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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Which Nations Are Most at Risk from Climate Change?

From the Scientific American

The international community faces the daunting task of determining which countries face the most significant impacts from global warming

Is it worse to be swallowed by the sea or racked by famine?

As climate change tightens its grip on the world, institutions charged with protecting the most vulnerable nations could be faced with just such a question. Because there is no international consensus for ranking the possibilities of future devastation — and because there are limited dollars lined up to help cope with climate change — some countries already are battling over who will be considered most vulnerable.

"This is a major, major topic of discussion and debate at the moment," said Saleem Huq, head of the climate change group at the U.K.-based International Institute for Environment and Development.

Judging who is most threatened has real-world implications. Those at the top of the list — if ever such a list is developed and agreed upon internationally — could decide who is first in line to tap a multibillion-dollar Green Climate Fund.

The trail toward making such a determination, experts say, is strewn with scientific and political land mines. After all, many scientists consider China — susceptible to droughts, typhoons and sea level rise — to be the world's most threatened nation. But with a gross domestic product of $4.99 trillion, should it be as eligible for aid as poverty-stricken Bangladesh?

Some small island nations like the Seychelles are middle-income countries, yet climate change threatens their very existence. And where in the mix to put a Colombia or Pakistan, which doesn't fit neatly into any prescribed U.N. category yet suffers catastrophic flooding?

"There is simply no objective, scientific way of categorizing a ranking of 100-plus countries in order of who is more vulnerable than another," Huq said. "The moment someone comes up with a list, there's a problem."

Yet economists are trying. Last year, the British firm Maplecroft developed an extensive ranking that analyzed countries' exposures to weather extremes, sensitivity to damage tied to poverty, population, internal conflicts, dependence on agriculture, and capacity to adapt (Climatewire, Oct. 21, 2010).

And in January, former World Bank economist David Wheeler published a sweeping study quantifying the vulnerability of 233 nations, the risk to people in each of those countries from extreme weather events and agricultural loss, and putting the criteria in multiple dimensions.

But there is no one truth

Wheeler, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, said the research is vital in order to sensibly allocate scarce climate change funding in proportion to the problems that countries are facing. He said it's important to consider not only the weather-related threats facing a country, but also the nation's ability to cope with crisis — everything from per capita GDP to whether a country has strong governing institutions and control over corruption.

"We have to combine these different aspects. There's no one truth," he said. In Wheeler's assessment of nations rich and poor, China came out as far and away the world's most vulnerable nation overall, followed closely by India. Bangladesh and Trinidad and Tobago also made the top 10, as did the African nations of Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Burundi, Sudan and Rwanda. But a different examination limited to just vulnerability to extreme weather risk found new countries on the endangered catalog, like Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Mozambique and the Philippines.

No rankings, experts agreed, take into account the political calculations that must also come into play when deciding how to prioritize and allocate money. Indeed, national leaders fiercely object to any ranking system that doesn't have their country at or near the top…

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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Collapse of Marine Food Web

Story by Erik Stokstad on 18 February 2011, 6:24 PM ScienceNow

The last century has not been good for large, tasty fish like tuna and cod. Numbers of these and other top predators have plummeted because of over fishing.

At the same time, populations of smaller fish, such as sardines and anchovies, have boomed by 130%, according to a new study of marine ecosystems around the world. This shift in the balance of the food web isn't healthy or sustainable, the researchers argue. And one way to help, they say, would be to shift from eating predators to species lower on the food chain.

The researchers, led by Villy Christensen of the University of British Columbia in Canada, analyzed models of about 200 food webs around the world.

These models depict marine ecosystems at various time periods from 1880 to 2007. Christensen's team then estimated the distribution of biomass in ecosystems—how many tons of tuna or shrimp, for example—and extrapolated to cover all of the oceans.

The biomass of large fish has declined by two-thirds over the last 100 years, they reported today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW), although at this point they can't quantify absolute amounts. In the last 40 years, the biomass declined by 54%, though the drop has been less severe in the past 2 decades. Not surprisingly, the fish that were once preyed on by these large fish have increased. The rise in their biomass is just 0.85% per year, but that has led to more than a doubling over the past century.

"It's a very different ocean," Christensen says. In many places, these smaller fish are suitable for eating, but off southwestern Africa and other places, the predators were replaced by undesirable fish. By opting for anchovies and their ilk, say, rather than species like swordfish, Christensen says, consumers could take some pressure off of the declining top predators.

The changes in biomass are worrying, says Michael Hirshfield, chief scientist of the advocacy group Oceana, based in Washington, D.C. Populations of small fish tend to boom and bust—making ecosystems less stable—much more when the ranks of top predators have been gutted.
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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Globalization and its discontent?

Walmart in South Africa

Feb 17th 2011 | JOHANNESBURG | from PRINT EDITION of The Economist

South Africa's Competition Commission approved Walmart's proposed acquisition of a 51% stake in Massmart, a South African firm that owns 265 wholesale and retail stores in South Africa and 25 more in 13 other African countries.

And Massmart's shareholders who love the 16.5 billion rand ($2.3 billion) deal have voted with their pocketbooks, 98% of them voted to approve it last month.

However, South Africa's powerful unions view the deal like a charging rhino in a narrow alley.

The unions argue that Walmart will cut wages and drive more humane employers out of business. They also fear that Walmart will source cheap products from China instead of buying locally.

