Book Review: The Sustainable State: The Future of Government, Economy and Society


 

January 12, 2018

 

 

By: Cyril Pereira

Can planet Earth survive Asia’s economic drive?

 

The Sustainable State is Hong Kong-based environmentalist and author Chandran Nair’s second book, following Consumptionomics, published in 2011. Both call for urgent recognition of the looming ecological disaster for humanity. The book launch in Hong Kong’s trendy Lan Kwai Fong district on Nov. 13 was billed as a conversation between Nair, and Zoher Abdool Karim, the recently retired TIME Asia editor. Nair’s manifesto dominated. A bemused Zoher was the smiling prop. The audience could have gained more from meaningful interlocution.

Chandran Nair has been the town crier on environmental disaster for 20 years. He faults industrialization, capitalism, free enterprise and liberal economics, for destroying the ecosystems of rivers, forests, air and water on so vast a scale, that life itself is the price paid by the poorest across the developing world. Malnutrition, starvation, and lack of access to potable water, plagues many societies at subsistence level.

Resource curse

The developed world prospered from early industrialization to capture vast resources via conquest and colonization of Asia, Africa and Latin America, he writes. The poorest societies hold the richest deposits of minerals, fossil fuels and land for plantations of rubber, palm oil, tea and coffee. Pesticides and insecticides from Monsanto and others destroy their soils and ruin their water systems. They have also been too frequently run by kleptocrats.

What he calls the “externalities” of capitalist trade – environmental degradation, pollution, social dislocation, disease and malnutrition, impact the poorest disproportionately. Therein lies the supreme irony. Nair wants these externalities of economic activity priced and charged directly to corporations. He also wants individual accountability for wasteful consumption computed for carbon footprints and taxed to discourage waste.

Responsible development and consumer habits need to be enforced, if we are to survive our collective un-wisdom. How the corporations and individuals would agree to these principles, and the respective methods to calculate the amounts to pay, are undefined. Nair does not expect the culprits to volunteer. By the legal trick of defining corporations as ‘persons,’ companies can argue rights protecting individual citizens, under national Constitutions.

Migration to cities in Europe progressed over an extended period, without too much social disruption. Rural migration to cities in the developing economies is too rapid, within a compressed time-frame. Slum populations struggle without sanitation, proper housing, access to fresh water, electricity, or schooling for children, in too many cities across the developing world. This hollowing-out of rural populations is wasteful.

Rethink development

A whole new raft of public policies needs to evolve for ecological balance. Development plans to retain rural manpower and incentivize agricultural food security, are absent. Urban dwellers have to pay higher prices for natural produce, instead of buying packaged food in supermarkets. Efficient public transport systems have to be built to prevent city traffic gridlock. Electric vehicles have to replace fossil fuel engines.

Nair’s nightmare is the adoption by developing countries of the Western model for economic growth. India and China will constitute 30 percent of the global 10 billion by 2050. Add Africa, Latin America, and the rest of developing Asia to that, and the consequences of feckless industrialization, along with wasteful urban consumption, are too obvious. Nair advocates a radical overhaul of the development mindset.

Prescriptions from the developed world peddled by the World Bank and the IMF, in Nair’s mind, exceed Planet Earth’s healing capacity. Natural resource depletion and poisoning of the earth, water and air, must be stopped now. Hurricanes and typhoons destroying habitats and flooding societies, are increasing in frequency and ferocity. The consequences are all too real for climate change deniers.

Related image

Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea

The weight of floating plastic in the oceans will soon exceed that of the global fish stock. This poison has entered our food chain, killing us slowly while choking sea life. Human overpopulation, food cultivation and de-forestation, wipes out wildlife at the rate of 30,000 species per year, according to Harvard biologist E. O Wilson. Now our collective irresponsibility will kill the oceans too.

Prioritize social equity

If replicating the Western growth model is madness, what are the alternatives? Nair moves into contentious territory on this. He calls for strong government and a revised development agenda. Rather than Hollywood-movie lifestyles, he suggests inclusive policies for all citizens to ensure clean water, electricity, sanitation, universal education and gainful employment as minimal benchmarks. Modest prosperity benefits all.

Social equity, well-being and protection of nature cannot be achieved without political legitimacy and effective rulership. Governance has been hijacked by Big Biz and sponsor politicians. Lobby groups target lawmakers. PR companies spin fakery for corporations and politicians. The mass media is co-opted through advertising and ownership. All at the expense of gullible citizens, led to believe they have some say every five years.

Strong state works

Nair contrasts the dysfunctions of India with the success of China. He skates on thin ice where individual rights and freedoms can be ignored, for the collective good. He says only a “strong” state has the mass mobilization capacity to marshal people, resources and investment, for sustainable development. To Nair, Hong Kong is a weak state unable to address basic public housing. He jests that a boss imposed by Beijing can fix that.

