Monday, April 30, 2007

GOP's inexorable slide

This graph from the Iowa Futures Market shows how betters are rating the Democrats' versus the Republicans' chances at the White House in '08. The red line represents the GOP, the blue line the Dems, and the numbers on the Y axis more or less correspond to the percent chance that this market judges each party has of winning the Presidency.

To be honest, I am shocked that the market rates the GOP's chances so highly. I'm guessing the only reason why the GOP is deemed to have any chance at all is because the Dems may nominated Hillary.

Coping with Climate Change: Australia

The Economist's description of the drought in the Murray-Darling basin (Australia's largest) provides a harbinger of how global warming will force painful accomodations:

The Murray-Darling's troubles are likely to worsen. As Australia's population continues to grow so does demand for water in the cities and for the crops that grow in the river basin. Meanwhile, global warming appears to be heating the basin up and drying it out. Although few scientists are confident that they can ascribe any individual event—including today's drought—to global warming, most agree that droughts like the present one will become more common.

Many of the world's rivers, including the Colorado in America, China's Yellow river and the Tagus, which flows through Spain and Portugal, are suffering a similar plight. As the world warms up, hundreds of millions of people will face the same ecological crisis as the residents of the Murray-Darling basin. As water levels dwindle, rows about how supplies should be used are turning farmers against city-dwellers and pitching environmentalists against politicians. Australia has a strong economy, a well-funded bureaucracy and robust political institutions. If it is struggling to respond to this crisis, imagine how drought will tear apart other, less prepared parts of the world.

Droughts have long plagued the Murray-Darling. The region is afflicted by a periodic weather pattern known as El Niño. At irregular intervals of two to seven years, the waters of the central Pacific warm up, heralding inclement weather throughout the southern hemisphere. Torrential rains flood the coast of Peru, while south-eastern Australia wilts in drought. The duration of these episodes is as unpredictable as their arrival. They can range from a few months to several years. As a result, the flow of the Darling, the longest tributary of the Murray, varies wildly, from as little as 0.04% of the long-term average to as much as 911%. Although the most recent El Niño ended earlier this year, it has left the soils in the basin so dry and the groundwater so depleted that the Murray-Darling's flow continues to fall, despite normal levels of rainfall over the past few months.

Read the whole thing to see how Australia is renegotiating all the last two centuries' social compromises about water--something that will need to happen everywhere as climate changes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mitigating climate risk: alternative energy sources

Although his data is a bit dated, Caltech chemist Nate Lewis provides a compelling, bottoms-up analysis of the potential of non-carbon energy sources as a way of mitigating climate change. The main takeaway is that we're not going to get much done developing non-carbon energy sources until we price in the environmental externalities of carbon-based energy sources. In short, we need a carbon tax, bad.

Hat tip: EF.

USA Ethics: A new twist

Debra Yang, who as the US Attorney in Los Angeles was leading a corruption probe into the affairs of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), resigned last October. The main framing of this story, so far, has to do with the fact that White House Counsel Harriet Miers apparently was threatening to can Yang, presumably to shut down the investigation of a GOP lawmaker.

But what really jumped out at me about this story is the circumstances under which Yang actually ended up departing. According to The Hill, "she was lured away by a $1.5 million-plus offer to become a partner at Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP, which is defending Lewis in the probe" (emphasis added).

What a brilliant, precedent-setting idea: if some USA is investigating you on a corruption charge, you hire an expensive law firm, and arrange to have them hire away the prosecuting attorney. If you can't beat 'em, co-opt 'em....

Terrifying Weather

In today's Times, my friend Tad Homer-Dixon breaks down the security threat posed by climate change.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Blowback from the collapse of the modernist project

John Hagedorn has an important article that explains how the collapse of the social modernist project of development is at the root of today's "global gangs." Money:

Unlike the expansion of the state in the earlier industrial era, in the global era the state has retreated in the face of instantaneous financial flows and neoliberal monetary policy, while emphasizing punitive policies toward marginalized communities. Gangs and other groups of armed young men occupy the vacuum created by the retreat of the social welfare policies of the state....

