Sunday, July 14, 2019

Visiting the Port of Los Angeles - A Video

I was with my wife in Los Angeles where I made this film about our visit to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. We are writing a book about world ports, maritime history, globalization and global warming.

Previous short films I made about ports include:

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Greeks losing their house, their hope and their life

Shocking news from Greece: 

Greece: Death by hanging

Α 56 year-old man has been found hanged in the yard of his home, at Isthmia, Korinthia, Greece.
The previous day the 56 year-old man had been notified officially that he is going to lose his house.
The man let a note in which he asked from his relatives to forgive him and explaining the reasons he was pushed to suicide.
The Finance Ministers of the Eurozone, under the leadership of the German government, the European Commission and the IMF, acting like a kind of Mafia operatives of the Bankers, are exercising now a maximum of pressure to the SYRIZA governement in order to alleviate any protection of houses from Banks demands.

The criminals of Eurogroup: They want Greeks out of their homes!!!

Eurogroup delays €1 bn disbursement to Greece

The finance ministers of the 19-member Eurozone have decided to postpone disbursing 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) to Greece.
The reason for postponing the payment is that Greece has not yet changed the provisions of a law protecting debtors’ main housing property from creditors to the EU’s satisfaction.
The disbursement will now be discussed at the next Eurogroup meeting, on April 5, provided Greece has made the necessary changes.
Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, had indicated earlier Monday, that he expects an agreement with Greece on the issue in the coming days.
Valdis Dombrovskis, the Commission Vice-Chairman for the Euro and Social Dialogue, and Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno, the Eurogroup President, echoed Moscovici’s views.

Greece, 10 Years Into Economic Crisis, Counts the Cost to Mental Health

Health workers during a general strike in Athens in 2017. Annual state spending on mental health was halved in 2012, and it has been trimmed further each year since then.CreditAris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The New York Times - Feb. 3, 2019
ATHENS — Greece’s decade-long economic crisis has taken a heavy toll: Hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost, incomes were slashed and taxes were raised. Hopes for the future were dashed.
For Anna, 68, the crisis had particularly devastating consequences. Her husband, a retired bus driver, killed himself in a park two years ago at age 66 after a series of pension cuts deepened his despair.
“He kept saying, ‘I’ve worked so many years. What will I have to show for it? How are we going to live?’” said Anna, who asked that her full name not be published to protect her family’s privacy. After two years of therapy, she now volunteers to help others struggling with mental health issues.
Depression and suicide rates rose alarmingly during the Greek debt crisis, health experts and studies say, as the country’s creditors imposed strict austerity measures that cut wages, increased taxes and undermined the ability of health services to respond to a crisis within a crisis.
“Mental health has deteriorated significantly in Greece, with depression being particularly widespread, as a result of the economic crisis,” Dunja Mijatovic, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, said in a November report. That has led to overcrowding at psychiatric hospitals and clinics and a 40 percent increase in suicides from 2010 to 2015, the report said.
For those fighting the problems on the ground, the trend does not seem to be abating. The mental health organization Klimaka reported a 30 percent rise in calls to its suicide hotline last year, and a comparable rise in visits to its day center.
“The financial crisis has increased people’s vulnerability to suicide,” said Kyriakos Katsadoros, Klimaka’s director. “Some even ask about euthanasia.”
Suicide rates in Greece remain relatively low for Europe, with five suicides per 100,000 people compared with a regionwide average of 15.4, according to World Health Organization data for 2016, the most recent available. The rate of increase is high, however. It spiked from 3.3 per 100,000 to 5 between 2010 to 2016.
The highest annual increase came in 2015, the year strikes and social upheaval reached a climax as Greece’s leftist-led government wrangled with the country’s international creditors over the terms of a third bailout.
The suicide rate then dropped in 2016 and 2017, police figures show, only to rise again in the first 10 months of 2018, according to police figures that also show that suicides among those ages 22 and under more than doubled.
Many suicides in Greece go unreported because of the Orthodox Church’s reluctance to provide burial services to those who take their own lives, although the church’s stance is changing, nongovernmental organizations say.
The Greek Health Ministry set up a committee of mental health experts in November to prepare awareness campaigns, as well as plans to train general practitioners to better detect depression and other mental health issues. In the meantime, the health system’s struggles to address the problem are evident.
At Evangelismos, one of the capital’s largest state hospitals, dozens of patients were being treated in the corridors of the psychiatric ward during a visit in April, “an unacceptable situation,” the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee said in a report published in June.
In the summer, the hospital’s workers’ union complained to a prosecutor that the clinic was accommodating twice the maximum capacity, with foldout beds set up in corridors and in doctors’ offices.
“It’s like a stable,” said Dr. Ilias Sioras, president of the union, adding that people in all states — “catatonic and psychotic” — were being treated in the same space.
Dromokaiteio Psychiatric Hospital in Athens is also overcrowded, with admissions up 12.3 percent in 2017 and staff members regularly staging strikes denouncing the conditions. And at Dafni, the Attica Psychiatric Hospital, which takes only very serious cases, “the impact of the economic crisis is reflected in the admissions,” said the director, Spiridoula Kalantzi, citing a 9.6 percent increase in 2017.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Andrew Sheng: "The free market is a destructive myth. Down with the free market"

