Rash Realism


Recently, there has been an increasing trend of further interest and action towards mitigating the present matters of global climate change (Held) leaving hope of cooperation in contrast to the realist view. The realist view acknowledges global challenges but believes that these state issues are direct causes of other states and that these issues should be solved through self-help and military power (Bova 238-239). Realist thinkers often perceive the notion of cooperation to resolve issues is foolish and naïve. (Bova 249-250) The question then becomes, have the past and present helped to indorse realistic thoughts or is there hope that global collaboration is possible in the future? To me, the answer to such questions is that realists should contemplate the “self-help” idea, asking themselves if that is really enough to combat adequate enough responses to present threats. (Bova 239)

In the past, yes maybe this view would make more sense in a time before conferences of the parties were a thing and where there were less regulations or targets for emissions reductions in place. Hell, even at a time when the notion of attempting emissions reductions through the Kyoto Protocol was on the rise, realism may be justified. There were large emitters of green house gases that would not sign the protocol and many developing countries with fewer emissions were not required to reduce. In situations like this, where all nations are not held accountable, it is reasonable that some may see the idea of “self-help” as the best or only option. Furthermore, in times of war or dispute between other nations, it is practical to not see global cooperation as a possibility.

But it is not the past, it is the present and with this we must look today to the inspiring and remarkable efforts that are rising from the developing nations, stepping up to be “climate leaders”. Numerous developing countries around the world are commencing and transforming from no involvement in the climate change problem to actually initiating their own actions; cap and trade systems, targets/goals, emissions reductions regulations, etc… This is happening in different parts of the world, regardless of whether they are huge top-ten emitters of greenhouses gases or not. (Held) These examples of more and more nations stepping up to the plate, looking to further address the problem is reason enough to me, for realists to recognize the escalating potential of collaboration.

We must look forward from the past and focus attention to the present and the future of such issues. Every man for himself has been a start to assessing the worldwide subject of climate change, but it is just that; worldwide and universal. To me, this means that everyone must assess together, that cooperation as the main focus, is the only way. We are all human beings alike, regardless. Realists know that there is a problem and they know that it needs to be addressed. It is “naïve” of them to not give hope to our world working together, not the other way around.


Works cited

**Arguments and ideas are supported by “Editors’ Introduction: Climate Governance in the Developing World.”

Held, David, Charles Roger, and Eva-Maria Nag, eds. “Editors’ Introduction: Climate Governance in the Developing World.” Climate Governance in the Developing World. Malden: Polity Press, 2013. 1-25. Print.

Russell Bova, How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations (New York, NY: Longman Publishing, 2011)

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


The Weather in 2050

On the UNFCCC newsroom homepage today I found the video at the bottom of this blog post. The first four minutes of the video show a news anchor man going through the current weather across the US with a hurricane off the coast of Florida, a heat wave in Chicago and a server drought in the south-west US. The video ends with Ban Ki-Moon addressing the viewers and asking for us to take action on climate change with him. On one hand the video seems overly dramatic. But, is this what it takes to get people to take up Ban Ki-Moon’s call for action?

After investigating the WMO’s website, I was able to find a link to a series of videos that the organization is running in preparation for the Climate Summit at the end of the month in New York City. A list of those videos can be found here.

It is very interesting to me that they are running this campaign on weather related events. We know that there is not a clear connection between any given daily weather event and climate, yet, this video series suggests that weather when examined in different locations globally is an indication of a warming climate. These videos are consistent with the predictions of climate modelers, according to the WMO website. So, maybe this is an effective way of convincing people of the real dangers of climate change. What do you think?


Anarchy in Climate Negotiations

Global Emissions
Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. European Commission Joint Research Center. 2013.
Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. European Commission Joint Research Center. 2013.

