Today is the 32nd anniversary of the beginning of the fire that destroyed the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in what was then the Soviet Union and is today Ukraine. What do you do with a 1,000-square-mile swath of land that will remain radioactive for another 24,000 years? A German company has begun construction of a solar farm near the Chernobyl site. After all, the land can't be used for agriculture or human habitation, but the transmission lines from the nuclear power plant are still largely intact. www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/chernobyl-site-solar-power-plant-opens-new-renewable-energy-nuclear-disaster-ukraine-a8159891.html
One of the students in my online science fiction class ("Who We Are & What We Dream: Comparative Science Fiction") shared this amazingly cool site that tracks cyberattacks in real-time: map.norsecorp.com/#/
Israel is facing a particularly difficult leadership choice in the coming months and years: does it want to preserve its democracy or does it want to preserve its Jewish majority? New data in a report delivered to the Israeli Knesset recently suggest the numbers of Jews and Arabs in the land currently controlled by Israel (from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean) are now essentially equal. Although this demographic issue has been discussed, and dismissed, as a possibility for years, the Israeli army's Civil Administration unit reports that it is now a fact. www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/04/israel-palestinians-demography-jordan-river-apartheid.html
Providing aid in conflict zones is beset by difficulties, from security for your people to the political permissions to operate there at all. This article looks at the International Committee of the Red Cross's work in Syria, most recently in the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta.
"[ICRC head Peter] Maurer is confronted daily with how fraught the task of providing humanitarian can be. His latest struggle is to get medical aid into Eastern Ghouta: The Syrian government periodically allows flour bags and food parcels but blocks trauma kits and basic medicine, such as insulin, from entering the area. At the same time, he must contend with hostility from critics in the Syrian opposition, who contend that aid organizations have abandoned their principles in dealing with the Syrian government and serve to strengthen Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power. ... The ICRC’s fundamental principles dictate that aid should be delivered without discrimination based on political belief and that the organization should remain neutral in conflicts — but the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. resolutions creating the humanitarian system all begin by acknowledging the primacy of states. 'So it’s no surprise that our first address is always governments and to try to seek to negotiate with them on what we are able to do,' he says. Maurer acknowledges that this has 'led to a certain imbalance' when it comes to aid delivery. However, he is quick to point out the lengths that the ICRC goes to push the Syrian government to expand the scope of aid delivery. ... Doing good, in Maurer’s world, means working with those who are complicit in the problems he’s trying to solve. It’s not only in Syria, after all, where he has to weigh his words carefully."
Despite the current uptick in tensions, distrust of Russia is nothing new. This map from 1957 shows areas (in pink) and specific sites (in red) that were off limits to anyone with a Soviet passport. news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/03/russia-cold-war-travel-ban-maps-red-scare
This article, by a pair of academics specializing in the study of Korea, considers three myths they believe essential to understanding North Korea's negotiation goals and limitations: geographical.co.uk/opinion/item/2660-north-korea-busting-common-myths
One of the real-life lessons of world affairs that I try to re-create in my "Mission Possible: Global Issues, Leadership Choices" class is that issues are generally interlocking and interconnected, sometimes in surprising ways. This article explains why the refusal of some Serbs in Kosovo to pay their electricity bills to a state they don't recognize has been causing clocks across Europe to run about six minutes slow! www.atlasobscura.com/articles/why-are-europe-clocks-slow-kosovo
Soft power -- one of the metrics students in my "Mission Possible: Global Issues, Leadership Choices" class come to understand firsthand -- is the power to get other people to do what you want because they like, admire, trust, and respect you (as opposed to the coercive force of hard power). This map, based on opinion surveys of European Union residents, hints at shifts in American soft power resources.
Want to learn about the Middle East from the experts? Now you have the chance (if you're in the DC metro area). The Middle East Institute is running an 8-week class "Middle East 2030: Trends, Challenges & Opportunities" Thursday evenings beginning March 15. For all the information, see www.mei.edu/events/middle-east-2030-trends-challenges-and-opportunities
Transparency International, an NGO that fights corruption by shining a bright light on it, has released its latest Corruption Perceptions Index. Among countries now seen by their residents as having become more corrupt over the last few years: Hungary, Spain, Madagascar, Turkey, El Salvador, Australia, Liberia, and Bahrain. Countries seen as moving towards less corruption include Estonia, Greece, Senegal, Costa Rica, Belarus, Cote d'Ivoire, Latvia, and the Czech Republic. For the full report, see www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2017.