Andrew Sheng
I got to know Andrew Sheng at an international conference my organisation, FONDAD, had organised in Kuala Lumpur in 2007. I was impressed by his sharp mind, his eloquence and his charm. Andrew appeared in this blog right at the start (see, for example, Explaining the crisis (3)), when I explored with part of the FONDAD Network how the global financial crisis of 2007-08 had come about and what we could do to prevent a new global financial crisis. 

Global crisis prevention had been one of the reasons for me to found FONDAD in 1986 and had become the main focus in FONDAD's activities since 1999 when a group of organisations decided to form an international programme on Global Financial Governance. Together with José Antonio Ocampo, then head of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, I chaired, as director of FONDAD, the group on Crisis Prevention.  

I have maintained contact with Andrew Sheng and I have continued to like his writings. Below I copy one of his latest columns, published by South China Morning Post on 2 February 2019

  • Andrew Sheng says the free market is a bad idea that probably belongs in the rubbish bin of history. A system where human beings and mother nature have been reduced to cogs and commodities has brought only misery, and climate change

Andrew Sheng
2 February 2019

In a time of the messy Brexit divorce and acrimonious US-China trade relations, there is angst over whether the world is entering a period of disorder. This month will witness whether these relationships can be saved. But it is already clear that Brexit will happen, deal or no deal, and that even if the United States-China tariff negotiations succeed in furthering detente, the damage to the bilateral relationship will take a long time to repair.

The current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine asks: “Who will run the world?” The US-sponsored liberal global order is in crisis, which means that “the future is up for grabs”, it notes.
The hard reality is that stability is no longer the dictate of a single hegemony, but the outcome of a geopolitical game of thrones, which is itself shaped and disrupted by technology, human migration, climate change, and competing ideologies amid worsening social inequality.
If you believe in astrology, even the blood moons and eclipses are signalling a change in the world order.
The person who predicted the demise of the self-regulating market order was Hungarian historian, sociologist and economist Karl Polanyi (1886-1964). His book, The Great Transformation, came out in 1944, the same year as The Road to Serfdom, by Austrian economist Friedrich A. Hayek (1899-1992).
Hayek founded the Mont Pelerin Society in 1947, which had great success in pushing for neoliberalism around the world on the premise of free markets, free trade, free capital flows, rule of law, primacy of individual freedoms and electoral democracy. Hayek was the intellectual father of the current order.
Even though the socialist experiment in economics failed with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the neoliberal order has been shaky since the global financial crisis of 2008, and is beginning to crumble amid lost growth, widening inequality and populist sentiment against globalisation.
Polanyi presciently points out that “the idea of a self-adjusting market implied a stark utopia. Such an institution could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness”.
In short: “To allow the market mechanism to be the sole director of the fate of human beings and their natural environment … would result in the demolition of society.”
Polanyi’s thesis rests on four crucial insights. First, the economy is embedded in society, which is itself embedded in nature. But to claim the market is self-regulating dehumanises society: when the market is a mechanical system, human beings and mother nature are reduced to cogs and wheels.
And today, the populist revolt against the cruelties of the market and the revenge of nature (that is, climate change) suggest the human and natural worlds have had it with the free market, an idea that should be dumped in the rubbish bin of history.
Second, Polanyi argues that the commodification of land, labour and capital is fictitious: land is a natural resource, not something to be traded and valued. (It is ironic that land is a commodity, but that gross domestic product calculations do not measure the costs of ecological destruction and pollution.)
Human labour cannot be bought and sold as if people are slaves. Money is “merely a token of purchasing power which … comes into being through the mechanism of banking or state finance”. (And what is the true value of money, when central banks can engineer negative interest rates?)

