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30.12.2019 – UN News Centre

Deadly decade: UNICEF reports three-fold rise in verified attacks on children since 2010
Assiya, 10, stands by a pile of metal debris that was once part of the the Bodyalai girls school, which was destroyed during a bomb blast in 2015, Bodyalai village, Kuz Kunar district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, 9 April 2019. “There was a lot of fighting here. My uncle Shamsher lost his leg when the police check point was attacked,” Assiya says. “My other uncles Alim and Mirwais were killed. A lot of people died, and many people cried.” Students like Assiya are not only affected by the school destruction, but also by violence around the school. “I knew all the people who died in the attack; they were men from my village. I still remember them and feel bad,” says Assiya, her voice breaking. “I am still scared that someday they will come back and attack our school and the police station.” UNICEF supported the villagers in reopening the school and provided tents to serve as classrooms… (Image by UNICEF/Marko Kokic)

Conflicts around the world are lasting longer and claiming more young lives, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said on Monday, as the agency reported that over this ‘deadly decade’, there has been a three-fold rise in verified attacks on children since 2010 – an average of 45 violations a day.

“Attacks on children continue unabated as warring parties flout one of the most basic rules of war: the protection of children,” said Ms. Fore, noting that the number of countries experiencing conflict is the highest it has been since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

With dozens of violent armed conflicts killing and maiming children and forcing them from their homes, the UNICEF chief said that for every act of violence against children that creates headlines and cries of outrage, “there are many more that go unreported.”

In 2018, the UN verified more than 24,000 grave violations against children, including killing, maiming, sexual violence, abductions, denial of humanitarian access, child recruitment and attacks on schools and hospitals. While monitoring and reporting efforts have been strengthened, this number is more than two-and-a-half times higher than that recorded in 2010.

Attacks and violence against children have not let up throughout 2019. During the first half of the year, the UN has verified over 10,000 such violations against children – although actual numbers are likely to be much higher – in conflict zones from northern Syria to eastern Democratica Republic of the Congo (DRC), and eastern Ukraine.

As 2019 draws to a close with “no letup in the attacks and violence against children in sight,” UNICEF is calling on all warring parties to abide by their obligations under international law and to immediately end violations against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and water infrastructure.

The UN Children’s Fund is also calling on States with influence over parties to conflict to use that influence to protect children.

29.12.2019 – Pressenza London

Climate change: six positive news stories from 2019
The community-owned Westmill Solar Park in South East England (Image by MrRenewables Westmill Solar Co-operative Neil Maw – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikipedia)

Heather AlberroNottingham Trent UniversityDénes CsalaLancaster UniversityHannah ClokeUniversity of ReadingMarc HudsonUniversity of ManchesterMark MaslinUCL, and Richard HodgkinsLoughborough University for The Conversation

The climate breakdown continues. Over the past year, The Conversation has covered fires in the Amazon, melting glaciers in the Andes and Greenlandrecord CO₂ emissions, and temperatures so hot they’re pushing the human body to its thermal limits. Even the big UN climate talks were largely disappointing.

But climate researchers have not given up hope. We asked a few Conversation authors to highlight some more positive stories from 2019.

Costa Rica offers us a viable climate future

Heather Alberro, associate lecturer in political ecology, Nottingham Trent University

After decades of climate talks, including the recent COP25 in Madrid, emissions have only continued to rise. Indeed, a recent UN report noted that a fivefold increase in current national climate change mitigation efforts would be needed to meet the 1.5℃ limit on warming by 2030. With the radical transformations needed in our global transport, housing, agricultural and energy systems in order to help mitigate looming climate and ecological breakdown, it can be easy to lose hope.

However, countries like Costa Rica offer us promising examples of the “possible”. The Central American nation has implemented a refreshingly ambitious plan to completely decarbonise its economy by 2050. In the lead-up to this, last year with its economy still growing at 3%, Costa Rica was able to derive 98% of its electricity from renewable sources. Such an example demonstrates that with sufficient political will, it is possible to meet the daunting challenges ahead.

Financial investors are cooling on fossil fuels

Richard Hodgkins, senior lecturer in physical geography, Loughborough University

Movements such as 350.org have long argued for fossil fuel divestment, but they have recently been joined by institutional investors such as Climate Action 100+, which is using the influence of its US$35 trillion of managed funds, arguing that minimising climate breakdown risks and maximising renewables’ growth opportunities are a fiduciary duty.

Moody’s credit-rating agency recently flagged ExxonMobil for falling revenues despite rising expenditure, noting: “The negative outlook also reflects the emerging threat to oil and gas companies’ profitability […] from growing efforts by many nations to mitigate the impacts of climate change through tax and regulatory policies.”

A more adverse financial environment for fossil fuel companies reduces the likelihood of new development in business frontier regions such as the Arctic, and indeed, major investment bank Goldman Sachs has declared that it “will decline any financing transaction that directly supports new upstream Arctic oil exploration or development”.

We are getting much better at forecasting disaster

Hannah Cloke, professor of hydrology, University of Reading

In March and April 2019, two enormous tropical cyclones hit the south-east coast of Africa, killing more than 600 people and leaving nearly 2 million people in desperate need of emergency aid.

There isn’t much that is positive about that, and there’s nothing new about cyclones. But this time scientists were able to provide the first early warning of the impending flood disaster by linking together accurate medium-range forecasts of the cyclone with the best ever simulations of flood risk. This meant that the UK government, for example, set about working with aid agencies in the region to start delivering emergency supplies to the area that would flood, all before Cyclone Kenneth had even gathered pace in the Indian Ocean.

We know that the risk of dangerous floods is increasing as the climate continues to change. Even with ambitious action to reduce greenhouse gases, we must deal with the impact of a warmer more chaotic world. We will have to continue using the best available science to prepare ourselves for whatever is likely to come over the horizon.

Local authorities across the world are declaring a ‘climate emergency’

Marc Hudson, researcher in sustainable consumption, University of Manchester

More than 1,200 local authorities around the world declared a “climate emergency” in 2019. I think there are two obvious dangers: first, it invites authoritarian responses (stop breeding! Stop criticising our plans for geoengineering!). And second, an “emergency” declaration may simply be a greenwash followed by business-as-usual.

In Manchester, where I live and research, the City Council is greenwashing. A nice declaration in July was followed by more flights for staff (to places just a few hours away by train), and further car parks and roads. The deadline for a “bring zero-carbon date forward?” report has been ignored.

But these civic declarations have also kicked off a wave of civic activism, as campaigners have found city councils easier to hold to account than national governments. I’m part of an activist group called “Climate Emergency Manchester” – we inform citizens and lobby councillors. We’ve assessed progress so far, based on Freedom of Information Act requests, and produced a “what could be done?” report. As the council falls further behind on its promises, we will be stepping up our activity, trying to pressure it to do the right thing.

