The True Nature of a “Global” Problem

In much of popular rhetoric, global warming is called a “global problem.” Which, of course, is true. The Earth’s atmosphere and oceans obviously do not arrange themselves according to a country’s boundaries, and emissions from one country will affect the entire globe, not just the country of origin itself. Global warming is a problem that affects all corners of the world.


But what exactly does it mean for something to be a “global problem”? The way that the phrase “global problem” is interpreted can have radically different consequences for global climate change negotiations, as Harriet Bulkeley and Peter Newell discuss in their book Governing Climate Change.


Consider the global problem of GHGs (greenhouse gases), which have a major impact on climate change. Generally, it is assumed that the most important players in reducing GHG emissions are nation-states, as they are the most powerful actors in the anarchic international system. But, as Bulkeley and Newell argue, oftentimes these nation-states are limited as to how directly they are able to influence carbon emissions in their country. Most of the time, it is non-state actors, such as multinational corporations or individual consumers, that most directly influence the amount of carbon emissions.


Furthermore, even if international agreements on climate policy seem to assume that nation-states can easily reduce or contain these emissions, much of the time it is a lot more complicated as to how much influence governments really have. That is because most of the GHGs produced in a country are emitted by processes and actors that defy national borders.


It is very complicated as to how to deal with emissions by non-state actors across national borders, but one of the first things that should be done is to increase consumers’ environmental awareness and education. Most people–myself included– do not understand how much of an impact they can have on the environment, even if they are just buying food at a supermarket. Meat has a higher carbon footprint than most other foods, as it requires fossil fuels to produce fertilizer and provide irrigation for the corn feed, and ruminant animal’s waste generates methane, which is a large contributor to global warming. This is just one of the ways that what we buy affects the environment. It’s not the only solution, but more educated consumers could have a large impact on the mitigation of climate change, and might even help to change the attitudes of corporations and industries to become more environmentally friendly. This change at the community level is a very important step in changing the attitude of society toward climate change.neighborhood


Realism vs. Liberalism in International Climate Governance

The concept of the international system as anarchic is the foundation for most, if not all, paradigms used in the study of international relations. There is a debate, however, between realists and liberals as to how states deal with this problem. Realists believe that international cooperation among states is very unlikely, because there are no laws or governments higher than states that have the power to force states to cooperate or communicate. Realists focus on relative gains, or how much a state benefits in comparison to others, rather than on absolute gains, or overall benefits (Bova 20). Only in the rare cases where a state can accrue relative gains from cooperation will communication between states occur, realists say, because if one state gains more power than another, that would be a threat to that second state’s national security and not be in that state’s national interest.

In contrast to realism, the liberal view is that international cooperation is in fact possible and it stresses the possibility of absolute gains as opposed to relative gains. Liberals do not disagree with realists that states will try to work towards their own national interest, but instead argue that it is in states’ national interests to cooperate. In terms of absolute advantage, states should wonder, “How much do I benefit compared to not cooperating?” While it might not be in a state’s interests to benefit less than other states, the fact that a state is benefiting at all nonetheless in its national interest.

With regard to climate change governance, while many realist expectations seem to play out in climate negotiations, it is actually liberalism that best explains efforts to regulate global climate change. Liberalism explains the existence of international institutions such as the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, and the fact that developing countries are working to reduce their GHG emissions.

With the rise in the number of international institutions post-WWII, realism has had the tough task of trying to remain a relevant and suitable paradigm for explaining countries’ relationships in the world in this new era. Realism asserts that while these international institutions might exist and mitigate anarchy to a degree, short of eliminating the idea of the sovereign state and its legitimate use of violence in the world, the international system remains unchanged, as these institutions have no real power over sovereign states (Bova 18). Take the Kyoto Protocol for instance. The protocol is “an international agreement setting targets for industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions” (Kyoto Sendeco2). Countries that have ratified this protocol include Russia, Japan and the United Kingdom. The list goes on, but, very conspicuously, the United States is missing from that list. This is in line with realist thought; The United States, being the most powerful nation in the world, is able to make the rules as to what it chooses to do. The EU giving President Bush diplomatic flak about not ratifying the protocol won’t compel the US to join because, very simply, the US is more powerful than the EU (Reynolds).

The US’s reason for pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 was partially due to the absence of an agreement signed by developing countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (Bulkeley 30). But these developing countries were acting in their national interest, in line with realist thought. Much of the emissions in developing countries are produced by production facilities to provide citizens with basic amenities and needs such as electricity, warmth and water. Further, many developing countries have little money. Spending this money to reduce emissions instead of encouraging development and reducing poverty is obviously against these countries national interests (Bulkeley 46). Realist thought backs up these reasons for not committing to agreements reducing GHG emissions.