Third, Polanyi says: “The social history of our time is the result of a double movement: the one is the principle of economic liberalism, aiming at the establishment of a self-regulating market; the other is the principle of social protection, aiming at the conservation of man and nature as productive organisation.” In other words, one movement generates the other.
Fourth, the gold standard was a key invention that anchored the idea of a self-regulating market. Gold imposed a “hard budget constraint”, forcing people and states to live within their means.
But it was precisely the pain of deflation, unemployment and social distress – caused by the misguided return to the gold standard – that created the conditions for the rise of fascism in the 1930s.
Modern central banking, on the other hand, is a “soft budget constraint”: when the market tries to impose pain on individuals, firms and states living beyond their means, central banks are asked to print more money.
The fact that the markets are up because the US Federal Reserve has promised to slow the rate-hiking cycle is evidence that people still believe in the “Greenspan put”. Every time the market wobbles, central banks are either lowering interest rates or increasing liquidity.
Free markets cannot exist in practice as long as central banks are around, injecting trillions into global markets and holding more than their fair share of sovereign debt, equity and even non-performing assets in the name of monetary and financial stability. Central bankers are no longer independent if they perceive their job as maintaining the stability of stock market indices.
We cannot talk of a new global order without a hard look at the world as a total, in human, political, financial, social and ecological terms. Economics can no longer be allowed to run riot, independent of politics, sociology and ecology. It just does not add up.
Polanyi was correct about a great transformation, which continues in the 21st century. But what we are facing now is a great destruction.
Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Europe lacks democracy - Women protest in France

A key problem of Europe is its lack of democracy. Sure, we have elections, but that's not democracy. Elections can be a means to prevent that the same party or the same coalition of parties rules all the time. But when parties have become (1) rather similar in their political views and ways of operating, and (2) are representing above all the interests of priviliged persons and groups, representative democracy does not deliver what it should deliver: decision-making power of the people.

What I like in the article below (published by Politika and translated from Spanish) is that Luis Casado points to this fundamental flaw in representative democracy in France, in Europe, and elsewhere. The other thing I like in his article is the way he describes the protest of women yellow vests in the eight mass demonstration (Act VIII) of the gilets jaunes in France. 

Act VIII. The yellow vests don’t give up. We’ll not move back a millimeter is their motto. They are refractory to empty speeches, to void promises and to smoke screens. Now, the women decided to go out on the street. Alone. Because it is not only necessary to feed the children, to earn the daily pot, to manage the home, to keep occupied the roundabouts ... but also show that theirs is the Quiet Force. The violent ones are in the government. Luis Casado tells it ... and it will not be the last episode ...

Luis Casado

"Seditious, factional, agitators, violent, 'casseurs' (destroyers) ..."

This is how Benjamin Grivaux, minister and spokesman of the government of Emmanuel Macron, refers to the yellow vests. A chorus of journalistic cockatoos repeat in the media: "Seditious, factional, agitators, violent, 'casseurs' ... Then, when the yellow vests denounce the infamous, manipulative and to-the-orders-of-power-eared journalism, the journalists lament as unstained vestals : "Yellow vests attack press freedom" ...

However, one of the most obvious characteristics of the yellow vest, together with its determination, its capacity for sacrifice, its generosity and its humanism, is its will to act peacefully. As if to prove it, today, Sunday, the eve of Epiphany, the women in yellow vests went out to the street. Facing a cohort of police armed to the teeth for the urban guerrilla, they shout in unison: "Kiss me!" "Kiss me!" (A bisous! A bisous!).

The armed messengers of peace and order don't react and turn to their commander: "What do we do, boss?"

Yesterday, Saturday, Act VIII of the movement that shakes France to its foundations, the number of protesters doubled in relation to the previous Saturday, denying the government and the media claim –against all evidence– that the movement loses strength.