Radical climate policy goes mainstream

Dénes Csala, lecturer in energy system dynamics, Lancaster University

Before the 2019 UK general election, I compared the Conservative and Labour election manifestos, from a climate and energy perspective. Although the party with the clearly weaker plan won eventually, I am still stubborn enough to be hopeful with regard to the future of political action on climate change.

For the first time, in a major economy, a leading party’s manifesto had at its core climate action, transport electrification and full energy system decarbonisation, all on a timescale compatible with IPCC directives to avoid catastrophic climate change. This means the discussion that has been cooking at the highest levels since the 2015 Paris Agreement has started to boil down into tangible policies.

Young people are on the march!

Mark Maslin, professor of earth system science, UCL

In 2019, public awareness of climate change rose sharply, driven by the schools strikes, Extinction Rebellion, high impact IPCC reports, improved media coverage, a BBC One climate change documentary and the UK and other governments declaring a climate emergency. Two recent polls suggest that over 75% of Americans accept humans have caused climate change.

Empowerment of the first truly globalised generation has catalysed this new urgency. Young people can access knowledge at the click of a button. They know climate change science is real and see through the deniers’ lies because this generation does not access traditional media – in fact, they bypass it.

The awareness and concern regarding climate change will continue to grow. Next year will be an even bigger year as the UK will chair the UN climate change negotiations in Glasgow – and expectation are running high.The Conversation

Heather Alberro, Associate Lecturer/PhD Candidate in Political Ecology, Nottingham Trent UniversityDénes Csala, Lecturer in Energy Storage Systems Dynamics, Lancaster UniversityHannah Cloke, Professor of Hydrology, University of ReadingMarc Hudson, Researcher in Sustainable Consumption, University of ManchesterMark Maslin, Professor of Earth System Science, UCL, and Richard Hodgkins, Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography, Loughborough University

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

28.12.2019 – Countercurrents

The 2019 Nobel Prize shows why we need to dump conventional economics

By Dr Ted Trainer

The prize has gone to three people studying how the poor can derive more benefit from existing “development” practices. It sees no reason to question the existing market and growth-driven economy and its derivative, development theory. It doesn’t threaten the massively unjust and environmentally destructive global systems that keep billions in poverty.

The 720,000 pound Prize has been awarded for studies carried out in “developing” countries over several decades, applying randomised trials to determine the effects of interventions like school meals, small monetary incentives for school attendance and work motivation. (Nobel Media, 2019.) Especially noteworthy are devices for reducing “…purchasing of temptation goods”, (…conceivably also of use in rich countries.) These are identified as ”nudges”, only likely to make small differences in the right direction but claimed to be capable of adding to significant effects in large populations. Much if not all of this work would seem to be unambiguously worthwhile, such as exploring how to improve vaccination rates. But there are disturbing criticisms which go far beyond these studies to indict the tunnel vision and ideological nature of conventional economic theory and practice.

The focus in these studies is on getting individuals to perform better within the system. The faulty individual is the problem; as Mader et al. (2019) say, “The idea is to ‘help’ poor people overcome supposedly irrational ‘risk aversion’ in order to be more entrepreneurial, or more ‘time-consistent’ and save for a rainy day.” Even leaving the issue of fault aside, this focus on individualism is the first problem; like “micro-finance” which helps the budding entrepreneur to invest and get ahead, it is about helping the most able and energetic to succeed, presumably on the assumption that if enough do so a good society will eventually result. This is to ignore the possibility that the problems are due to faulty social structures rather than faulty individuals, and the possibility that the best solutions would involve collective effort to establish radically alternative structures and systems.

Thus the second major problem is that the approach takes conventional development theory and practice for granted. It reveals a complete absence of interest in the possibility that these are technically and morally unacceptable and a legitimization of structures and practices which have condemned billions of people to suffer extreme poverty for decades, and which continue to do so. Mader et al. reject the “behaviourist” approach to the study of poverty and argue that the concern should be “… the political, social and cultural questions about what causes poverty and inequality.” Kvangraven (2019) recognizes that poverty alleviation is not development and that while “…small interventions might generate positive results at the micro-level, they do little to challenge the systems that produce the problems.”

In other words, this kind of focus has powerful ideological significance; it distracts attention from the way economic orthodoxy takes it for granted that there can be no conceivable alternative to the current approach to “development”. It is necessary here to briefly outline a critique of the dominant perspective.

Few if any areas of economics are as open to criticism as are conventional ”development” theory and practice. The source of the problem lies in the taken for granted conception of what constitutes “development”. There could be many perspectives on what the goals of development might be, and what the means to them might be. However almost all contemporary discussion centres only on one conception. Its essential assumptions and principles are;

The goal, or at least the one that enables the achievement of all others, is increasing the amount of producing and consuming going on, i.e., growing the GDP.

Poor countries must therefore plunge into the global market economy. They must find something to try to sell, if only cheap labour, competing against all other poor countries. Only if something can be sold can the money be earned to import what is needed.

It is not possible to develop without capital. People who have capital must be attracted to invest it in setting up farms, factories, fishing fleets and mines, to produce exports.

These ventures will produce whatever the investors think will maximize their profits within the global market economy. (Foreign investment never goes into producing to meet urgent local needs.)

Foreign investors will not come in unless there are ports, power stations, roads etc. So the government must go into debt to build these.

Before long the loan repayments will probably have become impossible, but the friendly people at the IMF and World Bank will come to the rescue with more loans…and Structural Adjustment Packages which will require the country to gear its development more closely to the interests of the foreign investors; i.e., de-regulate, devalue, sell off industries cheaply to foreign corporations, enable sale of land from peasants to corporations, cut subsidies and welfare so loan repayments can be made.

The result is that the country will develop a lot of factories and plantations, but none of them are likely to be producing anything the poor majority want or can afford. The country’s resources will mostly be flowing into the production of goods to sell in rich world supermarkets.

If the country does not have any logs left to export and can’t attract foreign corporations in, then unfortunately it can’t have any “development”.

It is imperative that market forces be allowed to determine the country’s fate. Business turnover and GCP will be maximised if there is minimal regulation, subsidies, protection or other interference with market forces. So, free corporations to invest in what makes most money for them. Ignore the fact that markets will always deliver scarce resources to the rich, because the rich can always pay more for them, and will always develop industries that produce what the rich want to buy.

All this is cast as not just legitimate, it is inevitable … it’s just the way the market system works. People with capital to invest are not going to come in and produce beans for hungry peasants making negligible profits when they can invest in soy exports and make good profits. You can’t expect high royalties on your copper exports when other countries are willing to accept lower royalties because they are desperate to pay off their debt.

The impoverished masses are told to accept these processes because they will benefit via “trickle down”. They are not told that in fact very little ever trickles down or that it is not the case that the mechanism is lifting large numbers out of poverty (except in China, which has taken the exporting capacities other countries once had and thus raised unemployment rates there; see Hickel, 2017.) Nor are they told that global resource limits rule out any possibility of trickle down ever raising billions of impoverished people to tolerable living standards, let alone to rich world levels.

