Archive for December, 2014

Sustainability and Wikimedia Commons

December 29, 2014

Barbican, London - 8 June 2014 - Andy Mabbett - 108

John Cummings and I in the Conservatory, the Barbican, in the run up to Wikimania 2014

My friend and colleague, John Cummings, has just added this blog on Wikimedia Commons:

Understanding Sustainable Agriculture Through Wikipedia

As John says:

“The Priority Products and Materials: Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production report by the United Nations Environment Programme found that ‘Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.’”


Saying “NO” for the future of your country

December 15, 2014


Last autumn, during the hot topic of Syria’s chemical weapons, Albania was following the case as a sensitive topic. After Syria accepted on turning over all of their chemical weapons, the Nobel Peace Prize winning Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) made a detailed plan, “Destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons”. The main issue was where the different types of weapons, (sulfur mustard, sarin, VX), are going to be destroyed and which country would accept all these hazardous waste in their territory. The US and Russia, two main negotiators, firstly came out with the name of Norway. Norway declined the offer immediately, explaining that they have no experience in the demolition of the chemical weapons and their country is not the most suitable location for this process. But they offer the use of cargo ship to the location of destruction.

Albania was the second most likely country where the destruction of the weapons was headed. It was a direct request to Albania by the United States. It was a very curios choice. A small and a country not much developed, how much experience can have on the destruction of such hazardous weapons.

The only history that Albania has with these kind of weapons was back in 2002, when were discovered 600 bulk containers of chemicals in an abandoned bunker, amount this probably acquires by the communist leader in mid-1970 but nothing is verified. This amount was declared (Albania one of the six nations) in March 2003. The United States assisted on the destruction of this amount in Albania. In July 2007, OPCW confirmed that Albania’s all chemical weapons were destroyed. But some of the hazardous wastes were left in containers that started to leak. In late 2007-early 2008 an environmental remediation firm, hired by the U.S, stated that the problem was worse that it was thought in the beginning. The solution of this firm was simple, reputing the waste in suitable shipping containers and let them sit in the open, on the concrete pad. Both the U.S and Russia have specialized capabilities to destroy themselves the weapons. Why can’t they do it themselves??? Russia has and why was Albania the chosen one? The U.S must have offered something in return for Albania if the destruction of the weapons was accepted. However, is it worthy?? Especially after having a dark past, even with the Americans assistance in the destruction of these kind of weapons.

The news of Albania being a possible candidate in destroying Syria’s chemical weapons, was spread all around the media in the US firstly and than in Albania. To the community it was a shock. Even though the news was all over the place, the media inside and outside Albania was boiling; the government of just several months still hadn’t made any comment about it. Discontent, anger and frustration was surrounding the community. Also the neighbours like Italy and Greece were expressing their insecurities about this news. Chemical weapons in the country, firstly, were not acceptable. And second, every person of the community needs to feel safe and protected by its own government. The people were angry that the prime minister could even take in consideration the proposal. We had no experience, no facilities and we don’t feel safe having those weapons around us. The same as our neighbours, that even not having the toxic agents in their territory, still were alarmed. Also, the complaints were regarding the government keeping the news secret and also the U.S on trying to convince Albania to accept the proposal.

People started to move in their communities and plan the opposition of this proposal. A key role had the civil society together with NGO’s. The most furious people were the young ones, those that have their whole life ahead and want to live in a safe place.


Protests took place in the capital city, Tirana and other cities, for days and also during night cold hours. Demonstrators’ fear the proposal’s safety implications and possible impact on the tourism industry. One of the primary names of the Albanian GDP is tourism. Everyone fears that having chemical weapons in their small territory (around 28.000 km2) will scare the tourist. Not taking in consideration the effects that will have in the peoples living in the country.


Some days later the prime minister of Albania, in a press conference, rejected the proposal of U.S, marking a break with NATO and the relations with the U.S.

It was one of the times where people gathered together, for their own complaints, not forced by any political view, as it is common in Albania. It was a very genuine protest, to protect their country and their future, not for the interests of a political party. It was one of those times were the political figures in the protest were booed, for not wanting to politicise the protest which was only in favour of the interest of the community. That was the first time, I would say after the student movement in December 1990 to put end of the communist era, which the demonstrator’s wanted a better life for themselves. I want to be positive, that this was the turning point of Albanians learning to say “No” and also learning to say their opinion, outside the political box.