Although the collapse of socialism and demoralization of left-wing forces have been replaced by new social movements that show promise for social change, in some places institutionalized gangs and other groups of armed youth have moved into the vacuum created by the demise of the left. These groups are cynical about politics and looking desperately for a better life today, not tomorrow. For them, the promises of modernity have proven to be illusory. Gangs are one price we pay for the failure of the modern project.

The collapse (or rather, the willful assassination) of the dream of social modernism continues to produce all sorts of unexpected blowback.

Armenian genocide

Matt Welch in today's LA Times argues that the United States, in particular the President in his annual April 24 address on "Man's Inhumanity to Man," should refer to the slaughter of Armenians as a genocide. A couple months ago, I argued that such a vote was a purely symbolic act that threatened to undermine real American interests in the Middle East.

Welch, however, suggests a way in which not using the G-word may in fact harm our real interests. Welch quotes the most recent U.S. ambassador to Armenia, John Marshall Evans:

"In the real world," Evans told a packed Beverly Hilton hall of diaspora Armenians in February, "when an official policy diverges wildly from what the broad public believes is self-evident, that policy ceases to command respect."

Evans, a career, keep-your-head-down foreign service type, surveyed the available literature on the events of 1915-23 before taking the Armenian post in September 2004 and concluded that the U.S. position of avoiding the word "genocide" diverged so wildly from the historical consensus that it undermined Washington's moral authority.

This is in principle a reasonable argument. However, it embeds two assumption, first, that the United States should be pursuing the so-called moral project that Bush claims to be pursuing in the Middle East, and second, that in fact Bush has any moral authority that can be undermined. I would strongly question both those assumptions. Welch's conflation of "Bush" with "Washington" doesn't make me very happy, either.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Malawi: Case study of a country at risk from climate change

Malawi is a medium-sized, landlocked country in Southern Africa. It's not the kind of place where the impact of climate change will take place in the form of telegenic catastrophes of massive storms or huge floods. Rather, climate change is steadily forcing incremental changes that the local social, economic, and political systems largely lack the capacity to adapt to, as this report based on a study by Action Aid International makes clear:

Farmers are increasingly concerned about the impact of climate change on agriculture and food security. "Food availability has been an issue over the years since the disasters began. Much as we have experienced floods in those days, the impact was somehow not as severe. As time went by, there has been a drop in crop production due to frequent flooding and droughts," said a farmer in Salima district.

Malawi's experiences are often traced back to the 1991/92 drought in southern Africa, which affected over six million people. Since then, the report noted, the severity of disasters has escalated.

In other words, the headline events which climate change are far less likely to be weather-related than they are to be stories about hunger, about social strife, about unemployment, about rising death rates from HIV (Malawi's adult HIV rate is estimated at 14%), and so on. Climate change risks tipping these stressed systems into full-blown collapse. The report lays bare how the different stressed subsystems impacted by climate change--natural, political, social, and economic--all interact to create multiple negative feedback loops:

There has also been a noticeable increase in diseases, such as malaria, cholera and dysentery, associated with changes in rainfall patterns, creating health challenges that are particularly affecting women farmers. "We now travel longer distances to fetch water, and spend most of the time in health centres instead of working in our fields," the report quoted a female farmer as saying....

Poor land use and deforestation are also serious concerns among people in Salima and Nsanje. Farmers are aware that these activities result in more floods and droughts, but are not empowered to intervene. Many pointed fingers at the role of tobacco estates in felling trees in their neighbourhood....

The increasing food insecurity caused by climate change has also limited the number of casual jobs available on commercial farms. In the past, nearby small-scale sugar and tea plantations were sources of employment for many people in Nsanje. However, farmers say that flood-induced migration means that there are now many more people seeking work on the plantations than there are jobs available.

Some mitigation plans are being considered, but it's probably not nearly enough:

The Malawians are considering enhancing food security by developing community-based storage systems for seed and food, and enhancing the resilience of food production systems to erratic rainfall by promoting the sustainable production of maize and vegetables in wetlands and catchment areas.

