The Conversation – Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 17 Jan 2022 02:37:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How the Vietnam War pushed MLK to embrace global justice, not only civil rights at home Mon, 17 Jan 2022 05:06:41 +0000 By Anthony Siracusa | –

On July 2, 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. stood behind President Lyndon Baines Johnson as the Texan signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Although not the first civil rights bill passed by Congress, it was the most comprehensive.

King called the law’s passage “a great moment … something like the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln.” Johnson recognized King’s contributions to the law by gifting him a pen used to sign the historic legislation.

A year later, as Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, King again joined the president for the occasion.

But by the start of 1967, the two most famous men in America were no longer on speaking terms. In fact, they would not meet again before King fell to an assassin’s bullet on April 4, 1968.

King was foremost a minister who pastored to a local church throughout his career, even while he was doing national civil rights work. And he became concerned that his political ally Johnson was making a grave moral mistake in Vietnam. Johnson quickly escalated American troop presence in Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000 in 1965. And by 1968, more than a half a million troops were stationed in the Southeast Asian nation.

As I write in my 2021 book “Nonviolence Before King,” the Baptist preacher had been on a “pilgrimage to nonviolence” for years. And by 1967, he was a radical apostle of Christian nonviolence.

King called on the United States to “be born again” and undergo a “radical revolution of values.” King believed that Jim Crow segregation and the war in Vietnam were rooted in the same unjust ethic of race-based domination, and he called on the nation to change its ways.

Speaking against the Vietnam War

King preached nonviolent direct action for years, and his team organized massive protest movements in the cities of Albany, Georgia, and Selma and Birmingham in Alabama. But by 1967, King’s religious vision for nonviolence went beyond nonviolent street protest to include abolishing what he called the “triple evils” crippling American society. King defined the triple evils as racism, poverty and militarism, and he believed these forces were contrary to God’s will for all people.

He came to believe, as he said in 1967, that racism, economic exploitation and war were crippling America’s ability to create a “beloved community” defined by love and nonviolence. And on April 4, 1967, he publicly rebuked the president’s war policy in Vietnam at Riverside Presbyterian Church in New York City in a speech titled “Beyond Vietnam.”

“I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam,” he told those gathered in the majestic cathedral. “I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.”

King was initially optimistic that Johnson’s Great Society program, which aimed to make historic investments in job growth, job training and economic development, would tackle domestic poverty. But by 1967 the Great Society appeared to be a casualty of the mounting costs of the war in Vietnam. “I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such,” King said in his speech.

King saw the grinding poverty facing Black people at home as inseparable from the war overseas. As he noted, “If our nation can spend 35 billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and 20 billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.”

King could no longer ignore that military force ran contrary to the nonviolence he espoused. As urban revolts in Watts and Newark in the late 1960s rocked the nation, he pleaded with people to remain nonviolent.

“But they ask – and rightly so – what about Vietnam?” King said in the same 1967 speech. “They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.”

King’s vision

By 1967, King’s vision of justice was one of flourishing for all people, not only civil rights for African Americans. King was criticized for expanding his vision beyond civil rights for Black Americans. Some worried that aligning with the peace movement would weaken the civil rights movement. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People even issued a statement clearly opposing what it saw as a merging of the civil rights and peace movements.

But in his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech, King called “for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation … an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind.” Such unconditional love is “the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality,” and he noted that this unifying principle was present in Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism.

King was always first a religious leader. He never sought nor gained elected office, because he wanted to maintain a moral voice and be free to challenge policies he believed to be unjust.

But the cost for King’s speaking out was high: By the time of his assassination, King’s national approval rating was at an all-time low.

He was not a morally perfect man. Declassified files show how the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tried to target King over his extramarital affairs. Hoover used a wiretap to tape King having sex with other women and sent those to his wife, Coretta Scott King, with a letter indicating King should kill himself because of his moral transgressions.

Honoring King

For those seeking to honor King’s legacy today, his religious nonviolence is demanding. It asks that people go beyond acts of service and charity – as important as those are – to both speak and act against violence and racism as well as to organize to end those pernicious forces.

[3 media outlets, 1 religion newsletter. Get stories from The Conversation, AP and RNS.]

It is a radical concept of love that demands we embrace those we know and those we don’t, to acknowledge, as King said, “that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.”

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the challenge may be to decipher the meaning of this idea in action for our own lives. The future of what King called the beloved community depends on it – a world at peace because justice is present.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with the correct location of Albany.The Conversation

Anthony Siracusa, Senior Director of Inclusive Culture and Initiatives, University of Colorado Boulder

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

]]> 0
After Afghanistan, US military presence abroad faces domestic and foreign opposition in 2022 Sun, 16 Jan 2022 05:02:29 +0000 By Michael A. Allen, Carla Martinez Machain, and Michael E. Flynn | –

In August 2021, the U.S. military withdrew from Afghanistan after fighting a war there for nearly 20 years.

In addition to Afghanistan, the U.S. has reduced its military presence in several other conflict zones in recent years. It has lowered troop levels in Iraq from 170,000 in 2007 to 2,500 in 2021, and in Syria from 1,700 in 2018 to around 900 today. While these reductions may seem like a U.S. military withdrawal from the world stage, its presence overseas remains vast.

As political scientists, we examine the costs, benefits and perceptions of U.S. military deployments abroad. Our research shows that though the scope and location of its deployments may change, the U.S. military remains an influential global player.

Domestically, pressures to reduce the defense budget make overseas deployments an attractive target to cut. Internationally, opposition to hosting the U.S. military can also increase the cost of maintaining bases.

For the U.S. to maintain its influence, it will have to adapt to these increasing international and domestic pressures against its foreign military presence. Alternatively, the gradual withdrawal from its overseas commitments will make it harder for the U.S. to maintain its alliances and the international institutions it has crafted.