The yellow vests are a revolutionary, exemplary and historical movement. They go out to the street, they socially meet again and they remake society ... The poor person usually becomes tiny, lowers his voice and his neck, he lives as if apologizing for being there, blamed for his poverty by the winners, the experts, the ones who know, the wealthy and his servants. The yellow vest understood that he’s the people, and he remembered what he was taught in the public, secular and free school: "The French Revolution eliminated forever the social inequalities before the Law, and made the people the only sovereign". The yellow vest is the people, ergo ... it's sovereign.

Faced with the crisis of the regime, two paths emerge: some, the democrats, demand to expand, extend citizen rights, practice direct democracy. The citizen initiative referendum (RIC) translates the will of the people to decide whatever concerns them. Others, the authoritarians, bet on the providential man / woman who, imposing another order, his, restores to France the order and tranquility that is the delight of big money.

In this bifurcation, in this alternative, arises again, as in September 1789, the difference between left and right: the left fights against privileges, opposes them, declares them inadmissible. The right protects privileges, lives thanks to them, and justifies them by being of 'divine origin' or the prize of accumulated wealth by stripping the people.

The installed political crust mourns the end of representative democracy. The yellow vests respond that the rules of representation must be defined by those represented. Not for the representatives. It is the people who must set the limits of the representation, the mission of the representative, and establish the control mechanisms that allow the representative to be revoked if he does not obey the mandate received from those who elected him.

Representative democracy? Yes, but as in the Athens of Pericles: brief mandate, non-renewable, revocable, controlled and without privileges.

The mass of servant journalists don’t understand. That's why they keep asking the yellow vests: "But ... what are your demands?"

Emmanuel Macron proposed "a great national debate". And he hastened to set the limits of the debate. "We can’t undo what we have already done," he declared, Jupiterian. Before insinuating the topics that in his opinion can be discussed.

The yellow vests, remembering once again the French Revolution, retort: "It is not the representative who sets the limits of the sovereignty of the represented. Why should our sovereignty be limited? With what legitimacy can someone limit the rights of citizens, who are, precisely, the source of legitimacy? "

"There are very technical issues", dares to argue some political scientist, a kind of sports commentator supplied with too many balls. The answer is immediate: "In politics there are no 'experts': we are all equal and we have all the right to a vote."

The deep thinking goes further: choosing is not voting. To elect means to designate a "deputy” who’s the one who votes everything in our name, regardless of our opinion. By electing him, we abdicate our own sovereignty for 4, 5 or 6 years.

The Constitution, which should protect the citizen, their freedoms and their rights, is actually a political prison that keeps us tied up. There is no article in the Constitution that openly denies the sovereignty of the people (excepted for the Chilean Constitution). But the Constitution states that the laws are voted by Parliament, not by citizens. The representatives, deputies and senators, vote laws that suit them and their bosses.

That fact, verified not only in France but throughout the world, is what leads the yellow vests to claim their right to control and to revoke the elected deputies. Because the deputies, the representatives, institute their own power, stripping the people of their sovereignty.

Étienne Chouard, a militant who thinks and makes you think, maintains that it is not a matter of going to the 6th Republic, but to the first democracy ... Until now the power of the oligarchy has prevailed, a privileged social sector that imposed suffrage as the best tool to preserve its power. For 25 centuries we have known that the tool of democracy is not the suffrage but the random draw*): Montesquieu, Rousseau and other great thinkers said it, before this great truth was conveniently hidden.

Étienne Chouard believes that this is not a democracy because, if one examines reality, the demos does not have the kratos.

In democracy, no financial power should own the media. In a democracy, the currency can’t be the private tool of big capital in the hands of a privatized Central Bank. Just as there is political sovereignty, there must be monetary sovereignty.

The citizen revolution of the yellow vests is not only alive, but also rests on a deep reflection about the type of society we should build.

What is no obstacle for the remote-controlled journalist to ask once again: "But ... what are your demands?"

The answer is simple. The yellow vests, that is to say the people, want to recover the kratos...

