, 2016, Saudi Arabia executed a member of the royal family for committing murder during a brawl. Prince Turki bin Saud bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabeer was put to death most likely by beheading in a public square—as this was the usual method at the time. As horrific as such an execution is, the point that law applies to everyone is laudable—especially “on point” for countries in which the rich can “get away with murder” by hiring the best (and most expensive) lawyers.  The atrocious means of execution coupled with the dictum that the law really does apply to everyone renders this case particularly difficult to analyze from an ethical perspective.

“The greatest thing is that the citizen sees the law applied to everyone, and that there are not big people and other small people,” Abdul-Rahman al-Lahim, a prominent Saudi lawyer wrote.[1] In other words, the verdict and sentence sent the message that no one is above the law. To be sure, thousands of people are in the Saudi royal family enjoying perks not available to the rest of Saudi Arabia’s 20 million people; yet that the member executed was from a prestigious arm of the family sufficiently makes the point that no one is above the law.

This lesson is a valuable one for the United States, as financiers got away with fraudulently mislabeling the risk of sub-prime mortgage-based bonds before the financial crisis of 2008. Yet, interestingly, the Saudis could look to the United States for a lesson on how to execute people humanely. I submit that this combination of lessons demonstrates that a country can be very ethical in one sense yet abysmal in another. This point in turn impedes claims that some countries are more humane, or advanced ethically, than others. Within a culture, insistence on justice in one sense can coexist with toleration for injustice in another sense. Put another way, the human mind seems able to compartmentalize justice, without realizing the cognitive dissidence involved.

1. Ben Hubbard, “Saudi Prince Is Executed for Murder,” The New York Times, October 19, 2016.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

E.U. Free-Trade After Brexit: Applying Domestic Requirements to International Trade

With Britain set to secede from the European Union, one major question was whether British businesses would continue to get unfettered access to the E.U.’s domestic market. I submit that subjecting free-trade negotiations to stipulations that are oriented to states rather than trading partners is unfair to Britain. Given the extraordinary influence of E.U. state officials at the federal level, this is a case in which the political influence of British business would be constructive rather than subversive of the public domain to private interests.

The full essay is at "Essays on the E.U. Political Economy," available at Amazon.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

E.U. Defense Post-Britain: Beyond Multinational Military Cooperation

Just months after the British voted to secede from the Union, the E.U.’s Counsel of Ministers discussed “proposals for increased military cooperation” amid concerns from the British state government as well as those of some eastern States that “such collaboration could undermine” NATO.[1] The proposals being discussed were “part of a push by European officials and diplomats to strengthen European ties” after Britain’s vote to secede.[2] I submit that both the expression, “military cooperation,” and Britain’s involvement in the discussion are ill-fitting and inappropriate, respectively.

The complete essay is at Essays on Two Federal Empires.

[1] Julian E. Barnes, “EU Pushes for Deeper Defense Cooperation,” The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2016.
[2] Ibid.