A history of deployments

U.S. military deployments and bases reassure allies, deter rivals and support humanitarian missions and military training. They also act as a command center for varied operations, including drug interdiction and counterterrorism. A base gives the U.S. the ability to credibly respond to emerging threats and crises in a region.

They can range from small listening posts with a handful of people to a virtual city like Camp Humphreys in South Korea, which hosts over 35,000 military and civilian personnel.

We recently published updated data on the number of U.S. troops deployed overseas, based on reports published by the Department of Defense’s Defense Manpower Data Center. The data shows that in 2021 the U.S. had 171,477 service members located overseas, a small decease from 177,571 in 2020.

Beyond personnel, the U.S. owns over 600 locations used by the military in countries and territories. These sites range from larger bases and training ranges to smaller sites, including petroleum product storage stations in Turkey and Portugal and Army golf courses in Germany and South Korea.

The U.S. established its first permanent overseas military facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in 1898 at the end of the Spanish-American War. The U.S. Platt Amendment stipulated the legal option for the U.S. to buy or lease land from Cuba in perpetuity. Notably, the Cuban government does not recognize the U.S. right to hold Guantánamo and does not cash the U.S.‘s monthly US$4,085 rent checks. Beyond that, except for bases in the Philippines, U.S. bases remained limited worldwide until World War II.

The Second World War saw the U.S. expand its base network through aid agreements and the military occupation of Germany and Japan. Over 16 million service members were mobilized for the war, and around 7.6 million were deployed to conflicts in Europe, Asia and Africa. Bases in this period were established or leased in areas like Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Guam.

After the war, the number of U.S. personnel overseas declined globally. Yet new engagements in North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were accompanied by rapid and large deployments to Asia and the Middle East.

A shifting presence

While the U.S. has maintained a global military presence for the last 70 years, its approach has changed over time.

Deployments from 1950-2021 by country, using data from Allen, Flynn, Machain Martinez (2021).
Michael A. Allen

Recently, U.S. military deployments, many without a formal U.S. military base, have been used to help counter China’s expanding influence in Africa. Though China’s involvement in Africa has generally been economic, the establishment of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Support Base in Djibouti in 2017, coupled with recent news of China’s plans to build its first Atlantic base in Equatorial Guinea, suggest that China may seek increased military influence in Africa in the future.

Comparing the U.S. military presence in Africa between 2001 and 2021, we can see an increased number of African states with U.S. forces present. Notably, in 2007, the U.S. established Africa Command, a regional Defense Department command, based in Germany, specifically responsible for operations in and relations with all countries in Africa.

The U.S. has maintained a broad number of small deployments throughout the continent during this time. Many are composed of special operations and special forces units focusing on counterterror and military training operations. Djibouti is particularly notable, as the U.S., China, France and the United Kingdom all have military facilities there.

Between 2001 and 2021, the U.S. significantly grew its deployments in Africa.

Reducing the U.S. military footprint

The scope of the U.S. global military footprint has become increasingly contentious in Congress in recent decades and in some of the countries hosting U.S. personnel.

The Trump administration sought to reduce the number of troops in countries that failed to increase their share of the cost for hosting U.S. troops.

The Biden administration has reversed some Trump-era policies. For example, it stopped Trump’s planned troop drawdown in Germany.

Yet the Biden administration also continues to explore ways the U.S. could adjust its military footprint. The Defense Department, in November 2021, announced the completion of its Global Posture Review, examining the U.S. military’s presence overseas.

Both administrations’ preference to cut the number of overseas personnel is rooted in the political and financial costs of maintaining deployments. The ability to use new technologies, such as drones, rather than people in combat operations, has also allowed U.S. policymakers to shift away from larger bases.

Instead of a massive complex like Ramstein Air Base in Germany that the Defense Department values at $12.6 billion, it can spend just over $100 million to build small sites for drone operations like Niger Air Base 201.

However, if the U.S. wishes to continue to influence regional politics and use its military as a credible deterrent to rival powers, technology alone is unlikely to be sufficient.

Shared opportunities and pitfalls

We have discussed previously how the U.S. gains influence and ease of operating in exchange for the defense of other nations. But this American gain comes with several costs for host states.

Deployments can cause noise pollution, long-term environmental harm, opportunities for crime and stoke broader grievances about imperialism and militarism. And they can generate traffic and accidents when local driving customs differ substantially from what U.S. troops are accustomed to, or where large and frequent military convoys traverse busy locations.

[Understand what’s going on in Washington. Sign up for The Conversation’s Politics Weekly.]

Opposition movements built upon grievances with the U.S. presence have fueled national movements to remove U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan.

In some cases, like the Philippines, such movements have been successful. Over time, formerly autocratic host countries have become democratic, like South Korea, and have made public support by the civilians of host states critical if the U.S. desires to maintain its troops overseas.

Both increasing external competition and growing domestic political pressures may lead to reduced opportunities for the U.S. as it navigates new and existing host relationships.The Conversation

Michael A. Allen, Associate Professor of Political Science, Boise State University; Carla Martinez Machain, Associate Professor of Political Science, Kansas State University, and Michael E. Flynn, Associate Professor of Political Science, Kansas State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

]]> 0
Millions are on the Run from Global Heating – International Law must recognize Climate Refugees Sat, 15 Jan 2022 05:02:35 +0000 By Daniel L. Huizenga | –

When hurricanes Eta and Iota barrelled into Central America in November 2020, they flooded towns and cities, caused catastrophic losses in the agricultural sector and contributed to food insecurity. In all, 4.7 million Hondurans were affected, and tens of thousands decided to leave, forming migrant caravans in a desperate attempt to rebuild their lives in the United States.

Scientists ultimately linked that record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season to climate change, making it clear that climate change is already influencing migration.

My research studies the relationships between law, people and the environment. In refugee law, people become refugees when they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin. Persecution is currently limited to grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. That means when people move due to environmental degradation or disaster, they are not, in the legal sense of the word, “refugees.”