After seventy years of this approach to development about four billion people are very poor, around 800 million are hungry and more lack clean water, thousands of children die avoidably every day …and half the world’s wealth has now been accumulated in the hands of less than 20 people. Leahy’s work (2009, 2019) is unusual in pointing out the futility of mainstream African development efforts to get impoverished farmers to succeed in the intensely competitive global “free market” food export arena. (Let’s not draw attention to the fact that US agribusiness is subsidized $20 billion every year.)

This conventional approach is a delight to the world’s rich; development cannot take place unless the owners of capital get opportunities to invest in profitable ventures, and Third World productive capacity goes into stocking rich world supermarkets and not into producing what the people urgently need. Even worse, it prevents them from using the resources around them, the soils, forests, rainfall and their own labour and traditional skills, to produce for themselves basic goods they need. “Development” theory rules this out; there is no alternative, indeed no alternative is conceivable. This is just as well; imagine how disruptive it would be if Third World people worked out how to develop satisfactorily without having anything to do with investors, banks, debt, export industries, or the IMF. But the risk is slight as all the experts and advisers have studied conventional economics.

The economics text books do not point out that conventional economics is only one of many possible kinds of economics, a kind narrowly focused not on increasing religious observance for instance, but simply on maximizing production for sale in markets. By contrast the development goal of Bhutan is to maximize the Gross National Happiness.

Thus conventional development economics is in fact only about capitalist development; it is an approach which allows development to be driven by the investment of capital to maximize profits. It produces a great deal of development, but it is almost entirely only development in the interests of the rich. It can, in other worlds, be seen as a thinly disguised form of plunder. Economics courses tend not to draw attention to this interpretation of how development works.

What then might be the goals of a more acceptable conception of “development”? One suggestion might be, enabling all to enjoy a high quality of life in ecologically sustainable ways. Consider the factors most likely to enable this. Would not these include, having good health, good food, sufficient shelter and clothing, having a good family and friends in a supportive community, satisfying and appreciated work, freedom from violence, insecurity, stress, anxiety and depression, knowing others care about you, knowing you will be secure in old age, a relaxed pace, a pleasant and sustainable environment, a sense of having collective control over one’s society, living in a society one can be proud of, one that all the world’s people could share? Except perhaps for the first of these factors, monetary wealth is irrelevant let alone a prerequisite. Some of the world’s poorest people, including those living in rich world Eco-villages, enjoy them all.

It is very easy to design settlements and economies which would guarantee these conditions. Here is a brief indication of The Simpler Way vision.

Assist people to build highly self-sufficient and cooperative local/village/regional/economies which devote local resources to meeting as many of their needs a possible.

In framing goals and policies totally ignore monetary values, volumes of investment, business turnover or GDP.

Aim at providing simple but sufficient, food, housing, clothing, etc., via community development committees organizing available land, labour and skills to meet as many urgent needs as possible. Focus first on intensive development of alternative/sustainable agriculture. This might involve many existing small private farms and firms but would prioritise building community collective capacities, through non-profit co-operatives, commons, community supported agriculture, working bees, edible landscapes, tree crops, free food sources etc. Only export surpluses.

Facilitate craft, garden, artisan, hand tool and traditional means of producing as these are typically quite adequate, but use modern technologies where sensible.

Eliminate unemployment. Organize for all to have a productive role; there are many things that need doing. This is best done by setting up village co-operatives to produce necessities, e.g., fish or poultry.

If necessary create village currencies to enable trade between people who have no national currency, simply by recording credits and debts created by mutually beneficial exchange.

Establish village self-government, via participatory town assemblies and committees. Avoid top-down authoritarian or expert led procedures. The empowerment and morale of all as equal citizens is crucial for effective village functioning.

Avoid or at least minimize involvement of official government agencies, except in so far as they are willing to support village-led development.

These activities can flourish without any need to first eliminate the normal market driven economy. They involve the establishment of a new Needs-Driven-Economy along side the old Profit-Driven-Economy. In time it is likely that the role for the latter will become less relevant.

The most important committees organize cultural affairs, education, monitoring (especially of community morale and perceived quality of life), festivals, celebrations and the provision of local leisure and holiday activities, all at negligible dollar or resource costs.

Recognise that the quality of life must be redefined in terms of enjoying, community, arts and crafts, a relaxed pace, leisure time, freedom from stress, depression, unemployment and insecurity, contributing to an admirable society … as distinct from accumulating individual or national monetary wealth. One’s wealth-of-life-experience would derive from how well one’s village was working.

These local economies will need some but very few basic inputs from the wider regional and national economies, such as chicken wire, plastic irrigation pipe, cement and hand tools. Providing these would require governments to allocate very few national resources. Governments would need to widely distribute the few mostly light industries producing these items so that each village could make a contribution the national supply of some of these, enabling it to pay for its imports of those it required.

The miniscule resources needed would leave national governments quite capable of funding the socially crucial systems villages need but can’t provide for themselves, such as medical services, especially when this alternative approach would enable them redirect the wealth flows presently going out to foreign investors and shoppers.

Most of these elements are characteristic of the 3,000 Eco-villages that now exist. The Remaking Settlements study (Trainer 2019) explains how an outer Sydney suburb redesigned along these lines might cut per capita dollar and resource costs by 90% while providing most of its food and other needs. Lockyer (2019) found that the Dancing Rabbit Eco-village in Missouri had per capita resource use rates around 5 to 10% of US national averages. Sustainability cannot be achieved unless reductions of this order are achieved, and they can only be achieved where settlement geographies and economies are small in scale, integrated and highly collectivist/cooperative (although there could also be many privately owned small farms, firms and co-ops.). For example these conditions enable kitchen scraps to go straight to the poultry and their manures to go straight to gardens, at no cost in energy, transport, bureaucracy etc. The study of egg supply by Trainer, Malik and Lenzen (2019) found that such a supply path would have dollar and energy costs around 0.5% – 2% of the typical supermarket path.

The Senegalese government is working to establish 1,400 Eco-villages. (St Onge, 2015.) Leahy (2009, 2019) documents the remarkable success of the kind of alternative village self sufficiency advocated above, concerned to enable African villagers to use the resources around them to cooperatively meet as many of their basic needs as possible.

Evidently no relevance or value is seen in any of this by the Nobel Prize winners, or the judges, or almost anybody else within the economics profession/industry. To them this would be obvious because this alternative fails to recognise that economics in general and “development” in particular can only be about earning more money, investing capital, increasing production for sale, and raising the GDP. Hence the remarkable power that the study of economics has on the mind. These people profess to want to remedy poverty but they can see no reason to study the glaringly obvious, glaringly unjust massive structures that determine and legitimize the flow of Third World wealth into the pockets of the rich while keeping billions impoverished. Most disturbing is not that three high prestige researchers think the best strategy is not to question that system while working out how to help/prod a few more people to get more of the scarce credentials and jobs it offers, it is the mentality of the economics establishment which has led it to regard this work as the most valuable contribution to poverty relief they could find.

