measuring responsibility and leadership

Lady Justice (c) Tristan Henry-Wilson

Today I received this in my work email inbox: OECD states cut emissions too slowly.

For anyone who watches the news, this is hardly groundbreaking. For those of us working in environmental justice or international development, we’ve seen graphs and diagrams ad nauseam depicting the earth’s trajectory vis-a-vis greenhouse gas emissions based on different scenarios and data. They have the same story: The planet – and, therefore, humanity – is doomed because we’re not doing enough to rein in emissions.

But who, exactly, are ‘we’? Read More »

china’s alleged “carbon tax” generating a ton of hype

Here’s how it went/is going down: a Ministry of Finance (MoF) official called Jia Chen apparently posted an article on the MoF website announcing that China will introduce a “carbon tax”. The news was spread far and wide – first by state-operated news outlet Xinhua and in Chinese on China Daily, then further through mainstream English media, including mindbogglingly shoddy ‘reporting’ from HuffPo and NYT that has no hard facts. Useless journalism, but regardless, the NYT’s fact-lite blog post is spreading like mad on the interwebz.

But it’s not all bad. My top three picks:

  1. What Would China’s Carbon Tax Regime Look Like – by Ella Chou – now that‘s analysis.
  2. China is getting a carbon tax. But how effective will it be? – Washington Post blog – asks good questions, but it’s all hypotheticals (admittedly there are very few facts to work with)
  3. Chinese carbon tax may pressure Canada to act, experts say – Global – for a Canuck and/or intl trade take on it.

This, as with everything lately, leaves me either cautiously optimistic or mildy sceptical. Keystone XL, for example, was the former. A Chinese carbon tax that could actually just be a pollution fee seldom implemented with no timeline on its introduction?

Mildly sceptical.

who would win on a level playing field?

An acquaintance from my undergrad days saw this poster on my Facebook wall and posed the following hypothetical: If we had $1.4bn to give as subsidies to either the fossil fuel sector or renewable energy sector, which would lower energy costs more for the consumer?

Answer: Renewables, hands down!

Here’s why: The first thing we learn in Economics is that the scarcer something is, the more expensive it is.  The limited supply of fossil fuels means the fuel not only costs something, the cost per unit will continue to increase – we see this today in every other newspaper headline proclaiming that the days of cheap oil are over. Read More »

the much-touted point system

Canada’s immigration policy, as far as I understand it, is based on a ‘point system’ in which applicants are scored based on a list of traits/skills/circumstances deemed desirable or deserving of immigrant status by the Canadian government. If you have a certain number of points, you qualify to immigrate to Canada. Points can be gained if you have, for example, language skills in French or English; family living in the country; experience in a profession/industry/sector in which there is a labour shortage; amount of work experience; and education level, among others.

This point system is oft cited in immigration policy debates around the world. I, however, question the legitimacy of the bases for points. The skills or circumstances deemed ‘desirable’ are decided arbitrarily – sometimes contentiously – by the government. And the reasons for its choices reflects its values and its philosophy of immigration.

Admitting and denying applicants mainly based on their potential contribution to the economy is sad and narrow-minded, because it shows that the government values immigrants mainly in dollar terms. While I recognise the reasoning behind not wanting immigrants to become a financial burden on the public purse, this qualification process ignores the often invaluable ways in which immigrants contribute to their new home – to society and culture and the benefits of diversity. I believe very strongly that diversity strengthens a community simply because there is a greater selection of ideas, and combining Darwinian natural selection with the law of large numbers, this means it is more likely that the idea selected is a better one than otherwise. A heterogeneous community is strong because what ailment afflicts one member does not necessarily afflict the others, who can therefore use their energies to help and support their ill neighbour. And of course, diversity promotes open-mindedness, tolerance, acceptance of new ideas etc. which are valuable in and of themselves. These are inherently ‘good’ no matter their impact on the economy.

Sidenote: Even if the immigrants are poor or low-skilled, what about those studies that show second generation immigrants excel in school and are more likely to have higher education and a white-collar job and so on? If we must use economic measures, immigrants can be thought of as an investment with a return after 20 years.

The Canadian point system is an interesting model to study but is not perfect and should not be put on a pedestal. At least, not on one so high.

Also (and I have no answer as of yet), what of the purported right of citizens of the world to move as they wish?

#ows #truedemocracy #globalchange

Fiona, age 6, calling for a future for everyone

The ‘Occupy’ movement has my full support. I hear criticism of it – from friends and from the media – and their points of criticism sound hollow and petty compared to the motivation of the protesters. Their criticisms sound desperate and and unoriginal.

Conservative, if you will.

Because conservatives like to conserve things. Keep things the way they are. Keep the status quo. Keep the old systems.

But the status quo is unsustainable and has screwed us over via the financial crisis, which, thanks to existing systems, turned into an economic crisis.  Everything wasn’t just going along swimmingly before 2008 – things were pretty shit then, too – but it took something this severe and drastic to wake us up.

Less apathy, more action: for the first time since 2005 and only the third time in my life I got off my lazy behind and physically participated in a political demonstration. And it felt good. Granted, OccupyHamburg had a very modest turnout (approx. 2000) with more modest still enthusiasm, but considering how conservative Hamburg is it was to be expected.

My feeling is that we can’t let the global disillusion with the existing systems of politics and economics – and their resulting fallout – fade yet again to apathy. We need to (if you’ll excuse the term) capitalise on the momentum of widespread discontent to wipe the slate clean of the obstacles and threats to peaceful, loving, wealthy, just and happy societies.