But international refugee and human rights law can no longer place the focus solely on social and political persecution. It must be overhauled to consider climate change and include “deadly environments” as a form of persecution.

The concept of deadly environments accounts for the social, political and ecological conditions that force someone to move. Including it in legal definitions would establish the environment as contributing to conditions of human rights deprivation and persecution.

Deadly environments absent in refugee law

The World Bank estimates that without radical and concerted efforts to slow climate change, 216 million people will be displaced within their own countries by 2050. With the scale of climate-induced migration, it’s inevitable that millions will seek refuge across borders, even if they are invisible to refugee law.

Migration researchers agree that it is often inaccurate to link migration choices to a single event. It has become common to examine climate change as one in a nexus of factors, including violence, conflict and disaster.

The uncertain speed of climate disruptions complicates matters further. Their onset can be slow, like ongoing droughts that cause food insecurity, or fast, like hurricanes and floods that destroy homes and crops.

Given this, how can we define people who have been displaced by climate? There is no internationally accepted definition of climate-impacted migrants.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers uses the term “climate migrant,” whereas a report by the White House uses “climate change related-migration” as an umbrella term. Some use the term environmental migrants, others use environmentally displaced peoples. Like some other adamant outliers, I use the phrase climate refugees to underscore the agency of those seeking refuge.

The debate over definitions misses the point. As British geographer Calum T. M. Nicholson explains, “the key issue is not the cause of movement, but the rights violations suffered by migrants.”

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, climate change impacts the human rights to life, self-determination, development, health, food, water and sanitation, adequate housing and cultural rights. One only need to think about the 400,000 livestock herders in Southern Ethiopia who were displaced by climate-related drought between 2015 and 2019. They continue to require assistance for food, water and shelter.

Deadly environments and border practices

Shifting the focus to deadly environments makes it clear that they are produced not only by climate change, but also by the practices upheld along borders.

The Transnational Institute, an international research and advocacy institute, reports that the world’s wealthiest countries spend more on militarizing their borders than they do on responding to the climate crisis. This often includes building walls, developing surveillance technologies and hiring armed border guards. According to the institute, rich countries are building a “global climate wall” to keep out people forced to migrate due to climate change with deadly consequences.

In her book The Death of Asylum: Hidden Geographies of the Enforcement Archipelago, Alison Mountz, a geographer at Wilfrid Laurier University, describes the steady development of asylum processing in places far away from physical borders, such as Australia’s offshore processing camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Mountz argues that the growth of offshore detention centres contributes to the physical deaths of asylum-seekers, as well as their political deaths, as news of drowned migrants becomes mundane and normalized.

The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) has documented the deaths of nearly 46,000 migrants en route to safety since 2014. An estimated 23,000 have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

The border-crossing between the United States and Mexico is particularly deadly, with 2,980 deaths recorded since 2014. According to the IOM, the “main direct causes of death identified in this area are drowning … and deaths caused by harsh environmental conditions and lack of shelter, food and water.”

International refugee and human rights law must be urgently overhauled to recognize deadly environments as sites of persecution.

Towards a new protection regime

The United Nations Refugee Agency has already established links between climate change and persecution. It finds that when a state is unwilling to respond to humanitarian needs that are the result of climate change, there is a “risk of human rights violations amounting to persecution.”

Deadly environments, including those transformed by climate change whether suddenly or over long periods of time, need to be considered sites of persecution. Their presence should trigger state obligations to provide protection for peoples forcibly displaced by climate change.

Central to this effort is establishing relationships among law, humans and the environment. This is one step towards recognizing that people displaced by climate change are, in fact, refugees.The Conversation

Daniel L. Huizenga, Postdoctoral Fellow, Human Geography, University of Toronto

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

]]> 0
Ocean Heat is at Record Levels, with Major Consequences Fri, 14 Jan 2022 05:02:30 +0000 By Kevin Trenberth | –

The world witnessed record-breaking climate and weather disasters in 2021, from destructive flash floods that swept through mountain towns in Europe and inundated subway systems in China and the U.S., to heat waves and wildfires. Typhoon Rai killed over 400 people in the Philippines; Hurricane Ida caused an estimated US$74 billion in damage in the U.S.

Globally, it was the sixth hottest year on record for surface temperatures, according to data released by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in their annual global climate report on Jan. 13, 2022. But under the surface, ocean temperatures set new heat records in 2021.

As climate scientist Kevin Trenberth explains, while the temperature at Earth’s surface is what people experience day to day, the temperature in the upper part of the ocean is a better indicator of how excess heat is accumulating on the planet.

The Conversation spoke with Trenberth, coauthor of a study published on Jan. 11, 2022, by 23 researchers at 14 institutes that tracked warming in the world’s oceans.

Hurricane Ida making landfall on the Louisana coast
Hurricane Ida did $74 billion in damage from Louisiana to the northeastern U.S. in 2021.
RAMMB/CIRA/Colorado State University

Your latest research shows ocean heat is at record highs. What does that tell us about global warming?

The world’s oceans are hotter than ever recorded, and their heat has increased each decade since the 1960s. This relentless increase is a primary indicator of human-induced climate change.

As oceans warm, their heat supercharges weather systems, creating more powerful storms and hurricanes, and more intense rainfall. That threatens human lives and livelihoods as well as marine life.

The oceans take up about 93% of the extra energy trapped by the increasing greenhouse gases from human activities, particularly burning fossil fuels. Because water holds more heat than land does and the volumes involved are immense, the upper oceans are a primary memory of global warming. I explain this in more detail in my new book “The Changing Flow of Energy Through the Climate System.”

Ocean heat content in the upper 2,000 meters of the world’s oceans since 1958, relative to the 1981-2010 average. The units are zettajoules.
Lijing Cheng

Our study provided the first analysis of 2021’s ocean warming, and we were able to attribute the warming to human activities. Global warming is alive and well, unfortunately.