Over the past 20 years of climate negotiations, nothing substantial has been accomplished in terms of mitigating global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Only those countries that have the most to lose from climate change, i.e. sovereignty, have pushed for meaningful action. This has led to a lack of significant commitments by major polluters, and international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) have failed to enforce mitigation strategies. Realism provides the strongest lens through which to see and understand the path of the global climate change negotiations and provides the best predictor for how states will act in this arena moving forward.

States function in an anarchic system, and thus climate negotiation between all countries also face the challenges of anarchy. There is no one group that can control the states and force everyone to agree on any one path to action. It can be argued that the UN brings all of the states together for the discussions and that they dictate the schedule, but the UN has not exemplified the ability to inspire or force any decisions to be made. The United States, the world’s second largest emitter of GHGs, acts as hegemon in the climate negotiations (Bulkley and Newll, 2010) and is able to maintain no binding international regulatory measures on GHGs. When the US senate passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution the Kyoto Protocol lost global emissions reductions significance. When the hegemon backed out, it unraveled the Protocol, proving that the most powerful must be integrally involved in order to have effective results. According to a realist point of view, if the US, instead of backing out, had used its political and military power to enforce a strong agreement, the Kyoto Protocol could have come into force for all states; however, that would not have been in the best economic interest of the country, which means that they would not enforce the Protocol.

Constructivism does not work as a model to fully explain global climate negotiations because communication and involvement from non-state bodies is not leading to cooperation by the involved parties. The negotiating parties are not accepting norms and ideas, thus there is no currently plausible mechanism for mitigating global GHG emissions. It is simply not in the economic self-interest of powerful states to slow growth and prevent the use of fossil fuels. In this light, the realist point of view describes inaction from the most carbon intensive states because they have an intrinsic self-interest in continuing to burn fossil fuels. This is not to say that these nations would not receive some benefit from pollution reductions such as cleaner air, but currently their personal cost is much greater than any benefit they may receive.

Using the realist theory we can explain why some parties, such as the Alliance of Small Island States, who are most vulnerable to climate change (Bulkeley and Newell, 2010) are already taking action. From a realist point of view, small island states would only voluntarily cut back on emissions if they would directly benefit from those actions. These nations risk loosing their sovereignty due to sea level rise, so it is consistent with a realists understanding for these most vulnerable countries to cut their emissions to attempt to spark international change. When faced with losing an entire nation, it is expected that the population would be as vocal as possible to attempt to save their sovereignty. As Fletcher (2013) describes, Costa Rica is taking action after increasing political pressure in the 1980s to stop deforestation. After accepting funding to help these efforts, Costa Rica has become a global model for carbon emissions reductions and forest preservation. The European Union has taken more significant action than any other powerful and significant state in terms of GHG emissions. The EU and states that have taken action on climate change have not done so because they are good global citizens. They have done so because they are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and will be better off as a state (or grouping of states) if they take actions to preserve environmental services and reduce GHG emissions. Even though these actors and other states have been cooperating on small actions, a realist view still most accurately describes the climate negotiations because there has not yet been collective action by all global parties.

The only way states will be able to agree to a binding agreement on GHG emissions, under this realist theory for international relations, would be for a hegemon to take charge of the negotiations. The hegemon or another powerful state that could compete with the hegemon for that position would have to successfully threaten the use of force to make other states comply with mandatory GHG reductions. With a lack of such a leader and a global government, it is highly unlikely that this outcome will occur. Countries will continue to negotiate around climate change until the cost of inaction becomes too great and it is no longer in a hegemon’s best interest to continue to allow excessive GHG pollution.


Work Cited

Bulkeley, Harriet, and Peter Newell. Governing climate change. Routledge, 2010.

Fletcher, Robert in “Climate governance in the developing world.” Reference & Research Book News 2013: Academic OneFile.

Trends in global CO2 emissions: 2013 Report. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. European Commission Joint Research Center. 2013.

