Inequalities are shaping how we’re fighting the Pandemic — and how we’ll remember it

Demographic, India, Policies, Society

Inequalities are shaping how we’re fighting the Pandemic — and how we’ll remember it

The first wave of the 1918-19 influenza pandemic did not have much impact in India; it was the second wave that was the most devastating.

It is now thought that 12 million people died in India during the flu pandemic, the equivalent of 4 percent of the population at that time. Most of these deaths were concentrated in a few short months from September to December 1918. This quote is from Punjab’s sanitary commissioner at the time:

The hospitals were choked so it was impossible to remove the dead quickly enough to make room for the dying….; the burning ghats (cremation site) were literally swamped with corpses; the depleted medical service, was incapable of dealing with more than a minute fraction of the sickness requiring attention.

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People’s Power: Reclaiming the Energy Commons

Energy, Policies

People’s Power: Reclaiming the Energy Commons

The starting point of People’s Power is the need for power generation to move away urgently from fossil fuels; an argument which will be uncontroversial to most readers of this review. If you went only by reports in the mainstream press, you might be forgiven for concluding that this shift was not only uncontroversial but assured. Good news stories about increases in renewable energy generation have been fairly frequent.

The report that the UK generated a record 50.7% of its electricity on Boxing Day 2020 from wind power is only one of a number of recent examples. Dawson argues however that there is no room for complacency here. Renewables still only account for 6.4% of global electricity generation and the speed of transition away from fossil fuels is slowing everywhere.

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Review: A better way of valuing the world

Economy, Policies

Review: A better way of valuing the world

An Oscar Wilde play famously described a cynic as “someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. A quip that’s droll on stage loses its humour when it spreads too far into real life. Even Mark Carney thinks our obsession with market prices has gone too far. Fortunately, he is working on some solutions.

In “Value(s): Building a Better World For All” the former Goldman Sachs banker who went on to lead two major central banks dissects a trio of global crises to show all that market prices can fail to capture, to society’s detriment. He starts with an overview of economic history that traces how social and political priorities gradually became subsumed by the market. As Carney puts it, the “price of everything is becoming the value of everything”. This lays the foundations for a scathing critique of how policymakers and society can be led astray by excessive faith in the ability of markets to price risks accurately and deliver the best outcomes.

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Safe speech vs free speech: higher education’s false dilemma

Education, Policies

Safe speech vs free speech: higher education’s false dilemma

In the ‘cancel culture’ era, universities should remember that the original purpose of free speech was to empower the weak, not to shelter them

Universities in the US and the UK have become a battleground in the war between safe speech and free speech. I believe that this is a false dilemma – and understanding its falsity can enable us to detect the social forces imposing it on us.

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear,” wrote George Orwell in 1945 in an introduction to Animal Farm. The introduction was so controversial that it was not made public until 1972.

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The US food system creates hunger and debt – but there is another way

Agriculture, Policies

The US food system creates hunger and debt – but there is another way

The Covid-19 pandemic has not only been a public health crisis, it has also been a hunger crisis. When millions of Americans lost their jobs, they no longer had enough money to feed themselves and their families. Hunger predictably struck people who were already marginalized. As was evidenced by long lines at food banks, it also struck middle-class families and exacerbated inequality. Even with vaccines, people continue getting weak and sick during the pandemic and the burden is disproportionately landing on women to work harder to ensure everyone stays healthy and alive.

To add injury upon injury, parts of the food system are also a public health hazard. For example, meatpacking plants in the US and around the world have fostered the pandemic, spreading the virus to nearby communities due to poor working conditions and environmental abuses.

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The U.S. Water and Wastewater Crisis – How Many Wake-up Calls Are Enough?

Policies, Water

The U.S. Water and Wastewater Crisis – How Many Wake-up Calls Are Enough?

In February, much of Texas plunged into darkness when the state’s electricity grid failed due to extreme cold weather conditions. What started as a foreseeable blackout quickly became a life-threatening calamity. The frigid temperatures cracked pipes and froze wells.  To escape the frigid cold, have drinking water, and flush toilets, Texans were forced to boil snow and icicles. The extreme weather conditions and lack of basic amenities resulted in several fatal cases of hypothermia, frostbite, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

More than 14 million people in Texas were affected, and lost access to clean water at the height of the crisis. At the beginning of March, there were still nearly 390,000 people who did not have water safe enough to drink in their homes

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The International Far-Right Terrorist Threat Requires a Multilateral Response

Terrorism, Threats

The International Far-Right Terrorist Threat Requires a Multilateral Response

Right-wing violence is a global phenomenon. The United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) illuminated this global challenge in 2020 when it issued an alert that cited “a 320% increase in terrorist attacks by groups or individuals affiliated” with right-wing extremism. A U.S.-only focus to countering far-right terrorism will not curb this growing threat to international peace and stability.

Though there are challenges to organizing a multilateral response, the United States, the United Nations, and other partners have tools available that they can adapt from efforts to disrupt the financing and organization of jihadist terrorist groups.

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Human security

Policies, Security

Human security

Global military spending continued to reach record levels in 2020, rising almost 4 percent in real terms to US$1.83 trillion, even despite the severe economic contractions caused by the pandemic. The United States spends two-fifths of the world’s total, more than the next ten countries combined, and still cannot afford to prevent 50 million of its own citizens suffering from food insecurity.

Most shamefully, the United Kingdom is massively boosting its arms budget – the largest rise in almost 70 years, including a vast increase to its nuclear weapons stockpile – while cutting aid to the world’s poorest by 30 percent.

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Nuclear disarmament: Thinking outside the silo

Proflieration, Threats

Nuclear disarmament: Thinking outside the silo

Every five years since 1970 diplomats and arms control experts have gathered to review progress – or lack of it – in the disarmament process enshrined in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The latest review conference, which was scheduled for May 2020, was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This postponement is a silver lining behind a very dark cloud made up of the pandemic and several looming nuclear crises. It has bought time and with that time a new administration in Washington, one that is likely to be more open to multilateral efforts, pragmatic compromise and cooperative solutions.