The European Union is a strong authority able to mandate socially responsible policy across its constituent members. Britain and the US are weak states floundering for effective governance, polarized by divisive populist politics. Nair is less interested in ideologies of the Left or Right, than in the State as effective authority for the common good. He wants the institutions of good governance strengthened at every level.

Oddly, Nair dismisses world governance as the solution. The United Nations, overly compromised by funding dependency and too timid to upset powerful voting blocs, is not his answer. Where then will the needed global course-correction come from? The issues Nair raises are urgent. Are we doomed to self-destruct by default anyway? If he has an answer, Nair has not articulated it in his books, or his public campaigns. Perhaps there might be a third book for that.

East Timor: an Ecological Paradise Rises from the Ashes of Occupation


January 4, 2019

East Timor: an Ecological Paradise Rises from the Ashes of Occupation

By: Gregory McCann

https://www.asiasentinel.com/society/east-timor-ecological-paradise-rises-from-ashes-occupation/

 

East Timor’s coastal waters swarm with saltwater crocodiles, dolphins, whales, dugongs, sea turtles and are home to vast beds of sea grasses and coral reefs. And now, in East Timor, an ancient customary law known to the Maubere tribal peoples as tara bandu has been excavated from the ashes of Indonesian occupation and is being revived in an effort to preserve the nation’s remarkable marine life.

 

Image result for East Timor

Dili, Timor Leste

In fact, East Timor (also called Timor-Leste) is located in the middle of the “Coral Triangle” of Asia, making it one of the most remarkable areas on earth for marine life, containing hundreds of species of reefs and thousands of reef fish. But will the central government in the capital city of Dili ensure that the nation’s considerable natural heritage be preserved for future generations and for ecotourism?

Goats and pigs are sacrificed for the local spirits, their blood spilled on the earth in an effort to glean auspicious signs from invisible onlookers in the village of Biacou,  where tara bandu has been back in effect for the past six years, establishing no-take fishing zones, as well as bans on cyanide poisoning and dynamite fishing. Indonesia, which occupied East Timor from 1975 to 1999, banned these sacred pagan traditions, but it seems the spirits have been patient, and the sacrifice of domestic animals in favor of their wild brethren has been met with enthusiastic approval in recent years.

So exceedingly pristine are Timor’s coastal waters and beaches that Australian crocodiles are swimming 600 miles to hunt and mate there. Both the Indonesians and the Portuguese rulers before them mandated cruel “croc culls”, slaughtering the great beasts whenever and wherever possible. But those days are long gone, and to tribal people such as the Fataluku and Tetum, man-eating saltwater crocodiles are now seen—once again—as sacred totems, and a potential ecotourism draw (tourists pay for the “croc experience” in Darwin, Australia, so why couldn’t East Timor do the same?).

Croc threats aside, this place sounds like paradise. Nino Konis Santana National Park wraps around the country’s entire northeastern edge like a gleaming blue mitten on the azure seas, ostensibly protecting fish, sea birds, and reptiles alike. It is a place where dolphins leap, whales breach, and turtles paddle, where petrels and frigate birds majestically glide and soar above the blue waves; its white sand beaches put Thailand’s to shame.

But is there trouble on the horizon in this eye-pleasing destination? Just last year, 15 Chinese fishing boats were seized in Timorese waters with thousands of shark fins in their holds, and those are just the ships that were apprehended. The government has published its “2011-2030 Development Plan,” which includes plans for sustainable fisheries, but this will need to be carefully managed when artisanal fishing becomes commercial fishing. Foreign poaching vessels from numerous countries will also have to be kept out.

Chinese influence is on the rise in East Timor, though former President Jose Ramos-Horta brushes this idea off as an old cliché. However, despite the ex-president’s objections (he currently resides in Hong Kong), it would be difficult to imagine how East Timor would not appeal to China in terms of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and overall Asia Pacific strategy. In fact, it was China who built East Timor’s presidential palace as well as their foreign ministry building.

Analysts often describe certain countries or areas as “strategic,” but it is clear that China views any and every place on earth as strategic. No shoal, island, or stretch of coastline is too remote or insignificant not to factor into Beijing’s plans. Actually, China could very well see East Timor as something akin to a mini-Cambodia, where Chinese influence is overwhelming,  with a vast and strategically valuable coastline, not too far from their new Australian base in Darwin, and a convenient pit stop en route home from their future Antarctic operations.

But the future is far from certain. Will East Timor, free from its Indonesian shackles, become a new frontier to exploit, or will the nation’s leaders in the capital city of Dili have the foresight to set in place protective measures to ensure that this stunningly beautiful country retains its impressive natural history for generations to come? Or, will this country and its strategic coastline find itself dominated by a foreign power once again? Time will tell.

Gregory McCann is the project coordinator for Habitat ID and the author of the book Called Away by a Mountain Spirit: Journeys to the Green Corridor.