However, Action Aid said the implementation of NAPA faced capacity constraints at district level, and a lack of coordination among sectors. "In addressing adaptation challenges, it is imperative that a multisectoral approach is taken, beginning at the community level with the smallholder farmers who are directly affected by climate change. These farmers need skills, knowledge and access to credit for the addressing short- and long-term needs of diversifying from maize into other crops."

Aid agencies and the Malawian government have been considering providing drought insurance to smallholder farmers. The Commodity Risk Management Group (CRMG) of the World Bank developed an objective indicator that could be used as a proxy measure of the exposure of Malawi's maize production to drought, but it was poorly linked to crop yields, according to the FAO, which was now working on the idea.

A Trillion Dollar Risk?

The GAO says the U.S. government faces at least a $919 billion liability under a worst-case scenario of flood and crop losses due to global warming.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Global Warming to Shorten Our Days

Global warming is literally going to shorten our days, according to a recent study:

As water warms, it expands, causing sea level rise. Felix Landerer of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany, and his colleagues used a computer model to find out what effect this expansion will have on the distribution of water around the globe....

Two factors mean that this tends to move water's mass away from the equator and towards the poles. First, the depths of the North Atlantic should warm more quickly than depths elsewhere, thanks to a current there that carries water down from the surface. So the expansion and movement of water is strongest there. Second, a quirk of our planet's geography means that the continental shelf's surface area happens to be larger at high latitudes than around the equator.

Having more mass at the poles, which is closer to Earth's axis of rotation, will make the planet spin faster.

But not to worry: the shortening will be by only 0.12 milliseconds over the next 200 years, according to Landerer.

2007 Pulitzer for Photography

Amazing photo series of a single mom caring for her dying ten year old son. About as anguishing as anything I've ever seen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Pornography : English :: Communism : French

Classic Gopnik:
Pornography was to British writers of the fifties what the Communist Party was to French writers of the time: they didn’t entirely approve of it, but felt that being attached to it would keep them from being seen as mere intellectuals.
From a different article in the same issue of the New Yorker, I also enjoyed this line:
When it comes to architecture and design, most of this new Beijing looks like some provincial official's dream of modernization.
That's because the new Beijing in fact is some provincial official's dream of modernization. See for example, this, or this, or this.

Global Warming goes to the Security Council

The Guardian today explains the point of Britain's decision to refer climate change to the U.N. Security Council:
The entire point of the exercise [is] to reframe the way people think about this problem. There's good, pragmatic reasoning behind that. The glum reality is that governments tend to take security threats more seriously than any other kind. Just think of what Washington has spent on the "war on terror". If George Bush gets his latest budget through Congress, he will have spent $750bn of American taxpayers' money on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in a little over five years. Environmentalists drool when they imagine what they could have done with a fraction of that money. Even a quarter of the total, say a meagre $200bn, could have paid for enormous strides towards a low carbon economy. It could, for instance, have paid to transform the way we generate electricity, by capturing carbon and storing it in the ground, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere.
It's a sad but true statement that this country will only get serious about something as big as climate change when we decide to couch it in terms of war. This in fact explains all the "War on X" rhetoric that pops repeatedly in American political discourse (and always in capital letters): The War on Poverty, The War on Drugs, The War on Terror, etc. You'll know this country's finally getting serious about universal health care when some president declares "War on Uninsurance," or some such....

HIV and Climate Change: Diplomatic Equivalent?

In referring climate change to the Security Council today, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett cited as a precedent the Security Council's decision in 2000 to take up the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a security issue, arguing that, "We want to see the same thing happen with climate change, that it comes from the fringes into the mainstream." She then goes on to quote Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, whose economy depends on hydropower from a reservoir that is already depleted by drought, as calling climate change "an act of aggression by the rich against the poor." She glosses Museveni's statement by noting that, "He is one of the first leaders to see this problem in security terms. He will not be the last."