For a more detailed critique of conventional development, and of the alternative to it, see Third World Development


Hickel, J., (2017), The Divide; A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions, Heinemann, London.

Kvangraven, I. H., (2019), Impoverished economics? Unpacking the economics Nobel Prize”, OPEN DEMOCRACY https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/oureconomy/impoverished-economics-unpacking-economics-nobel-prize/

Leahy, T., (2009), Permaculture Strategy for the South African Villages, Palmwoods, Qld., PI Productions Photography.

Leahy, T., (2018), Food Security for Rural Africa: Feeding the Farmers First, Routledge.

Lockyer, J., (2017), “Community, commons, and De-growth at Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage”, Political Ecology, 24, 519-542.

Nobel Media, (2019), The Prize in Economic Sciences 2019. NobelPrize.org. Sat. 26 Oct. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/economic-sciences/2019/summary/>

St-Onge, E., (2015), “Senegal Transforming 14,000 Villages Into Eco-villages!”, Collective Evolution, June 17. https://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/06/17/senegal-transforming-14000-villages-into-ecovillages/

Trainer, T., A. Malik and M. Lenzen, (2019), “A Comparison Between the Monetary, Resource and Energy Costs of the Conventional Industrial Supply Path and the “Simpler Way” Path for the Supply of Eggs”, , September.
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s41247-019-0057-8

Trainer, T., (2019), “Remaking settlement for sustainability”; Journal of Political Ecology, 26.1.

Ted Trainer is an Australian academic, author, and an advocate of economic degrowth, simple living, and ‘conserver’ lifestyles.

27.12.2019 – Los Angeles – Robert Hunziker

The Amazon at a Tipping Point
View of Amazon basin forest north of Manaus, Brazil. Image taken from top of a 50 m tower for meteorological observations, and the top of vegetation canopy is typically 35 m. The image was taken within 30 minutes of a rain event, and a few white ‘clouds’ above the canopy are indicative of rapid evaporation from wet leaves after the rain.

The Amazon rainforest is a crucial life-support ecosystem. Without its wondrous strength and power to generate hydrologic systems across the sky (as far north as Iowa), absorb and store carbon (CO2), and its miraculous life-giving endless supply of oxygen, civilization would cease to exist beyond scattered tribes, here and there.

Sad to say, a recent scientific analysis of the health of the Amazon rainforest is downright dismal. The world’s two leading Amazon scientists, Thomas Lovejoy (George Mason University) and Carlos Nobre (University of Sao Paulo) recently reported: “Today, we stand exactly in a moment of destiny: The tipping point is here, it is now.” (Source: Amazon Tipping Point: Last Chance for Action, Science Advances, Vol. 5, no. 12, December 20, 2019).

That’s one of the most devastating news stories in all of human history. Ergo, the persistent climate change headache morphs into a head-splitting pounding migraine of monstrous proportions.

It’s lamentable that world leadership does not take seriously the potential of major ecosystems dying in plain sight. This story should have world leaders shaking in their boots. But, by all appearances, no one is chagrined, other than the scientists who conducted the research.

Tipping points are final acts in nature, points of no return for ecosystems, as functionality turns sour. Regarding the vastness of the Amazonian rainforest, its functionality is so worldly powerful that loss is incomprehensible and likely a final act for civilized, as well as uncivilized, life on the planet. The mighty Amazon is a principal source of oxygen as well as the main driver of hemispheric hydrologic systems (rivers in the sky), impacting rainfall patterns as far away as the cornfields of Iowa.

The Amazon at a tipping point is equivalent to: Nobody knows for sure because it’s never happened before, but there are no positives.

In fact, it’s unimaginable, literally beyond comprehension. Yet, it’s started right before an eyes wide shut world community. And, it’s entirely the result of stupid humans doing really stupid things, like stripping away “the majestic rainforests of all ages” in exchange for “fleeting human needs.” Honestly, it’s true!

According to the scientists, current trends threaten (1) to turn parts of the rainforest into savanna, (2) devastate wildlife, and (3) release billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. As it is starting to happen, the Amazon is becoming an “emitter of carbon”; same as coal power plants.

Lovejoy and Nobre decided to ring the trusty carillon on the public square: “Witnessing the acceleration of troubling trends. The combination of (1) warming temperatures, (2) crippling wildfires and (3) ongoing land clearing for cattle ranching and crops has extended dry seasons, killed off water-sensitive vegetation and created conditions for more fire.”

Not only that, global warming induces severe bouts of drought that repeatedly hit the Amazon hard, actually weakening its powerful core. Three 100-year droughts have hit in just 10 years! According to NASA, serious episodes of drought in 2005, 2010, and 2015 have literally “changed the Amazon,” losing its special “carbon sink” status. That’s global warming hard at work.

“The old paradigm was that whatever carbon dioxide we put up in (human-caused) emissions, the Amazon would help absorb a major part of it.” (Source: Sassan Saatchi of NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, NASA Finds Amazon Drought Leaves Long Legacy of Damage, NASA Earth Science News Team, August 9, 2018)

Nowadays, that old paradigm is giving way to: “The ecosystem has become so vulnerable to these warming and episodic drought events that it can switch from sink to source… This is our new paradigm.” (NASA)

Further aggravating post-drought crumbling, the timing between drought sequences has impeded rapid regrowth. It just doesn’t react like it used to. The rainforest does not have enough time between droughts to heal itself and regrow. That’s a first in all of human history, and the implications are downright dreadful.

It is no exaggeration to say the foregoing analysis is about as bad as it gets prior to the onset of blatantly obvious ecosystem collapses accompanied by hard-hitting repercussions for all of society. That’s when people will finally start to pressure their leadership to “do something” to relieve the dangers and disasters and stop the massive flow of hordes of eco migrants lumbering across the countryside, searching for sustenance.

Meantime, rare agriculturally productive land becomes the most valued asset of all time.

Postscript: “Starting with the drought year of 2005 and running through 2008 … the Amazon basin lost an average of 0.27 petagrams of carbon (270 million metric tons) per year, with no sign of regaining its function as a carbon sink.” (NASA, August 2018)

26.12.2019 – London UK – Silvia Swinden

An Economics Nobel Prize view of neoliberalism and Argentina’s future
Stiglitz at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, 2009 (Image by Алый Король. CC BY SA 2.0, Wikipedia)

Joseph Stiglitz is an American economist who received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001. He is a former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank. In recent years he has been a harsh critic of globalised neoliberalism, which he calls “free market fundamentalism”, and of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Not bad for a system insider. 

His unmissable recent piece on this subject published by The Guardian describes in no uncertain terms how: “Decades of free-market orthodoxy have taken a toll on democracy:

“After 40 years of neoliberalism, the verdict is in – the fruits of growth went to the few at the top. The credibility of neoliberalism’s faith in unfettered markets as the surest road to shared prosperity is on life-support these days. And well it should be. The simultaneous waning of confidence in neoliberalism and in democracy is no coincidence or mere correlation. Neoliberalism has undermined democracy for 40 years.