The global mean surface temperature was the fifth or sixth warmest on record in 2021 (the record depends on the dataset used), in part, because of the year-long La Niña conditions, in which cool conditions in the tropical Pacific influence weather patterns around the world.

There is a lot more natural variability in surface air temperatures than in ocean temperatures because of El Niño/La Niña and weather events. That natural variability on top of a warming ocean creates hot spots, sometimes called “marine heat waves,” that vary from year to year. Those hot spots have profound influences on marine life, from tiny plankton to fish, marine mammals and birds. Other hot spots are responsible for more activity in the atmosphere, such as hurricanes.

While surface temperatures are both a consequence and a cause, the main source of the phenomena causing extremes relates to ocean heat that energizes weather systems.

Scientists are concerned about the stability of Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier, which holds back large amounts of land ice.

We found that all oceans are warming, with the largest amounts of warming in the Atlantic Ocean and in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. That’s a concern for Antarctica’s ice – heat in the Southern Ocean can creep under Antarctica’s ice shelves, thinning them and resulting in calving off of huge icebergs. Warming oceans are also a concern for sea level rise.

In what ways does extra ocean heat affect air temperature and moisture on land?

The global heating increases evaporation and drying on land, as well as raising temperatures, increasing risk of heat waves and wildfires. We’ve seen the impact in 2021, especially in western North America, but also amid heat waves in Russia, Greece, Italy and Turkey.

The warmer oceans also supply atmospheric rivers of moisture to land areas, increasing the risk of flooding, like the U.S. West Coast has been experiencing.

2021 saw several destructive cyclones, including Hurricane Ida in the U.S. and Typhoon Rai in the Philippines. How does ocean temperature affect storms like those?

Warmer oceans provide extra moisture to the atmosphere. That extra moisture fuels storms, especially hurricanes. The result can be prodigious rainfall, as the U.S. saw from Ida, and widespread flooding as occurred in many places over the past year.

The storms may also become more intense, bigger and last longer. Several major flooding events have occurred in Australia this past year, and also in New Zealand. Bigger snowfalls can also occur in winter provided temperatures remain below about freezing because warmer air holds more moisture.

If greenhouse gas emissions slowed, would the ocean cool down?

In the oceans, warm water sits on top of cooler denser waters. However, the oceans warm from the top down, and consequently the ocean is becoming more stratified. This inhibits mixing between layers that otherwise allows the ocean to warm to deeper levels and to take up carbon dioxide and oxygen. Hence it impacts all marine life.

We found that the top 500 meters of the ocean has clearly been warming since 1980; the 500-1,000 meter depths have been warming since about 1990; the 1,000-1,500 meter depths since 1998; and below 1,500 meters since about 2005.

The slow penetration of heat downward means that oceans will continue to warm, and sea level will continue to rise even after greenhouse gases are stabilized.

The final area to pay attention to is the need to expand scientists’ ability to monitor changes in the oceans. One way we do this is through the Argo array – currently about 3,900 profiling floats that send back data on temperature and salinity from the surface to about 2,000 meters in depth, measured as they rise up and then sink back down, in ocean basins around the world. These robotic, diving and drifting instruments require constant replenishment and their observations are invaluable.

Argo floats keep tabs on ocean changes around the world.
Howard Freeland, 2018, CC BY-ND

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]The Conversation

Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Scholar, NCAR; Affiliated Faculty, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

]]> 0
The North Atlantic Put up most Heat-Trapping Gases but Africa has to Deal with the Climate Emergency Thu, 13 Jan 2022 05:02:12 +0000 By Margaret Kadiri | –

The UN climate summit COP26, held in November 2021, focused the world’s attention on the urgent need to tackle climate change and concluded with 197 countries agreeing to the Glasgow climate pact. But opinions on the summit’s success are polarised.

We owe a profound gratitude to the developing nations – including those from Africa – who agreed to the pact. In doing so, they chose not to insist that richer developed nations, whose historical and ongoing greenhouse gas emissions have largely caused the climate crisis, pay reparations to them for the damage they’ve inflicted.

African nations continue to hold the unenviable position of being disproportionately vulnerable to climate change. Although the continent accounts for the smallest share of global greenhouse gas emissions – only 3.8% – it’s already heating faster than the rest of the world.

And if the target of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels is missed, Africa could be facing catastrophic temperature increases of up to 3℃ by 2050.

At the same time, the threat to GDP of African nations that are most vulnerable to these changes – meaning the amount of economic activity that stands to be lost if these changes are severe enough – is projected to increase from £660 billion in 2018 to over £1 trillion in 2023. That’s almost half of the continent’s projected GDP.

A person walks in water among mangrove roots
Mangroves protect coasts from erosion and fight global warming by storing excess carbon.
Cifor/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Given these estimates, Africa’s climate resilience must exceed the global norm. And some steps are being taken to protect the continent against the worst climate consequences through investments from national governments and the private sector. Organisations such as the African Development Bank and the UN Environment Programme are also leading climate change adaptation measures, like working to protect mangroves on over 200 million hectares of land.

However, the estimated yearly cost of this kind of climate adaptation for developing nations is around £52 billion – and is expected to rise to between £100-220 billion by 2030. While developed nations agreed in the Glasgow pact to double climate change contributions to their developing counterparts by about £29 billion by 2025, this amount is just a fraction of what’s needed.

Next steps

One way to close this gap could be to leverage the Paris climate agreement, specifically, a subsection of article six that allows countries with high emissions, such as the US and UK, to offset them through investing in sustainable initiatives like reforestation in low-emitting countries: including those in Africa. Such partnerships could act as a catalyst for the growth of low carbon energy projects such as solar, geothermal and wind power.

Another option could be to redirect local government money towards sustainable schemes. The total amount provided by African national governments in fossil fuel subsidies rose to £55 billion in 2015 alone, causing calls for “phasing down” these subsidies to be enshrined in the Glasgow climate pact.