In fact, the Museveni quote underscores how the decision to refer climate change to the Security Council breaks very different, indeed radically different, diplomatic ground from the Security Council's uptake of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The HIV epidemic undoubtedly represents a grave security risk for many countries. But the epidemic is not something that one country can be credibly construed as having imposed on or done to another. By contrast, the risks associated with climate change can and perhaps rightly should be seen as an (passive-)aggressive act by one party against another. No one can see the HIV epidemic as an act of war, but given what we now know about climate change, carbon emissions can in some sense be seen as an act of war.

Whatever the moral validity of viewing climate change in these sort of perpetrator-victim terms, as a matter of diplomatic protocol I question the wisdom of any Foreign Minister endorsing the view that what her country is doing constitutes "an act of aggression" -- and indeed implying that her country's main allies are also engaging in such aggression. Obviously we urgently need to address the problem of global warming. But in strict diplomatic terms, an admission like this could provide a precedent for poor countries expressing their demands for change in terms of a rhetoric of political violence. And that's hardly useful.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Fifty years of climate change wisdom

Check out this video from 1958 about anthropogenic climate change. Part of a series of educational films produced by Bell Telephone Company in the 50s and 60s, it was directed by Frank Capra and voice-overed by Mel Blanc. Amazing:

Hat tip: MO.

What kinds of security impacts will climate change produce?

The LA Times has an article that is somewhat skeptical about the climate change/security nexus. This skepticism comes in the form of quotes from two experts, both commenting on the Center for Naval Analysis's just-released report on how climate change poses a "threat multiplier" for national security:

Other experts who were not involved in the report said national security concerns, though real, were probably not the most significant threats posed by global warming.

"Everything's a national security issue these days," said Scott Barrett, director of the International Policy Program at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. "It's a bit of a marketing ploy."


"Global warming's impacts on natural resources and climate systems may create the fiercest battle our world has ever seen," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the newly formed House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Markey will introduce legislation to fund climate change planning by the Department of Defense.

Those battles may force the demise of weak governments in the developing world, creating power vacuums for terrorist groups to exploit, the report found.

Deteriorating conditions in Africa and the Middle East could prompt a wave of migration to Europe. As a result, the report said, some of America's most dependable allies could find themselves too distracted to participate in international coalitions or other efforts aimed at preventing regional conflicts.

Other experts called those risks unlikely. Climate change will certainly lead to more failed states, but it is not clear that the result would be an increase in terrorism, said Steve Weber, director of the Institute of International Studies at UC Berkeley.

The Sept. 11 hijackers "came from Saudi Arabia, not the floodplains of Bangladesh," he said.

He also downplayed the notion that migration spurred by climate change would be an important factor in U.S.-European relations.

But Weber agreed with the report's authors that the opening of shipping channels through the now-frozen Arctic could become a significant source of conflict.

"There aren't well-specified and agreed-on rules as to who owns what," he said. Russia, which has lots of land above the Arctic Circle, and China, which does not, could have very different views about how to address access to new waterways there. "There could be some pretty big fights over that," he said.

Full disclosure: I've got a bit of a dog in this fight, since Steve Weber and I have collaborated professionally on the topic of climate change and security. The article here positions him as something of skeptic on the connections between climate change and security. But I think a more accurate account of Weber's position is that he is trying to shift some of the emphases of the report. Construed narrowly, I agree with Weber's comments.

For example, it's not clear to me that migration spurred by climate change would be an important factor in U.S.-European relations. On the other hand, it is much more likely to be a factor in, say, US-Mexican relations. (The reporter just asked the wrong question.) Likewise, I agree with Weber that the security threat associated with climate change is not primarily terrorism-related. The direct security impacts of climate change are much more likely to be (a) humanitarian catastrophes; and (b) resource competition between states. These latter may in turn produce an environment more conducive to terrorism, but that's a second-order (or, actually, fifth order) effect.

What exactly are the security threats associated with climate change? With a nod to our friends over at ARC, I would suggest that it might be useful to identify four categories of security risks associated climate change.