Climate Change Governance Efforts: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

the good the bad and the ugly

In a history class, the covered material often consists of past societies’ wars, plagues, rebellions and leadership transitions. Whereas, it seems that periods of peace and prosperity are glimpsed over in the history books and its importance is disregarded.  This neglect for positivity is demonstrated in the climate change’s history where the efforts are often described as failures.  Global climate change is a multifaceted crisis and evidently does not have a straightforward solution. However to describe the notion of a “cooperative response” at the COP20 convention as “naïve and contrary to the record of human history” is unfair (Bova, pg 249-50). Bova’s realist perspective is supported from aspects of past climate change governance; yet, the constructivist international relations paradigm is a more appropriate theory due to the climate change policy landmarks, the global participation in the climate change crisis and negotiations’ advancement through science.

The previous efforts to govern climate change refute the realism view due to: the international efforts and acceptance of climate change, the advancement of international institutions and the number of climate change milestones throughout history.  First of all, realism is a power-based regime theory in which states behave to benefit their own-self-interest politically, socially and economically.  This theory may be applicable for some countries, but holistically countries have worked cohesively on the climate change crisis. One example of successful international climate change relations is the emergence of various institutions, consisting of countries that share similar climate change interests and goals.  The UNFCC and COP are two examples of decision-making bodies that have world-wide involvement to tackle climate change.  Other institutions consisting of SBI, POS, EU and G77 are divided based on geography, current conditions, issues and interests; they are all involved in globally collective institutions and are not motivated by their countries own self-interest.  The advancement of international institutions has led to the organization and planning of climate change governance, which is the first step in the negotiation process.

In contradiction of the realistic view, the history of climate change has achieved many historic milestones, especially, since the knowledge that human-induced climate change was not accepted in the scientific world until the 1970s.  In the last 44 years, climate change has resulted in a change of beliefs, “deepening of cooperation”, “firming–up obligation to act”, “identified problems pressing for a need for action” and the creation of “concrete, legally binding emission reduction commitments” (Bulkeley & Newell 20).  The international acceptance of climate change lead to a successful moment in history was when the UNFCC was agreed upon to deal with climate change. Afterwards the Montreal Protocol was passed to stop the use of chemicals that caused the depletion in the ozone. Another success was Kyoto Protocol that binded 38 countries to reduce their emissions (5.2% below levels in 1990) by 2008-12.  Despite the United States’ refusal to ratify agreement, overall the EU and G77 did not follow the United States’ self-interested footsteps. Instead they acted in regards to the knowledge that climate change was a pressing issue and become even more determined for Kytoto Protocol to succeed.  Regardless of climate change’s complexity and difficulties, there was a strength in climate change’s history for countries around the globe were able to work together through creating institutions and policies.

Although the climate change governance issues had momentum, not every country is participating the global prevention of climate change outlook and behaved with the self-interest as a priority.  One of these self-interested nations is the United States for they focused on the developing countries being required to follow protocols rather than focusing on its own high greenhouse gas emissions.  One example was when the United States refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol even though they helped develop it, 150 other countries signed it and are highly responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.  Another realistic issue is that there are more components that require attention in the next conference. One component is that developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa have become heavy greenhouse gas emitting countries.   These countries now need to be more involved in the negotiation process and have to make vast changes in their organization. From the past, it is evident that all countries including developing nations need to be included/ restricted in the next agreement. Another component is the strong involvement of businesses for in the past countries did not want to make a mistake economically by altering their energy usage. Money necessary for the mitigations and adaptations strategies to be successful, so the involvement of businesses is vital. Although these components have proven to be difficult in the past, there is a clear need for countries to action from the scientific knowledge.

Although the history of climate change is foggy with self-interest intentions, it mainly consists of countries that have acted due to the acquirement of knowledge.  First of all, without science/ knowledge, the globe would not be aware of climate change and no efforts to govern climate change would be made. Specifically, the history of climate change begins at the Villa Conference of 1980 when scientist were asked to see if climate change was an issue.  From their science, it was realized that further investigation was required and WMO, UEP, ICSU were all created to define climate changes risks.  These organizations were key players in the efforts to govern climate change.  Most importantly, the most credible source used for climate change is the IPCC which is composed of a variety of scientist whom inform the globe about climate change.  The IPCC report determines how countries act towards climate change, which explains that the constructivist international relations theory is the most applicable for understanding the climate change governance.