‘The form of globalisation prescribed by neoliberalism left individuals and entire societies unable to control an important part of their own destiny, as Dani Rodrik of Harvard University has explained so clearly, and as I argue in my recent books Globalization and Its Discontents Revisited and People, Power, and Profits. The effects of capital-market liberalisation were particularly odious: if a leading presidential candidate in an emerging market lost favour with Wall Street, the banks would pull their money out of the country. “Voters then faced a stark choice: give in to Wall Street or face a severe financial crisis. It was as if Wall Street had more political power than the country’s citizens.

“Even in rich countries, ordinary citizens were told: “You can’t pursue the policies you want” – whether adequate social protection, decent wages, progressive taxation, or a well-regulated financial system – “because the country will lose competitiveness, jobs will disappear, and you will suffer”.

Now he has given his blessing to the choice of Economy Minister by the new Argentinian Government headed by Alberto Fernandez. Acknowledging the disastrous Macri Government/IMF interaction he writes: “Argentina chooses right man at right time to reignite the economy.

‘Martín Guzmán is a leading expert on sovereign debt and the problems it can cause.

“When the former president Mauricio Macri took office, his economic team openly admitted that while they had inherited many problems, they started with one major advantage: a low level of debt. They gambled on a set of policies – making, for instance, untimely and unnecessarily large cuts in export taxes, paying off old, defaulted debt to so-called vulture funds with unconscionably high returns, and taking on new high-interest, long-term, dollar-denominated debt, all in the hope that market-friendly signals would lead to a rush of growth-spurring foreign investment. Even at the time I thought it was a foolhardy gamble.

“The rest is history. It didn’t work out and as matters went from bad to worse, Macri compounded the mistakes. More borrowing, including a $57bn programme with the International Monetary Fund. Austerity. Misguided sterilisation efforts to prevent inflation, which built up a debt overhang. The worst of all possible worlds was soon at hand: more inflation (reaching almost 60% in the current year), higher unemployment (already at double digits and rising) and the re-imposition of the exchange controls, the removal of which Macri had lauded at the outset of his administration as the cornerstone of his economic policy.

“As Fernández has put it, one doesn’t solve a problem of excessive debt by taking on more debt

“As a result, Fernández inherits a far worse economic situation than Macri confronted: higher inflation, higher unemployment and now, a debt beyond Argentina’s ability to service. Doubling down on a failed policy will not work; nor will returning to what preceded it. That is why it is so important that Fernández has appointed a knowledgeable, brilliant economist who combines youthful energy with a wisdom well beyond his 37 years.”

Stiglitz is less vocal about the way most of the money lent to the Macri Government went not to treat the country’s structural problems but to the usual corrupt members of the administration and many international  investors taking advantage of now well established bizarre high returns which have dominated Argentina’s economy for many years. But his positive view of the new Economy Minister, who he knows personally and has worked with, opens interesting possibilities of solid advice.

It is not a matter of idealising the new government. Problems may arise from its mixed bag of new appointees, as shown before. And the old enemies, the right wing media and US foreign policies towards progressive Latin American governments, will no doubt reappear with renewed energy.

But let´s hope that Stiglitz and Co, if they are prepared to give a hand, realise that the boom/bust cycles of the country are not “accidents” but a well planned strategy on a country that has been proven able to recover from each crisis of stolen wealth and has produced more wealth during progressive governments, at which point the kleptocrats ready themselves for another cycle of stealing and dehumanising social policies. How to break this cycle will need both a good local strategy and some international support.

24.12.2019 – Santiago de Chile – Pía Figueroa

This post is also available in: FrenchItalianGerman

A message from the heart of the on-going Chilean social awakening
Popular demostration (Image by Pressenza)

We are publishing here a letter sent by Pia Figueroa to a Pressenza colleague in the UK as it reflects the intersection between the political and existential experiences that the Chilean population has been going through since the beginning of the social unrest and rebellion against the government’s most unpopular policies, which are rooted in long years of violent and dehumanising neoliberal dogma going back to the Pinochet era. The unrest was triggered initially by a student protest against an increase in Metro fares.

Dear Tony

“… whilst you adapt to the new situation in England, for the past two months we have been living here in conditions of total instability. Each and every day is absolutely unpredictable, we do not know how the day will end or if it will develop as we may hope.

Lots of jobs of course are suspended (many of them, like mine, obviously so since there are no public events, seminars or conferences to translate). Traffic is very difficult because we, the people, are demonstrating in the main streets and purposefully creating traffic jams. Public transport has been almost impossible to use since October 18th, when many metro stations were destroyed.

Also supermarkets were burned, as well as pharmacies and other important shops, so we just buy the things we really need in little neighbourhood shops. We walk a lot and use bicycles.

The police are everywhere, repressing and controlling, acting with such violence that one has to be extremely careful when moving around.  Political coalitions are spliting and the different social movements are trying to give reference, but there are no leaders able to guide this social unrest. TV channels are lying and manipulating as never before. The government is completely unable to take correct decisions and everything it does increases the present crisis. Social media are burning with many, many appeals to demonstrate in an incredible variety of forms.

And in spite of all that, and many other things I could describe, we have never experienced such an epic moment, with such inspired collective moments, with such a subtle and profound synchronicity among those demonstrating in the streets.

Something very deep has changed and it is expressed in the way that people look at each other: without fear, suspicion or indiference, because everyone counts and each life is important. Feeling that a common new consciousness is being born, which could lead us – sooner or later – to another type of society because a newly born sensibility is opening up and developing from the deepest spaces within us all.

Maybe, and it is very possible, we will soon fail in this attempt. But the intangible values and feelings we have experienced will remain and guide us again, and again, towards that new society that already exists in our hearts, until the day arrives when it will be possible to install it and give birth to another type of society.

That is why these two months have been called “Chile woke up”, as if suddenly a change in the state of consciousness in which we all live has been produced.

Your email gave me the sensation that our friendship allows us to talk about ourselves and the way we are living our daily life presently, while we go on with our fantastic and important project of giving space to all demonstration effects through our agency. We may be adapting to new situations, destabilised by these crises, but this wonderful project that is Pressenza allows us to reach many others with our nonviolent and humanist point of view.

Please let us know how we could offer the documentary on Nuclear Disarmament (“The Beginning of the End of Nuclear Weapons*”) to TV channels that may like to broadcast it. We will try to reach as many as possible starting in the new year.

A very big hug, Pía

 

*Produced by Tony Robinson

24.12.2019 – Pressenza New York

“For Sama,” the Right Dose of Oxytocin
Waad al-Kateab and Sama in For Sama

By Jhon Sánchez

Like Tim O’Brien in “How to Tell a War Story,” from “The Things They Carried,” I start this article with the following: ‘This is true. We have a buddy [in Siria.]” Her name is Waad al-Kateab, a journalist. Waad documents her family life, marriage, and pregnancy from Aleppo, a city of four million people under siege by the government of Bashar Hafez al-Assad.’ I’m writing about the new documentary on Syria called “For Sama.”