*) "Democracy’s not the vote but the random draw"

Donald Kagan, History teacher Yale University, wrote in his Pericles’s biography (Pericles of Athens and the Birth of Democracy, 1991) :

“In the years 450 bC, under the leadership of Pericles, the Athens Assembly voted a few Laws that made of their Constitution the most democratic tool of all times. That Constitution gave a direct and unquestionable power to the citizen’s constituency and to the popular Courts, whose decisions were adopted by simple majority. Most magistrates were designed by random draw, excepted for a few number of carefully selected people (specialist ones) that were designated by vote. All positions lasted for a short period of time, and every deputy was under a careful and rigorous public control.”

Saturday, December 15, 2018

FRANCE reminds us: No ecological justice without social justice

I just thought: there is a caveat to my post saying that I am in favour of dictatorship with regard to measures against climate change: climate measures should be fair and not hit the poor more than the rich, or rather the reverse: they should hit the rich more than the poor. 

As a friend of mine said: "Macron's huge mistake was approaching the climate problem without any consideration for the social damage that decades of neoliberal austerity have caused to the living standards of the majority. Mitigating the coming climate catastrophe will require sacrifices from all, but they will only be accepatablle in a democracy if it's clear that the rich are sacrificing the most. That means that the funds for conversion to a sustainable economy need to come from wealth taxes that will reduce today's glaring inequalities and a restoration of the welfare guarantees that ordinary people have lost since 1980. If citizens see that happening, they will support the measures necessary to insure a future for their children.

As one of the French Green protesters said last weekend, ecological justice is inseparable from social justice."

More or less the same is said by the group of Piketty who drafted a Manifesto for change of policies in Europe. Its second paragraph states: 

"The new European governance that has consolidated over the past decade in the wake of the financial crisis is not only opaque and unaccountable as epitomized by the Eurogroup; it is also ideologically biased towards economic policies with an almost exclusive focus on financial and budgetary objectives. Unsurprisingly, Europe has proved unable to take up the challenges with which it is confronted: growing inequalities across the continent, the acceleration of global warming, the influx of refugees, structural public under-investment (most notably in universities and research), tax fraud and evasion…"

And the fourth paragraph of the Piketty Manifesto states: 

"To date, European integration has primarily benefited the most powerful and most mobile economic and financial agents: major multinationals, households with high incomes and large assets. Europe will only reconnect with its citizens if it proves it has the ability to bring about genuine European solidarity, by having the main beneficiaries of the globalization process fairly contribute to the financing of the public goods Europe desperately needs."

Friday, December 14, 2018

Climate Change: If climate scientists ruled the world

I just read an interesting article in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit that tells what climate scientists would do when they ruled the world. I copy below the English version of this article, as published by Die Zeit. [The idea of climate scientist letting rule the world with respect to climate policies is what I proposed in a post on this blog of two years ago: On the environment I support dictatorship]

Climate Change: If climate scientists ruled the world

Abandon cars, reforest woodland, eat more veggies – what must humankind do immediately to stop global warming? This is what nine leading researchers told ZEIT ONLINE.

We can't go on like this. If the Earth warms up by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the year 2100, the consequences will be serious and irreversible climate changes will be set in motion, as the latest special report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows. From Dec. 3-14, politicians and government representatives will once again discuss at a climate conference how the 1.5-degree target can be achieved.
We asked nine leading climate scientists to imagine if they were the sole ruler of the planet, what they would do to limit global warming if they could make a unilateral decision and didn't have to resort to negotiations, political wrangling or compromises. What immediate action would you take?

"A CO2 Tax Makes Technologies Such As Wind and Solar Power Competitive"

Brigitte Knopf is the secretary-general of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) in Berlin.

Brigitte Knopf, Secretary General of MCC © MCC

I would no longer let countries, companies and citizens emit carbon dioxide (CO2) for free and would instead immediately introduce a price of 50 euros for every ton of CO2 emitted. This would hold everyone responsible for the negative effects of fossil emissions, which include climate change, air pollution and health problems. A CO2 tax would have three effects: First, it punishes the consumption of coal, oil and gas according to their carbon content. Second, it makes CO2-free technologies such as wind or solar power competitive and drives new investments in that direction. Third, it generates revenues for governments, which I would redistribute on a per-capita basis. This would protect poorer households in particular from higher energy prices and ensure a just transition. MCC research shows that even a low price for CO2 could finance universal access to clean water and sanitation in many countries (Nature Climate Change: Jakob et al., 2015). This would make climate policy a success story.