First are the direct impacts of climate change on the military. These are the primary focus of the CNA report: how will climate change directly effect our military forces in terms both of capacity and of new demands? On the one hand, if it's hotter and drier in places where we fight, what does that mean for supply? What kinds of diseases should our medics be prepared to deal with in various regions? On the other hand, might new areas and regions become objects of military contestation (e.g. the Arctic), and what does that imply for military requirements?

Second, how will states or their institutions be threatened as a direct result of climate change -- e.g. flooding that destroys a national capital? Will there be borders that cannot be defended? These threats are real but I would argue relatively remote in time, compared to the next two categories of threat.

Third are climate change-related threats to the well-being of civilian populations. Starting in the nineteenth century, modern states increasingly defined themselves around their ability not just to defend their borders and maintain civil order, but also by their ability to deliver basic services to the population, notably public health and various other kinds of "social welfare." Even though states have in many cases backed off the notion that they should be the sole providers of these services, instead choosing to outsource these services to private sector companies or nonprofits, citizens of modern states still look to the state to ensure the delivery of these services, and a failure to do so is likely to compromise the ability of a state to command the allegiance of its citizens. There is considerable evidence that climate change will severely stress many countries' ability to provide this kind of population security. The BRICS may be particularly vulnerable on this count, since their rising geopolitical status may increase citizen demand for these services just as climate change begins to compromise the ability to deliver these services. "Population security" is perhaps the key form of security that will be threatened by climate change.

Fourth, are the climate change-related threats to critical infrastructure, notably electricity generation and distribution, telecommunications, water supply, food production and distribution, heating and cooling, and transportation systems. The impact of climate change on these systems varies a lot, with agriculture and water supplies particularly vulnerable. The key analytical point about these systems, however, is not necessarily that they are directly vulnerable to climate change, but rather that these are the systems that provide a society and a country with the resiliency for dealing with any kind of major shock, be it weather-related, military, or economic. The countries that are already weak in these dimensions of security are the ones that are least likely to be able to deal with the inevitably non-linear climate shocks. Looking at the countries that are already weak across multiple vital systems therefore provides the best clue for divining which countries are most vulnerable to climate change. The form that this vulnerability will take is likely to be humanitarian disaster, however.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Public health & climate change

WHO on global warming and public health:
The health impacts of global climate change will depend not only on the biological consequences of this change but also on the overall vulnerability of societies and populations. In high-income countries, which are more likely to be located on the temperature-sensitive edge of disease-transmission, public health measures are sufficiently effective to prevent diseases like malaria from reemerging even when rising temperatures support the survival of vectors. In contrast, in many low-income countries in tropical climates, already in the midst of transmission zones, public health infrastructures are often much weaker, and the increasing vogue for cutting back on government expenditure means this is unlikely to change soon. How these countries cope with the relationship between climate change and disease transmission, therefore, may be more dependent on long-standing challenges for the public health system than on climate change per se.
Moreover, as poor countries face the consequences climate change, they are likely to have to deal with multiple catastrophes simultaneously: shortfalls in agricultural production, destruction of infrastructure during storms and flooding, ecosystems collapsing, mass migration and refugees, and so on.

Countries will have to figure out which problems to prioritize. General investments in preventive public health, already on the chopping block today, are unlikely to rank as high priorities, compared to efforts to deal with the more visible and acute crises that climate change may provoke, such as storm recovery and breakdowns in civil order.

An added wrinkle in this analysis is the fact that many of the organizations charged with providing the vital services that offer societal resiliency to climate change -- such as water delivery, health care, education, mass communications, etc -- are no longer being run by the state, but are de facto or de jure being outsourced, either to for-profit companies or to nonprofits. This decentralization of delivery over vital services, while celebrated for its ability to deliver efficiency gains, will also greatly increase coordination and control challenges in the face of acute climate-change-related crises. Having excess or "surge" capacity may not be economically efficient, but it is often a requirement for effectiveness in the face of crisis.

And there's every reason to believe that the crises will in fact be severe, and nonlinear, as the same paragraph goes on to explain:
There continues to be a debate on the relative vulnerability of populations, with the UN reporting that lower-income countries would be worst hit by the predicted rises in global temperatures during the next century. Others argue that population responses to ecological changes are usually non-linear, leading to a sudden deterioration or improvement in infection control once a threshold is crossed.