The camera rattles as the bombs are being dropped each time closer, each time louder. Our protagonists may get hit. Waad’s husband is one of the less than thirty doctors that remain in the city. Part of the film takes place in the improvised hospital founded by her husband, Hamza. We enter in the family circle, and in the inner thoughts of the lyrical protagonist who regrets of being pregnant even though she also feels happy for it. The documentary exemplifies what O’Brien writes, “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done.”

The footage showed us a Dr. Hamza cheerful in control of himself, and we can’t believe it. We can’t believe even a little boy that after all the bombings, after that many of his friends had been killed, he cries because he doesn’t want to leave Aleppo. O’Brien writes again, “In many cases, a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true, and the normal stuff isn’t because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.” And miracles occur; A baby survives after being extracted through a c-section from the dead body of his mother. The nurse massages him, pushes his heart, rubs his entire body until he, finally, opens his eyes as the uproar raises in the audience. Unbelievable.

Sama is our protagonist’s daughter and our hope. And the movie moves from the moments of tragedy and death to the Sama’s sweet smile and babblings. The entire film stitches tragedy and joy. “We hope. We despair. We hope. We despair. That is what governs us. We have a bipolar system.” (Maira Kalman, The Pursuit of Happiness). Waad al-Kateab understands narrative and provides with the hope that allows us not to be mute, but with the invitation to act and be sensitive to the situation in Syria.

During the Q & A, Waad al-Kateab invited the public to call to their congress representative and the United Nations Inquire Board on Syria to investigate the Russian bombings of hospitals and other crimes against humanity committed in Aleppo.

Many people would do others wouldn’t, but I think this is not a failure. The movie reached its objective when it makes us sensitive to the dramatic situation in Syria.

It’s throughout this narrative that we can peek and somehow feel how the people in Aleppo would live. We laugh and cry with them. We need that dose of Oxytocin, the so-called molecule of love in the words of Paul J. Zak.

Even if you’re not going to turn into an activist, go and watch the movie. You would become a better person realizing the madness of war and feeling that for little baby Sama because she’s our baby too, our true hope. “Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons.” (Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark).

Have a glass of wine, maybe throw a line of the movie during the lunch break, give a hug to your dearest friend. This person is still with you. And please repeat the words of the poet WS Merwin.

“back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you[…]

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving

dark though it is”

Ps: For those who want to write the UN Inquire Board about the Russian bombing to hospitals in Syria, you can write to Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro the head of the board to the following email address: InfoDesk@ohchr.org or call to +41 22 917 9220

24.12.2019 – Pressenza New York

“For Sama,” the Right Dose of Oxytocin
Waad al-Kateab and Sama in For Sama

By Jhon Sánchez

Like Tim O’Brien in “How to Tell a War Story,” from “The Things They Carried,” I start this article with the following: ‘This is true. We have a buddy [in Siria.]” Her name is Waad al-Kateab, a journalist. Waad documents her family life, marriage, and pregnancy from Aleppo, a city of four million people under siege by the government of Bashar Hafez al-Assad.’ I’m writing about the new documentary on Syria called “For Sama.”

The camera rattles as the bombs are being dropped each time closer, each time louder. Our protagonists may get hit. Waad’s husband is one of the less than thirty doctors that remain in the city. Part of the film takes place in the improvised hospital founded by her husband, Hamza. We enter in the family circle, and in the inner thoughts of the lyrical protagonist who regrets of being pregnant even though she also feels happy for it. The documentary exemplifies what O’Brien writes, “A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done.”

The footage showed us a Dr. Hamza cheerful in control of himself, and we can’t believe it. We can’t believe even a little boy that after all the bombings, after that many of his friends had been killed, he cries because he doesn’t want to leave Aleppo. O’Brien writes again, “In many cases, a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true, and the normal stuff isn’t because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.” And miracles occur; A baby survives after being extracted through a c-section from the dead body of his mother. The nurse massages him, pushes his heart, rubs his entire body until he, finally, opens his eyes as the uproar raises in the audience. Unbelievable.

Sama is our protagonist’s daughter and our hope. And the movie moves from the moments of tragedy and death to the Sama’s sweet smile and babblings. The entire film stitches tragedy and joy. “We hope. We despair. We hope. We despair. That is what governs us. We have a bipolar system.” (Maira Kalman, The Pursuit of Happiness). Waad al-Kateab understands narrative and provides with the hope that allows us not to be mute, but with the invitation to act and be sensitive to the situation in Syria.

During the Q & A, Waad al-Kateab invited the public to call to their congress representative and the United Nations Inquire Board on Syria to investigate the Russian bombings of hospitals and other crimes against humanity committed in Aleppo.

Many people would do others wouldn’t, but I think this is not a failure. The movie reached its objective when it makes us sensitive to the dramatic situation in Syria.

It’s throughout this narrative that we can peek and somehow feel how the people in Aleppo would live. We laugh and cry with them. We need that dose of Oxytocin, the so-called molecule of love in the words of Paul J. Zak.

Even if you’re not going to turn into an activist, go and watch the movie. You would become a better person realizing the madness of war and feeling that for little baby Sama because she’s our baby too, our true hope. “Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons.” (Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark).

Have a glass of wine, maybe throw a line of the movie during the lunch break, give a hug to your dearest friend. This person is still with you. And please repeat the words of the poet WS Merwin.

“back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging

after funerals we are saying thank you

after the news of the dead

whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you[…]

with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving

dark though it is”

Ps: For those who want to write the UN Inquire Board about the Russian bombing to hospitals in Syria, you can write to Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro the head of the board to the following email address: InfoDesk@ohchr.org or call to +41 22 917 9220

22.12.2019 – Pressenza London

In search of a sane economy
On 4 October 2013, Swiss activists from Generation Grundeinkommen organized a performance in Bern in which roughly 8 million coins, one coin representing one person out of Switzerland’s population, were dumped on a public square. This was done in celebration of the successful collection of more than 125,000 signatures, forcing the government to hold a referendum in 2016 on whether or not to incorporate the concept of basic income in the federal constitution. The measure did not pass, with 76.9% voting against changing the federal constitution to support basic income. (Image by Stefan Bohrer – https://www.flickr.com/photos/generation-grundeinkommen/10577574344/, public domain)

Could degrowth, community, and basic income create a sane economy? An interview with one of the godfathers of the basic income movement, Phillippe Van Parijs.

Philippe Van Parijs for openDemocracy-Beyond traffic and slavery.

Phillippe Van Parijs is a philosopher at the University of Louvain and a founding member of the Basic Income Earth Network. Beyond Trafficking and Slavery caught up with him at the 19th Global Basic Income Congress in Hyderabad, India, to chat about how basic income might lead us to a more sane economy.