"New Industrial Plants Should Be CO2-Free By 2025"

Niklas Höhne is the director of the New Climate Institute in Berlin and a professor at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

Climate Change: Niklas Höhne is a founding partner of NewClimate Institute.
Niklas Höhne is a founding partner of NewClimate Institute. © Katja Inderka

To keep the climate at safe levels, global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to zero in all sectors and countries. This is why I would prescribe, that everything that is newly built should be emission-free. From now on, for example, only power plants that use renewable energies should be built, not new fossil fuel power plants. From the early 2020s, only electric cars or cars with other CO2-free engines should be sold. And new industrial plants should be carbon dioxide-free by 2025. The clear time horizon as of when only zero emission technology can be sold would drive the necessary innovation. In addition, I would implement a tax on greenhouse gas emissions to collect financial resources to compensate for potential negative social effects of this rapid transition, eg. in regions that are currently dependant on coal mining or use.  

The currently implemented climate policies with the highest impact follow this model even if initially implemented by only a few. For example, the first electric cars suitable for series production were developed because the U.S. state of California introduced a quota for zero-emission cars in the 1990s (CARB ZEV). With minimum quotas for the new registration of electric vehicles, China is also forcing car manufacturers to expand their product range, which will then be sold globally. Another example: Wind power, which was mainly subsidized in Germany, is now being used worldwide – even in countries that previously did not have  an interest in it before, such as China, India and Australia, due to their large coal reserves.

"All Countries Should Take Stock of the Damage"

Friederike Otto is the acting director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University in England.

Climate Change: Friederike Otto
Friederike Otto © Environmental Change Institute

Think of the forest fires in California in November of this year or on a less dramatic level the heatwave in Germany and the EU this summer. The methods available today allow us to attribute such events to human-induced climate change (Annual Review of Environment and Resources: Otto et al., 2017). At present, however, we simply have no idea about the damages and losses caused by climate change to date. It is difficult to solve a problem that is vague and often assumed to be a future problem only. All countries should therefore develop an inventory so that we can effectively see the costs of climate change. 

New Zealand has shown the way: Floods and droughts caused by man-made climate change currently cost around $120 million per decade (New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute and NIWA, 2018, PDF).  

Hermann Lotze-Campen is a professor of sustainable land use and climate change at Berlin's Humboldt University and chair of Research Area II "Climate Impact and Vulnerability" at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Climate Change: Hermann Lotze-Campen studied agriculture sciences.
Hermann Lotze-Campen studied agriculture sciences. © PIK/Karkow

About 25 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to food – especially meat products (Climate Change 2014: Smith et al., 2014). We should therefore all immediately adopt the "10 Guidelines of the German Nutrition Society (DGE) for a Wholesome Diet" – and nourish ourselves with a healthy mix of food that includes a high proportion of fruit and vegetables. This helps to prevent obesity and high blood pressure, it would slow global warming and it would significantly lower the nitrogen pollution in our groundwater. This is because most nitrogen is produced in agriculture to grow feed crops for animals or comes from animal manure (The European Nitrogen Assessment: Sutton et al., 2011). People in rich countries should reduce their meat consumption to 600 grams per week as soon as possible and to 300 grams per week later: For Germans, this would mean first cutting meat consumption in half and then reducing it to two or three small portions a week. At the same time, I would double the research funding for plant-based alternatives to meat.

"We Need Public Transport and Better Teleconferencing"

Gabriele Clarissa Hegerl is a professor of climate system sciences at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Climate Change: Gabriele Clarissa Hegerl
Gabriele Clarissa Hegerl © Privat

I would create reliable, fast and convenient public transport, so that short-haul flights are unnecessary and many more people can commute by public transport. Another very practical measure would be to improve teleconferencing. This could help us to avoid many short-haul journeys and flights, which in turn would significantly reduce our CO2 footprint. Avoiding air travel altogether is one of the most effective measures for significantly reducing an individual's greenhouse gas emissions (Environmental Research Letters: Wynes and Nicholas, 2017).