Although, there are aspects of power-based international relations theory seen throughout the history of climate change, it seems that most of the efforts were based upon knowledge from scientists. Science has played a detrimental role in climate change governance for resulted in global participation and acceptance of climate change.  Although, climate negotiations will be difficult, if countries rely on the pressing dangers that science has demonstrated in the IPCC reports, countries can work together to avoid such issues and avoid the outcome of the youtube video below.

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B11kASPfYxY” title=”Climate%20Change%20Negotiations%20Realism%20Depiction”]

Climatic Change: Connecting Humans Through Sheer Awe

International relations paradigms exist to provide of a framework to begin to understand the way in which the world functions.[1] Claims made from those who think along a certain paradigm generally will clash with the claims or beliefs of another. For instance, realists claim that cooperative global responses to the global environmental crisis that is currently bearing down upon our society and the planet are not possible, given the human track record for working alongside cultures different from our own. Thomas Hobbes, a 17th Century political philosopher, attributed this inability to work together to the lack of a “common power” that would “keep all in awe.”[2] This common power or common law has not been seen throughout the course of human history; different sovereign states have had their own common law, but have constantly come into contact with groups of others who do not share their same beliefs. This has for the majority of human history led to war and conquest, slavery and cultural destruction. Without a common law, there is only “man against every man.”[3] Hobbes was right in his claim. How can cultures with completely opposing ideological beliefs live alongside one another without some sort of conflict? They could come together and put aside their differences and work together on building a sustainable society. This is the sentiment most of us are taught at a young age while going through grade school in the United States. However in the globalized world we now find ourselves, this type of collaborative effort has not been seen. I think this has in part been due to a lack of what Hobbes was referring to as the common power. Unlike the realists I think that global climate change, the common power to keep us in awe to allow cooperative efforts based around one subject, will lead to and has been leading to global cooperative response. This is because global climatic change does not carry a flag different from your own, it does not speak a different human tongue, it does not infringe upon national security, it is a threat to the very existence of our globalized human society. It is for this reason that I think the paradigms that oppose the realists, liberalism and constructivism, offer solutions to the threat that protect “human security” instead of simply “national security.”[4]

HS vs NS

Liberalism and constructivism both stem from the utopian-themed idealism paradigm. They do share the same key factor, peace on a global scale, but use different methods to achieve this. This could be where splits in international climate change agreements and negotiations are seen, such as with the differing opinions on whether or not legally binding agreements for emissions reductions are the solution. Both legally and non-legally binding documents have begun to appear on different scales within the global theater. The Montreal Protocol was one legally binding document that helped bring our species away from being burned up by intense UV radiation. The Kyoto Protocol is one legally binding document that appears to have led to emissions reductions for its signatories that decided to ratify, and for those that did not ratify reductions were not seen. On the other hand the recent Cancun Agreements are an example of progress towards emissions reductions without legally binding agreements.

Source: World Meteorological Organization

The Montreal Protocol is a legally binding agreement to completely phase out- not just reduce- ozone damaging chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). It was the result of a previous framework decision laid out in the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan referred to it as “perhaps the most successful environmental treaty to date.”[5] Its impact can be seen today as CFC concentrations continue to decrease through this century.[6] The Kyoto Protocol is a similar legally binding agreement that is not meant to address ozone damaging gases, but rather human emissions of greenhouse gasses that are responsible for global warming trends. The Kyoto Protocol was not as successful as the Montreal Protocol.[7] Unlike the Montreal Protocol not every signatory nation-state, including the US, ratified the Kyoto Protocol in the end and this led to it being seen largely as a failure. However, for the countries that did ratify the agreement, total emissions reductions were met. Had the United States ratified the agreement it would have been seen as significantly more successful. This is a piece of evidence for the realist theory that cooperative response is not possible and negotiations will end in a nation-state choosing to protect itself before those outside of its borders. In this situation the US acted in favor of national security, not wanting to risk damaging the US economy simply in the name of reducing GHG emissions.