Beyond Trafficking and Slavery: The basic income movement is split over what sort of community a universal basic income would produce. Would it lead to greater fragmentation of society, or to a utopia in which care for the other sits at the centre. What are your thoughts on this?

Phillippe Van Parijs: As with many questions about the possible effects of a basic income, the immediate answer is always to ask some questions in return. What level of basic income? What does it replace? How is it being funded? Where is it being introduced? There is no general question, and there is no general answer. Nevertheless, there are two important dimensions in the debate about basic income that are relevant to communal relations.

One is that, contrary to the standard sort of minimum income or social assistance scheme that exists in a large number of countries, basic income is strictly individual. Paradoxically, it is this characteristic that encourages communities. It encourages living together. This is because standard social assistance schemes take economies of scale into account. A person living on his or her own gets a benefit that is higher than what that person would receive if they were part of a larger household.

This doesn’t happen with basic income. You remain entitled to the same level of basic income even if you move in with someone else, and even if that person has an income from another source. That encourages people to live together as they will benefit from economising on housing, on washing machines, etc. The economics of scale found in joint living are not undercut this time by an income reduction. That’s one dimension.

Basic income is more than a way of acquiring some purchasing power. It’s a way of empowering people.

The other dimension is related to the common charge that basic income is hostile to participation in the labour market because it’s obligation free. The theory is that basic income would thus hinder a major mechanism for community formation, namely working with others.

I’m not among those who say that we are going towards a work free society, but I do see the potential for an increasing number of people to be excluded from the labour market in the future. The combination of globalisation and technical change generates a polarisation in earning power. As a result, an ever-increasing part of the population is at risk of falling under the threshold of poverty.

Basic income is a way of addressing these trends. It introduces an income floor. This can then be combined with income from work, or used to make combining employment with training and education much easier. This latter aspect is what will enable them to keep contributing to society in the form of paid work.

Basic income shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to the right to work. Basic income as opposed to means-tested schemes is a way of helping everyone to access meaningful work, and to participate in collective paid activities throughout their lives as long and as much as they wish.

You’ve written a great deal about the potential of an unconditional basic income for advancing freedom. Where do you think it could make the most change?

Basic income as commonly defined is unconditional in several distinct senses.

First, it is given in cash rather than in the form of food stamps, or free housing, etc. That’s already one way in which you could say basic income is freedom-friendly. It says that the people, and not bureaucrats, are best qualified to decide what is better for them. If you give cash to people they’ll decide what the best use of it is. That’s one.

Second, basic income is strictly individual. No one needs to come and check with whom you live in order to determine whether you are entitled to a basic income or not.

Third, it’s universal. You get it whether you are rich or poor. That’s also enhances freedom, because it means that if you get a job you don’t lose the basic income. What frequently happens is that people are offered a job that pays somewhat better than their benefits, but they don’t dare take it because it will mean losing the benefits. That might seem strange, but remember that benefits are more stable sources of income than many jobs. If they end their benefits to take a job and then are sacked, they have a problem. Basic income is given irrespective of your income or employment status and so it won’t constrain choices in this way.

Fourth, it’s not restricted to people who are willing and able to work. It’s obligation free. If you give up your job because you think it is a lousy job, or because you are treated badly by your boss, you remain entitled to it. No administration can oblige you to take on a job if you don’t want to take that job.

The combination of all these features means that basic income is more than a way of acquiring some purchasing power. It’s a way of empowering people, of enabling them to choose from among a wide range of options that otherwise would not be available to them.

You’ve just written a book with Yannick Vanderborght about how basic income could help us create a more sane economy. What do you mean by that?

What is a sane economy? An economy that is sane is an economy that doesn’t make people sick, and doesn’t make our planet sick. Basic income is a way of making the economy more sane. With respect to the health of people, it enables those who work too much to work less, allowing them to reduce their working time before they burn out or when they need to re-train. It’s also a way for them to slow down at the moment that their children may need more of their time.

It’s also a way of making our economy more sane with respect to the planet itself. Worldwide there are the problems of unemployment and the working poor. People on both the left and right regard these as problems. So what do you do? The traditional answer on both the right and left was, and to some extent still is, growth. We need growth because growth will produce well-paying jobs. If growth slows down there will be less jobs overall, and those that do exist will be less well-paid. So let’s go for growth and growth and growth.

This is crazy, as the relentless quest for growth gradually destroys our planet. Basic income pushes back again this by giving people an income that is independent of their contribution to growth. This would allow some people to take voluntary unemployment, involuntarily unemployed people to find jobs, and anybody to reduce their work hours. It’s a radical alternative to the standard way of thinking that would enable our economy to be more sane and to treat our planet in a less destructive way.

Some people go as far as to talk about basic income as a pathway towards degrowth. Are you of a similar mind?

I have sympathy for the values underlying the degrowth movement, but I think that its rhetoric and campaigns can often be over-simplifying. If you go to a country like India and look at the state of the public infrastructure, the level of remuneration for teachers, the overall level of poverty, you can see that degrowth isn’t the answer there. India still requires massive public and private investment to improve the standard of living. Degrowth cannot possibly make sense all over the world currently.

Nevertheless we need a sane economy that doesn’t destroy the planet, and growth everywhere is definitely part of the problem. So I have a lot of sympathy for the more limited claim that we need to reduce the average level of consumption in the wealthy countries. This doesn’t have to happen evenly – those consuming least cannot be under the same obligation as those consuming most – but the average level of consumption must decrease.

We won’t have a fair and sustainable world without permanent transfers from richer to poorer countries.

It’s important to note that reducing consumption doesn’t mean that the level of production in rich countries must decrease as measured by GDP. We must also realise that we won’t have a fair and sustainable world without permanent transfers from richer to poorer countries. We can’t expect all parts of the world, even within a couple of centuries, to have reached a high enough level of production to lift their standard of living to what can be regarded as a decent level. That means we must combine degrowth of consumption in the wealthy countries with continued growth of production, and then accept that part of that value must be redistributed to other countries.

That’s another way in which basic income is crucially relevant when we think about a sustainable and desirable future. The form taken by transnational transfers must be extremely simple. It cannot be a means-tested transfer to the poor, it cannot be linked to some sort of enforceable obligation. So, the only form it could take is the form of an unconditional dividend. This could be presented and funded in all sorts of ways, such as a worldwide carbon dividend, but this is the way in which we must think about the future. Production growth must continue all over the world, consumption in wealthy countries cannot, and transnational transfers must grow in importance.

Politically we are far from this becoming a possibility. That’s why I attach great importance to the current debate within Europe about the Eurodividend. The idea of having a modest basic income funded at the level of the European Union, which would work as an individual, transnational, redistributive system. This has never existed in the world. It is one of the many utopias we must strive to realise.

This feature on universal basic income was financially supported by a grant from Humanity United.

20.12.2019 – Rome, Italy – Inter Press Service

2019 – A Devastating Year in Review
Children from rural areas and disempowered homes are ideal targets for trafficking in India and elsewhere. (Image by Neeta Lal / IPS)

By Farhana Haque Rahman

By any measure this has been a devastating year: fires across the Amazon, the Arctic and beyond; floods and drought in Africa; rising temperatures, carbon emissions and sea levels; accelerating loss of species, and mass forced migrations of people.

As seen through the eyes of IPS reporters and contributors around the world, 2019 will be remembered as the year the climate crisis shook us all, and hopefully also for the fight back manifested in the spread of mass protests and civic movements against governments and industries failing to respond.

Calls to combat the climate emergency were ringing in the ears of delegations from nearly 200 countries at the annual UN climate summit that opened in Madrid on December 2. Yet despite warnings that the planet is reaching critical tipping points, fears remained that the two weeks of negotiations would end in that familiar sense of disappointment and an opportunity missed.

“Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?” declared U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

But the heads of government of the world’s biggest emitters were notably absent, including Donald Trump of the US, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who refused to host the meeting, also stayed away rather than face a hostile reception. Protests against the fires sweeping Brazil’s Amazon rainforest and the government’s encouragement of deforestation are spreading around the world, especially in Europe. Youth is the new face of activism as inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg and others.

In one of many scientific surveys ringing alarm bells in 2019, a landmark report by IPBES, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, warned that more than one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.

The climate crisis and species extinction are twin challenges with far-reaching consequences. IPS this year covered how drought in some areas of Africa is leading to re-runs of famine and migration.

The expanding Sahara desert is breaking up families and spreading conflict. The Sahel on the southern edge of the Sahara is the region where temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on Earth. Projects such as the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification’s Land Degradation Neutrality project aimed at preventing and/or reversing land degradation are some of the interventions to stop the growing desert.

Relief workers warned in November that more than 50 million people across southern, eastern and central Africa were facing hunger crises because of extreme weather conditions made worse by poverty and conflict.

While much of the Horn of Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are being ravaged by drought, small island states, especially in the Pacific, are sinking beneath rising sea levels or becoming more vulnerable to hurricanes and typhoons.

Irregular migration is on the rise, and has driven thousands to their deaths on hazardous journeys. The thousands drowned crossing the Mediterranean has led to projects like Migrants as Messengers in Guinea launched by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) which recruits returnees to raise awareness of the dangers.

People smugglers make money out of migrants with scant regard for their safety while other vulnerable people, especially women and girls, fall into the hands of exploitative human traffickers. As a major source of migrants heading towards the United States, Central America is an impoverished region rife with gang violence and human trafficking – the third largest crime industry in the world. Human trafficking has deep roots in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for decades and, as IPS has reported this year, it increasingly requires a concerted law enforcement effort by the region’s governments to dismantle trafficking networks and help women forced into sexual exploitation.

Over 40 million people are estimated to be enslaved around the world. Presenting her report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN expert Urmila Bhoola pointed out that servitude will likely increase as the world faces rapid changes in the workplace, environmental degradation, migration and demographic shifts.

Eradicating modern slavery by 2030, one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, would require the freeing of 10,000 people a day, Ms Bhoola reported, citing the NGO Walk Free.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR says more than 70 million people are currently displaced by conflict, the most since the Second World War. Among them are nearly 26 million who have fled their countries (over half under the age of 18). But the response of many countries has been to erect barriers and walls.

And the plight of some one million Muslim Rohingya refugees, driven out of Myanmar into Bangladesh, shows little sign of resolution. Paralysis at the U.N. Security Council, where veto-wielding China can protect its interests in Myanmar, has triggered interventions by both the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice which are expected to sit in judgment over the atrocities.

Bangladesh is already struggling with the impact of severe cyclones in November and, as recently reported by IPS, long-term projects are helping its own climate migrants achieve food security. Because of government interventions in agriculture, Bangladesh has already achieved sufficiency in food. According to the Food Sustainability Index 2018 of the Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) many farmers have substantially reduced fertiliser use and increased yields.

The SDGs made a solemn promise to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty by 2030, and that cannot be achieved unless the world’s smallholder farmers can adapt to climate change.

But since 2016 global numbers of hungry people have been on the rise again. In September a welcome $650 million of funding reached CGIAR, a partnership of funders and international agricultural research centres and formerly known as the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research.

At the other extreme, April is Reducing Food Waste Month in the United States, as efforts mount to reduce food loss and waste, and deal with growing obesity. For the U.S. and 66 other countries BCFN has produced a food sustainability index profile that dives into all the relevant sectors, ranging from management of water resources, the impact on land of animal feed and biofuels, agricultural subsidies and diversification of agricultural system, to nutritional challenges, physical activity, diet and healthy life expectancy indicators.

The Global Commission on Adaptation Report, launched in October, says the number of people who may lack sufficient water, at least one month per year, will soar from 3.6 billion today to more than 5 billion by 2050. Climate change has a disproportionate impact on women and girls who bear the brunt of looking for water.

Nutrition is the best investment in developing Africa, experts say, with evident correlation between countries with high levels of children under five years of age who are stunted or wasted and the existence of political instability and/or frequent exposure to natural calamities. The nutritional situation is worrying in Africa, Busi Maziya-Dixon, a Senior Food and Nutrition Scientist at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), told IPS with research showing all forms of malnutrition, including stunting, wasting, and obesity, are growing. “We need to educate our governments to link nutrition to economic development and prioritize nutrition.”

Overall investment in Africa continued to gather pace in 2019, however. Amid IMF warnings of a “synchronised slowdown” in global economic growth, 19 sub-Saharan countries are among nearly 40 emerging markets and developing economies forecast to maintain GDP growth rates above 5 percent this year. Particularly encouraging for Africa is that its present growth leaders are richer in innovation than natural resources.

Small steps can bring big results by simply getting together. In September Manila hosted the first ever global forum for people with Hansen’s disease, commonly known as leprosy. Participants from 23 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean shared common challenges at the forum organised by The Nippon Foundation (TNF) and Sasakawa Health Foundation (SHF). Last week in Bangladesh, the country’s National Leprosy Program, in collaboration with the TNF and SHF brought together hundreds of health workers, medical professionals and district officers to discuss the issue under the theme “Zero Leprosy Initiatives”. Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina who opened the Congress said, if special attention is given to its northern region and the Chittagong Hill Tracts, it is quite possible to declare Bangladesh a leprosy free country before 2030.

All in all however, the SDGs are in trouble, with the U.N. Secretary-General warning in July that a “much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve our 2030 goals”. A 478-page study by independent experts drove the message home.

Lastly, as 2019 draws to a close, let’s pay tribute to all those reporters around the world who have bravely covered these issues, spreading knowledge and defending press freedoms despite obvious dangers and more insidious campaigns of vilification.

 The original article can be found on our partner’s website here

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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