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Why This Planet Is Becoming Uninhabitable

Eric Zuesse

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There are now overt indications that this planet is becoming uninhabitable. Not only are increasing numbers of humans migrating from near the Equator, northward toward nations that have more temperate climates, but also there are stronger and more frequent hurricanes and longer droughts and spreading desertification and larger and more frequent forest fires, all of which are lowering agricultural productivity in the global-overheating areas from which these migrants are coming. This is forcing billions of people to relocate from rural farming southern regions into big cities, and ultimately toward the cooler climates of the more-polar regions, as the large central Equatorial belt of our increasingly hot planet becomes less and less inhabitable for more and more of the people who are so unfortunate as to be still living there. Thus, instead of food being grown in that broad Equatorial belt where the Earth is fat and large, it’s increasingly being grown near the narrow, tiny, polar region. Agriculture is moving northward, and, as it does so, it will be occupying a band too small to feed the world. Agriculture is thus being severely threatened worldwide by global heating. Starvation will consequently soar, as this planet increasingly burns.

The inhabitable portion of this planet is shrinking, decade-by-decade, and especially century-by-century. A reasonable expectation would be that the grandchildren of today’s generation will routinely fight each other for food.

The Trump Administration finally now publicly accepts that all these things will happen, and sooner than scientists had been predicting even as recently as only a decade ago. But this Presidential Administration is determined to do nothing about it.

Here is the summary statement of the Trump Administration’s rationale for abolishing the Obama Administration’s anti-global-warming fuel-economy standards, as the Trump Administration has stated it, on page 107 of their finalized document. (The original document, which was their “Draft Environmental Impact Statement” on this matter, had been dated July 2018.) This final document was issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on 16 October 2018. The public-comment period on that document closed ten days later, on 26 October 2018, and the document says:

[page 107:]NHTSA’s Environmental Impact Statement performed for this rulemaking shows that the preferred alternative [abolishing the Obama Administration’s fuel-economy standard] would result in 3/1,000ths of a degree Celsius increase in global average temperatures by 2100, relative to the standards finalized in 2012 [which Trump is abolishing]. On a net CO2 basis, the results are similarly minor. The following graph compares the estimated atmospheric CO2 concentration (789.76 ppm) in 2100 under the proposed standards to the estimated level (789.11 ppm) under the standards [being abolished] set forth in 2012 — or [only] an 8/100ths of a percentage increase [as compared to the Obama-standards]:

Figure 2-4 – Estimated Atmospheric CO2 Concentration in 2100

Net Benefits from Preferred Alternative

Maintaining the MY 2020 curves for MYs 2021-2026 will save American consumers, the auto industry, and the public in general a considerable amount of money as compared to if EPA retained the previously-set CO2 standards and NHTSA finalized the augural [original] standards. This was identified as the preferred alternative, in part, because it maximizes net benefits compared to the other alternatives analyzed. Comment is sought on whether this is an appropriate basis for selection. [But that comment-period has already ended.]

A 789 ppm (parts per-million) CO2 (carbon dioxide) level compares against today’s 407 ppm, and that 382 ppm increase will, according to their “Draft Environmental Impact Statement”, raise global atmospheric temperatures by an estimated “3.48°C (6.27°F)” between now and the end of this century. That document’s summary asserts:

“Global mean surface temperature is projected to increase by approximately 3.48°C (6.27°F).”

“Projected sea-level rise in 2100 ranges from a low of 76.28 centimeters (30.03 inches) … to a high of 76.34 centimeters (30.06 inches) [depending upon which policy-option they adopt].”

