Blaming the Media for Our Ignorance?

Sometimes when students tell me they don’t know about this or that, I am pretty quick to point the finger at their personal ignorance and lack of initiative to find out more about the world around them given the wide range of media sources easily accessible by them.

But, is it really their fault?

This study desperately tries to make a point that national (American) media coverage deliberately glosses over presumably important news like ‘ocean acidification’ in favor of entertainment gossip surrounding the Kardashians.

Infographic from Media Matters for America

Do you think the contrast drawn is a fair one? Would you blame the media for your ignorance on certain key issues? Do you think people in Singapore suffer a similar fate given the type of media coverage we’re exposed to? 

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In Two Minds about the Gardens…

I’m sure you’ve been privy to the hype surrounding the recent opening of the Gardens by The Bay with all its super trees, domes and exotic gardens.      In PM Lee’s words: 

“(We) could have used this for far more valuable commercial or residential developments, right in the middle of the new Singapore city. But our planners in URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) believed that a large and beautiful park was an important element of our new downtown in Marina Bay South, just like Central Park in New York, or Hyde Park in London.

So what’s your take on this garden in the city? A majestic bloom or neocolonial bane for our modern city state? Here are the contrasting opinions about whole project for your consideration. Might be helpful for a simple AQ practice perhaps? Would do you agree with more? 

1. Joanne Lew’s essay “On Supertrees, neo-colonialism and globalisation”

2. A post that responds to Lew’s essay on the local blog Balderdash; essentially the blogger criticizes Lew’s view as needlessly critical

Doomsday Clock: Who’s Keeping Time?

Doomsday Clock Moved One Minute Closer to Midnight

WASHINGTON, DC, January 10, 2012 (ENS) – “Inadequate progress on nuclear weapons reduction and proliferation, and continuing inaction on climate change,” prompted the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists today to push the hands of the Doomsday Clock one minute closer to midnight.

“It is five minutes to midnight,” said the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists group, announcing their decision at a news conference in Washington. “Two years ago, it appeared that world leaders might address the truly global threats that we face. In many cases, that trend has not continued or been reversed. For that reason, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is moving the clock hand one minute closer to midnight, back to its time in 2007.”

The Doomsday Clock now stands at five minutes to midnight.
(Image courtesy Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists)

The last time the Doomsday Clock minute hand moved was in January 2010, when it was pushed back one minute from five to six minutes before midnight. The clock’s hands have been adjusted 20 times since its inception in 1947, when the clock was initially set to seven minutes to midnight.

The Doomsday Clock expresses how close this group of scientists belives humanity is to catastrophic destruction, symbolized by midnight on the clock. The group monitors the means humankind could use to obliterate itself. First and foremost, these include nuclear weapons, but they also encompass climate-changing technologies and new developments in the life sciences that could inflict irrevocable harm.

“Inaction on key issues including climate change, and rising international tensions motivate the movement of the clock,” said Lawrence Krauss, co-chair, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Board of Sponsors and a professor with the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics departments at Arizona State University.

“As we see it,” he told reporters, “the major challenge at the heart of humanity’s survival in the 21st century is how to meet energy needs for economic growth in developing and industrial countries without further damaging the climate, exposing people to loss of health and community, and without risking further spread of nuclear weapons, and in fact setting the stage for global reductions.”

“Even though climate change is happening and is getting more urgent as we speak,” warned Krauss, “no comprehensive global action is happening.”

Jiaxing coal-fired power plant in Zhejiang Province on China’s east coast (Photo by zpsohu (Panoramio)

“The global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth’s atmosphere,” warned Allison Macfarlane, who chairs the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board and is a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission on American’s Nuclear Future, and an associate professor with George Mason University.

“The International Energy Agency projects that, unless societies begin building alternatives to carbon-emitting energy technologies over the next five years, the world is doomed to a warmer climate, harsher weather, droughts, famine, water scarcity, rising sea levels, loss of island nations, and increasing ocean acidification,” said Macfarlane.

“Since fossil-fuel burning power plants and infrastructure built in 2012-2020 will produce energy and emissions for 40 to 50 years, the actions taken in the next few years will set us on a path that will be impossible to redirect,” she said. “Even if policy leaders decide in the future to reduce reliance on carbon-emitting technologies, it will be too late.”

Science skeptics who diminish and discount scientific findings are a “worrisome trend,” said Robert Socolow, a member of the BAS Science and Security Board.

“The world needs the political leadership to affirm the primacy of science or problems will be far worse than they are today, said Socolow, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and co-principal investigator with the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton University.

He and the other BAS representatives at the news conference expressed concern that, in Krauss’ words, “politics trumps science” at a time when elections are coming up in the United States, Russia and France and new leadership is soon to take over in China.

