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Tip of professorship

Prof. Murray Hunter

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The Professor as a Pretender. If so, how do they affect the quality of public policy?
The perceptions of what a professor is thought to be tends to be wrapped up in the narratives of public images around certain ‘pop’ individuals who have developed through history and fiction.

Take for example when someone uses the term “Einstein”. The term “Einstein” is now a persona meaning someone who is brilliant, a brilliance almost untouchable for the ‘average man in the street’. It also allures to that person having a sense of pragmatism in solving ‘unsolvable’ problems.

The “professor” played by Russell Johnson in the long running TV series Gilligan’s Island, showed a professor as a technically competent man, although socially awkward around others. In the series, the professor could invent all sorts of marvelous inventions that made life on the island easier, However, he could not build the one thing all the castaways wanted. Weird Al Yankovic in his parody song Isle Thing pointed out that “he (The professor) couldn’t even build a lousy raft”. One of the ironies about the professor in Gilligan’s Island, is that he wasn’t a university professor as most thought, but a high school science teacher and scoutmaster.

There have been numerous other fictional professors over the years portraying traits that people associate with the ‘professorial institution’. Some examples of these are absent-mindedness (Professor Ned Brainard – The Absent Minded Professor), vigilant (Professor Michael Faraday – Arlington Road), Nerdy, unkept, introverted, and accident prone (Professor Julius Kelp – The Nutty Professor), imperious, respected, and even feared (Professor Charles W. Kingsfield Jr – The Paper Chase), and cowardly villain (Dr. Zachery Smith – Lost in Space) .

Through the above personic metaphors, professors are seen in society as both a good and bad influence.
So what does the institution of ‘professorial’ position constitute today? Do the professors fulfill public perceptions, or are they pretenders?

Professors preach to both their students and the world from sheltered ‘ivory towers’ that in many cases are bastions of ‘old school tie’ cliques. This environment, it could be argued, disconnects them from the rest of the world.

Statistics show that very little university research ever becomes commercialized, and thus new innovative intellectual property generated has little social or enterprise value. Many pieces of research end up being solutions that seek a problem.  The comfort zone many university professors exist within blind them to potential opportunities.

Some of the most compelling evidence is the failure of so many complacent academics to see the gravity of the 2008 financial crisis. This led Queen Elizabeth to ask the question of economists on her visit to the London School of Economics. Professor Tim Besley replied on behalf of LSE and admitted that the economic fraternity “lacked any collective imagination” to see the extent of what was coming.

Nouvelle persona of academics see the entrée of celebrity academics or ‘super professors’ as coined by Richard miles, who are media savvy and public personalities in areas adjunct or even totally unrelated to their discipline. One recent article in the Australian website The Conversation suggests that professors are poor communicators in their disciplines, and the advent of these celebrity super professors are a very positive trend in changing academia.
So let’s make a few observations about this crisis in professorial leadership of the academic world.

 

1. Professors appear to become tenured more through who they know rather than what they know. Academia is closed and cliquey, protecting itself from outsiders who are not of similar background. University boards and Senates make rules about who can become one of the professorial clergy, and it won’t be anybody who doesn’t fit the script.

2. Many, if not most professors when they retire, really retire. Very few ever stay in public life, continue with research, or enter private enterprise. This is a let-down from such an supposedly bright and intellectual group.

 

3. Very few professors actually do the work that the public perceive them to be doing. Teaching professors take classes not unlike high school teachers. Administration professors run faculties not unlike managers.  Its only the research professors who tend to research, invent, and take post graduate research students under their wings, and further society’s knowledge through both fundamental and applied research. Research professors however constitute only a very small percentage of the total professorial population. However research professors don’t fare well to the output of researchers based in the corporate world.

4. Most professors have a very narrow area of expertise that hinders holistic approaches to solving problems and making contributions to public society. Professors may be able to excel in very narrow areas, but it appears to be others who take up these ideas and apply them for public benefit. This issue has been so limiting on innovation, that an international innovation initiative has just been launched to improve the capacity of academia to be innovative along with other partners in society.