The Eu Common Market

December 15, 2014

Is the EU Common Market really Common?

How can we as students of EUL and researchers challenge political paradigms that characterise European Union (EU) Common Market? First , looking at the term sustainability of the commons, it has become a new buzz word, and part of its popularity rest with its ambiguity. Many have attempted to define it, but none links it to the common life-ground (Sumner,2005). I think that the concept of civil commons, however, opens up the possibility of also looking at the effectiveness of our “common EU agricultural and or free movement system” within the confines of the common and would seem to raise the concept of the EU Common Market to a new level meant to be constituted on the pillars of life-coherent, sustainable, and just. My issue with operations of the EU common market lies on its objectives of free trade and distribution of goods and movements of people. Of course this is bound to swell immigration in some quarters of the union as sustainability of the commons. Yet there is so much brouhaha about the quiet enjoyment of  free movement in the UK. Is this a tragedy or a comedy of the sustainability of the commons as e see it in the EU common market domain? Anyway, according to Mc Murtry (1998) we  should note the term civil commons are around us, but have never been collectively name: Public education systems, universal health- care programs, building regulations, water and power installations, bridges ,social safety protections, laws. libraries, public broadcast media, sewage systems and social assistance. In essence, the nature of the civil c0mm0ns can be expressed as follows:

It is society’s organized and community- funded capacity of universally accessible resources to provide for life preservation and growth of society’s members and their environmental life-host. The civil commons is, in other words, what people ensure together as a society to protect and further life, as distinct from money aggregates (McMurtry 1998,p.24)

Therefore if our common Market operations whether in people free movement or goods services are closely linked to sustainability of the civil commons, then moving from the noun “sustainability” to the adjectives “sustainable” carries the same meaning I think that a sustainable labour systems involves an interdependent web of activities generated by a set of structures and processes that built the civil commons with respect to the production processing, distribution, wholesaling, retailing, consumption and disposal of foods ( Sumner,2010)

However, it should be noted that the breaking barriers to the free movement  of goods and services should stimulate trade. In any event, the free movement of goods and services allows the production of goods and services to take place where it is relatively most efficient. Similarly, the free movement of capital of people theoretically increases the efficiency with which inputs to production process are allocated, by allowing investment and labour to flow to where returns are highest. Theoretically, this serves to reduce prices and overall economic welfare.

In practice achieving free movement of capital and labour means the elimination of capital and exchange  controls,  freedom for businesses to invest and locate wherever they wish in the European Union (EU) without discrimination, and,  more controversially, the  elimination of immigration restrictions within the (EU) . Although there are practical benefits, there remains concern that the free movement of labour especially comes with economic costs, in the form of depressed wages and unemployment for the domestic population, and pressure on public services of which we seem to be in denial of the benefits of the Common Market as seen above. So is this the  tragedy of the commons or a sore comedy of its beauty? Good as it may, it should be remembered that  this flaring concept of a single European Common market was seriously challenged by Margaret Thatcher in her ‘her Bruges speech’ when she stated that ‘we have not successfully rolled back the frontier of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level, The position of the UK government with respect to the single Market remains similar today when she said. ‘The right way of strengthening the social dimension of the single market is to allow member state to regulate their labour market and their social systems according to their needs and political priorities. Such differences within the EU about the purpose and objectives of the single market heighten the sovereignty of trade-off, and increase the potential for divergence between EU regulation and the measures that would otherwise have been pursued at a national level”

The EU Common Market

December 15, 2014

Climate Change – the HOT topic

December 14, 2014

So far 21 UN (IPCC) meetings on climate change have taken place, including the latest one in Lima.

With richer developed nations wanting everybody to contribute to carbon emission reduction, the poorer developing countries are asking for richer nations to help them financially, especially given that most carbon emissions have come from the richer nations.

These divisions have led to a ‘bare minimum’ deal and left many things unresolved. Mr Davey, the energy and climate change secretary, acknowledged that even if detailed pledges are going to be made next year in Paris, they would fall well short of the level necessary to avoid ‘dangerous climate change’ (that the global temperature must not rise more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels).

So, have all these talks made any real difference?

It seems little progress has been made to getting a robust agreement amongst nations to reduce the carbon emissions enough. Many times politics has gotten in the way. While all these talks on climate change are going on, (Lima talks themselves having contributed with the largest ever carbon footprint that any UN climate meeting has ever left behind), in the meantime the world as we know it is changing.

