Month: February 2011

A Cure That’s Worse Than the Disease

  In this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama declared deficit reduction to be a critical step to move the country forward. Republicans and Democrats disagree vehemently over how much to cut from the federal budget. Yet neither party seems to have considered that the right amount might be none. It is certainly true that we are living in an era of unprecedented deficits. In each of the last three years the federal government has run a shortfall topping $1 trillion. It is also true that there is widespread agreement across the political spectrum that the deficits must be addressed. As President Obama stated, “Now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. That is not sustainable.” Just a day earlier, House Republicans pushed government spending cuts to the top of their legislative agenda. In all this talk about the deficit, one topic has taken a back seat: the economic crisis. Perhaps we’ve become used to it. Or perhaps it is the prevailing view that – calls for civility aside – this divided Congress is unlikely to reach common ground on boosting economic growth. The fact remains that close to one out of every 10 Americans who wants to work can't find a job. Astoundingly, the figure is closer to one in...

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Oh, Those Onerous Environmental Programs

  In this, the age of budget deficits, no political party wants to be caught being the one without any budget cuts to advocate. President Obama handed down a budget that promised to cut troubled programs or programs that had not been able to deliver results, to achieve what one administration official told the Associated Press would amount to “$1.1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade.” The Republican-controlled House and its Appropriations Committee unsurprisingly had just a few additions to the budget cuts, and the resulting budget has stalled in the Senate. Bloomberg.com reported on February 22 that Democrats are unwilling to accept the cuts on the grounds that they “will harm the economy and the nation’s security.” Republicans have an important bargaining chip: The debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion will need to be raised soon, according to the Treasury Department, and Republicans will not raise it unless cuts are passed. An impasse, to be sure. What’s wrong with the Republican budget cuts? Among the controversial spending cuts lies an environmental time bomb: deep cuts in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, targeting programs dealing with everything from air pollution to energy efficiency. The president’s budget also included cuts for the EPA, but largely focused on decreasing spending for water programs, leaving pollution and efficiency programs intact. The Appropriations Committee February 14 press release on the House passage of their...

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Ethiopia’s Got Big Ambitions

  In July 2010, Ethiopia’s Environment Protection Authority declared it would have a carbon-neutral economy by 2025. What? An entire country? Carbon neutral? While I know that developing countries emit considerably less carbon than countries like the United States do, this is a hard claim to swallow, especially in such a short timeframe.  Indeed, it seems that a lot of people have found this claim spurious – only Ethiopian news agencies reported on the declaration, and no multilateral or bilateral agencies supporting environmental efforts have mentioned it as a serious and credible commitment. So is it possible? According to the World Bank, in 2007, the United States’ CO2 emissions came to 19.34 metric tons per capita. South Africans emitted 8.98 metric tons per capita, Kenyans 0.30 metric tons per capita, and Ethiopians just 0.08 metric tons per capita. Ethiopia also has the advantage of low fossil fuel usage, as it only accounts for 8.52% of total energy usage. Fossil fuels account for 85.57% of the U.S. total, 87.74% of the South African total, and 19.57% of the Kenyan total. Ethiopia similarly has low electricity usage, at 40 kilowatts per capita. The United States uses 13638 kilowatts per capita, South Africa 4943, and Kenya 151. None of Ethiopia’s electricity comes from coal or natural gas, and 96.2% of its electricity already comes from hydroelectric sources, a strength that the Ethiopian...

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Explaining NAPAs and Climate Change Adaptation

  Developed countries’ aid programs in Africa often center on responding to the challenges created by climate change, such as desertification, coastal erosion, flooding, and myriad other problems affecting food supply, availability of water, and livelihoods of the impoverished. Through the use of National Adaptation Programs of Action, developed according to guidelines agreed upon internationally, donor nations have found a way to harmonize giving with recipient nations’ development goals and to address populations and regions most vulnerable to climate change in that country. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change spearheaded the effort to recognize climate change as a major problem for least developed countries in order to organize foreign aid around related development efforts. In 2001, the 7th Conference of the Parties passed a decision identifying least developed countries as those who both will bear a disproportionate burden of the costs of climate change as well as those who do not have the appropriate capacity to develop or implement a plan to mitigate these costs and their impact on populations. The 7th Conference saw fit to call for “a country-driven approach that allows developing country Parties to pursue the specific activities most appropriate to their unique national circumstances,” rather than being obligated to adhere to the development programs created by foreign donor governments. The conference went on to set up a work program with methodologies, guidelines, and funding for...

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Without Teeth, the ICC Lacks Real Bite

  On December 15, 2010 the International Criminal Court (ICC) revealed the names of six Kenyan government officials involved in the 2007-2008 post-election violence in the country. The highly publicized announcement had been long-awaited by the Kenyan population. Citizens stopped their daily activities to tune into the announcement made by chief ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo. The news provided answers to the violence that took place after the general elections in Kenya in December 2007. In that month, political riots broke out in Kenya after presidential candidate Raila Odinga accused President Mwai Kibaki of rigging the election process. The political riots soon erupted into ethnic attacks directed at President Kibaki's Kikuyu tribe. In the end, at least 1,100 people were killed, 3,500 were injured and 600,000 were forced to flee their homes. The ICC’s announcement formally accused several prominent Kenyan government officials, including the son of founding president Jomo Kenyatta, two cabinet ministers, and the head of the civil service. These officials were accused of committing "massive crimes," including crimes against humanity during the post-election crisis. But what did this accusation actually accomplish? So far, the ICC has taken no action. All of the accused persons continue to deny the charges against them and to search for ways to avoid a trial at The Hague. Immediately following the ICC announcement, the accused persons pressured the Kenyan Parliament to remove the...

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