Predictive mapping of climate-related conflict

The Wilson Center last month sponsored a very interesting discussion about how climate change (and resource scarcity more generally) may cause social and political conflict. In the discussion Marc Levy and Charles Vörösmarty discuss their effort to map the regions where climate change may lead to conflict:

[The project] overlay[s] geospatial information with demographic and conflict data to assess the connections between environmental factors—particularly shocks to water supply—and conflict. The researchers hypothesize that the links connecting environmental scarcity and conflict are found between groups at the local—not the state—level, and that changes in availability and distribution of local resources, and the context in which scarcity occurs, are the true indicators of increased risk of environmental conflict....

Looking at the local level, Levy and Vörösmarty's team discovered that changes in rainfall patterns can contribute to conflict indirectly through economic shocks. Increased scientific understanding of the water cycle and more accurate models now allow researchers to compare the amount of surface water available for human consumption with actual consumption data to identify potential sources of conflict. Additionally, overlaying demographic data with other datasets—such as water extraction, climate variance, and land cover change—allows researchers to identify particularly vulnerable regions.

Using data-overlay maps, Vörösmarty pointed to potential "hospots" where conflict could occur, such as regions that are severely overdrawing their water resources to produce and export food, and those where climate change may increase rainfall variability. Such maps, which reveal the relationships between vulnerable societies and water (or other resources), may provide information that can be applied to management and policy decisions, he noted: "We take these kinds of maps and our estimates of local water supply and we combine them and make a series of calculations that now are beginning to embed the human perspective. So instead of just talking about the excess water…we can talk about how much of that runoff supports how many people and how many times those people use and reuse that water supply and impart pollution signatures into the mix."

Global Warming as Security Threat

The New York Times picks up the story:

In March, a report from the Global Business Network, which advises intelligence agencies and the Pentagon on occasion, concluded, among other things, that rising seas and more powerful storms could eventually generate unrest as crowded regions like Bangladesh’s sinking delta become less habitable.

One of the authors of the report, Peter Schwartz, a consultant who studies climate risks and other trends for the Defense Department and other clients, said the climate system, jogged by a century-long buildup of heat-trapping gases, was likely to rock between extremes that could wreak havoc in poor countries with fragile societies.

"Just look at Somalia in the early 1990s," Mr. Schwartz said. "You had disruption driven by drought, leading to the collapse of a society, humanitarian relief efforts, and then disastrous U.S. military intervention. That event is prototypical of the future."

"Picture that in Central America or the Caribbean, which are just as likely," he said. "This is not distant, this is now. And we need to be preparing."

Darfur may also be a current replay. One of the things that scenaric thinking teaches is to look for events that may provide the prefigural tracings of tomorrow's wider patterns -- the indicators to emerging issues. Conflict in the dessicating Sahel in the 1980s is one such indicator. Katrina was another: a whole city destroyed in a single storm. Where will the next Katrina-like event take place? Look for anarchic cities sitting in river-deltas in hurricane alley....

Friday, April 06, 2007

Sea level rise map

A cool new Google mashup that allows you to see how different amounts of sea level rises will affect global shorelines. East Anglia, the Sacramento delta, and South Florida are particularly striking.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Mandarins of the Future

My intellectual history of modernization theory, Mandarins of the Future, has just appeared in paperback. I have recently been in dialog with a reader in Germany about the context in which I wrote the book. In the spirit of friendly critique, he argues that the turn I make at the end of the book to promote a chastened new mode of development is actually at odds with the bulk of the book, which he read as a stinging indictment of the entire project of development.

His reading is certainly shrewd about the emotional arc of the book. I wrote it more or less in the order in which the chapters appear, and as I did so my view of development and its prospects undoubtedly changed, becoming if not more optimistic about development, at least more convinced of the necessity of trying. Where this reader saw a "contradiction," however, I preferred to admit only to a "productive tension": my proposal is for a renewed and chastened quest for a welfare-oriented mode of developmentalism, one that makes an attempt to learn from the mistakes of the past while still affirming what was done right and what was good in the hopes of the earlier era. As I say in my introduction, I have a melancholy regard for the social solidarist vision of the postideological, democratic, secular welfare state: it was a beautiful dream.