5. Many professors contribute towards making public policy. Professor Jeffrey Sachs with much superstar fanfare, with supporters such as U2s Bono formulated the Millennium Development Goals to supposedly eradicate poverty from the planet. However this policy has been heavily criticized as lacking initiatives to create any sustainable development. Others argue that these Millennium Goals were developed without much consultation by an elite group of people with little knowledge and experience of developing countries, where consideration of local conditions in various countries and regions was basically ignored. Yet others argue that technocrats (professors) arbitrarily put development over human needs without any discussion and debate over what is really needed. Many professors on reputation alone are able to impose their own policy ideas upon society, without actually having the knowledge and experience to yield such influence in solving world problems. Putting it another way, reputation allows them to escape scrutiny.

6. It could be argued, that with the rigid bureaucratic structures and mechanistic processes that are employed within university organizations, institutes of higher learning are actually the antithesis of intellectualism. Universities are protected bastions from the events and pressures of everyday society, which partly effects the ability of those within these institutions to make contributions to the betterment of the practical world out there.

This validates the pretender metaphor and highlights a problem in world academic leadership, especially in the area of contribution in public policy.

Perhaps it is now time to look at how to restructure the academic hierarchy to promote the development of multidisciplinary academics who can lead academia into the 21st Century. Maybe it’s time to stand aside the masters of any single discipline for those who are ‘jacks of many trades’, and thus more relevant to the needs of contemporary society.

A ‘professor’ is only a temporary title, which has been expanded with new terms like ‘honorary professor’. It’s based on tradition and governing regulations that keep the institution an exclusive club rather than an arsenal of intellectualism that can be utilized to assist society. A new category of academic is required. Thus academia is required to look inward upon itself to redefine the positions in the hierarchy to reflect the great need of ‘new paradigms of wisdom’ required to solve the world’s problems.

This is very necessary if public policy is to shed it’s uni-dimensionality, where ‘out of the box’ creativity can be drawn upon to create future policy roadmaps.

Innovator and entrepreneur. Notable author, thinker and prof. Hat Yai University, Thailand Contact: murrayhunter58(at)gmail.com

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Green Planet

Is the world living up to its climate commitments?

MD Staff

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As the United Nations gears up for the September Climate Action Summit in New York, one of its most high-profile climate conferences in recent times, what progress is the world making in tackling the climate crisis, and how is that progress being measured?

Around three years ago, the global community gathered in Paris in order to build a common approach to fighting climate change. They agreed to make efforts to restrict the rise in global temperatures to “well below”  2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and, if possible, reach 1.5 degrees Celsius.

However, in July of this year the temperature measured 1.2 degrees Celsius above those levels – matching, and even breaking, the record for the hottest month since records began – and the trend is continuing upwards. Extreme weather events across the world mean the planet is on track to record the five hottest years on record, according to the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.

Mr. Guterres says that we are engaged in a “race to limit climate change”. So are we winning? UN News decided to take a closer look at one of the key international instruments used to measure the fight against global warming: Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs.

What are NDCs?

It should be stressed that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is not legally binding in its entirety: it does not tell countries how they should reduce emissions or build climate resilience and adaptation, but encourages countries to write their own ticket: the NDCs.

These climate plans outline what a country promises to do, and how much they plan to reduce emissions. Recognizing that developing countries often lack the resources, finance, and technology, the Paris Agreement calls for developing countries to show what they can do on their own, and what they can do with assistance from the international community.

Why are they important?

Countries have many options on how they can pursue the goals of the Paris Agreement.  This could involve legislation, financial incentives, or tax policies to promote activities that will reduce emissions.  For example, countries can decide to put a price on carbon, through a tax or by building a carbon trading system.

The idea is that, if people have a clear idea of the cost of carbon pollution, they will invest and spend in areas, or fuels, that cost less.  For the average citizen, this could affect what kind of car, or heating, or cooling system they use, among a myriad of other facets of life.

In addition, these policies can help regulate development in areas that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as coastal areas that are facing rising sea levels.

Why are we talking about them now?

Under the Paris Agreement, countries are supposed to enhance their NDCs every few years to show increased ambition over time.

This is known as the “ratchet” mechanism, acknowledging that the initial submissions were nowhere near where we need to be: even if you added up the NDCs of all countries, we would only, at best, be a third of where we need to be, in order to achieve the Paris Goals.

So, countries are supposed to submit updated and enhanced NDCs in 2020, and it is important to mobilize now, to push for increased ambition and action: this is why the Climate Action Summit is being held in 2019.

Is it all doom and gloom?

No! We are seeing a surge of action around the world to move to renewable energy, with huge solar power plants being built in Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, Portugal receiving most of its energy now from renewables, and increasingly, many countries finding that they can power their grids entirely on renewable energy. 