When looked at through a realist lens, climate change negotiations seem to be motivated by power politics and national interests. But a closer look reveals that there is instead more cooperation than disagreement in the realm of climate change governance. When the United States pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, this “galvanize[d] the European Union and the G77+China into further ratification” (Bulkeley 23). Russian ratification in 2005 allowed the Kyoto Protocol to remain relevant, after many people worried that the largest contributor of greenhouse gases and most powerful nation pulling out would render it insignificant. Out of 36 countries that pledged to reduce emissions, only three have not managed to reduce or keep stable their GHG emissions, and out of the 33 that did, there are only three who did not pass the baseline amount for reduction (Kyoto UNFCCC). This directly goes against realist theory, as realists would predict that without the United States, there would be no incentive for others to ratify the Protocol (Bulkeley 23).

Before the Kyoto Protocol, in 1992, 154 countries with very sharp differences in opinion agreed to sign the UNFCCC, committing to reduce atmospheric concentrations of GHGs (Essential Background). This is especially significant considering the lack of momentum at the time and the absence of any norms or precedents for this type of accord (Belkeley 22).

Developing countries were notoriously absent from the Kyoto Protocol and from any binding agreement of CO2 emission reduction. This does not mean that developing countries have not reduced emissions though. On the contrary, many have done a lot to reduce their GHG emissions. China, the number one GHG contributor in the world, has reduced energy intensity by close to 20 percent and far surpassed targets for renewable energy laid out in its 11th Five Year Plan (Held 11). Mexico has become the first developing country in the world to sign into law a long-term emission reduction target, expecting to lower its emissions ultimately by 50% by the year 2050 (Held 14). Ethiopia plans to become carbon-free by 2025 (Held 15; Carbon Neutral). These countries are getting financial aid from larger developed countries to reduce carbon emissions, through carbon trading schemes and REDD+ programs. Contrary to realist theory, it is within these countries’ national interests to cooperate with other sovereign states (Held 12; Held 15).

While realism seems to explain some aspects of international climate change negotiations, liberalism, it seems, explains the negotiations on a much deeper level. In past eras, without many international institutions, realism explained states’ behavior much of the time, but as we move forward, liberalism is more and more able to explain state behavior. States need to realize how cooperating in climate change negotiations does not benefit only a few countries but is a mutual benefit for the whole globe. Hopefully, as norms surrounding climate governance change, states will begin to take more liberalist policies toward it, rather than administer mainly realist policies.



Works Cited

Bova, Russell. “Chapter 1: How to Think About World Politics Realism and Its Critics.” How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations. Boston: Pearson Longman, 2012. 3-37. Print.

Bulkeley, Harriet, and Peter Newell. Governing Climate Change. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.

“A Carbon Neutral Ethiopia by 2025.” Make Wealth History. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

“Essential Background.” Essential Background. UNFCCC. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

Held, David, Charles Roger, and Eva-Maria Nag. Climate Governance in the Developing World. Print.

“Kyoto Protocol.” Kyoto Protocol. Sendeco2. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

“Kyoto Protocol.” UNFCCC. UNFCCC. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

Reynolds, Paul. “Kyoto: Why Did the US Pull Out?” BBC News. BBC, 30 Mar. 2001. Web. 11 Sept. 2014.

China's energy intensity has decreased since 1990
China’s energy intensity has decreased since 1990


El Niño and the Peruvian Fishing Industry

The Pacific coast of Peru: one of the world’s richest fisheries. Because the southeast trade winds blow parallel to the coastline in this area, the Coriolis effect and the Ekman transport system deflect surface water to the left of the wind direction and out to sea. In its place, upwelling brings cold water to the surface. This cold water is rich in nutrients, which attract plankton, and in turn fish, to the area just off the shore of Peru.


This upwelling system results in one of the most productive fishing grounds in the world. Half of the world’s commercial fish come from the coast of Peru, which makes up only .1% of the ocean’s surface area. Since 1960, the weightof the Peruvian anchovy catch has exceeded that of any other fish species in the world. But this productivity is vulnerable to extreme variability and fluctuation due to El Niño, a prolonged warming of Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures that wreaks havoc on fish populations in the area.


During El Niño, weakening trade winds allow warmer water from the Peru countercurrent to flow east toward Peru. Sometimes the trade winds even reverse direction. The warm water brought in by these trade winds overrides the cold water present off the coast because it is less dense. It is also not as nutrient-rich, resulting in a large percentage of fish either dying off or dispersing further offshore toward deeper water that is more nutrient-rich, putting a huge dent in the Peruvian fishing industry. An El Niño event typically last nine months to two years, happening at irregular intervals of two to seven years.