With ocean-levels being raised around a yard by this century’s end, and hurricane-intensities being substantially increased, many coastal areas will have to become abandoned. Their plunged property-values haven’t even begun to be priced in to their inevitable downward spiral toward zero usability and thus economic worthlessness, as the coasts move inland. Since the self-reinforcing effects of higher ppm causing higher temperatures causing even higher ppm, temperatures have become clearly a vicious circle that’s beyond control, so that a yard higher by 2010 could become ten yards higher, much faster than the Paris Climate Accord was assuming would be the case if the world makes no policy changes at all — which is what Trump wants: no policy-changes. The shoddy Paris Agreement benchmark was to avoid exceeding 1.5 degree Centigrade or around 2.7 degree Fahrenheit temperature-rise by 2100, but that now clearly cannot be achieved, and so Trump and other recent global-warming deniers are ‘vindicating’ themselves by saying that the failure to do something when something could have been done is ‘confirmation’ that they were right, after all. They were ‘right’ to say “Don’t feed the horse,” because now the horse can no longer even be salvaged.

Furthermore:

5.3.4 Tipping Points and Abrupt Climate Change 

The term tipping point is most typically used, in the context of climate change, to describe situations in which the climate system (the atmosphere, hydrosphere, land, cryosphere, and biosphere) reaches a point at which a disproportionally large or singular response in a climateaffected system occurs as a result of a moderate additional change in the inputs to that system (such as an increase in the CO2 concentration). … [It] could result in abrupt changes in the climate or any part of the climate system. Abrupt climate changes could occur so quickly and unexpectedly that human systems would have difficulty adapting to them.

They are asserting what the scientific consensus has been asserting for the past fifty years, and with ever-increasing confidence: that the graph of future temperatures is now like a hockey-stick, and we’ve reached the suddenly and increasingly upward far-right side of it, where there’s runaway global heating and will soon (perhaps within even 200 years) be global burnout — an unlivable planet.

Basically, the Trump Administration is saying that by the present century’s end, this planet will be hellish, and that it will become unlivable soon thereafter, and that nothing can be done now to prevent any of this, because it’s too late to start and runaway global heating has already begun and it can’t be stopped.

The Trump Administration is therefore saying to its Republican base, that they had been suckers to believe them when they were asserting that global warming is a hoax (and had even been making fun of the people who were taking seriously the global-warming threat), or that it’s not Man-made; Trump is now publicly saying that it is Man-made, and that Man has, in fact, done it, and it’s now too late to stop or even to slow significantly; so, we should just forget about it. Their changed message now is: Buy your gas-guzzlers, because life’s going to be hell for your grandchildren and for virtually everyone anyway, so don’t worry about it.

Rex Tillerson, before he became Trump’s Secretary of State, was the CEO of ExxonMobil; and on 29 May 2013 he addressed his stockholders likewise that the reason not to worry about global warming is that it can’t be stopped. Here is the opening of one news-report about that, at the time:

Exxon Mobil CEO: We’re Going In, Can’t Pull Up, Brace For Impact

2 June 2013. Julian Cox

May 29th in what is set to become a defining moment in the history of capitalism; Rex Tillerson, the CEO of the world’s most valuable company, Exxon Mobil (XOM), in an address to shareholders redefined the meaning of rational self interest for the markets everywhere in a short series of astonishing quotes:

“What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” “We do not see a viable pathway with any known technology today to achieve the 350 [ppm] outcome that is not devastating to economies, societies and peoples’ health and well-being around the world,”

“So the real question is, do you want to keep arguing about that and pursuing something that cannot be achieved at costs that will be detrimental? Or do you want to talk about what’s the path we should be on and how do we mitigate and prepare for the consequences as they present themselves?”

The most interesting things about these statements:

  1. No more denial of scientific evidence.
  2. No more diversion about whether human activity or something else is to blame.
  3. No more disingenuous claims that NG or Hydrogen are clean fuels.

Just an honest and straightforward macroeconomic outlook: We are on a collision course with the consequences of rising CO2 levels, we cannot afford to stop it, and so there is nothing Exxon can offer but a warning to prepare for the worst. …

Here’s one of the numerous studies that have been done showing how the free-market approach has produced this coming hell-on-earth. To summarize its proven-true message: Making suckers of people is extremely profitable, and the richest people are the ones who are the most adept at doing it. They’ve won. Pity our grandchildren.