Mere talk of the merger has already destroyed "thousands of jobs", they claim, by forcing other South African retailers to lay off workers and make working conditions worse in preparation for the great American onslaught.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, South Africa's biggest union(COSATU), has threatened to stage "the mother of all boycotts" of Massmart products and a strike at all its stores if Walmart takes over.

Massmart insists it has no plans to make any lay-offs. On the contrary, it says it plans to open 54 new stores (net) over the next three years and add 6,300 new hires to its 27,000 employees.

Walmart did not become a $200 billion company without running down a few pedestrians. Few doubt that it will use all its skill and muscle to reduce prices and woo shoppers.

There is a chance that Walmart will reduce prices so much that it affects the national inflation rate, as it has in America. At a time of painfully surging food prices, that would be a hefty boon for low income earners.

South African retailers such as Shoprite, Pick 'n' Pay, Spar and Woolworths are highly sophisticated and offer a fine array of fresh food, at least in the big cities. But they cannot match Walmart's scale, global sourcing network or logistical brilliance.
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Friday, February 11, 2011

Egypt Rising

The Mubarak regime is using Islamic fundamentalism as reason to stifle a just popular revolution against a repressive military regime. The language used by Mubarak and Suleiman to kill the democratic aspirations of Egyptians is the same language the Bush regime used to justify the invasion of Iraq and waterboarding, and the NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

What Mubarak wants to the rest of us, especially the US and Israel, to believe is that a totalitarian regime in Cairo is the best insurance for "peace" in the Middle East. And that with a dictator at the helm in Cairo, the US should not worry to much about Al Qaeda cells proliferating across the Middle East.

But lets face it. Should popular democratic urgings prevail, it is highly likely that the Muslim Brotherhood could be swept into power. This is what Mubarak has got every absolutely freaked about. We all know that the Muslim Brother party although officially banned in 1954 is the largest political movement in Egypt. And I think that Sadat, and Mubarak made them so. But on a light note, the Muslim Brotherhood is kind of like the Tea Party movement in the United States, pretty scary bunch are they not?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Is South Sudan a Bad Idea?

South Sudan's Future: Now the Hard Part:

My sense is that we need look at this against the hard reality of the "state-readiness" of South Sudan. I am not convinced that the south has the human capacity or the infrastructure to be functional as a viable state. The US has been the biggest support of the quest for independence of the south. For the most part, in both the Bush and the Obama administration, the US is committed to checking the advance what America thinks is Islamic fundamentalism.

South Sudan is highly likely to fail under its own weight of managerial incompetence and ethnic rivalry over sharing of resources. It was hard enough for African countries to emerge from the clutch of colonialism, even when most of these countries had a modest number of civil servants, good infrastructure etc. The tragedy is that southern Sudan is coming out something worse than colonialism, African dictatorship.

All I can say that South Sudan is embarking on a most improbable journey and one for which they are least prepared for it is least prepared and a journey that the they do not have the good will of El-Bashir. I think support from the North does matter.

It does not help that the US, South Sudan’s backer in–chief, is strained at home with a stagnating economy and budget deficits and challenged abroad in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Welcome Sudan and good luck. What else can I say?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

10 Doctors who shamed thier profession

Would you compare your doctor to your mechanic? This seems like an odd question. But think about it for a moment. The comparison of doctors to mechanics is probably pretty appropriate. Given the specialized nature of the work of physicians and mechanics, doctors, like mechanics, are rarely held accountable for their actions and patients and car owners are often pretty helpless.

For the most part, we would assume that doctors are like knights (sensu Jain and Cassel, JAMA 304(9): 1009-1010) doctors have your best interest at heart, but like in any profession, there are both good and bad apples.
According to the National Patient Safety Foundation, 42 percent of people believed they had personally experienced a medical mistake. Additionally, numerous statistics have shown that a staggering amount of people die each year due to medical error.

Masters in Health Care has provided a list of 10 doctors who shamed their profession,including details of medical mistakes they made.

Societal Perceptions of Physicians: Knights, Knaves or Pawns

The British economist Julian Le Grand suggested that public policy is grounded in a conception of humans as “knights,” “knaves,” or “pawns.” Human beings are motivated by virtue ( knights) or rigid self-interest ( knaves) or are passive victims of their circumstances ( pawns). A society's view of human motivation influences whether it builds public policies that are permissive, punitive, or prescriptive.

Le Grand's observations were drawn from his studies of British social welfare policy and civil servants but could aptly be applied to physicians and their role in the US health care system. Many health care debates—especially those relating to health care financing, quality, and education—implicitly prescribe a view of physicians and their underlying motivations. Depending on the perspective, physicians are either in practice for the betterment of society or their own selfish gain; or they are automatons whose actions are defined more by external rules and regulations.
In a Commentary published in JAMA Vol. 304 (9) 1009-1010, Sachin Jain and Christine Cassel explore the ways in which physicians are variously represented as knights, knaves, and pawns in public discourse and relate the importance of de- signing policies that match the true motivations of physicians—whatever they may be.

Jain and Cassel suggest that their views are grounded in evidence of unwarranted variation in care, clear evidence of waste and even fraud, and decline in knowledge over time. The modern US physician they conclude is regarded as either a knave or a pawn and is seldom regarded as a knight.
But they also suggest that evidence that has led to distrust of physicians does not apply universally and many physicians still are the knights in the health care system.

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