For a while now many European governments have resorted to austerity measures to deal with the recession and financial crises affecting them. This may have either been by choice, or pressured from the outside.
However, as has been warned countless times, excessive austerity rarely works. Furthermore, focusing on debts and deficits appears to miss the point that the economic problems were caused by a collapse in markets and banking sector in particular, resulting in less revenues for governments; not necessarily an excessive overspend by governments.
Some of the policies being forced through even when evidence appears to show they do not work lead many to think that austerity and structural adjustment policies are being ideologically pushed for — just as they were on most of the developing countries for almost 2 decades with devastating results.
Indeed, in the US, investigations have found billionaires pouring hundreds of millions of dollars on campaigns to fix the debt making it appear as a grassroots movement. Fixing the debt of course happens to leave the elite less affected, so it works to their advantage to push for something like that.
Without more focus on appropriate economic growth, there is a real risk in going backwards, and even undermining democracy.
The global financial crisis page on this web site has been updated with new sections and videos on this issue.
19% of the world’s reptiles are estimated to be threatened with extinction according to a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Zoological Society of London. Reptiles include snakes, lizards, crocodiles, turtles and tortoises. But some species are at more risk than others. For example, freshwater turtles alone are at a 50% risk of extinction. Reasons vary, but include the usual suspects such as climate change and loss of habitat.
A recent study also estimated that some 100 million sharks are being killed each year — an unsustainable rate, given how long some species take to mature and reproduce. Much of the demand is driven by Chinese rising affluence and demand for shark fin soup in the mistaken belief it has various health benefits.
This small update to the biodiversity loss page has further details.
A recent study found that coral reefs will face severe challenges even if average global warming temperature rise is restricted to 2 degrees Celsius. This is a rise that most countries are struggling to negotiate and meet. But reefs are very sensitive to temperature changes, experts fear the window of opportunity to prevent massive reef loss is very small.
Despite conservation efforts, criminal elements are killing rhinos in record numbers due to demand from Asia, in particular Vietnam, China, Thailand and Malaysia, in the mistaken belief that rhino horn can help with things like hangovers or cure cancer. In 2009 it was feared that rhinos were being killed at 3 a month which was concerning enough given the low numbers of rhinos. In 2012, it had shot up to 2 a day in South Africa alone.
For lions, another iconic animal whose numbers are in decline, countries like Zambia and Botswana are banning hunting. Zambia for example has banned hunting on lions and leopards due to a big decline in their numbers, and because they believe tourism revenues by those who want to see these animals in the wild will bring in more revenue than blood sport tourism.
This small update to the conservation page has further details.
It seems the world is awash with money, even though most governments are facing economic pressures. Trillions are being hidden away by a very few global super elite in offshore bank accounts, avoiding billions in taxes such that constrained governments turn to austerity and other measures, inflicting more hardship on people who are typically already victims of the global financial crisis. Furthermore, it turns out that many of the banks we have all bailed out help with these offshore practices in various ways.
Tax avoidance by the super rich results in lost revenues in the order of hundreds of billions a year, which would (in theory at least) benefit most of society. But if you can afford an army of ingenious lawyers and accountants, it seems you can play by a different set of rules.
Recent high profile cases of companies and individuals avoiding taxes in recent years has resulted in governments claiming they will address this issue thoroughly. But that is as far as it seems to go.
This update includes additional figures and examples of recent tax avoidance issues that have come to light.
The latest data covering global arms sales shows that sale of arms in 2011 increased to around $85 billion, 84% of which went to developing countries. This was almost double the arms sales compared to 2010 which was the lowest since 2004.
One major factor for the increase was the US sales of arms to Saudi Arabia. Most other major arms sellers otherwise saw a decrease in sales and the trend in recent years had been declining sales.
The global financial crisis has affected many countries, and many developing countries started to see a decrease in purchases in the last few years. However, just 10 developing countries account for some 85% of all sales to developing countries in the period 2004 to 2011, which the data covers. Saudi Arabia tops that list followed by India and the United Arab Emirates. (As well as concerns about some of the regimes in the top buyers, some of this spending is also said to be due to modernizing efforts.)
Updated graphs and charts on arms sales data are provided here.
The arms trade is big business. The 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, Russia, France, United Kingdom and China), together with Germany and Italy, account for approximately 85% of all arms sold between 2004 and 2011.