Some American teens (who definitely aren’t suckers) are suing the U.S. Government for violating the U.S. Constitution’s requirement to “promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” by the Government’s having refused to do what it must do against climate-change. The Trump Administration (on behalf of investors in America’s coal, oil, and gas corporations) unsuccessfully tried to block the suit.

Tillerson, to his stockholders, and now Trump, to his voters, say: Just have fun. Don’t worry about any grandchildren, and not even about your own children. This is the message, both to psychopathic stockholders, and to stupid voters. It’s obviously a winning message. It has already won. It’s the way any aristocracy wins: by lies, plus their societal system in which no accountability exists for the kingpins at the top of even the biggest crime that has ever been perpetrated, this world-ending crime. It is dictatorship by the aristocracy. That’s what we’ve had. And that’s the reason why this planet is becoming uninhabitable and why the process is now unstoppable — runaway global burning, soon to become hell-on-Earth. No religious “Apocalypse.” Just the result of billionaire psychopaths, and their fools.

Back in 2017, when the Paris Climate Agreement goal was “to keep global temperature rise well below 2° Celsius” and the realistic expectation was “that temperatures will rise between 2C and 4.9C by 2100”, there were no official predictions, anywhere, of a “3.48°C (6.27°F)” rise by 2100. In 2017, the fear was that the migrant-crisis might be “One Billion by 2050”, and “Up To 2 Billion Refugees By 2100”, and clearly the Trump Administration now accepts it. Trump’s response to this catastrophe is urgently to send the military and razor-wire to our southern border in order to block those people from getting out of their increasing hell. What these emigrants experience now is what all Americans will be experiencing in coming decades, but today’s refugees from the south are already experiencing it, and trying to escape it. They are trying to escape a global problem that the U.S. did more than any other country to cause.

By far, the one nation that (especially on a per-capita basis) has produced the largest percentage of CO2 in the global atmosphere is the U.S. — the very same nation that has now abandoned the Paris Climate Agreement because that Agreement doesn’t ‘sufficiently’ place the burden of clean-up from this catastrophic mess upon other nations, such as India and other near-Equatorial lands which are mainly in the near-Equatorial areas that will be suffering the most from the overheating that the U.S. has done more than any other nation to cause. For some reason, these victim-countries are not economically sanctioning and boycotting the products and services from their chief victimizer, their chief bringer-of-doom. Either the victim-countries will retaliate until the victimizer-country is forced to agree to take the exceptional steps that it would now need to take in order to reverse the global process that is unfolding, or else the victim-countries will let the U.S. continue to rape the planet. For the United States, the requirements should be and must be required to be far more stringent than are applied to the developing countries especially. If the U.S. will take that conscientious and intelligent path, then perhaps the U.S. will even lead the world to the technological breakthroughs that will now be needed in order to be able to reverse global warming. The U.S. would also benefit from doing that. Global burnout will otherwise destroy every nation. But if the victim-countries avoid forcing the U.S. to do what it must, the victim-countries will be raped even harder. Clearly, now, the United States won’t do what it needs to do, unless it’s forced to. The U.S. must be forced to become a decent member of the global community of nations. Or else, the world is doomed.

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Lessons from China on large-scale landscape restoration

MD Staff

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Photo by Fengting Yang

In the 1980s, the hilly Qianyanzhou region in Jiangxi Province, southern China, faced severe soil erosion due to deforestation and unsustainable farming practices. Fertile red soil was being washed away causing crop yields to tumble.

But a remarkable change has taken place in the last 30 years thanks to a government-backed land-use plan which has seen the upper hills reforested, citrus orchards planted on moderate slopes, and rice paddies in valley bottoms. Within a few years, this mosaic of sustainable land use was yielding higher incomes. Biodiversity and environmental quality, as well as the microclimate, improved.