Doomsday Clock graph. The lower the graph, the higher the probability of catastrophe is considered to be.(Graph by Fastfission)

Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first U.S. atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock in 1947 using the imagery of apocalypse – midnight – and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion – countdown to zero – to convey threats to humanity and the planet.

While the group is opposed to nuclear weapons, it neither endorses or does not endorse nuclear power. It maintains that nuclear power must be safe and if done well could help with climate change.

The decision to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made by the Bulletin’s Board of Directors in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 18 Nobel Laureates.

Jayantha Dhanapala is a member of the BAS Board of Sponsors, a former United Nations under-secretary-general for Disarmament Affairs (1998-2003), and ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United States (1995-1997).

“The world still has over 19,000 nuclear weapons, enough power to destroy the world’s inhabitants several times over,” he warned today.

United States Trident II (D-5) missile underwater launch (Photo courtesy U.S. Defense Dept.)

“Despite the promise of a new spirit of international cooperation, and reductions in tensions between the United States and Russia, the Science and Security Board believes that the path toward a world free of nuclear weapons is not at all clear, and leadership is failing,” he said.

As a positive signal, Dhanapala pointed to the ratification in December 2010 of the New START treaty between Russia and the United States which reversed the previous drift in US-Russia nuclear relations.

“However,” warned Dhanapala, “failure to act” on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty by leaders in the United States, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, and North Korea “continues to leave the world at risk from continued development of nuclear weapons.”

“Obstacles to a world free of nuclear weapons remain,” agreed Socolow. “Among these are disagreements between the United States and Russia about the utility and purposes of missile defense, as well as insufficient transparency, planning, and cooperation among the nine nuclear weapons states to support a continuing drawdown.”

“The resulting distrust leads nearly all nuclear weapons states to hedge their bets by modernizing their nuclear arsenals,” Socolow warned. “Such developments appear to other states to be signs of substantial military build-ups.”

There are positive signs amidst the challenges, particularly the engagement of people in determining their own future, the group emphasized.

“The Science and Security Board is heartened by the Arab Spring, the Occupy movements, political protests in Russia, and by the actions of ordinary citizens in Japan as they call for fair treatment and attention to their needs,” said Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Executive Director Kennette Benedict.

“Whether meeting the challenges of nuclear power, or mitigating the suffering from human-caused global warming, or preventing catastrophic nuclear conflict in a volatile world, the power of people is essential,” Benedict said. “For this reason, we ask other scientists and experts to join us in engaging ordinary citizens. Together, we can present the most significant questions to policymakers and industry leaders. Most importantly, we can demand answers and action.”

Environment News Service (Original link here

Is the conception of a Doomsday Clock helpful for cautioning humankind? Or is it simply making us more paranoid or pessimistic about humanity’s future? 

Climate Change and Global Security

No longer can we talk about efforts at environmental change as only pertaining to the sustainability of individual countries when in fact the pressing global problems of poverty and conflict have – at some level – their roots in the devastating effects of climate change. 

Climate Change now seen as a question of Global Security

Once viewed as an issue of interest only to greens or academics, the threat posed by climate change to security is now eyed with deepening concern by politicians and defence chiefs.

Droughts and floods which devastate crops and rising seas which imperil coastal cities will become potent triggers for famine, disease and homelessness, in turn inflaming tensions and leading to unrest, say experts.

Indeed, some suspect that climate change is already an invisible driver of turbulence.

The conflict in Sudan’s Darfur, caused by an exceptional drought that impoverished herding communities and forced them to migrate, has been cited as just such an illustration.

Another example may be this year’s revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, where food prices, propelled by devastating heatwaves in big grain-growing countries, fanned hunger, and then anger, among the poor.

“Extreme weather events continue to grow more frequent and intense in rich and poor countries alike, not only devastating lives but also infrastructure, institutions and budgets — an unholy brew which can create dangerous security vacuums,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in July at a Security Council debate.

Climate change “not only exacerbates threats to international peace and security; it is a threat to international peace and security,” he said.

In its 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Pentagon said climate shift “could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation and the further weakening of fragile governments.”

“While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict,” it said.

Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, an envoy for climate and energy security at Britain’s ministry of defence, said climate migration was one of the hidden factors in this equation.

“What happens to those people who lose their land or who lose their livelihood?” Morisetti said at a conference in London last month.

“If they migrate, is it planned, coordinated, manageable migration in a country or between countries? Or is it unplanned mass migration that causes tension?

“If they lose their livelihood because of rising sea levels, rising temperatures, loss of crop yields, do they find a legal livelihood to replace that? Or are they susceptible to recruitment into crime, ultimately (becoming) a five-dollars-a-day AK-47 terrorist?”