Let’s be real, the uncertainties are not about whether it exists at all or whether it is human made, as many sceptics would argue. See for example this video by Lenar Whitney, an American politician and business woman who argues that human-caused climate change is “the greatest deception in the history of mankind”, dismissing evidence from Al Gore’s documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ (I am sure many of you will find her assertions simply ridiculous and uninformed). The real uncertainties lie around the impact of climate change. Since it all lies in the future, climate change sceptics are able to feed on this uncertainty. As a matter of fact, these uncertainties could go both ways. The risks could be less but they could also be much greater and more dangerous than we anticipate. Take for example Typhoon Hayan going through the Phillipines or Cyclone Hudhud going through India…and now imagine these storms being twice or three times as intense!

Climate change is also dangerous because it intersects with many other global problems of the 21st century BUT unlike like global poverty, which we can change, climate change is irreversible. There will be no way to get the greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere quick enough once they are there.

So why is society so passive? Shown in recent surveys,  public opinion has become more indifferent to climate change. Maybe climate change sceptics are influential…but surely they aren’t THAT influential? As per Prof. Anthony Giddens, climate change is filtered through the findings of science where we have to get our assessment of risks from and rely solely on scientists, which is unusual. Their work is largely inaccessible to the majority of people around the globe and it is almost impossible for normal person to master the science of climate change, making it very easy for sceptics to operate.

However he also speaks of something much more prominent, he calls it the Giddens’ Paradox. He talks about the fact that climate change as a humanly induced issue is unique to our civilisation. No other civilisation has ever intervened in nature to the degree we do on an everyday basis and therefore there are no historical records or data we can draw upon to mobilise the public against it. The consequences of climate change are not fully here yet…they are to come. They are FUTURE risks and therefore it is hard for people to grasp and see the reality of them. There has to be more than just one disastrous event in order to prove that this is linked to climate change. So, as a society we will likely wait until something cataclysmic happens, that can be linked unequivocally to climate change, before we act. But then it will be too late!

We haven’t got very far to date in resolving climate change because we are not addressing the risks appropriately. Realistically, if we are going to resolve this we need a change of paradigm…not just leave it to the UN. The US and China contribute 40% of greenhouse gases in the world, with India not far behind. If we cannot get these countries to agree, then anything that the UN does is doomed and scarily there would be nothing the rest of the world could do that is enough to avoid dangerous climate change.

Carbon graphic

We need to uproot the way we are currently going about life. Naomi Klein speaks about “the war our economic model is waging against life on earth” in her book, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate. She says, “The convenient truth is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed economic system and build something radically betterwe have been told the market will save us, when in fact the addiction to profit and growth is digging us in deeper every day. We have been told it’s impossible to get off fossil fuels, when in fact we know exactly how to do it—it just requires breaking every rule in the ‘free-market’ playbook: reining in corporate power, rebuilding local economies, and reclaiming our democracies”.

What do you think? Is getting away from capitalism altogether the real answer to climate change or can we change capitalism in a way that it is controlled and doesn’t contribute to climate change at dangerous levels? Leave your comments below and let us know your thoughts. Thanks!

Relying on technology…

December 14, 2014

This Friday was a nightmare for many people. A glitch on the software was responsible for the Air Traffic Control chaos affecting airports in London and southeast England. A system failure which left hundred of flights on ground and some other flying for more than half an hour around the airport until they had the ok to land. Flights in and out Britain were halted for minutes causing knock-on effects in other international flights and airports. Many flights were cancelled and many passengers were stuck in airport. This failure have many effects on the airports in England, especially Heathrow and Gatwick, and on airports in Europe and around the world, on the airlines and on the passengers. A system failure here causes a chain reaction, many companies lose money, people get frustrated for not getting the service they paid for and chaos can lead to mistakes and unpleasant events.

Another system failure happened on Amazon causing small retailers to lose thousands of pounds. One of the systems used by Amazon, RepricerExpress, went wrong, selling the products for only 1p. There were hundred of happy buyers that night and furious business now, that may even risk going bankrupt as a result of losing so much money.

We rely so much on the software’s and technology these days that we can’t do without them and when something goes wrong everything will stop and many people will be penalized (very few will benefit). In the era of technology something like these failures are not welcomed, however even the technology and software’s are not perfect. Back up plans and measures should be taken in order for not having the same mistakes, or we should have other alternatives ready if one fails.