In early November 2018, the head of UN Environment’s freshwater, land and climate branch, Tim Christopherson, together with his colleague Xiaoqiong Li, visited several sites in the area to better understand how large-scale ecological restoration works.

Huimin Wang, the director of an ecological research station in Ji’an, Qianyanzhou region, briefed UN Environment on the problem and the centre’s role in restoring the landscape.

“Thirty years ago, this area was denuded of trees and vulnerable to landslides. Erosion gullies washed fertile red soil away,” says Wang.

“We set up this ecological research station to work out how best to restore the land. We brought together experts from around the world, including from the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in Germany.”

Research focused on forest structure optimization and how to improve ecosystem services from the forest; the structure and functions of forest ecology; carbon, water and nutrient cycling in forest ecosystems under climate change; and the Qianyanzhou upgrade model to be achieved by improving ecological and economic benefits in the watershed.

Another key element of the restoration process was agroforestry, supported by the local government: farmers continued to grow cash crops such as peanuts, sesame and vegetables among the restored orchards, and breed Silkie chickens (black-boned with fluffy plumage) in orchards and forest plantations. This ensured economic returns in the early stages of the project and helped improve soil fertility. As well as building dams and ponds, government agencies provided loans to households to help them get started.

Success story”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 21.9 per cent, or 206,861,000 hectares of China, was forested in 2010. In just one decade, the Qianyanzhou restoration drive has increased China’s total forest area by 74.3 million hectares. Qianyanzhou’s forest coverage has increased from 0.43 per cent to nearly 70 per cent.

Qianyanzhou restoration efforts have helped the region and the country take a big step towards implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goals 1 (No Poverty), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 8 (Good Jobs and Economic Growth), 12 (Responsible Consumption), and 15 (Life on Land), as well as the Bonn Challenge and the New York Declaration on Forests, all of which fall under UN Environment’s programme of work.

Forests are a major, requisite front of action in the global fight against catastrophic climate change, thanks to their unparalleled capacity to absorb and store carbon. Forests capture carbon dioxide at a rate equivalent to about one-third the amount released annually by burning fossil fuels. Stopping deforestation and restoring damaged forests, therefore, could provide up to 30 per cent of the climate solution.

The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (The UN-REDD Programme) was launched in 2008 and builds on the convening role and technical expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme and UN Environment.

UN Environment

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Plastic recycling: An underperforming sector ripe for a remake

MD Staff

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While there is no silver-bullet solution to the toxic tide of plastic surging into our oceans, recycling must form part of the answer. The problem, many experts say, is that current processes are not fit for purpose.

The world produces around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. To date, only 9 per cent of the plastic waste ever generated has been recycled, and only 14 per cent is collected for recycling now.

The reasons are complex. Not all plastic can be recycled and a lack of public awareness means plastic collections are often contaminated. This can increase the cost of recycling.

In the United States, for example, the introduction of single-stream recycling—where recyclables are not separated in household collections—led to a huge surge in recycling rates, but as plastics became more complex, people started placing the wrong things in their bins. Waste Management, the largest processor of residential recycling in North America, says that one in every four items in recycling bins today is not recyclable.

“Chemicals added to plastic polymers, products made of mixed materials and food packaging contaminated with food waste make recycling difficult and costly,” wrote the authors of UN Environment’s The State of Plastics report.

The need to rethink recycling became more apparent when China, which has imported nearly half the world’s waste since 1992, stopped taking foreign plastic waste this year. China’s decision exposed weaknesses in recycling facilities in many other countries.

There are financial reasons for the shortfalls. Depending on the oil price, it is often cheaper to make virgin plastic while the market for recycled plastic is notoriously volatile, making investors reluctant to commit to the sector.

For years, activists have argued that packaging producers and retailers should pay more to cover the cost of dealing with their waste. While many brands have committed to using more recycled plastic, the pressure is growing for them to do more.