"Our Biosphere Must Be Protected To Store Carbon"

Yadvinder Malhi is a professor of ecosystem science at Oxford University in England.

Climate Change: Professor of ecosystem science, Yadvinder Malhi
Professor of ecosystem science, Yadvinder Malhi © Privat

We must preserve and restore our ecosystems to store and absorb carbon, to regulate local and regional rainfall, and to maintain a moderate climate. Our forests and soils contain significant amounts of carbon, so deforestation has a direct impact on our climate. Tropical regions, for example, are the engines of atmospheric circulation. The loss of rainforest, which is transformed into cattle farms or oil palm plantations, also affects distant regions such as Europe, Siberia and North America. It also has an indirect effect on rainfall and cloud formation. Clouds, in turn, reflect sunlight and cool our planet. Our actions do not only have local consequences, the scale of our activities is much larger.
We also need to think more about restoring forests and other ecosystems in the heavily transformed landscapes of Europe. We must protect intact areas and change our policy incentives in the north to restore forests on abandoned or marginal farmlands. Nature is not an external cost factor that can be included in or omitted from our economic model. Nature is one of our most important allies in reducing the scale and impact of climate change. 

Angelika Hilbeck is with the Institute for Integrative Biology at ETH Zurich in Switzerland.

Climate Change: Angelika Hilbeck works at ETH Zürich
Angelika Hilbeck works at ETH Zürich © Privat

Most of the food we buy in supermarkets comes from industrial agriculture, especially in developed countries, but increasingly worldwide. This form of intensive farming is based on chemical inputs and practices that are energy-intensive and harmful to the environment. According to the IPCC, it contributes to more than 20 percent of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC, Working Group III: Mitigation, 2014). We must therefore use agro-ecological production systems instead. This means applying ecological and social concepts in food design, changing farming practices and following these principles in our agricultural systems.
Another consequence: With improved agriculture, we preserve biodiversity, the fertility of our soils and contribute to feeding humanity. The UN Human Rights Council reported this in 2010. Our agriculture can thus become part of the solution rather than a problem that contributes to climate change.

"Products Should Be Labeled with CO2"

Per Espen Stoknes is the author of the book "What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming: Toward a New Psychology of Climate Action."

Climate Change: Author Per Espen Stoknes
Author Per Espen Stoknes © Moment Studio

All products and services worldwide should be marketed and sold with clear labeling of their CO2 emissions and their environmental footprint. The life cycle of the product should be fully understandable to the consumer. Whether the product has a positive, neutral or negative footprint should be as prominent as the purchase price. And it should be easy to understand where and how the products were made and who made them. This could be possible, for example, with blockchain databases that trace and store the data and path of the product. This would make it easy for customers to choose greener products in all markets and prevent products from being advertised with a sustainable label without clear evidence. Greenwashing would no longer be possible.

"We Need Politicians To Represent Our Interests"

Michael Mann is the director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center in University Park, Pennsylvania.

Climate Change: Climatologist Michael Mann
Climatologist Michael Mann © Patrick Mansell, Penn State

In the United States, we currently provide more subsidies for fossil fuels than for renewable energies. This is the opposite of what is required. We need politicians who represent our interests rather than fossil fuel interests. At the moment, the U.S. federal government is led by the latter. My wish therefore goes to my fellow Americans who believe that we have to act on climate change: Make your voice heard. An effective solution must include both personal action and government policy. But the former can be encouraged by the latter, so we must focus on policy intervention, which includes electing climate-friendly politicians. That’s the single most important thing we can do right now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The original idea of an International Trade Organisation

Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Anis Chowdhury published a good article reminding us of the original idea of an international trade organisation as discussed and proposed at the end of the Second World War, mainly by developing countries and among them, mainly the Latin American countries since most of the other developing countries were still European colonies. 
Reading the article, I realised again how much harm the leaders of the rich countries have done to the poor and (almost) powerless in the Third World, and how much the Third World has changed (or remained the same) -- to become the global market place where the rich of both industrialised and developing countries make their fortunes and limit the chances of the less fortunate. 
I also realised again how much harm an international monetary system based on the US dollar has done to the hopes of social democracy. Below is the article by Jomo and Chowdhury as I received it this morning by e-mail.
Havana Charter's Progressive Trade Vision Subverted  
Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Anis Chowdhury

KUALA LUMPUR & SYDNEY, Dec 04 (IPS)  - In criticizing the ‘free trade delusion', UNCTAD's 2018 Trade and Development Report proposes an alternative to both reactionary nationalism, recently revived by President Trump, and the corporate cosmopolitanism of neoliberal multilateral discourse in recent decades by revisiting the Havana Charter on its 70th anniversary.