A panorama of a solar power plant
The world’s largest concentrated solar plant, based in Morocco.
Irena/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Since subsidy money was flowing into an industry employing less than 1% of Africa’s workforce, it could instead be invested back into African economies, creating inclusive, environmentally friendly job opportunities. For example, it might be used to fund startups like Gjenge Makers: a Kenyan business making paving blocks and tiles out of recycled plastic.

Despite contributing the least to the changing climate, many African nations are also taking strides to transition to renewable energy. The world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) facility in Morocco, Noor Power Plant, converts the Sun’s energy to electricity for around two million households.

Unlike more widely used photovoltaic panels, CSP enables solar energy to be stored for nights and cloudy days. The facility generates more than a third of Morocco’s power while reducing carbon emissions by around 690,000 tonnes per year.

Projects like these don’t just create more jobs, they also make more money. Up to £236 billion of new business opportunities that aim to climate-proof food and land systems – including preserving local forest ecosystems and restoring degraded landscapes – could be added each year to Africa’s economies between now and 2030.The Conversation

Margaret Kadiri, Lecturer in Physical Geography, King’s College London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Featured Photo: Although African nations contribute the least to climate change, many are bearing its worst burdens. Omoeko Media/Wikimedia

]]> 0
Will China Dominate the Electric Car Market this Year? Why it May Not Tue, 11 Jan 2022 05:04:15 +0000 By David Tyfield | –

In the wake of surging electric vehicle (EV) sales in China, it might seem that the Chinese market has already won the “EV race” – meaning the race to secure global dominance of this new technology. But this judgement seems premature.

Most commentary focuses on Chinese strengths in EV technology and production, or the size of China’s EV market. But this misses crucial factors that will affect how, and even whether, China’s EVs are adopted across the world.

The question is not just whether China will dominate the global EV market, but also whether the EV can help China achieve the technological, economic and geopolitical power it seeks. In other words, even if China gets good at making EVs, will EVs be good for China?

The EV is a clear example of an emerging industrial revolution: one that combines low-carbon and digital technology. So the country that takes the lead in producing and using EVs will likely be highly competitive on the world stage.

Historical comparisons can help us understand what is at stake here. For example, consider the inseparability of the global rise of the US during the 20th century and its simultaneous domination of the traditional car industry.

The US situation back then and the Chinese situation today share many similarities. In both cases, major technological change was happening within each country in parallel with a rise in their geopolitical power. And just as the traditional car became not only the main form of citizen transport but also a key symbol of social change during the 20th century, so too will it be for the EV in the 21st.

However, at the time of the mass adoption of the motorcar, the US enjoyed a unique position. As a liberal capitalist country, its growing power was reassuring – or at least preferable to communism or fascism – for other powerful countries at the time, like the UK.

The US also exemplified and exported forms of cultural creativity – including jazz and blues music, new fashion styles and the technicolour movies – that were hugely attractive to people across the world.

An old photo of cars on a San Francisco street
The US dominated the motorcar industry during the latter half of the 20th century.
David Pirmann/Flickr, CC BY-SA

These forms of cultural capital were heavily drawn on to market the “American Dream” of personal car ownership: just one of the reasons there are now approximately 1.4 billion cars on Earth. It also helped that the car belonged to an entirely new industrial sector at that time, facing no established competition.

None of these factors today apply to China regarding the EV. Most significant is China’s almost total – and, if anything, worsening – absence of political acceptability and cultural attractiveness in overseas car markets, especially those of wealthy regions like Europe.

China’s ultimate domination of the EV sector would require Chinese EVs to compete successfully in these established markets. But these are already populated by some of the world’s most advanced companies, including Toyota, General Motors and Volkswagen, as well as consumers with high expectations.

With the rise of car markets in developing countries like India, it’s possible that Chinese EVs could achieve success even without making much headway into markets in the West – but China’s tricky political status will make it hard there, too.

The future of EVs

This problem matters even more for EVs than for cars, because of the profound difference between the two. The car is a comparatively simple machine. It’s basically an engine on wheels, with various additions to make it more enticing – and comfortable – for its driver and passengers. The EV, by comparison, is a totally new technology that’s part of a much larger, unpredictable transition in urban mobility.

Simply replacing cars with EVs will not solve congestion or transport inequalities in society. And EVs will create challenging environmental problems of their own, such as the pollution created by producing and recycling EV batteries. Plus, EVs themselves still have a long way to evolve, making political and cultural misgivings about China’s role in creating them more important.

An aerial view of intersecting motorways
An interchange in Shanghai, China, where many EVs are made.
Denys Nevozhai/Wikimedia

For instance, cars have been widely associated with individual freedom: one of the main reasons for their global popularity. Their digitisation threatens to make the EV a vehicle for unprecedented levels of surveillance and control of people’s mobility.

In a 2015 experiment, two hackers were able to take control of a reporter’s car and remotely direct its steering wheel. Situations like these could well generate fears around authoritarian control and reduced privacy, further diminishing Chinese EVs’ appeal overseas.

Finally, the motorcar emerged at the moment of discovery of a seemingly boundless energy source – oil – and when concern for the effect of its waste products was largely absent.

Today, in contrast, a major driver of the EV transition is its sustainability, meaning that the environmental impact of mass EV adoption will be closely scrutinised by customers and citizens worldwide. Chinese companies hoping to enter overseas markets seem to be poorly prepared to manage such controversy.

Currently, therefore, the most likely scenario seems not to be unrivalled Chinese EV leadership. China will be a major player in the EV, if only given the size of its domestic market and the level of government support it provides its EV industry. Yet this will increasingly be matched by intensifying competition with Western companies that are beginning to take the EV seriously – and that may be better placed to manage the complex social and political hurdles ahead for this new technology.The Conversation

David Tyfield, Professor in Sustainable Transitions and Political Economy, Lancaster University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Featured Photo: The electric vehicle market across the world is growing fast. CSUF Photos/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA.