In Britain, the government is said to be planning to charge supermarkets, retailers and major drinks brands tens of millions of pounds more towards the cost of recycling. The strategy would include plans to increase contributions from retailers and producers from an average of about 70 million pounds a year to between 500 million pounds and 1 billion pounds a year. There are also plans to include smaller producers.

The European Commission unveiled a Plastics Strategy in January, saying that its drive to make all plastic packaging recyclable or reusable by 2030 could create 200,000 jobs but only if recycling capacity was multiplied fourfold. The European Union recycles less than 30 per cent of its 25 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, and half of that used to be sent to China.

As part of its strategy, the European Union will develop new rules on packaging to improve the recyclability of plastics and increase demand. It wants to see improved and scaled up recycling facilities and a more standardized system for the separate collection and sorting of waste.

UN Environment, which started its Clean Seas campaign in 2017 to push for the elimination of unnecessary single-use plastics, also supports the implementation of integrated waste management systems through its International Environmental Technology Centre in Japan.

There is clearly a need to support waste management strategies in poorer countries, where municipal authorities often do not have the capacity to implement suitable policies. Some of these countries are also among the biggest marine polluters: 90 per cent of the plastic in our oceans comes from just 10 rivers, with eight of those in Asia.

Some of the industry’s top players have spotted the gaps. In October, waste management company Veolia and consumer goods giant Unilever said they would work together to invest in new technologies to increase recycling and move towards a circular economy.

The three-year partnership will focus, at first, on India and Indonesia where the firms will work to scale up waste collection and recycling infrastructure.

Circulate Capital, an investment management firm dedicated to preventing ocean plastic, said in October that it expected US$90 million in funding from some of the world’s leading consumer good groups and chemical companies, including PepsiCo, P&G, Dow and Coca-Cola.

Created in collaboration with Closed Loop Partners and the Ocean Conservancy, Circulate Capital aims to demonstrate the value of investing in waste management and recycling in South and Southeast Asia. It uses philanthropic and public funds, as well as technical assistance, to support and develop public and nonprofit entities to implement new approaches and build capacity that can support large institutional capital commitments.

“We have recognized that financing is a key barrier—as people always want to know ‘who is going to pay for it?’ By removing capital for infrastructure and operators as a barrier, we believe we can accelerate solutions to policy, education, supply chains and more,” said Rob Kaplan, the founder and CEO of Circulate Capital.

Big name corporations are not the only players. In many developing economies, recycling is carried out by millions of waste pickers, often women, children, the elderly and the unemployed. They may be on the frontline of sustainability but their own lives are often marred by unhealthy working conditions, lack of rights and social stigma.

The World Bank said in its What a Waste 2.0 report that when waste pickers are properly supported and organized, informal recycling can create employment, improve local industrial competitiveness, reduce poverty and decrease municipal spending.

Citizens also have a role to play but education and information are essential. The World Bank cites the example of Jamaica, where environmental wardens, employed by the National Solid Waste Management Authority, teach their neighbours about environmentally friendly disposal of waste. The communities involved collect plastic bottles and remove plastic litter from shared spaces and drains. They then sell the collected bottles to recyclers.

“There is no silver bullet to solving ocean plastic and scaling global recycling—investing in public education without infrastructure won’t achieve results, and vice versa,” said Circulate Capital’s Kaplan. “It is a systems challenge that requires systems solutions.”

UN Environment

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Towards zero deforestation

MD Staff

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The human population is still growing and needs space and resources. It is, therefore, not easy to reconcile development, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation efforts. Which areas can be allocated for development and what should be off-limits to conserve forests and biodiversity? And how do we ensure that stakeholders, including governments and the private sector, respect minimum standards for land use planning processes?

Two tools are relevant here: one is the High Carbon Stock Approach, a new global methodology that helps answer such questions and implement No Deforestation commitments. It’s a land use planning tool focused on achieving No Deforestation. It integrates social considerations—local community customary rights, livelihoods and needs, high conservation values, peatlands, riparian zones and plantation operational aspects.