From ITO to WTO
Instead, it urges reconsideration of lessons from the struggle from 1947 for the Havana Charter. Although often depicted as the forerunner of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Charter was far more ambitious.

Initially agreed to 70 years ago by over 50 countries -- mainly from Latin America, as much of the rest of the developing world remained under European colonial rule -- it was rejected by the US Congress, with GATT emerging as a poor compromise.

As envisaged at Bretton Woods in 1944, over 50 countries began to create the International Trade Organization (ITO) from 1945 to 1947. In 1947, 56 countries started negotiating the ITO charter in Havana following the 1947 United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment in Havana, eventually signed in 1948.

The idea of a multilateral trade organization to regulate trade -- covering areas such as tariff reduction, business cartels, commodity agreements, economic development and foreign direct investment -- was first mooted in the US Congress in 1916 by Representative Cordell Hull, later Roosevelt's first Secretary of State in 1933.

However, the US Congress eventually rejected the Havana Charter, including establishment of the ITO, in 1948 following pressure from corporate lobbies unhappy about concessions to ‘underdeveloped' countries. Thus, the Bretton Woods' and Havana Charter's promise of full employment and domestic industrialization in the post-war international trade order was aborted.

In their place, from 1948 to 1994, the GATT, a provisional compromise, became the main multilateral framework governing international trade, especially in manufactures, the basis for trade rules and regulations for most of the second half of the 20th century.

The Uruguay Round from 1986 to 1994, begun at Punta del Este, was the last round of multilateral trade negotiations under GATT. It ended the postwar trading order governed by GATT, replacing it with the new World Trade Organization (WTO) from 1995.

Developmental fair trade?
The UNCTAD report urges revisiting the Havana Charter in light of new challenges in recent decades such as the digital economy, environmental stress and financial vulnerabilities. So, what lessons can we draw from the Havana Charter in trying to reform the multilateral trading order?    

In light of economic transformations over the last seven decades, it is crucial to consider how the Havana Charter tried to create a more developmental and equitable trading system, in contrast with actual changes in the world economy since.

After all, the Charter recognized that a healthy trading system must be based on economies seeking to ensure full employment while distributional issues have to be addressed at both national and international levels.

Profitable, but damaging business practices -- by large international, multinational or transnational firms, abusing the international trading system -- also need to be addressed.

The Charter recognized the crucial need for industrialization in developing countries as an essential part of a healthy trading system and multilateral world order, and sought to ensure that international trade rules would enable industrial policy.

The GATT compromise exceptionally allowed some such features in post-war trade rules, but even these were largely eliminated by the neoliberal Uruguay Round, as concerns about unemployment, decent work and deindustrialization were ignored.

Paths not taken
The evolution of the international trading system has been largely forgotten. Recent and current tensions in global trade are largely seen as threatening to the post-Second World War (WW2) international economic order first negotiated in the late 1940s and revised ever since.

But the international order of the post-WW2 period ended in the 1970s, as policymakers in the major developed economies embraced the counter-revolutionary neoliberal reforms of Thatcherism and Reaganism against Keynesian and development economics after Nixon unilaterally destroyed the Bretton Woods monetary arrangements.

Besides international trade liberalization as an end in itself, financial liberalization and globalization were facilitated as financial markets were deregulated, not only within national economies, but also across international borders.

Industrial policy, public enterprise and mixed economies were purged by the new neoliberal fundamentalists as the very idea of public intervention for healthy, equitable and balanced development was discredited by the counter-revolution against economic progress for all.

With multilateralism and the Doha Development Round under assault, retrieving relevant lessons from the Havana Charter after seven decades can be crucial in steering the world between the devil of reactionary nationalist ‘sovereigntism' and the deep blue sea of neoliberal corporate cosmopolitanism or ‘globalism'.