The book operates in two different modes. The first 300 or so pages are devoted to an historical analysis of a specific set of ideas, intellectuals, and the environments that nurtured them. The approach is historicist, strictu sensu. Here what I try to do is to understand the modernization theorists in their own context. I try to recognize that they were responding to a real policy problem -- decolonization in the context of the Cold War -- and they tried very sincerely, with the best social scientific tools available, to come up with innovative ways to deal with this policy problem. I try to show that the political choices they made (which they denied were political) were not the most sinister available: they were neither Stalinists nor Maoists (e.g. industrialize at gunpoint, and if a million peasants die, who cares?) nor Churchillians (e.g. racists interested in maintaining the formal colonial system by force) nor isolationists (which in the context of global politics in the 1940s and 1950s would have meant conceding the field to one of the former two groups). Moreover, their vision for what they wanted to achieve in "developing" postcolonial countries was the beautiful dream referred to above -- it was far more admirable than the neoliberal dystopia of the Washington Consensus. For all these reasons, I do not much like the formulation that development theory (or modernization theory, specifically) should be seen primarily as a Kampf-Ideologie, a tool of Empire, or even of soft power (I am not sure I understand what the latter means). Although it undoubtedly was about extending the power of "the West" it must be compared to the other actually available ways in which the power of the West might have been extended. The proper counterpoint is not some post-Marxist fantasy of human beneficence. One must consider the actual choices available to a Nehru or a Sukarno in 1945. From that standpoint, I believe that modernization theory, in its softer forms, fares reasonably well.

Now, even with all that said (and this is a lot), the theory was nonetheless fatally flawed, for all the same reasons that it was admirable. This is the sense in which the larger story of the book is about the collapse of a certain liberal (small-l, American liberal) dream of society. Modernization theory was arrogant, elitist, nationalist, and excessively optimistic about the prospects for development. Worst of all, it was ultimately compromised by the fact that when forced to make an unpleasant decision -- for example: whether to allow countries to choose socialism, or to engage in (sometimes overt but usually covert) military oppression of these countries -- it was, theoretically speaking, unable to prevent the wrong choice. Modernization theory always had this other possibility within it, the militarist moment, which was never denied by the theory, and this way of thinking is what eventually resulted in Vietnam. The American invasion of Vietnam may not have been necessitated by modernization theory, but certainly wasn't denied by the theory. Rostow and Pye, in particular, reasoned themselves into a militarist corner. So was revealed the iron first beneath the velvet glove of mid-century American welfarist liberalism.

The second dimension of the book (the last ten pages or so) is oriented toward contemporary policy. As such, it is methodologically distinct from the historicist project of the book. As I wrote it, I tried to imagine what I would say to James Wolfensohn if I had a chance to speak with him about what the project of development today is missing. This was clearly a conceit, perhaps a naive one, but this was the spirit in which I wrote those last pages. I also wanted to use those last pages to strike out at what the methodological cowardice of the post-modern "development stinks" and "everything would be great if capitalism hadn't happened" way of thinking about the world. Anyone who has studied even cursorily what life was like for commoners in Ming China or Aztec Mexico or ancien regime France or even pre-1950 Tibet cannot possibly think that these are worlds we should romanticize. They had their merits, but their destruction is to be lamented only for its barbarism, not for its taking place.