The OWS and other Occupy allies around the world aren’t some crazy fringe hippie group. They are the 99 (+/- 5) %. The rest of the 99% are also getting screwed over by economic, social and environmental injustice but are simply too lazy/entrenched in the hegemonic idea that money is the be-all and end-all of humanity to take to the streets.  My point is, the human beings actually O’ing WS right now represent, in many ways, many of us – perhaps not always by their demands or slogans, but merely by the fact that they are on the streets trying to exercise their civil right and duty in democratic decision-making.

Now is as good a time as any to act in order to ensure a future for everyone.

And here are specific demands off the top of my head for a new world order:

  • electoral reform in Canada to realise proportional representation – so that a party with 39.6% of the popular vote won’t be able to form a majority government any more
  • implementation of a financial transaction tax (aka Tobin/Robin Hood tax) – to reduce harmful short-term speculation
  • no more bank/country bail-outs – nationalise the banks if need be to prevent widespread financial chaos… oh wait, too late re: chaos
  • political transparency and accountability – perhaps through increased direct democracy instruments like referenda?
  • a media watchdog – to monitor and publish the accuracies, inaccuracies, hidden agendas, hidden sponsors/donors, trends of bias and just all-around crappy ‘reporting’
  • stop budget cuts to the most vital social programs – recognise the inestimable value provided by teachers and health care workers to communities and societies
  • adopt and employ well-being indicators beyond GDP (there already exists a TON) – jobs and money are a means to an end, not ends in themselves, and our obsession with material and monetary accumulation has already led and will continue to lead to environmental and societal ruin


canada is home

“I love China, but it breaks my heart,” I used to say. Now I feel the same way about Canada. Another beautiful country going to ruin because of a destructive and fearful government and a populace who, for the most part, is unwilling/unable to right the ship.

Ever since learning about environmental journalist Stephen Leahy’s work on exposing the truth about why Canadians are allowing the tar sands to happen, I’ve felt an increasing sense of duty to be back in Canada to fight as hard as I can for the country I love. I don’t mean to be vain at all – I’m under no illusion that I will make any difference in Canadian politics and policy. But better to have tried and failed than to have surrendered before making any attempt – at least that way I can sleep at night knowing I put up a fight.

Having said that, I’m also acutely aware that “a single grain of rice can tip the scale” (Disney movies have the best quotes). I can’t afford to be apathetic and hopeless when so many young Canadians are. A friend of mine from Queen’s said, “We need you in Canada” and I can feel myself being drawn back home. Realistically, who knows what’s in store for me in the next 2-3 years.

The obstacle now is, if I’m going to be serious about saving my beloved country from being ruled by fear, distrust and hopelessness, I need to learn how best to help. I don’t think it’ll be easy or fun, but war is neither, and this feels a lot like war. And I’m so unprepared and untrained that I don’t even know what our weapons are!

Just had a brainwave. My supervisor where I intern told me that she wants to do a PhD, possibly in the field of energy and gender, and wants to get the WFC (the organisation) to kind of fund it, since it’s absolutely related to the work of the WFC. She half-joked that I could do my master’s thesis on oceans policy, since that’s probably next year’s big theme. Oceans policy is really not my thing. There are a couple of potential thesis ideas floating around on my computer, and most of them are more philosophical/psychological/economic, and definitely not legal. Legal is very difficult for me to understand – and care about.

But the tar sands and Canada’s environment I care about very much. Canadians I care about. And the creation of a “climate of fear” and manipulation of the public’s priorities is very, very interesting. Hence… what if I wrote about the tar sands (environmental) and why Canadians are allowing it (social/psychological/philosophcial) and what the politicians are doing (political/economic/psychological/social) and what our legal code actually says about all this (legal/political)?

Would be sick if WFC would ‘fund’ it, but I might enjoy it regardless, and feel more motivated knowing my work and research will go beyond mere academic curiosity and actually serve a purpose. And something topical can also get published – not in an academic journal, fuck those guys, but in a special interest publication.


I have a few things to confess today. You’re welcome to think me a worse person after reading, but do leave a comment if you have time to explain why.

1. I think some good can come out of the slaughters in Oslo and on Utøya. Hopefully it will generate discussion and debate on right wing extremism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment, THE ROLE OF THE MEDIA in creating and sustaining dangerous stereotypes, the need for more journalistic integrity, Muslims, Christians and terrorism. The silver lining is actually that these discussions will lead to a widespread social rejection of the populist right and reverse the current frightening movement rightward, especially in Europe.

2. I want the global economy to crash and burn. Capitalism does not make the world a better place, and it needs to go, or at least be altered. With the debt crises in the US and Eurozone, we are already starting to witness the inevitable collapse of the global capitalist economy. The frontpage headline on Al Jazeera today is: "Stocks collapse on global slowdown fears". My question is: "So what?" We place far too much importance on financial markets. The economy is not an end in itself, and economic growth should not be the goal of a country. Hopefully current economic woes will help people understand that.

3. Gay pride parades scare me and I’ve never been to one. On the one hand I see the need to trouble the heteronormativity of public space, which is why I support them loudly from the comfort of my home, but on the other it’s a shame that sexual orientation and identity *need* to be politicised and paraded for a greater good. I suppose, however, that all minorities face the pressure to oversimplify and commodify their culture and identity in order to gain public support, and thus, political victory. In addition, pride parades are political not only between marcher and spectator, but also within the marchers themselves; the idea that all non-heteros can march under one unified umbrella is absurd. But such marchng does wonders for publicising the fight for equal rights, so this is me being a slacktivist.

4. Work-related social media is turning me off my own Facebook (because a more lighthearted confession was called for). Sharing links, tweeting and updating statuses has literally become a job now. Hur-freaking-rah. Maybe this will free up some time, energy and material for blogging.