Investment in renewable energy is now outpacing that in fossil fuels, particularly in developing countries, and many countries and sub-regions have successfully enacted carbon pricing.

At the same time, the bottom line is that the world is not moving quickly enough: global emissions are increasing, and the temperature is rising. 

Which regions are leading the way?

No region is clearly surpassing others, but there are countries, and cities, that are showing great progress.  Many countries, including Pacific Island Small Island Developing States, have said that they are moving towards climate neutrality, or having a net zero carbon footprint.

In practice, that means they are able to balance carbon emissions, for example from industry or even just car usage, with carbon removal from the atmosphere, via such techniques as planting more trees, which absorb carbon.

It is a sad irony that these countries, among the most affected by climate change, have done little to contribute to the problem.

Climate action requires investment, and that often requires sound government policies to provide the incentive. Alongside Portugal, several other countries have invested heavily in renewables – including Chile, Ireland, Kenya and Costa Rica –and many European nations have made major advances in reducing their emissions.   

How can we move faster?

We need to see greater political leadership and political will. Carrying on with business as usual will be disastrous and will lead to a global temperature rise of 3 degrees Celsius, or more, this century.

Bold leadership, on the part of government, business and civil society leaders, is critical for advancing climate action. People make a difference as well: changing consumer behavior is important in moving toward a low-carbon economy, which is why the UN has promoted the ActNow Campaign, to offer basic ideas on the steps we all can take.

So, can we solve the climate crisis?

Yes. We have the solutions that we need to address climate change, but we need to use them.  We need to shift investment from the grey, dirty, economy, to the green economy.  The money is there.

We have the technology, now we need to make it accessible to all people in all countries. 

But we need to take action now.  Every bit of warming matters, and the longer we wait, the greater the negative impact.

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Green Planet

Towards a sustainable Blue economy: A Plan to restore the health of our oceans

MD Staff

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Samba Lahy recalls the time when, as a young man, he used to go fishing with his parents off the coast of Tampolove, one of the fishing villages dotting the southwestern coast of Madagascar. Every time his family returned from the sea, their long and narrow canoe would be filled to the brim with fish. But things have changed.

Mr. Lahy, now with a family of his own, has seen his catches dwindle. As a result, like others in Tampolove, he can no longer rely on fishing as his main source of income. His story sounds familiar to many, in scores of fishing villages around the world. 

Today, one third of the world’s fish stocks are overfished, up from 10 per cent in the mid-1970s. Another 60% of fish stocks have been exploited at their maximum sustainable limit. But overfishing is only one of many problems affecting the oceans. Over the past 30 to 40 years, the world has lost half of its coral reefs. Other problems include a rise in ocean temperatures and acidity, both a result of the climate crisis.

Despite a growing awareness of these challenges, progress in tackling them has been slow. This is due to many factors, not least the perception that protecting the environment is costly and will therefore hinder economic growth and socio-economic development. However, the quest for a healthy environment can be compatible with a prosperous economy and a global trading system.

The ingenuity of rural producers like Lahy offers inspiration and assurance that the two are not inherently incompatible. Faced with dwindling catches, Lahy and others in the community began experimenting with seaweed farming with the help from non-governmental organizations.  Soon this turned into a profitable economic activity, and the village soon started to sell their seaweed to foreign markets, where it is used to produce food, personal care products, cosmetics, paints, adhesives, dyes and gels.

Commercial ventures like seaweed farming can create new economic opportunities, particularly for women in rural communities, enhanced by the interconnectedness of the global economy. They can also be more environmentally friendly than other aquaculture activities. Part of the reason is that seaweed and other species of algae do not need fertilizers to grow—just sunlight, carbon dioxide and water. All these factors begin to show how economic prosperity, trade and the preservation of the environment can, in fact, reinforce each other.

In the context of the Paris Agreement, oceans-based economic diversification can enhance the nationally determined contributions of small island developing states, supporting the implementation of the agreement. This shows that trade can be an enabling factor in adaptation and in mainstreaming oceans-based economic activities, where domestic markets remain small and remoteness is an intractable hindering factor.