Funds gathered from the Parties for climate change related use, as a result of the Cancun Agreements

That was around the turn of the millennia and now it would seem that the common power that Hobbes wrote of is being felt and seen across the globe. The threat of climate change is no longer some prediction, it is here, and the earth is fundamentally different.[8] For this, collaborative efforts based around this notion of “human security” before “national security” has been on the rise. In 2010 the UN Climate Change Conference was held in Cancun, Mexico. During this, the 16th Conference of the Parties, a non-legally binding agreement was formed and became known as the Cancun Agreements. It established a fund to assist poorer countries in financing emissions reductions and adaptation. It was expected to grow to $100 billion by the year 2020. While the Cancun Agreement has received criticism for its inability to expressly state how the funds will be used, it was surely a positive step towards reducing emissions- especially when compared to the failure in Copenhagen the year before.[9] These non-legally binding agreements are surely representative of a shift in thinking. After Copenhagen many nations must have felt the pressure to ensure some sort of deal be made so that progress could continue to build.

While these examples are not nearly of the scale needed to shift the warming trends currently being seen, they are a start. And while no change in emissions has resulted from one nation standing up and saying that they would be willing to do whatever it takes to help halt emissions now and adapt to shifting climates, that does not mean it is not yet to come. While betting on that happening is not the safest decision, it would appear that the trend for cooperation is beginning to emerge. This year’s decisive COP and next year’s will surely be a time for the “cooperation trend line” to shift up starkly if we are to begin to curb emissions and limit climate change’s impact on human health and security.




Works Cited

The Economist Newspaper. “Atmospheric pressure.” The Economist. http://www.economist.com/node/1715055 (accessed September 10, 2014).

Biello, David . “Dangerous Global Warming Closer Than You Think, Climate Scientists Say.” Scientific American Global RSS. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/dangerous-climate-change-imminent/ (accessed September 10, 2014).

Bova, Russell. How the world works: a brief survey of international relations. 2nd ed. Boston: Pearson Longman, 2012.

Earth System Research Laboratory. 20 Questions. 2010 Update. Section IV CONTROLLING OZONE-DEPLETING SUBSTANCES Q16. 48-51. http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/csd/assessments/ozone/2010/twentyquestions/Q16.pdf (accessed September 10, 2014).

Rogelj, Joeri, Julia Nabel, Claudine Chen, William Hare, Kathleen Markmann, Malte Meinshausen, Michiel Schaeffer, Kirsten Macey, and Niklas Höhne. “Copenhagen Accord pledges are paltry.” Nature 464, no. 7292 (2010): 1126-1128.


[1] Bova, 27

[2] Thomas Hobbes, 1651

[3] Thomas Hobbes, 1651

[4] Bova, 239

[5] Bova, 247




[9] Copenhagen Accords pledges are paltry.

Are we doomed? How doomed?


Realists, believers that international anarchy means unavoidable conflict, predict a bleak future in regards to climate change. This paradigm in the study of international relations regards power as the driving force in nation state interactions. Realism tries to understand the interactions and conflicts that arise. Through this lens, nation states act out of self interest in the unrelenting pursuit of power. Cooperation among nations is limited; there is no higher order in international governance to enforce agreements among countries.[1]

Realism is only one of many paradigms with which to view the world in the study of global politics.  Furthermore, paradigms do not explain every historical and future event. These lenses are explainers and predictors in their most pure, almost exaggerated, form.  Unlike the hard sciences, these paradigms can co-exist; in some situations, some models will be more helpful than others in analyzing the causes of an event.  Other major paradigms include liberalism, constructivism, feminism, and neo-Marxism. Neo-Marxism is the only one that, like realism, dooms the world to inherent conflict. The others believe that with certain circumstances, cooperation can replace conflict in global politics. However, neo-Marxism sees economics as the driver of politics and, in an inherently unequal system, conflict is inevitable and cooperation is fleeting.[2] When considering the current handling of climate change, neo-Marxism is the best lens with which to predict the outcome of the international effort to attempt to mitigate the effects of global warming.