 

Threats, Violence, Imprisonments Rise for Journalists


Threats, Violence, Imprisonments Rise for Journalists

by John Berthelsen

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/journalists-threats-violence-imprisonments/

It has been a terrible year for journalists worldwide, with the number targeted for murder in reprisal for their reporting having nearly doubled in 2018 to 53 and at least 251 journalists are behind bars for their work, as authoritarian regimes increasingly use imprisonment to silence dissent, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists found.

Reporters Without Borders, the other major press organization, fond even higher totals of journalists murdered, with 63 killed along with 13 “citizen journalists” – bloggers – and five media assistants. The two organizations use different criteria to determine whether reporters were killed in connection with their work.

With US President Donald Trump venting an absolute torrent of charges and abuse against reporters for uncovering his lies, the practice of calling critical reporting “fake news” has spread across the planet to Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Cameroon, Venezuela, Myanmar, Spain. Syria and many other countries to hide human rights abuses, corruption and out-and-out atrocities.

Trump has had a valuable ally in the Fox News Network, owned by Australian Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which has sought to discredit the reporting of virtually all of the major media, do

Image result for Maria Ressa-Time Person of The Year 2018

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has sought to put the crusading website Rappler out of business with trumped-up charges of tax evasion. Twelve journalists have been murdered during the first two years of Duterte’s administration. He famously said shortly after his 2016 election that “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch” when asked how he would address media killings in the country, one of the world’s worst for violence against reporters.

Image result for MBS

 

The pressure on journalists led Time Magazine to name “the guardians” the magazine’s Person of the Year, featuring those who have been targeted for their work, chief among them Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was said to have been murdered in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October by Saudi agents, apparently because of his critical reporting on the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Time Managing Editor Edward Felsenthal told CNN “the first move in the authoritarian playbook is the control of information, the suppression of people who try to get the facts out. And we saw that in a major way” in 2018. That led Time to spotlight the legions of journalists who have been targeted because of their work.

Amazingly, Fox News host Laura Ingraham scolded the magazine for choosing journalists who have been targeted, arrested or killed as their “Person of the Year,” calling the decision “transparently self-serving,” and saying there is “something transparently self-serving about journalists giving awards to other journalists.”

China, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia imprisoned more journalists than in 2017 as despots intensified their repression of local journalists, according to the CPJ, and Turkey remained the world’s worst jailer for the third year in a row, with at least 68 behind bars. Austin Tice, who was kidnapped in 2012 while freelancing for the Washingfton Post, remains arguably the longest-imprisoned.

Some 70 percent of journalists have been jailed on anti-state charges and 28 charged with “false news,” CPJ said, an increase from nine in 2016. Politics was the most dangerous beat for journalists, followed by human rights. The number of female journalists behind bars increased, with 33 imprisoned globally, including four in Saudi Arabia who wrote about women’s rights. An increase in the overall number of journalists jailed in China this year is the result in part of Beijing’s persecution of the Uighur ethnic minority.

“The terrible global assault on journalists that has intensified in the past few years shows no sign of abating,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “It is unacceptable that 251 journalists are in jail around the world just for covering the news.  The broader cost is being borne by all those who care about the flow of news and information. The tyrants who use imprisonment to impose censorship cannot be allowed to get away with it.”

Afghanistan, where extremists have stepped up deliberate attacks on journalists, was the deadliest country, with12 killed, the most of any year since the CPJ began keeping track and accounted for much of the increase in journalist murders, CPJ said. At least 53 journalists have died since Jan. 1, of which at least 34 were singled out for murder.  The number of reporters who died in combat or crossfire, however, fell to 11, the lowest since 2011, and deaths on other dangerous assignments, such as covering protests that turn violent (eight this year).

The total is up from 47 killed in all of last year, of which 18 were pinpointed for murder. A total of 50 were killed in 2016. The recent uptick in killings follows two years of decline, but comes as the jailing of journalists hits a sustained high, “adding up to a profound global crisis of press freedom.”

With President Trump’s refusal to believe CIA findings that Khashoggi was murdered at the hands of the Saudi Crown Prince, “Essentially, Trump signaled that countries that do enough business with the United States are free to murder journalists without consequence.”

In Syria, at least nine journalists were killed in each 2017 and 2018, compared with a high of 31 in 2012. In Yemen, three journalists were killed in 2018, and in Iraq, CPJ has not confirmed that any journalists were killed because of their work for the first time since 2012. Elsewhere in the Middle East, two Palestinian journalists were shot and killed by Israeli soldiers while covering protests in the Gaza strip. CPJ is investigating the killing of another 23 journalists in 2018, but so far has not been able to confirm that the motive was journalism in those cases.

The prison census accounts only for journalists in government custody and does not include those who have disappeared or are held captive by non-state actors. Cases including journalists held by Houthi rebels in Yemen and a Ukrainian journalist held by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine are classified as “missing” or “abducted.”

In the US, no journalists were in jail for their work on December 1, although in the past 18 months CPJ has documented or assisted with the cases of at least seven foreign journalists who were held in prolonged detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after fleeing threats in their home countries.