In other areas of the oceans economy, adapting trade policies can play a decisive role in making economic activities more sustainable. One example relates to fisheries subsidies, government support schemes for the fisheries sectors. “Despite the clear trend of declining fish populations, a majority of these subsidies further promote overfishing. Instead, support should be provided to improve the sustainability of the sector, or promote new sustainable economic activities.”

explains Steven Stone, Chief of Resources and Markets at UN Environment. “Currently, countries are negotiating on a new set of trade rules at the multilateral level, that can put an end to these harmful practises. Successfully concluding these negotiations in 2020, at the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference will be crucial to move towards sustainable fishing practises. It is also a crucial part and parcel of the 2030 Agenda.”

The oceans economy, climate and efforts to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies are all headline topics of the Third Oceans Forum, an event on the sidelines of the September 2019 UN Trade, SDGs and Climate  Forum in Geneva. The Oceans Forum is a unique global platform to take stock, exchange experiences and present options for the implementation of trade-related targets of Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life below water – through the involvement of leading United Nations agencies, regional bodies, government institutions and civil society organizations.

This year’s forum is particularly important, as it precedes the 2020 deadline to deliver on several trade-related Sustainable Development Goal targets on healthy oceans. To support countries to deliver on these targets, UNCTAD, FAO, and UN Environment have come together to develop a draft Inter-agency Plan of Action (the so-called ‘IPoA’), on sustainable oceans and trade. Through this Plan of Action, the agencies are proposing a comprehensive instrument to support countries in their transition to sustainable ocean economies, and to align their trade policies with overall sustainable development considerations.

UN Environment

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Green Planet

Hurricanes, Melting Ice Sheets, Rising Sea Levels and A 16-Year Old’s Courage

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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When the Duke of Windsor, the former Edward VIII, was made governor of the Bahamas in 1940, he and his wife Wallis Simpson arrived to peaceful islands favored by a benign climate, away from the violent upheavals of a war-torn Europe.

Whatever the reasons — and many point to rising sea temperatures from climate change — the climate in the Caribbean is a little less benign as the unfortunate residents of Cuba, Haiti and Puerto Rico among others have noticed in the last few years.

And now hurricane Dorian, a category 5 monster when it made landfall on the northern island of Abaco and Grand Bahama on Sunday.  The strongest storm on record to hit the islands with winds reaching 185 mph, it left not a single roof untouched in Abaco, some areas being completely obliterated as if nothing had ever existed.

How many dead?  Nobody knows yet.  Shelters designed to accommodate a few dozen are crammed with  a thousand and more.  Sarah St. George, the chairman of the Grand Bahama Port Authority experienced it first hand.  “Grand Bahama is not in good shape at all because 70 percent of it is under water.”  If water is up to the second floor, then people have lost everything.  Recovery will be long and arduous. 

The islands need help and is owed it.  Mia Mottley the prime minister of Barbados put it bluntly:  “We are on the front line of the consequences of climate change and  we don’t cause it.”  Climate experts predict worse and more frequent storms in the future.  Dorian, for example, formed in August, earlier than normal.  Global warming is playing havoc with weather and warmer seas fuel more moisture-laden, powerful storms. 

Sea levels are rising from higher temperature expansion and greater ice melt, increasing the danger to coastal communities.  In Greenland, the melting ice caps and sheets by a record amount have surprised researchers, who say this summer’s melt has been enough to raise global sea levels by one millimeter.  The ice sheet is 2-3 km thick and covers an area six times the size of Germany.  If all that ice melted, it would raise sea levels worldwide by 7 meters or almost 23 feet.

When greenhouse gases are causing global warming, responsibility lies with the largest producers/polluters.  Would an international court find them liable to the small island nations suffering the consequences?  But then, if it does, who is going to persuade them to pay up?

It is in everyone’s interest to reduce global warming and since the powers that be do not listen to us, 16-year old Greta Thunberg is doing something about it.  To prove her point on greenhouse gases she refused to take a transatlantic flight, crossing on a sailboat instead to attend the United Nations climate summit later this month.  While she gears up for it, she is also preparing for the global strike on Friday September 20th preceding the climate summit on the Monday following.  She chose Friday, a workday, because she is asking adults to join the action and stay away from their jobs. 

Of course UN climate summit reports try to achieve consensus and in doing so have to appease fossil fuel producers.  If caveats are multiplied and uncertainties magnified, it is all part of the game.

Then there are the unexpected consequences.  As electric cars multiply and the demand for copper escalates, new sources must be developed.  Thus a new copper mine is being dug in the pristine wilderness of northern Norway, north of the Arctic Circle.  How well will reindeer and their Sami herders coexist with copper mining in the sparse wilderness is an open question.

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