Some of the arms sold go to regimes where human rights violations will occur. Corruption often accompanies arms sales due to the large sums of money involved.
An overview of the Climate Change Conference (also known as COP 18), held in Doha, Qatar in December 2012.
Predictably and sadly, the same issues have resurfaced: lack of media coverage, West stalling on doing anything, lack of funding, disagreement on how to address it, etc.
This page is an overview of the Doha Climate conference. It also includes a feed of latest news stories from Inter Press Service’s coverage of the conference.
Twenty years ago at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, countries adopted
Agenda 21 — a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection. Marking that anniversary, this year sees Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, with aims to get bold agreements to address things like poverty, sustainable development, decent jobs, etc.
This page provides coverage of recent events via Inter Press Service’s news feed.
Following the trend throughout the Middle East, the so-called Arab Spring appears to have spread to Syria. The government crackdown on anti-government demonstrators in Homs and other provincial cities began over a year ago and is thought to have claimed thousands of lives. Attempts at brokering ceasefires have predictably failed.
This page provides coverage of recent events via Inter Press Service’s news feed.
In recent years, global military expenditure has increased again and is now comparable to Cold War levels. Recent data shows global spending at over $1.6 trillion, despite the global economic conditions. It is still a 1.3% increase since 2008 when the financial crisis began, for example.
For some nations, they can increase their spending as they grow economically. For others, there are geopolitical interests at stake.
The highest military spender is the US accounting for 41% of the world’s spending, more than the next top 14 countries combined, and more than all its potential enemies, combined. But this represents a slight decline over previous years as other nations, especially China, increases spending and the US begins to very slightly feel budgetary pressures on its military spending.
This update includes updated figures, graphs and charts exploring this further.
The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) recently published new preliminary figures for aid in 2011.
It showed official development assistance (ODA) aid from wealthy governments had increased to $133.5 billion in 2011 (at constant 2010 prices). This is roughly 0.31% of GNI (Gross National Income) of the donor nations. But this was also a drop of nearly 3% from the previous year. It was to be expected that the effects of the financial crisis would eventually affect aid. In some respects, the decline is not as bad as it could have been given the conditions in many donor countries.
Yet, over 40 years ago nations promised to reach 0.7% of their GNI by the mid-1970s. While each year the amount of aid falls quite short of that 0.7% target (less than half of that target), the quality and effectiveness of that aid is often questionable, sometimes benefiting the donor more than the recipient due to the types of conditions attached to this aid.
This update includes a number of new and updated charts and graphs.
40 years ago, rich country governments agreed to give 0.7% of their GNI (Gross National Income) as official aid to poor countries for development assistance.
The average aid delivered each year has actually been between 0.2 to 0.4%. The shortfall has therefore accumulated to $4.37 trillion dollars at 2010 prices, while total aid delivered in that same time frame has reached $3.19 trillion.
This update includes updated charts and graphs that look into this further.
Flexibility mechanisms were defined in the Kyoto Protocol as different ways to achieve emissions reduction as part of the effort to address climate change issues. These fall into the following categories: Emissions Trading, Joint Implementation and Clean Development Mechanism.
However, these have been highly controversial as they were mainly included on strong US insistence and to keep the US in the treaty (even though the US eventually pulled out). Some of the mechanisms face criticism for not actually leading to a reduction in emissions, for example.
The updates to this article includes a couple of videos summarizing some concerns about cap and trade.
New data from NASA shows the planet continues to warm. At the same time, a Climate Risk Index shows that since 1991, developing countries have been most affected by climate related impacts. While Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol stating it did not want to burden taxpayers with an additional $14 bn (Canadian), many economists have noted that the economic costs of inaction far outweight costs associated with action.
The updates to this article include expansion of the above issues as well as new videos and graphs and charts.
NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) monitors global surface temperatures on an ongoing basis. Their analysis shows temperatures around the globe in 2011 compared to the average global temperature from the mid-20th century. The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience warmer temperatures than several decades ago.
Global temperatures have warmed significantly since 1880, the beginning of what scientists call the “modern record.” At this time, the coverage provided by weather stations allowed for essentially global temperature data. As greenhouse gas emissions from energy production, industry and vehicles have increased, temperatures have climbed, most notably since the late 1970s. In this animation of temperature data from 1880-2011, reds indicate temperatures higher than the average during a baseline period of 1951-1980, while blues indicate lower temperatures than the baseline average.