Looking at the debate around mitigating climate change, most of the conflict has been due to disparities in economies. The United States refused to ratify out of the Kyoto Protocol because China, as a non-Annex 1 nation, did not have any legally binding restrictions on emissions. This meant that the U.S. would have a distinct disadvantage in the global markets. China would be able to produce goods more cheaply, without having pay for the externality of emissions. They would also be more attractive to multinational businesses looking to lower the expenses of regulating pollution in production. Because of this conflict in economy, nation states could not cooperate and the Kyoto Protocol launched into effect without the ratification of the (then) largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, the United States.

When negotiating climate change mitigation strategies on a multinational scale, the barrier to cooperation is often economics. The fossil fuel industry is seen as so fundamental to the culture of development, that restrictions and regulations are often perceived as a direct threat to jobs and income. It is true, we must suffer a reduction in GDP now in order to prevent more dire losses in production in the future. According to the Stern Review, in order to stabilize greenhouse gases at around 500-550 ppm, the world would suffer an annual loss of 1 percent global GDP by 2050. However, this cost is low relative to the cost of inaction. A 5-6ºC warming could cause a 5-10 percent reduction in global GDP.[3]  Nations struggle with making legislation that reduces GDP, even if it is a better long term solution. This creates tensions between actors as they attempt to negotiate the boundaries between scientific warnings and short term economics as they collaborate in a global arena.

The economies of the many nations involved in these negotiations are central to the climate change policy debate. Non-Annex 1 nations perceive it unfair to have imposed policies that could slow their growing economies. Forcing developing nations to pay for more efficient technology in order to combat a problem they historically did not cause seems unfair. These issues are now crucial sources of conflict in the policy debates. Which economies should pay to reduce global emissions? How do we weigh the luxury economies of the North to the survival economies of the South when determining cuts? Which economies will suffer the most from the effects of climate change? Questions of weight and fairness create large fissions when working among nations of differing amounts of wealth and responsibility.

Unlike realist perceptions that inherent conflict between nations stems from military power struggles, the neo-Marxist approach cites differing economies as the intrinsic barrier to global cooperation. This paradigm fits the current international negotiation surrounding climate change. However, does looking at the global mitigation of climate change through a neo-Marxist lens mean that the earth is doomed? The world might not work together as well as the climate scientists are saying they must, but the future is simply uncertain. Neo-Marxism only states that international cooperation is difficult, not impossible. The question is whether nation states can act together quickly and forcefully enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change upon their citizens. It is a mystery as to whether the international community will cooperate well enough to prevent the great conflicts and deaths that will arise from the new, hotter earth we are creating. What are important, regardless of the outcome, are the serious actions that citizens and governments take now in attempt to avoid disaster.



[1] Bova, R., 2011, “How to think about world politics, realism and its critics” (pp 3-37). In R. Bova, How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations, Longman Publishing, pp 3-37.

[2] Bova, R., 2011, “How to think about world politics, realism and its critics” (pp 3-37). In R. Bova, How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations, Longman Publishing, pp 3-37.

[3] Stern, N. (2006). “Summary of Conclusions.” Executive summary. Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change (pre-publication edition). HM Treasury.


Which international relations theory will you choose?

The world in which we live in is made up of optimists and pessimists. There are those who always look for the bright side in a given situation and then there are those who just expect the worst. In terms of international relations, we call the optimists the liberals and constructivists and we call the pessimists the realists. Liberals believe that global cooperation can be achieved and is an alternative to power politics. Constructivists are a bit different. They believe that change in world politics can transpire without having to change the entire structure of the international system. Realists on the other hand think that everyone is in it for themselves. It is all a game of who can get the most power between sovereign states.