My friend wasn't having it with this explanation for the closing pages of the book (which, by the way, are available online here). He said that rather that write an imaginary exhortation to the President of the Bank, it would be better to ask why people like he or I will never be selected to run the Bank--ideologically, institutionally, etc. His argument goes to the heart of the basic lameness of my conceit: anyone running the Bank would almost certainly (perhaps by definition) be uninterested in the views that I express about development. However, I chose to suspend my disbelief on this point, in favor of the hope that these institutions are reformable in a positive direction. And indeed, I believe these institutions are reformable, in part because they have been reformed in the past. The Bank's mission as it exists today is a product of reforms rooted in the same Kennedy-era liberalism that I describe as underpinning modernization theory, in large measure in order to implement a vision of development very similar to the one described by modernization theory. These reforms replaced a vision of development that focused well nigh exclusively on infrastructure investments (hence mirroring the original pre-modtheory economists' definition of development) with a much more encompassing mission based on vision of development that included education, health care, family planning, and so on. And guess who implemented those reforms at the Bank? None other than the human embodiment of the technocratic "mandarin of the future," the perfect incarnation of all that was good and bad about postwar liberalism, and the critical architect of the Vietnam War: Robert McNamara.

P.S. For anyone interested in the debate about the actual policy-impact of modernization theory, it is worth comparing Bruce Kuklick's Blind Oracles and Michael Latham's Modernization as Ideology. Kuklick (who describes me as a "left" scholar!) argues that the actual policy impact of Rostow and Rostowism was quite minimal, that it merely provided a figleaf for policies that would have been pursued for reasons of Machtpolitik. I disagree quite strongly, in part because I dispute his narrow view of historical causality: I believe policy ideas are important not just in a direct causal sense, but also for creating an ambient sense for what is possible and legitimate, for creating a "climate of opinion" that frames a range of acceptable policy options. In this sense, modernization theory was, in my view, very important from a policy perspective. This is of course my final point, which is that, despite everything, modernization theory in some sense has never disappeared, because its dream of a single human ecumene, united in a single developmental trajectory, remains far more seductive than anything that has come along since, with the possible exception of religious fundamentalism. This is what Washington today should be thinking about: if you get rid of the dream of universal human welfare, what the masses will choose as their alternative dream will not be neoliberalism, but fundamentalism. To paraphrase Rosa Luxembourg, the choice is welfarism or barbarism.

Anything but Kind

As I argued earlier, global warming's impact on Russia is likely to be anything but kind. One commentator suggested that I ought to provide evidence for why Russia will be worse off. Well, the Washington Post just supplied some excellent coverage of just one way Russia is likely to suffer:

Experts have long feared that Earth's warming climate would cause tropical diseases such as malaria to spread into more temperate zones, but a dramatic example of an apparently climate-related disease outbreak cropped up this winter in a cold place -- Russia.

More than 3,000 cases of infections caused by hantaviruses have been reported so far in Russian cities and towns, including many that are within a few hundred miles of Moscow, such as Voronezh and Lipetsk. The viruses can cause a serious, and sometimes deadly, disease known as hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, or HFRS.

During Russia's more typically frigid winters, scientists believe, HFRS-causing viruses die off in the consistently below-zero temperatures. But this winter has been anything but cold. On Dec. 7 Moscow hit a record 46 degrees Fahrenheit. HFRS was last on a rampage in Russia in 1997, coinciding with another very warm winter. By mid-spring that year, the number of cases reached more than 20,000.

The real problem is that Russia lacks a functional public health system, which means it will be unable to respond to these kinds of public health shocks. This is not a place that will be made nicer by global warming.

There's also a nice graphic associated with this article:Hat tip: CD.


Our "Climate Impacts" white paper gets play on ABC News. I wish I could say that Peter is exaggerating, but the truth is we're standing on the edge of apocalypse.


The LA Times suggests that all the saber-rattling against Iran "may have backfired." Geez, ya think so? Here's what the Iranian view of the matter is:
"Because the U.S. military configurations in the Persian Gulf are very similar to those before the Iraq invasion, and because the neoconservatives in the American administration are prone to this sort of stupidity and craziness, we have been fully prepared in terms of hardware and military arsenals but also software and information for electronic warfare," said Hamidreza Taraghi, head of the international affairs office of the Islamic Coalition Party, a conservative parliamentary group close to the Iranian leadership.
Every single last aspect of foreign policy that the neocons touch goes up in flames. They've been wrong on every foreign policy issue of the last thirty years. How these people have a shred a credibility left in Washington is frankly amazing to me.