Sidney Poitier – Hollywood’s first Black leading man reflected the civil rights movement on screen Sun, 09 Jan 2022 05:02:23 +0000 By Aram Goudsouzian | –

In the summer of 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. introduced the keynote speaker for the 10th-anniversary convention banquet of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Their guest, he said, was his “soul brother.”

“He has carved for himself an imperishable niche in the annals of our nation’s history,” King told the audience of 2,000 delegates. “I consider him a friend. I consider him a great friend of humanity.”

That man was Sidney Poitier.

Poitier, who died at 94 on Jan. 7, 2022, broke the mold of what a Black actor could be in Hollywood. Before the 1950s, Black movie characters generally reflected racist stereotypes such as lazy servants and beefy mammies. Then came Poitier, the only Black man to consistently win leading roles in major films from the late 1950s through the late 1960s. Like King, Poitier projected ideals of respectability and integrity. He attracted not only the loyalty of African Americans, but also the goodwill of white liberals.

In my biography of him, titled “Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon,” I sought to capture his whole life, including his incredible rags-to-riches arc, his sizzling vitality on screen, his personal triumphs and foibles and his quest to live up to the values set forth by his Bahamian parents. But the most fascinating aspect of Poitier’s career, to me, was his political and racial symbolism. In many ways, his screen life intertwined with that of the civil rights movement – and King himself.

An age of protests

In three separate columns in 1957, 1961 and 1962, a New York Daily News columnist named Dorothy Masters marveled that Poitier had the warmth and charisma of a minister. Poitier lent his name and resources to King’s causes, and he participated in demonstrations such as the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage and the 1963 March on Washington. In this era of sit-ins, Freedom Rides and mass marches, activists engaged in nonviolent sacrifice not only to highlight racist oppression, but also to win broader sympathy for the cause of civil rights.

In that same vein, Poitier deliberately chose to portray characters who radiated goodness. They had decent values and helped white characters, and they often sacrificed themselves. He earned his first star billing in 1958, in “The Defiant Ones,” in which he played an escaped prisoner handcuffed to a racist played by Tony Curtis. At the end, with the chain unbound, Poitier jumps off a train to stick with his new white friend. Writer James Baldwin reported seeing the film on Broadway, where white audiences clapped with reassurance, their racial guilt alleviated. When he saw it again in Harlem, members of the predominantly Black audience yelled “Get back on the train, you fool!”

King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. In that same year, Poitier won the Oscar for Best Actor for “Lilies of the Field,” in which he played Homer Smith, a traveling handyman who builds a chapel for German nuns out of the goodness of his heart. The sweet, low-budget movie was a surprise hit. In its own way, like the horrifying footage of water hoses and police dogs attacking civil rights activists, it fostered swelling support for racial integration.

A better man

By the time of the actor’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference speech, both King and Poitier seemed to have a slipping grip on the American public. Bloody and destructive riots plagued the nation’s cities, reflecting the enduring discontent of many poor African Americans. The swelling calls for “Black Power” challenged the ideals of nonviolence and racial brotherhood – ideals associated with both King and Poitier.

When Poitier stepped to the lectern that evening, he lamented the “greed, selfishness, indifference to the suffering of others, corruption of our value system, and a moral deterioration that has already scarred our souls irrevocably.” “On my bad days,” he said, “I am guilty of suspecting that there is a national death wish.”

By the late 1960s, both King and Poitier had reached a crossroads. Federal legislation was dismantling Jim Crow in the South, but African Americans still suffered from limited opportunity. King prescribed a “revolution of values,” denounced the Vietnam War, and launched a Poor People’s Campaign. Poitier, in his 1967 speech for the SCLC, said that King, by adhering to his convictions for social justice and human dignity, “has made a better man of me.”

Exceptional characters

Poitier tried to adhere to his own convictions. As long as he was the only Black leading man, he insisted on playing the same kind of hero. But in the era of Black Power, had Poitier’s saintly hero become another stereotype? His rage was repressed, his sexuality stifled. A Black critic, writing in The New York Times, asked “Why Does White America Love Sidney Poitier So?”

That critic had a point: As Poitier himself knew, his films created too-perfect characters. Although the films allowed white audiences to appreciate a Black man, they also implied that racial equality depends on such exceptional characters, stripped of any racial baggage. From late 1967 into early 1968, three of Poitier’s movies owned the top spot at the box office, and a poll ranked him the most bankable star in Hollywood.

Each film provided a hero who soothed the liberal center. His mannered schoolteacher in “To Sir, With Love” tames a class of teenage ruffians in London’s East End. His razor-sharp detective in “In the Heat of the Night” helps a crotchety white Southern sheriff solve a murder. His world-renowned doctor in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” marries a white woman, but only after winning the blessing of her parents.

“I try to make movies about the dignity, nobility, the magnificence of human life,” he insisted. Audiences flocked to his films, in part, because he transcended racial division and social despair – even as more African Americans, baby boomers and film critics tired of the old-fashioned do-gooder spirit of these movies.

Intertwined lives

And then, the lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Sidney Poitier intersected one final time. After King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, Poitier was a stand-in for the ideal that King embodied. When he presented at the Academy Awards, Poitier won a massive ovation. “In the Heat of the Night” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” captured most of the major awards. Hollywood again dealt with the nation’s racial upheaval through Poitier movies.

But after King’s violent murder, the Poitier icon no longer captured the national mood. In the 1970s, a generation of “Blaxploitation” films featured violent, sexually charged heroes. They were a reaction against the image of a Black leading man associated with Poitier. Although his career evolved, Poitier was no longer a superstar, and he no longer bore the burden of representing the Black freedom movement. Yet for a generation, he had served as popular culture’s preeminent expression of the ideals of Martin Luther King.

[Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter.]The Conversation

Aram Goudsouzian, Bizot Family Professor of History, University of Memphis

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Capitol assault: the real reason Trump and the crowd almost killed US democracy Sat, 08 Jan 2022 05:02:57 +0000 By Stephen Reicher, Alex Haslam, Evangelos Ntontis, and Klara Jurstakova | –

It was the moment that could have brought US democracy to its knees. One year ago, around noon on January 6, 2021, Donald Trump gave the concluding speech to a “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington DC. Within an hour, protesters attacked and then breached barricades around the Capitol Building, seat of the US Congress. By 1.30pm, they had invaded the building itself. And by the time they left, five people had died.

To what extent were the two events related? Did Trump’s words incite his followers to assault the Capitol? Or did the rioters act independently and of their own accord? These were the questions on which Trump’s second impeachment trial turned.

More specifically, the debate centred on whether Trump’s words contained clear instructions that guided what happened next, with special attention given to a specific sentence in the speech:

If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.

For the prosecution, this was the smoking gun. For the defence, the word “fight” was a mere metaphor, akin to “fighting for one’s principles”. To quote from the opening statement of Trump’s lawyer, Michael van der Veen:

This is ordinary political rhetoric that is virtually indistinguishable from the language that has been used across the political spectrum for hundreds of years.

In the end, interpretation split clearly along party lines. In the Senate, 48 Democrats voted for impeachment, none against, while 43 Republicans voted against impeachment and seven for. The total in favour failed to reach the two-thirds threshold, so Trump was acquitted as not guilty.

But whatever one thinks of the outcome of the debate, the greater problem lies in the terms of the debate that contained two flawed assumptions.

Article continues after bonus IC video
MSNBC: “January 6, 2021: The Day As It Happened”

Leaders and followers

The first flawed assumption is that influence can be reduced to instructions. This means that the focus on specific sentences obscures the way Trump’s speech as a whole was structured to impel extreme antagonism and action.

The other is the view of the leader-follower relationship which implies that leaders either manipulate their followers like puppets (as the prosecution alleged) or else followers act entirely independently of leaders (as the defence responded).

Over the past year, we and our colleagues have addressed both assumptions, drawing on our previous work on leadership in general and Trump’s leadership in particular. We argue that Trump is a consummate “identity leader”, who sets up an opposition between “the American people” and a corrupt “establishment” and then construes himself as a representative of the former against the latter.

That is why his political gaffes, his crudity, even his misogyny strengthen rather than weaken him – by establishing him as the rough and ready everyman in contrast to the conventional establishment figure. He is a prototypical anti-political politician, speaking as and for “us” against “them”.

In his Washington speech, Trump extended and moralised this narrative in a way that created the core conditions for intergroup hatred. And this involved four key elements.

1) A powerful restatement of the populist “people v establishment” categories.

2) A moralisation of these categories. The people become American patriots characterised by love and loyalty to one another and their country. The establishment becomes a traitor, willing to stoop to any depths to defraud true Americans.

3) The spectre of destruction. The establishment is not just an outgroup to American patriots; they are a threat to American values, institutions and symbols. And they are not just any old threat; they are an existential threat to the very existence of America. That (rather than any specific instruction) is the true message of and motivator behind Trump’s warning that “you’re not going to have a country anymore”.

4) Trump makes standing up to “the steal” a criterion of group membership for “American patriots”. Those who accept the election result or even waver are “weak” and “pathetic”. Even if they are not quite traitors, they certainly lack the qualities of true Americans.

In combination, these four elements invoke a reality in which inaction would enable the triumph of evil over good and in which the preservation of good requires “stopping the steal”. Strong and immediate action becomes an existential necessity and a moral obligation.

But what action? Here, the very absence of a fifth element (explicit instruction), which has occupied so much attention to date, arguably strengthens rather than weakens Trump’s impact.

By setting out a general obligation without determining exactly how it should be achieved, Trump arguably induced his followers to compete among themselves to go furthest, best prove their loyalty, and most dramatically burnish their patriotic credentials in meeting the goal. Such a strategy engenders a cycle of radicalisation – with the added advantage of providing deniability if people go too far.

The historian Ian Kershaw provides a similar analysis of Hitler’s responsibility for the holocaust. Indeed, the fact that there was no written order for it from Hitler was characteristic of the Fuhrer’s general tendency to define general destinations rather than specific pathways. It induced what Kershaw called “working towards Hitler” and what here we can call “working towards Trump” – albeit in relation to very different destinations, for however toxic Trump might be, it would be invidious and inaccurate to link the assault on the Capitol with the Holocaust.

Leaders and followers

The debate around the Capitol assault has also misconstrued the relationship between leaders and followers. This is not a zero-sum game. It isn’t a matter of either followers having agency and leaders being irrelevant or leaders having agency and followers being mere ciphers. It is a matter of dual agency.

In fact, the invocation to “stop the steal” was well-established before Trump’s speech – in December 2020 alone, messages including this term received over 40 million engagements on social media – and some began to breach the Capitol barriers even as Trump was speaking.

But Trump legitimised the protestors’ actions, gave them a sense of unity and empowerment and provided them with a sense that they were only doing what their community and its leader wanted of them. In the words of one of them: “Our President wants us here.”

But just as Trump empowered and emboldened the crowd to act, so they emboldened him. Many, including key insiders, have written of the central place that rallies played in Trump’s progress and of how the size and enthusiasm of these crowds were used as a measure of his political power.

Journalist and author Michael Wolff makes a similar point about the events of January 6, arguing the crowd’s enthusiasm pushed Trump further than he might otherwise have gone – “not … that he would incite the crowd but the crowd would incite him”. Most concretely, it may have led Trump to add in the infamous remark: “After this, we’re going to walk down – and I’ll be there with you”, which was not in the scripted text.

Ultimately, what happened on January 6 was a genuine co-production between Trump and the crowd.