According to Russell Bova’s book “How the World Works”, “While liberals and constructivists see global problems like the environment pushing states toward cooperation and global solutions, U.S. nonparticipation in the Kyoto Protocol and the disappointing outcome at Copenhagen reinforce realist skepticism. Indeed, realists see those environmental problems as yet another potential source of international conflict” (p.248). Realists see that international conflicts will arise such as competition for scarce resources. Just like the power game, a race will start regarding who can get the most of what is running out—let’s face it, the bigger country with the most power will win.

If every single country decides to cooperate and solutions are created for our global problems, all might be well and go smoothly…NOT! This is where the question of governance for whom comes into play. Harriet Bulkeley and Peter Newell addressed this question pretty well in “Governing Climate Change.” They discussed three areas where issues arise regarding global problems. The questions of who is responsible, who pays for action on mitigation and adaption, and who bears the costs of actions and inactions pops up. The countries that have contributed the least amount of carbon emissions which would be the developing nations, are actually much more susceptible to the effects of climate change than the large actors. Richer countries have the ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change. For example, Bangladesh is a country that lies below sea level. When areas in Bangladesh are hit hard and homes, lands, family, as well as many other things are lost, who comes to their rescue? It’s certainly not their government because they cannot afford it. These people living in these areas have to fend for themselves and establish a whole new life in the slums of a city. They have to start from scratch. However, when the Northeastern coast was hit by hurricane Sandy, shelters, food, repairs, and so much more were provided to those who needed the aid. The government had funds to aid those in need and also had money to repair the damages. In New York City, the subways were drained, houses near beaches were fixed, and even places such as South Street Seaport were repaired almost immediately. A big and powerful country like the United States has the ability to go back to our daily routines. Countries like Bangladesh do not.

Climate change was caused by the development of the North. The United States has contributed twenty percent towards global emissions. The United States alone caused this much damage, so why should others pay the price? Ultimately, can all of the countries in the world cooperate and come up with global solutions when the United States did not even participate in the Kyoto Protocol?



Who put the “real” in realist?

The UNFCCC official seal
The UNFCCC official seal

By Elizabeth Plascencia

Evidently realists will be realists, I will be me, and you shall be you. Set on a trajectory of thought spanning from the latter end of World War II, realism, as a paradigm, populated the gamut of international relations, which felt seemingly appropriate for its time. Strikingly similar to that of the second law of thermodynamics, entropy or chaos, was at an all time high post-World War II, in which case a realists’ pessimistic stance deemed valid. Within R. Bova’s text, How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations, he boldly states, “At this point, however, no single paradigmatic challenger to realism has emerged”, where I contentiously yet mindfully respond. Today, September 12, 2014, I challenge the realist paradigm on the sanction of qualitatively and quantitatively significant evidence extrapolated from the liberalism paradigm of international relations theory.

In essence, liberalism speaks to the ever-changing nature of world politics and opens the window to optimism that realists’ blocked with stagnant anarchic assumptions for the rest of the world. In lieu of qualitative evidence negating Bova’s statement, “In short, for realists, the expectation that global environmental crisis will lead to cooperative responses is both naïve and contrary to the record of human history”, the unity of liberal internationalism, liberal commercialism, and liberal institutionalism creating the Kantian Triangle[1] are highly regarded (pg 249-50). The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is an outstanding example for a liberal institution that promotes peaceful cooperation on an issue as pressing as global climate change. Moreover as presented by the National Research Council within “The Context for America’s Climate Choices” the United States “…endorsed an effort to work with the international community to prevent a 2 (3.6 ) increase in global temperatures relative to pre-industrial levels” (pg. 11). Furthermore providing evidence framing single nation and multi-nation cooperative initiations that are making active efforts to mitigate climate change.

