Archive for the ‘Culture & Society’ Category

24
May

As its recent experience in Kunming shows, Beijing can handle environmental protests. But is this approach sustainable in the long term?

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Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan province, has become the latest city in China to be rocked by environmental protest. On May 4 and then again on May 16, 1,000 to 2,000 protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against the construction of an oil and chemical refinery in the nearby city of Anning by the state-run oil company China National Petroleum Corporation.

Kunming Mayor Li Weirong attempted to placate the protesters — offering to open a personal Weibo account through which residents could communicate with him and even promising that the project wouldn’t continue if “most of our people don’t agree with it.” The South China Morning Post offers a fascinating blow-by-blow account of the beleaguered mayor’s interaction with the protesters.

It is tempting simply to add the Kunming protest to the growing list of Chinese urban environmental protests, and note once again that the Communist Party has not found the right balance between economic development and environmental protection. However, the real significance of these protests is that they signal the failure of Chinese institutions to adapt to the changing needs and demands of the people for a greater voice in the political process. Environmental politics has become a game of crisis management.

Formally, there are a few ways in which Chinese citizens can participate in environmental decision-making. For one, they can take part in reviewing environmental impact assessments for proposed large projects in their neighborhoods. As Chinese scholars have noted, however, there are a number of limitations to this process: only a small percentage of projects are subjected to compulsory public participation; the timing and duration of engaging the public is short; the method of selecting those who can participate is often biased; and the amount of information actually disclosed is often quite limited in an effort to prevent social unrest. Read more…

As published by The Atlantic on May 20, 2013

13
May

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On Saturday, May 18, Dr. Rolf Strom-Olsen, Director of Humanities Studies at IE Humanities Center, will be talking to the popular Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater. This will be the forth appearance of Professor Strom Olsen at the Hay Festival. Previously, he has spoken with Geoffrey Parker, Georg Von Habsburg, and Lucy Kelleway. Dr. Savater is Professor of Philosophy at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain) and a celebrated author. He was awarded the 2008 Planeta Prize and the 2012 Octavio Paz Prize of Poetry and Essay.

For further information about the event, please click here

9
May

Despite its smoggy reputation, China is doing better than the United States. Much better.

By Ramez Naam

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China is an environmental mess. Smog in Beijing is so bad it’s literally broken the air-quality index. In Shanghai, it’s at times turned the city into a scene from Blade Runner. (It almost matches the infamous Cleveland smog of the 1970s.) Meanwhile, thousands of dead pigs—cause of death not yet known—have been floating down a river that cuts through Shanghai and provides part of the region’s drinking water. More than half of China’s water is so polluted, in fact, that even treatment plants can’t make it safe to drink. And China is now responsible for almost half the world’s coal consumption. That coal burning not only contributes to climate change—it’s also saddled China with severe cases of acid rain, something the United States dealt with a generation ago.

All of that makes what I’m about to say sound even crazier: China may one day be the world’s leader in combating climate change. In almost every way you cut it, China is already taking a much more aggressive approach toward climate change than the United States is.

This is important for two reasons. First, China is seeing the world’s fastest growth in energy consumption and in CO2 emissions. In the United States and Europe, by contrast, energy usage is nearly flat and CO2 emissions are down. So China’s policies exert a huge lever on future CO2 emissions. Second, one of the prime arguments against U.S. action on climate change has been that it doesn’t matter what the United States does if China isn’t on board.

Well, China already is on board in a number of ways that the United States isn’t. Consider the following:

1. China is launching a cap-and-trade plan.
In the United States, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade plan fizzled in the Senate in 2009. In China, meanwhile, authorities have moved forward with pilot cap-and-trade systems covering seven regions, including the manufacturing hub provinces of Guangdong and Hubei, as well as the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, and Shenzhen. The first of those cap-and-trade systems, in Shenzhen, will start operation June 17. By 2020, the Chinese government plans to link those regional systems into a national carbon market. Just last month, the governments of China and Australia announced their intent to link the two countries’ carbon markets into a regional one. Read more…

As published in www.slate.com on May 8, 2013

3
May

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Ansuya, which means learned woman in Sanskrit, was launched in the summer of 2012 in a slum in Mumbai, India, called Janupada. Aparna Bhat, current student of the IE Master in International Relations (MIR), implemented this idea with a small group of girls as students. With the help of some volunteers, Aparna taught the girls soft skills _ such as English, math or public speaking_ and hard skills_embroidery or fabric painting. This extracurricular learning process resulted in the making of cloth bags that were sold. The profit from the sales was given to the girls, with the aim to make them a bit more independent and empowered.