Consequently, to reduce the Capitol assault to a question of whether Trump did or didn’t “incite” or “instruct” the crowd is far too simplistic. It limits our understanding of the events that happened a year ago. It limits our understanding of Trumpism more generally and of the critical role of mass events in developing the movement. It also limits our understanding of leadership and of collective dynamics. Last, but not least, it suggests that we have been looking in the wrong place to understand Trump’s responsibility for the assault on American democracy.The Conversation

Stephen Reicher, Bishop Wardlaw Professor in the School of Psychology & Neuroscience, University of St Andrews; Alex Haslam, Professor of Psychology and ARC Laureate Fellow, The University of Queensland; Evangelos Ntontis, Lecturer in Psychology, The Open University, and Klara Jurstakova, PhD Candidate, Canterbury Christ Church University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How democracy gets eroded – lessons from a Nixon expert Fri, 07 Jan 2022 05:04:28 +0000 By Ken Hughes | –

Now that a full year has passed since the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, the 2020 election and the republic, it’s evident that the attack never really ended. Instead, it spread out to other, less visible, more vulnerable targets.

Donald Trump had hoped to reverse his election loss in a single, decisive, dramatic confrontation between his supporters and the republic’s, broadcast live around the world. His plan backfired, filling our screens with vivid illustrations of authoritarianism’s most repugnant ills: chaos, lawlessness, violence, racism, fascism and all manner of hatred run amok. The blatancy of the subversion provoked an immediate backlash, even among some Republicans.

Had he studied democratic erosion before becoming a practitioner, Trump would know that effective authoritarians tighten their grips on government gradually, stealthily undermining courts, legislatures, election officials, news organizations, political opposition and other institutions strong enough to check them.

The coup by a thousand cuts is the stuff of nightmares for democracy’s defenders and the dream of authoritarian politicians.

“The story of democratic erosion in other countries is that it happens invisibly, you don’t have this tanks-in-the-streets moment,” Brendan Nyhan told The New Yorker. Nyhan is a Dartmouth political scientist and co-director of Bright Line Watch, a group of political scientists who “monitor democratic practices, their resilience, and potential threats.”

Destructive conspiracy theories

Democratic erosion in America depends on the conspiracy theory, destructive and demonstrably false, that the 2020 election was stolen. As the author of a couple of books on Richard Nixon – who, before Trump, was the biggest conspiracy theorist to inhabit the White House that we know of – I see conspiracy theories less as failures of rationality and more as triumphs of rationalization.

When Nixon muttered to White House aides that he was the victim of a conspiracy of Jews, intellectuals and Ivy Leaguers, “arrogant” people he said placed themselves above the law, he did so to justify arrogantly placing himself above the law. Nixon launched a real conspiracy against an imaginary one, plotting real crimes – breaking into the Brookings Institution, leaking grand jury information damaging to Democrats – against those he deemed real criminals, despite a chronic lack of evidence.

Likewise, when conspiracy theorists falsely claim the last election was stolen, they’re putting the pieces in place for themselves to steal the next one. Not by anything as blatant as pressuring a vice president to publicly shirk his duty to certify the vote, but by subtler means, such as taking over the offices that handle vote certification at the state level.

Rep. Jody Hice, a Republican who voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s victory, is running to unseat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who would not bow to pressure from Trump to “find” enough votes to reverse the election result. Fifteen election-denying Republicans are running for secretary of state, according to NPR, raising the risk that people who refuse to accept the results of the last presidential election will decide whether to certify the results of the next one.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature revealed who controls the party by stripping Raffensperger of his vote on the state election board, which sets election rules and investigates allegations of fraud. They have also passed new election laws targeting local boards. “The laws allow Republicans to remove local officials they don’t like,” the New York Times reported. Most of those removed initially were Democrats, at least half of them people of color.

Georgia’s not alone. In at least eight other states, Republican-controlled legislatures took power from those who kept the last election honest, such as secretaries of state and local election officials, and handed it to partisan entities, ABC News reported. Many, if not all, of those secretaries of state were partisan officials, though they largely behaved in nonpartisan ways.

Much reporting has focused rightly on the most prominent result of lies about voter fraud, “voting integrity” legislation. Those stories have focused on how little such legislation does to solve the already-minuscule problem of voter fraud in America, and on how much the legislation does to create problems for people who want to vote, especially if those people tend to vote Democratic.

False claims, real threats

Less attention has focused on the influx of conspiracy theorists at the local level of election administration, where they could warp elections in several ways. They could discriminate in enforcing voter-ID laws, make people cast provisional ballots that are subject to challenge, set up polling places in ways that create long lines, and more, said Scott Seeborg, Pennsylvania state director of All Voting Is Local, a nonpartisan group fighting to “remove discriminatory barriers to the ballot.”

If election workers reject false accusations of election fraud, they may face death threats. The news service Reuters documented over 800 hostile, threatening messages to election workers related to the conspiracy theories, including, “We’re coming after you and every other mother—-r that stole this election;” “Everyone with a gun is going to be at your house;” and “We are now watching your children and loved ones.”

These threats aren’t being screamed on television before the eyes of the outraged majority; they appear without warning, Reuters reports, often anonymously, in individual voicemail and email boxes, inspiring fear without provoking backlash.

By these means and more, authoritarians are seizing the power to win elections without winning a majority of the vote. This is something Nixon never dared try.

In every race he ran – for House, Senate, vice president and president – Nixon faced an electorate where Democrats held a numerical advantage. This forced him to moderate his politics and policies, to broaden their appeals to the majority.

[Over 140,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletters to understand the world. Sign up today.]

Today, Republicans can win not only the White House, but the Congress and gerrymandered state legislatures, without winning a majority. “We are witnessing a minority takeover of our democracy,” constitutional law scholar Kermit Roosevelt wrote in TIME. It’s taking place not just nationally, but at the state and local level.

This is why democracy’s defenders – Republicans, Democrats, and all people of good will – must not make Trump’s mistake, thinking that the nation’s future will be decided in a single, public, climactic showdown. It depends on a thousand little struggles with enormous stakes, on unsung efforts of unknown heroes.The Conversation

Ken Hughes, Research Specialist, the Miller Center, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Featured image h/t Wikimedia Commons