Morisetti said the biggest risks were “in the equatorial belt, where we have seen conflict time and time again in the last 40 or 50 years, partly because the countries there and their governments do not have the capacity and the resilience to cope with those stresses and look after their population.”

In a paper published last month by the US journal Science, an international team of researchers said “climate-related resettlement” was already underway in Vietnam’s Mekong delta, along the Limpopo River of Mozambique, in China’s Inner Mongolia, the coast of Alaska and the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea.

Calling for help to ensure fair and orderly migration, they urged changes to national and international law and the involvement of climate-threatened communities in deciding where they would be resettled.

Other factors in the murky interface between climate and security are health — especially through the expansion of mosquito- and water-borne disease — and the amplified risk of hunger and poverty from rising food prices.

Wheat, corn and sorghum have all seen global spikes in the past 18 months, but in the drought-hit Horn of Africa their prices have at times doubled or tripled compared to a five-year average.

Rice in flood-affected Thailand and Vietnam is some 25 percent more expensive than a year ago.

In February, the World Bank estimated 44 million people in developing economies had fallen into extreme poverty through spiralling food prices.

“For the poorest who spend up to 75 percent of their income on food, price rises on this scale can have consequences as families are forced into impossible trade-offs in a desperate bid to feed themselves,” Oxfam said on Monday at the start of the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

Richard Ingham of AFP (link here)

Environment and Economic Progress Coexisting?

Why Republican Attacks on Environment Laws are Flawed

In recent months, some in Congress have been waging a whole-scale war against the Environmental Protection Agency. By now it has reached comical dimensions, with three separate bills aimed at preventing a so-called EPA “dust rule” that has never even existed.

The spectacle would indeed be funny, if it wasn’t deadly serious.Republicans in Congress and in the GOP presidential debates are seeking to defund an already cash-strapped EPA under the pretense of caring about the federal deficit and are trying to hamper the agency by arguing that its rules hurt the economy.

Quite to the contrary. We have 40 years of data to show that a cleaner environment goes hand in hand with solid economic growth.

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The New Geopolitics of Food

In the United States, when world wheat prices rise by 75 percent, as they have over the last year, it means the difference between a $2 loaf of bread and a loaf costing maybe $2.10. If, however, you live in New Delhi, those skyrocketing costs really matter: A doubling in the world price of wheat actually means that the wheat you carry home from the market to hand-grind into flour for chapatis costs twice as much. And the same is true with rice. If the world price of rice doubles, so does the price of rice in your neighborhood market in Jakarta. And so does the cost of the bowl of boiled rice on an Indonesian family’s dinner table.

Welcome to the new food economics of 2011: Prices are climbing, but the impact is not at all being felt equally. For Americans, who spend less than one-tenth of their income in the supermarket, the soaring food prices we’ve seen so far this year are an annoyance, not a calamity. But for the planet’s poorest 2 billion people, who spend 50 to 70 percent of their income on food, these soaring prices may mean going from two meals a day to one. Those who are barely hanging on to the lower rungs of the global economic ladder risk losing their grip entirely. This can contribute — and it has — to revolutions and upheaval.

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The ‘Environment’ Question…

Aside from technology questions, many have also expressed a desire to try the ‘environment’ question. I’m no expert on it, but I would like to remind you to please keep your essays argumentative and focus on addressing the issue instead of abusing the question as an opportunity to regurgitate your geographical knowledge. You would need to think about the various players involved (i.e. supra-national bodies, governments, companies, NGOS, consumers, farmers and so on), modern trends/contexts (capitalism, modern consumerism, ethical consumerism, green movements, globalization and spread of ideas, trade and long-distance transport, hydro-politics, developed/developing/emerging economics) and focus on debates surrounding key issues like food and water security, climate change, renewable energy, corporate social responsibility, greenwashing etc. If all you can mention in an environment essay are catalytic convertors and the Kyoto Protocol, then I suggest you avoid the environment question.

Some key resources or sites that may aid your last minute revision:

– The CJC lecture for a start

– Some short articles on the advantages of various energy types from Wise Geek.

– The environment sections from the National GeographicNew York Times, The Guardian, MSNBC and the BBC

– Debatepedia’s Climate change and clean energy portal. Of particular interest are the sections on the obligations of more developed countries and the competing priorities with poverty. Also check out the debate on nuclear energy.

– More on the business side, check out the issue of greenwashing and green rankings from Business Pundit and The Daily Beast 

– On a political side, check out reports on climate change and global security, persistent Republican denial of climate change, opposition to Carbon Tax laws in Australia and reported failures and successes regarding Copenhagen 2009 and Cancun 2010 climate change conferences

– Bringing it home, check out the Sustainable Development Portal

These are just resources. To really prepare for such a question, ready some arguments by attempting small mind maps or outlines covering the range of questions from the Prelim 2011 Question List

Have fun trying to save the earth!