This reduction of the production and exportation of fish from one of the most productive fisheries in the world has injurious effects around the globe. Both poultry and livestock prices spike worldwide, because the fishmeal that is used to feed poultry and livestock is now more expensive. More locally, in Peru, the catch is reduced and people are put out of work, while fishmeal plants and fishing boats remain idle. Workers need to find a way to support their families during these El Niño episodes, and payments must still be made on loans taken out to buy fishing boats and build fishmeal plants. El Niño has a damaging effect on not just the local economy, but on economies worldwide. It is just another way that climate changes in one area of the world can have very damaging effects worldwide.

Peruvian Coast
Peruvian Coast
The Coriolis Effect and Eckman Transport at work
The Coriolis Effect and Eckman Transport System at work
Annual catch of Peruvian anchovy catch, by weight, since 1960
Annual catch of Peruvian anchovy catch, by weight, since 1960
El Niño conditions copared to normal conditions
El Niño conditions copared to normal conditions

When Objective Journalism Breaks Down

Two of the most important features of a liberalized nation are the right to free speech and freedom of the press. Freedom of speech gives all citizens of a nation the right to voice an opinion or idea using their body or property. Freedom of the press allows the freedom of communication and expression of ideas through various media without state intervention. These two rights enable people to obtain information from a diversity of sources, make decisions, and communicate those decisions to the government, which in turn contributes to progress within a nation and in the world at large.

These two rights are probably the two cornerstones of a liberal society, but nonetheless, these freedoms can still be abused. Take the cases discussed in Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s book Merchants of Doubt for example, about a loose-knit group of scientists and scientific advisors who worked to mislead the public on various issues, such as the effects of tobacco smoke on the lungs, the effects of CFCs and the effect humans and technology have on global warming.

This group of scientists worked with large industries to oppose new research that damaged the public perception of said industries. Journalists, in their constant drive for true objectivity, portrayed both sides as being two equal, legitimate arguments. This is seemingly what the idea of free press is about; an argument is formed around an issue, and the media gives equal and neutral coverage to both sides. But the problem with this was that the scientists on the side of large industries were not doing science, but instead merely drawing attention to various uncertainties in the true research on the other side. The two arguments were not equal; while one side was doing truthful, legitimate and objective research, the other was merely finding uncertainties in this science and drawing attention to them, hence creating doubt in the public.

This brings to light an interesting question: Where do we draw the line between objective research and disinformation?

In the age of the Internet, anyone with access to a computer has a way to disseminate his or her opinion to the public. In a sense, this is a big step forward for the freedom of speech, because the discussion of local, national and international issues is opened to more people, ensuring that no one is censored. But on the other hand, this means that the opinions expressed might hold no truth, as is the case with the group of scientists discussed in Merchants of Doubt.

There are a lot of ideas out there that one might not necessarily agree with, but this does not mean they are disinformation. They still deserve to be covered with the same journalistic integrity as the ideas that one does agree with, but the line between objectively researched information and disinformation seems to be very thin. Where do we draw the line between the two without censoring any arguments? How should a journalist decide what to and what not to cover? To be honest, I have no solution to these questions. It seems to me that both journalists and consumers of journalism need to take a better look at the credibility of the information that they are reading. I predict, as widespread Internet use continues to grow, this is a problem that will more and more become an important political issue.

The IPCC as an Avenue to World Peace


For as long as there have been humans, there has been conflict and attempts to remedy it. These attempts have been in the form of treaties, intergovernmental organizations, or merely a compromise between two people. The League of Nations was a notable example of an attempt to remedy global conflict. Formed in the aftermath of World War I to foster international security and sustain peace. It was notable in that it represented a fundamental shift from the diplomatic philosophy of the preceding hundred years: The League lacked an armed force of its own and depended on member countries to enforce its resolutions and provide an army if needed. The League of Nations ultimately failed, but it inspired a myriad of intergovernmental organizations post-World War II, among them the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). All of these organizations were created to in some way forge a more peaceful world.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an intergovernmental body under the UN, created in 1988 to assess scientific information relevant to climate change, its impacts, and options for the mitigation of it. The creation of the IPCC was obviously a huge step forward in combating global climate change, as it brought together the ideas of independent scientists in separate fields around the world in an institution devoted to the full-time study of climate change and the addressing of urgent policy questions. But the creation of the IPCC might have been just as important in areas unrelated to climate change.

Stephen R. Weart only mentions it only in a very short, two-paragraph section in his book, The Discovery of Global Warming. But as an international relations major, this short section stood out to me. It discusses the IPCC as being an important player in the promotion of world peace.

One of the problems that international organizations have in creating more peaceful relationships between countries is that all member countries will naturally have conflicting national interests. Just look at the US and Russia—the US has vetoed 14 UN draft resolutions, and Russia has vetoed 11. Realist theory dictates that all states will act in their national interest and increase their power, even at the expense of other countries, because this is the only way for states to ensure their national security in an anarchic system—to become the most powerful state in the system. International institutions were created as a way to mitigate this anarchy, but as long as states remain sovereign the international system remains anarchic.