"The question that dominates my waking hours now is: When Day Zero arrives, how do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy?" says the mayor of Capetown, South Africa, in a recent National Geographic article on Capetown's water crisis. [As I noted in a different post a few weeks ago, Capetown is expected to have to turn off its public water supplies in two months (more or less, depending on the success of water conservation efforts) because the water level in the city's reservoir is approaching, functionally, zero. The army is on standby to maintain order.] This article from the BBC (UK) looks at 11 other major cities likely to run out of drinking water (Cairo? London? Bangalore? Sao Paulo? Beijing? Istanbul?): www.bbc.com/news/world-42982959
Continuing protests in Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan region are being fueled by choking smog. For several years, Iranian cities have ranked at or near the top of the World Health Organization's list of most polluted cities. The primary contributor? Sand and dust, generated by decades of land use decisions. This article from The Guardian (UK) is a good background piece on the political choices and consequences that have led to the current situation: www.theguardian.com/world/iran-blog/2015/apr/16/iran-khuzestan-environment-wetlands-dust-pollution
"As new powers rise and the formerly hegemonic West loses relative power, we are entering the first period in human history in which modern technology will be combined with a chaotic international arena, in which no single actor or group of actors is capable of imposing order." This article looks at the growing military importance of the tiny African country of Djibouti (formerly French Somaliland) and the possible consequences of having so many rival powers operating military bases in close proximity to one another: "Strategically placed at the entrance to the Red Sea, commanding a large percentage of the trade and energy flows between Europe and Asia, Djibouti is home to more foreign bases than any other country." www.politico.eu/blogs/the-coming-wars/2018/01/the-most-valuable-military-real-estate-in-the-world/
New Zealand may become the first country to issue special refugee visas for climate change refugees. (The current 1951 definition of a "refugee" requires that a person have a well-founded fear of persecution in his/her home country; "persecution" doesn't apply in the case of people fleeing climate change impacts.) New Zealand's legislature is considering the new visa class to assist populations of neighboring Pacific islands threatened by rising seas. geographical.co.uk/people/the-refugee-crisis/item/2539-changing-climate
The U.S. has been supporting the Saudis' war against Yemen's Houthi movement for more than two years, contributing to the world's worst humanitarian crisis. But who are the Houthis? Why do the Saudis want to see them defeated? Why is the U.S. involved? This article by Brookings scholar (and former intelligence official) Bruce Riedel is an excellent primer for anyone seeking to understand the Houthis and the current conflict in Yemen: www.brookings.edu/blog/markaz/2017/12/18/who-are-the-houthis-and-why-are-we-at-war-with-them/
2017 has seen the effective end of ISIS as a territory-holding entity. But what's happened to the people (mostly but not exclusively men) who left their home countries to join ISIS? This interesting and data-rich (if a bit confusing) graphic tries to tell that story in a single image: black lines show the flow of people towards ISIS (29,148 foreign fighters) and yellow lines show the flow of ISIS fighters back to their home countries (2,799 returnees). The size of the pale rhombuses represents each country's Muslim population, and the pinker that rhombus is, the higher the proportion of its citizens who left to join ISIS. iibawards-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/projects/images/000/002/323/large.png?1505503818
Welcome to the North Pole! This planar map provides a different perspective on the Arctic than a customary equator-centered map does. As the Arctic is heating up, literally, Arctic politics are also heating up, with conflict over shipping lanes, fishing rights, mineral rights, and militarization emerging between the eight countries bordering the Arctic Ocean as well as with indigenous peoples (including elves?). www.wolfram.com/mathematica/new-in-10/geographic-visualization/HTMLImages.en/map-the-north-pole-and-arctic-circle/O_11.png
The McKinsey Global Institute recently released a report looking at how automation and artificial intelligence may affect employment, by job and by country, by 2030. They estimate that up to 375 million people, or 14% of the global workforce, will have to move out of their current occupational categories to find paid work by 2030 (based on McKinsey's midpoint estimate of automation adoption). For advanced economies, the job dislocation is likely to be higher: McKinsey estimates that one-third of workers in the U.S. and Germany and nearly half of Japanese workers may have to find new jobs by 2030, forcing significant leadership decisions about education, transition and re-training policies, and social benefits, among others. www.mckinsey.com/global-themes/future-of-organizations-and-work/what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages
Many countries in southern Africa have harnessed the region's rivers to bring hydroelectric power to their people. But an extended drought is leaving some of them in the dark. Malawi, for example, recently experienced a total blackout when water levels at the country's two main hydroelectric dams dropped below electricity-generating levels. Zambia and Zimbabwe are facing similar problems. While investment in African hydro power remains high -- Ethiopia and Sudan have major (and controversial) Nile hydroelectric projects in the works -- other countries are turning to small-scale solar projects for electricity. This article from the BBC (UK) discusses an initiative to install solar panels in rural Rwanda: "As they [the founders of BBOXX, a London-based company that brings off-grid electricity to the developing world] explored various ways to get power to [rural Rwanda], they realised that the grid will never supply those in Rwanda and beyond who currently lack electricity: such communities are dispersed over immense areas, and are too poor to afford such extensive infrastructure. That’s when they arrived at a grand idea: they concluded that Africa will largely bypass the grid and leapfrog over Europe and North America straight into solar – just as it did in skipping landlines, a rarity in rural Africa, in favour of cell phones." www.bbc.com/future/story/20171009-rural-rwanda-is-home-to-a-pioneering-new-solar-power-idea
The Institute for Economics & Peace has released its 2017 Global Terrorism Index. The good news: deaths due to terrorism dropped 13% globally between 2015 and 2016, including declines in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria (which together, along with Iraq, accounted for 3/4 of all terrorism-related deaths). The bad news: more countries than ever before (77) reported at least one death due to terrorism in 2016, terrorist attacks against civilians were up 17% on the year, and certain countries have seen significant increases in terrorism-related deaths (a single-year increase of 40% in Iraq, an 8-fold increase in Egypt since 2002, a 16-fold increase in Turkey since 2002). The chart below shows the 10 most fatal terrorist attacks in 2016. For the full report, see visionofhumanity.org/app/uploads/2017/11/Global-Terrorism-Index-2017.pdf
The archaeological record suggests that war has been around as long as humans have been around. The goal of war seems to be changing, though: for most of human history war has been fought to expand territory and build or strengthen nations, but over the last 30 years war has increasingly been fought to break apart nations. This article provides a look at this phenomenon: aeon.co/ideas/war-once-helped-build-nations-now-it-destroys-them
Tomorrow Americans celebrate when their immigrant founders were assisted by the local population, making it timely to look at research related to immigration. In my classes we talk about push and pull factors affecting immigration. This article focuses on the "migration hump" -- the observed phenomenon that economic migration tends to increase as households move from poor to middle class, at which point further income gains cause migration to flatten out and decline -- and how an understanding of the migration hump should play a role in developed countries' immigration strategies. www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/11/02/when-and-how-can-foreign-aid-slow-migration/
As we prepare to shop for our Thanksgiving meals, it is worth considering that "For the first time in many years, the estimated [global] number of undernourished people has actually gone up rather than down [to about 800 million or 2.5 times the population of the United States]. ... Hunger remains a universal problem. ... In low-income countries, the share [of respondents to a Gallup Poll asking whether there have been times in the past 12 months when they didn’t have enough money to buy food] has gradually increased to around 60 percent. In middle-income countries, it’s stuck around 30 percent. Even in advanced economies, it’s quite high, somewhere near 10 percent. There are about a billion people living in advanced economies, so 10 percent means 100 million people still grapple with food insecurity in high-income countries. Even more striking, there is no evidence of any improvement over the past decade. While the world has become considerably richer, the issue of hunger has not become appreciably smaller." This article from the Brookings Institution considers issues of agricultural credit, government subsidies and tariffs, and grain productivity. www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2017/10/23/the-world-is-off-track-to-end-hunger-so-whats-the-solution
This interactive map provides information on active conflicts around the world. The size of each dot reflects the duration of the conflict it represents. At the site, click on the dot to find out more about the conflict: its history, opposing goals, deaths, and current status. emmeline.carto.com/viz/b69015da-136a-11e5-a64a-0e43f3deba5a/embed_map
The Middle East Institute is offering a new online class "The Middle East in Transition: Stalled Uprisings, Failed States, and Regional Conflict." Incorporating video lectures, readings, and Q&A with MEI scholars, this eight-lesson class looks like an excellent resource for any teen or adult interested in current events, the Middle East, or modern world history. middle-east-institute.thinkific.com/courses/the-middle-east-in-transition
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