Within a working liberalism paradigm there exists this notion of “absolute gains” [2] which is derived from cooperative and peaceful state interactions. Whilst keeping a focus on absolute gains, a liberalist sees no reason to compare their gains to that of another nation. In fact, quantitative statistical analyses as presented by the International Energy Agency reveal that  “The Australian government and European Union had announced intentions to link their systems, starting with one-way trading of European allowances into the Australian market from 2015, followed by two-way linking from 2008” and “In December 2008, the European Council and the European Parliament endorsed an agreement on climate change and energy package which implements a political commitment by the European Union to reduce its GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions by 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. The package also includes a target for renewables in the European Union, set at 20% of final energy demand by 2020” (pg. 17).

As previously stated – realists will be realists, I will be me, and you shall be you. Derive what you will from the empirical trends, but know this – if anarchy is what they think, anarchy is what they will get.


[1] Kantian Triangle – Idea that international institutions, economic interdependence, and the diffusion of democratic government are mutually reinforcing and together support liberal notions of a trend towards peace and cooperation among states (Bova, 22).

[2] Absolute gain – the total benefits that accrue to a state as a consequence of its interactions with other states without regard to the benefits that accrue to others (Bova, 19).


Works Cited:

Bova, R., 2011, “How to think about world politics, realism, and its critics” How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations, Longman Publishing, pp 3-37.

Bova, R., 2011, “Transnational challenges, the state system under stress” How the World Works: A Brief Survey of International Relations, Longman Publishing, pp 237-250.

International Energy Agency, 2013, CO2 emissions from Fuel Combustion, Highlights, pp 7 – 19.

National Research Council, 2011, “The Context for America’s Climate Choices,” in America’s Climate Choices, pp 7 -14.


Hobbes vs. Rousseau: The State of Nature


Philosopher Thomas Hobbes had a pessimistic view of mankind; he argued that humans are naturally self-centered. On the other hand, philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau takes a more opportunistic approach and argues that humans are innately good and it is civilization that is destructive. What does this have to do with climate change? Hobbes would say that the greedy nature of mankind drives us to deplete our natural resources. Whereas Rousseau would say that capitalism is the root of evil! So which philosopher should we take after? Will changing the greedy systems within society put an end to global warming or will other issues arise? Or do we change humankind to be less self-centered?

Climate change has a global effect regardless of which countries are contributing or emit the most greenhouse gases. Historically, changes in the environment were not of a geopolitical concern until changes in the natural weather patterns were discovered. Since then, climate change has been a topic of international politics. The consequences of climate change are going to affect each region of the world differently. When these issues arise there becomes a more important question of who takes responsibility, who pays for action, and who bears the cost all without furthering inequalities between nations. Climate change has the ability to widen the inequality gap between nations, especially developing nations who are the most susceptible to the adverse effects of global warming. Action on climate change has mostly been focused on the industrialized world, for example the UNFCCC states developed countries should take initiative towards climate change, but should developing countries be allowed to continue to emit greenhouse gases in order to gain a higher socioeconomic status?

As a globe, we share the environment therefore there should be a global effort at cooperation. There are different approaches to international regime such as realism, liberalism, and constructivism. Realism is driven by self-interest and power, comparably a Thomas Hobbes perspective. According to Dr. Russell Bova, “For realists, the expectation that global environmental crisis will lead to cooperative responses is both naïve and contrary to the record of human history.” (Bova 249-250) The liberalist approach involved a more mutual understanding of sharing the costs and interests, advocated by Rousseau. Constructivism is a knowledge-based approach that analyzes climate change at a social level. If we take the liberalist approach then we must question societal structures that create this constant competition for power and wealth. In a world without forces of competition we could reduce our emissions and potentially live in a better world. In order to fight against climate change, we, as a global community, must take a more selfless approach and start making sacrifices because we are in this  together. Dealing with global climate change is essentially a problem of cooperation and solving issues of interest and power. We must all be allies and prevent global warming from turning into world war III.      iStock_000019699158XSmall