Three months later, when Aparna travelled to Spain, she was convinced that the MIR experience and the IE platform could help her develop further her idea. Here, she met another student from the MIR program, Sara Barragán Montes. Even though they came from completely different backgrounds, both share the same values, and decided to work together to formalize Ansuya and design a sustainable organization with a durable social impact based on both their experiences.

Ansuya is still a work in progress, but it is on the right path. The proof of this is that it won third place among 13 great social business ideas presented during the IE Impact Weekend, a contest organized by IE Net Impact Club along with IE Entrepreneurship Club, Venture Lab, Area 31, Emzingo and the HUB Madrid. The entire weekend involved a lot of hard work, but it was an experience that allowed Aparna and Sara to receive valuable feedback from other IE students, the judges and their mentor, Pablo Esteves from Emzingo.

26
Apr

By Robert D. Kaplan

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The most appropriate image of the present-day Middle East is the medieval map, which, in the words of the late historian Albert Hourani, depicts an age when “frontiers were not clearly and precisely delimited” and the influence of a regime was not uniform “within a fixed and generally recognized area,” but, rather, grew weaker with distance as it radiated outward from an urban core. Legal borders, where the power of one state suddenly ended and that of another suddenly began, were rare. And thus, Hourani was not the only scholar to point this out.

We are back to a world of vague and overlapping shadows of influence. Shia and Sunnis in northern Lebanon cross the border into Syria and kill each other, then retreat back into Lebanon. Indeed, the military situations in Lebanon and Syria are quickly fusing. The al Assad regime in Damascus projects power not unto the legal borders of Syria but mainly along parts of the Sunni-dominated Homs-Hama corridor and also on the Mediterranean coast between Latakia and Tartus, where the regime’s Alawite compatriots are concentrated. Beyond that there are literally hundreds of small rebel groupings and half-dozen major ones, divided by their own philosophical and Islamist orientations and those of their foreign patrons. Then there are the half-dozen or so Kurdish factions controlling parts of northern and northeastern Syria. As for the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, there are two main Kurdish groups that are basically sovereign in different sectors. Significant Sunni areas of Iraq, particularly in sprawling Anbar between the Euphrates River and the Syrian border, are in varying degrees independently governed or not governed at all. Even Shiite central and southern Iraq is not completely controlled by the Shia-dominated Baghdad regime, owing to a half-dozen parties that in some cases exercise a degree of sovereignty.

Rather than a temporary situation, this is one that can last for many years. For example, Bashar al Assad’s regime need not necessarily crumble immediately but may survive indefinitely as a frail statelet, supported as it is by Russian arms arriving via the Mediterranean and from Iran across the weakly governed Iraqi desert.

Gone is the world of the Ottoman Empire, in which there were relatively few battles for territory among the various tribes and ethnic and sectarian groups, because the Sultan in Istanbul exercised overarching (albeit variable) sovereignty between the mountains of Lebanon and the plateau of Iran. Gone is the colonial era when the British and French exercised sovereignty from the capital cities unto the fixed legal borders of newly constituted mandated states and territories. Gone is the post-colonial era when tyrants like Hafez al Assad in Syria and Saddam Hussein in Iraq ran police states within the same fixed borders erected by the British and French. Further down the road, the only states left that wield real sovereignty between the eastern edge of the Mediterranean and Iranian plateau could be Israel and Iran. Read more…

Robert D. Kaplan is Chief Geopolitical Analyst for Stratfor, a private global intelligence firm, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

As published by Stratfor on April 24, 2013.

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