Development Practice Should Learn from the Lessons of History

December 14, 2014

I would like to end my Sustainability and the Commons blogging experience by sharing my most profound moment in this class; the first lecture, the first slide and my first real inkling of what this module would encompass:

Chief Seattle“How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?

Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.

This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites our family. All things are connected.”

Chief Seattle, Suquamish Tribe, 1848

Revisiting Chief Seattle after all these weeks makes his words more powerful, thus enhancing their gravitas further. In addition, anyone else who has read William Easterly’s latest book, The Tyranny of Expertswill agree with me that this passage epitomises one of Easterly’s three major thematic shifts in the paradigm of approaching development practice that he has labelled as ‘history vs. blank slate thinking’. The other two are nation vs. individual, and central planning vs. spontaneous solutions. 

According to Easterly, “Blank slate thinking thus opened the door for development experts to reject the utility of the West’s history of individual rights and development as a precedent.”  He goes on to add that, “The conventional approach to development…is based on a technocratic illusion: the belief that poverty is a purely technical problem amenable to such technical solutions as fertilisers, antibiotics, or nutritional supplements.” 


Christopher Stern’s blog, ‘IN MY EXPERT OPINION: EASTERLY, EXPERTISE, & DEVELOPMENT PRACTICE’, reviews the book in more depth here.

Nevertheless, I would like to echo Christopher’s appeal to his fellow Development Practice students, Class of 2015; as MSc NGO and Development Management students, Class of 2015, let us engage with history and historicity in our development practice, such as the normative concept of the commons which we are all experts on now.

I agree with him that this is truly imperative if we are to avoid the folly that Chief Seattle is talking about. The fundamental concepts of import here are agency and accountability.  As Easterly puts it, “The sleight of hand that focuses attention on technical solutions while covering up violations of the rights of real people….is the moral tragedy of development today.” 

Therefore, let us guard against allowing our legacies, as ‘Informed Development Practitioners’ (Meera™), to mirror Chief Seattle’s experts who never even considered the possibility that his history or that of any of the other ‘developing’ regions could exist outside of their relationships to Western economists.

For all the criticisms labeled against The Tyranny of Experts, I accept Easterly’s ‘shocking indictments’, to all of us ‘experts’, and his insistence upon a development practice that learns from the lessons of history. The salient point here being the appreciation of contextual heterogeneity, not a universal application of the same old lesson.

As Christopher puts it, if one is to speak of sleight of hand, it is quite a trick to use history to recast the unrestrained capitalist impulses of Europe as the would-be heroes of global development while construing local dissenters as antagonists. Let us go forth with confidence in our quest to bring ‘good change’.  

This Happened Earlier Today

December 13, 2014

lorry 1lorry 2

Second news that angered and saddened me.

Migrant crushed by lorry on M25

How sad and what a way to die. The driver drove off quite possibly without realising that he has run over and killed a human being. Few weeks back in France two immigrants were burnt alive in the back of a lorry.

In UK, it has been in-thing to hire foreign labour at very low cost. However, this has drastically changed, in the passed few years, tilting the scale towards native workers. In other words, as the world tries to go global, the immigration laws are out to stop foreigners both skilled and unskilled to enter its market.

This has a double ripple effect on both the rich and developing nations. The rich countries are in need of labour but the laws do not accept cheap labour offered by immigrants from developing countries.

The fact that the world economy is now interlinked makes matters even worse for the rich countries that are not ready to open its borders. If you compare this with what the Gulf is doing concerning immigration issues, then you can understand why most rich countries are lagging behind on the rate of economic development.

Also a comparative analysis indicates that the emerging tigers like India and Brazil will definitely be the biggest beneficiaries if rich countries continue closing its doors on immigrants.

Let us not forget that either themselves or their parents were immigrants: Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Madeleine Albright, John Muir, Joseph Pulitzer, Ang Lee, David Ho, Irving Berlin, Oscar Straus, Bob Marley, Peter Andre, Fabrice Maumba, Ben Elton, Lord Paul Hamlin…

Call me a conspiracist…..but this really smells !!!

December 13, 2014



I was going to blog about something very different, but two pieces of news made me really angrrryyyyyy.


In the news today

The murder of José Isidro Tendetza Antún.

“This was a great man who devoted and gave his life for the protection of his territory, his land, and for the lives of his people. This man has become a martyr for the land of the Ecuatorian Amazon”.