The other assessment tool is the High Conservation Values Approach. It focuses on biodiversity conservation rather than climate change mitigation. However, this approach does not address deforestation in degraded low-to-medium-density natural forests.

“I would strongly encourage both approaches to be used in parallel,” says Johannes Refisch, coordinator of UN Environment’s Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP). You can easily have areas which rank high on high carbon stock and low on high conservation values and vice-versa but they are worth protecting.”

Refisch points to a recent study on sustainable palm oil cultivation in Gabon which called for the application of both approaches (Austin et al, 2017).

In November 2017, proponents of the two approaches agreed to launch the Integrated Manual to address both issues in parallel.

Over 25 global organizations support the High Carbon Stock Approach

Members of the High Carbon Stock Approach are organizations which are committed to No Deforestation: plantation companies (such as New Britain Palm Oil Limited and Wilmar), commodity users (such as Unilever, Nestle and Procter & Gamble), non-governmental organizations (such as World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and Forest People Program), technical support organizations (such as Rainforest Alliance, The Forest Trust and ProForest), and smallholder groups. The initiative is also developing partnerships with the USAID – Bijak Program, World Resource Institute, World Cocoa Foundation and others.

Though starting with just a few, the number of members has now reached 27 global organizations and is still growing.

UN Environment supports the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, which recently endorsed the approach.

“In November 2018, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil made a big leap forward to address deforestation by requiring the High Carbon Stock Approach in its certification standards, and as further recognition, the French Government has referenced High Carbon Stock Approach in their importing deforestation strategy,” says prominent zero deforestation campaigner and High Carbon Stock Approach Advisor Aida Greenbury.

This underlines the links between the High Carbon Stock Approach and the UN-REDD Programme, a joint programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, and UN Environment to fight deforestation and forest degradation.

The approach also enables land use managers to better protect peatlands and is aligned with the aims of the Global Peatland Initiative. The initiative supports the sustainable use of peatlands, in particular tropical peatlands, one of the most carbon intense landscapes in the world.

The Great Apes Survival Partnership has been working with Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and partners to assist great ape range states in Africa to direct palm oil cultivation to degraded lands and to avoid deforestation. Tropical peatlands are home to important populations of orangutans and Western lowland gorillas.

Initially only supported by member fees, in the last two years the United Kingdom Department for International Development’s Partnership for Forests has lent a hand. To date, over half a million hectares of High Carbon Stock forests have been identified and are in the process of being conserved.

“We have been working with the High Carbon Stock Approach in the development of the Smallholder Guideline. I am proud that our union members are working hard to ensure that their practices are free from deforestation,” says Mansuetus Darto, the National Coordinator of Indonesia’s Palm Oil Smallholder Union.

The approach—initially developed by the Forest Trust, Greenpeace and private sector players—allows agricultural or plantation development to reduce its environmental impact by not clearing forests that are important to local communities or have high carbon or biodiversity values.

“The real strength of the approach is that it captures forest restoration processes well, in particular in tropical peatlands,” says Johan Kieft, a UN Environment forest ecosystems specialist.

Nearly 500 companies vow to address commodity-driven deforestation

Today, close to 500 global companies have made public commitments to address commodity-driven deforestation. In general, these commitments include the protection of high conservation values, high carbon stock forests, peatland and the rights of local communities through the implementation of free and prior informed consent.

There is no absolute carbon threshold in defining High Carbon Stock forests—it’s rather based on vegetation structure and density.

In May 2017, The High Carbon Stock Approach released its Toolkit Version 2.0, a new and unified global methodology for protecting natural forests and identifying lands for responsible commodity production.

“I welcome the launch of the High Carbon Stock Toolkit to support the enabling condition to achieve our government’s National Determined Contribution target,” said Kindy Rinaldy Syahrir, Deputy Director for International Cooperation and Climate Change Finance at the Ministry of Finance of Indonesia at the time.

“More work still needs to be done but the approach succeeds because it is practical and involves multi-stakeholder-based collaboration,” says Kieft.

UN Environment

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