Click on the image to see the video:
It has long been known that advertisers will “photoshop” (slang for editing photos to touch up or airbrush out imperfections) photos to make the subject more attractive. But many have pointed out that this subtle manipulation often goes too far. Young people, girls in particular, are bombarded with images of how they are supposed to look, contributing to many social and health problems as a result.
The American National Advertising Division (the US advertising industry’s self-regulating watchdog) for example, recently moved to ban the misleading use of photoshopping and enhanced post-production in cosmetics adverts as it could be too misleading. In the UK some adverts have been banned because the effects of airbrushing has resulted in very misleading cosmetic adverts. France has even considered legislation to explicitly identify retouched images.
Some will claim it is up to parents to teach their children how to recognize these things, but parents cannot often win against an army of professional psychologists, marketers and others all focused on pushing their own images onto children, when studies also say that children are not old enough tell the difference between commercial and other content.
This page has been updated to add a section about this issue with further links, videos and examples.
US campaign financing rules have been relaxed even further in recent years, making a worrying problem about the state of American democracy worse (because those with money have even more ability to try and buy votes or influence policy).
Media coverage of this issue, though it may pop up from time to time, seems quite limited. Perhaps because it is estimated that television stations this year could make as much as eight billion dollars from political campaigns.
The state of US mainstream media has unfortunately been lamentable for many years, and after the issues around hurricane Katrina, it was thought that the media would be rejuvenated. Unfortunately it does not seem that way.
This page has been updated with further information about campaign financing issues and how limits in the US have been lifted making the problem worse. Also added were notes on US press freedom, and an info graphic on media ownership concentration.
China, India and other emerging economies are often the focus points for climate change negotiations. Many rich nation politicians and their media often point to their rising emissions as proof that they urgently need to be bound to emission reduction targets in the same way rich nations are.
But what is often easily forgotten or omitted is that greenhouse gases can stay in the atmosphere for a very long time. In other words, historic emissions matter.
Historical data show that the majority of greenhouse emissions have been by rich nations, known as "Annex I" countries in climate negotiation speak:
Apart from China and India, the remainder of the top 10 historical greenhouse gas emitters have been from Annex I countries.
This is why 2 decades ago the climate negotiations started by understanding there were "common but differentiated principles" and why "Annex I" countries were initially given target emissions while the rest were to be given space to grow given the urgent need for poverty alleviation and development.
Furthermore, climate negotiations frameworks have always said developing nations need to avoid a polluting path to industrialization, so they can’t just use historic emissions injustice as an excuse not to do anything. At the same time, the dirty path to development was also the cheap and easy path which developing countries need to avoid, so it was also agreed that the Annex I countries should help developing countries in various ways. Needless to say much of this has not really happened.
These and additional charts have been added based on updated data up to 2008 on historical carbon emissions plus estimated emissions for 2009 and 2010.
An overview of the Climate Change Conference (also known as COP 17), held in Durban, South Africa in December 2011.
Predictably and sadly, the same issues have resurfaced: lack of media coverage, West stalling on doing anything trying to blame India and China instead, lack of funding, disagreement on how to address it, etc.
Geopolitical threats (real and imaginary) quickly focus a lot of political will and money is easily found to mobilize military forces when needed.
The economy also takes center stage as the current pressing issue, while climate change is easily deferred, in the hopes that the West can let China and India pick up the burden of addressing emissions even though they have not contributed to the historical build up of emissions that have started the recent changes in the climate.
This page is an overview of the Durban conference.
A recent IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program was portrayed by most Western mainstream media and politicians as new proof Iran is close to building nuclear weapons. The US Senate passed sanctions on Iran targeting its central bank in response.
However, the report does not say what the mainstream media and politicians claim. It has been much more guarded and much of it is about the state of Iran’s program up to 2003. After that period, the report is much more uncertain. Furthermore, many experts contend that the speculations (not definitive proof) that are in the report are misguided, too, leaning on unreliable sources, for example.
This update to the page on Iran has more information about this. Although the page is long, look for the new section about half way down under the heading of
Regurgitating old stories as new information to justify sanctions?