Imagine being a powerful and well-respected voice that the only way to silence you for good is by physical elimination. By the way, this is not the first time a

Hi-profile activist has been murdered. Bosco Wiscum and Freddy Taish where murdered in 2009 and 2013 respectively.


“The Shuar people are the original inhabitants of a large part of Southern Ecuador, and are Ecuador’s second-largest indigenous group. Tendetza was a major critic of the open pit Mirador copper and gold mine owned byEcuacorriente, a company originally owned by Canadians that was later sold to Chinese conglomerate, CCRC-Tongguan Investment. According to theConfederation of Indigenous Nationalities in Ecuador, the mine will devastate about 450,000 acres of Ecuadorian forest”.


Elsewhere also, according to this information, presented in the report of the Observatory, 112 attacks took place against land rights defenders and 43 were assassinated since 2011. This terrible number is nonetheless a small glimpse of the reality on the ground. Asia and Latin America are the most affected continents, where cases of repression are more widely known.


Dying to eat: the conatus of capital vs the conatus of life

December 12, 2014

Babies fed infant formula are twice as likely as breastfed babies to die in the first six weeks of life. Even in rich countries like the UK.

They are 20% more likely to suffer with inner ear infections and eczema, five times more likely to develop urinary tract infections and suffer with gastroenteritis, and five to eight times more likely to develop lymphomas before the age of 15. They are also more likely to develop multiple sclerosis, diabetes, hyperactivity, dental malocclusion, coronary heart disease, autoimmune thyroid disease, coeliac disease and childhood inflammatory bowel disease. In areas of the global south where there is often poor sanitation and no access to clean drinking water, the dangers are compounded by the risk of  deadly waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera, when women unable to read written instructions prepare infant formula using contaminated water.

In 1981 the international community accepted the evidence on the dangers of artificial feeding when 118 member countries of the World Health Assembly (WHA)  (the decision making arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO)) voted to adopt the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Only one member country, the United States, voted against the Code introducing restrictions around the marketing of these deadly products (the US eventually signed up in 2004).

Today the the infant formula business is valued at a whopping $58 billion and it continues to grow year on year. But how is this possible in light of the Code? Well maybe it has something to do with the fact that the failure to place any obligation on signatories to the Code has rendered it largely ineffectual as an instrument for ensuring child health, and sadly, this is an industry that breaches international agreements and laws with impunity. In fact this is an industry which has gone so far as to label the Code immoral: ”Ethical decisions that injure a firm’s ability to compete are actually immoral’ (Helmut Maucher: Honorary Chairman of Nestlé).  It is an industry which clearly has no interest in sustaining the lives of babies when it has shareholder dividends to think about!

Indeed, it would seem the megalomaniac tendencies of companies like Nestlè and Danone (the worlds largest producers of infant formula) knows no bounds, as with no compunction at all they engage in aggressive marketing campaigns in some of the poorest countries in the world; practices which have resulted in a significant decline in breastfeeding practices with all too often fatal consequences for millions of innocent children.

They have no respect for the laws of sovereign countries either. When India introduced the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes into law, Nestlè carried on with business as usual, and instead of accepting the criminal charges against them, issued writ petitions against the Indian government. Today India is the fastest growing market for infant formula products in the world.

In the Philippines Danone has been accused of bribing doctors, and of flouting regulations which require that infant formula products have bold labels clearly stating the protective effects of breastfeeding. Their response? To bring to bear the full weight of their financial power  to curry favour with politicians at the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, urging the Philippine Congress to pass a draft bill aimed at relaxing these rules.

This is the conatus of capital. Where the  invisible hand of the market wages war on humanity  – on the conatus of life itself.

According to UNICEF, the practice of breastfeeding babies for at least six months after birth could save the lives of 1.5 million children worldwide. Breast milk is free at the  point of need. It is also the ultimate in sustainability and convenience foods – requiring no transportation, no packaging, no special or costly equipment – it produces no waste and is entirely natural and renewable.

One of the most vulnerable groups on the entire planet – human babies are entirely dependent on primary caregivers for their very survival. Without the power of language or benefit of years of education behind them, they are oblivious to the fact that they are being poisoned. They are unable to demand food sovereignty – unable to demand their sovereign right to food that won’t kill them. We – the grown ups – must do it for them.

To find out more, including how to boycott these companies and how TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) will fortify the hegemonic power of these companies go