What makes the issue of global warming different from many other issues that the UN deals with is that the slowing of climate change is mutually beneficial to all countries. While it might not be in all countries; interest to allow Ukraine to join the EU, or to drive Bashar Al-Assad out of power in Syria, it is in all countries interests to mitigate global warming because the effects of a warmer climate on areas such a as a country’s economy, population and on the global food supply will be devastating. Getting countries to work cooperatively on an issue that is mutually beneficial is far easier than getting countries to work together on issues that are more decisive, and countries that cooperate form better relationships and will be less likely to come into conflict with each other. Why are we more scared of North Korea than of the UK, even though the UK has far more nuclear capabilities than North Korea? The UK theoretically should be a bigger threat to us than North Korea, but because we have a good relationship with the UK, we aren’t worried about coming into conflict with it. If these beneficial relationships can be formed between countries through cooperation on an issue that is mutually beneficial, it could be possible to foster more peaceful relationships in the international system. Of course, there are many other problems that must be dealt with before a lasting peace is achieved, but the IPCC could definitely play a major role in creating a lasting peace in the future.

Civilization in the Peaks of the Andes

By Joe Riley

The Inca Empire is generally regarded as the largest pre-Columbian civilization in the Americas, but from the 12th century AD until the early 1400s, the Inca people lived as a pastoral tribe in the area surrounding the city of Cusco. It was only after Sapa Inca (the title given to the Inca leader) Pachacuti came to power in 1438 AD that the Incan territory expanded from a small kingdom surrounding the capital at Cusco to a large empire stretching from what is now southern Colombia all the way to central Chile.

Besides expanding Incan territory and consolidating various different Andean tribes under one rule, Pachacuti is also well known for launching a building program that not only rebuilt much of the city of Cusco, but also created such famous sites as the Koricancha Sun Temple, Machu Picchu, and the Capac Ñan, the royal Incan highway system.

Mark Adams, in his book Turn Right at Machu Picchu explores the architecture of many of these Incan sites, in addition to ones built before and after Pachacuti’s reign, all while retracing the steps of Hiram Bingham III’s various Peruvian expeditions during the early 1900s.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Incan architecture that Adams observes is that most of the buildings are constructed without the use of mortar. Instead, the stones are so precisely cut and shaped and fit so closely together that a knife cannot pass between any two stones. And it is not only the buildings that are constructed in this manner, but also many of the stone walls and bridges along the Capac Ñan, the highway system that traversed the whole of the Incan Empire.

Despite generally not using mortar, Incan masonry was very stable. The walls of their buildings were slightly inclined toward the inside, giving the buildings great seismic resistance. In the case of an earthquake, the stone blocks would settle right where they belonged after only a bit of shifting during the tremor.

The Incans did all the carving of these stones with bronze, copper and stone tools. Unlike the civilizations of Europe and Asia, the Incan Empire (and much of the Americas) never went through an Iron Age, and so had no access to hard metals. Even so, the Incans were still able to create “one of the greatest imperial states in history,” in the words of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro, who conquered Peru in 1533.

Forging an empire as large the Incan’s without the use of iron tools is impressive enough, but the Incans also made do without the use of a writing system. They did have a spoken language, which was a form of Quechua, but there was no form of written communication. Instead, information was recorded through the use of khipus, which were groups of colored, spun or knotted cords decipherable only to a special class of khipu keepers. Because of this, no surviving khipus have been fully decrypted, although it has been theorized that the khipus use a system analogous to a computer’s binary code — very interesting to me as a computer science minor.

The Incans also had no real concept of the wheel. Transporting messages, goods and persons around the high peaks of the Andes was all done either on foot or through the use of alpacas and llamas. It is generally assumed that any advanced civilization needs to have invented the wheel at some point during their history, but in reality there’s only one civilization that invented it. Sometime around 3500 BC, an unknown Sumerian inventor came up with the concept of the wheel, and from there, it spread around Europe, North Africa and Asia. But the concept of the wheel never made it to the Americas due to that little bit of water separating it from the old world. In place of the wheel, the Incas made use of wooden rollers to transport heavy objects, although these were not attached to the object being transported, as a wheel would have been.

The majority of well-known ancient civilizations existed on fertile plains at low altitudes, but without the wheel, a writing system or hard metals, the Incans were able to build a vast and interconnected empire on the peaks of the second highest mountain range in the world, with some of the most impressive architecture of any ancient civilization. How they were able to do this still remains a mystery to many scholars, and with no written records from the Incans themselves, it will be a while until we are able to understand the Incans advanced ways.

An example of the khipus, used in the absence of a written records


Incan Masonry
A fine Example of Incan Masonry


Capac Ñan
The Capac Ñan going along a cliffside


Koricancha Sun Temple
Koricancha Sun Temple


Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu