I’ve been on sabbatical for the last year, and was fortunate enough to spend the fall in Lisbon and Coimbra, where i was studying the 1918 influenza pandemic in Macau. When I was packing to travel to Portugal the last thing to go in my suitcase was supposed to be my microphone, so that I could do my podcast. But when the time came there wasn’t room, and I decided to take a break. That time away turned into a more than six month hiatus, but I’m happy to say that I’ve returned to podcasting.
To start season two, I was fortunate enough to talk with Peter Olson, who is not only an old friend, but also the former legal advisor to the Secretary General of NATO. You can hear his thoughts on NATO here. Next I’ll have an interview with someone who teaches Italian, who will talk not only about language learning and Italian, but also Italy itself. I’m also hoping to have an interview with a particular virologist soon, who can share some interesting thoughts on the origins of COVID. Please stay tuned.
With the current fighting in Ukraine, and sanctions on Russia, some nations are facing the real possibility of food shortages next year. Ukraine is an agricultural powerhouse, which produces a high percentage of some global crops, in particular wheat. Of course, there have been global shortages throughout the pandemic. The rising price of gas -before the invasion of Ukraine- had already created series social and economic issues from Brazil to Europe. Still, no commodity may be as fundamental as food.
The Guardian has a wonderful article, “Our Food System isn’t ready for the climate crisis,” which looks at how global societies have become increasingly reliant on a declining number of crops. In turn, there has been a dramatic reduction in the genetic diversity of the crops that we do use. Plant varieties may be selected less for their ability to evade disease than their ability to be shipped large distance without rotting. As a result, our entire food web has become less resilient at the same time that we face the greatest challenge in modern history, the dramatic impact of climate change.
There are some scholars who suggest that one of the factors that led to the Bronze Age collapse around 1172 BC (and the end of an earlier period of globalization) was the loss of tin supply routes from Afghanistan, which made it difficult to produce bronze. As we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, if China enters lockdown, car manufacturers in Germany can’t get their chips. As the Financial Times reported in a recent podcast, the world has a critical shortage of some key metals.
One of my favorite books is Joseph Tainter’s, the Collapse of Complex Societies. The work combines both archaeology and a systems perspective to look at how civilizations collapse. Tainter’s argument is that societies tend to become increasingly complex in order to address problems, but that with time this complexity often carries increasing costs while delivering marginal returns. When the costs of complexity begin to exceed its advantages, societies can suddenly become simpler, less hierarchical, more rural and smaller. In other words, they collapse.
I think many people have been aware for a long time how vulnerable aspects of modern society are to all kinds of shocks. But the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a fascination with the supply underpinnings of our global economy. The podcast “Ship happens” has become an unexpected hit, which is unusual for a podcast that focuses on logistical issues and the global supply chain. But I think that if there was just one global area to focus on it should be food, even more than energy. You can work remotely, dress more warmly, or take a bus to reduce your energy consumption. But it’s hard for most urban dwellers to produce much of their own food.
When I moved into my new apartment in Portland this year there was a bottle of wine waiting for me on the counter. It was a 2020 pinot noir from an Oregon winery. While I appreciated the gift, it was almost undrinkable because forest fires in California and Oregon that year had given the grapes a powerfully smoky taste. Whites or a pinot blanc were unaffected, because they lose their skins during the wine making process. But red wines that year tasted like smoke. Besides the impact of fires, the climate in Oregon is changing, which will impact wineries throughout the state. Last fall I spent six weeks in Portugal, which has a long history growing wine in a warmer and dryer climate, using grape varietals that have emerged over the course of more than two millennia. Why don’t wine producers in Oregon adopt these varieties? There are a plethora of options, which would be well-suited to future climate scenarios in the state. But they take time to grow, so that if we are going to experiment with this option, these varieties need to planted now. Ten years ago would have been better, and twenty years ago even better yet.
To the best of my knowledge, only one vintner in Oregon is experimenting with Portuguese, Spanish, Italian or Greek varietals. I think that Abacela may be the leader in the industry (many thanks to Stephen Frenkel for this information). Brazil has made real advances in wine production in the last thirty years, but you would never know it outside the country itself. Wine snobs would probably not even try wine produced in the tropics. Instead, with wine, bananas, avocados and potatoes, we usually still rely on the same old options that we did a generation or two ago. But climate change is coming. If the pandemic and Ukrainian invasion rock our current supply chains, what will happen when global warming seriously impacts food production? We need to rethink which crops we rely on, which varietals we use, and how we supply food on a global level.
Lakhani, Nina, Alvin Chang, Rita Liu, and Andrew Witherspoon. “Our Food System Isn’t Ready for the Climate Crisis.” The Guardian. April 14, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/food/ng-interactive/2022/apr/14/climate-crisis-food-systems-not-ready-biodiversity.
Tainter. (1988). The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge University Press.
My mother passed away last week, and even though it was not a surprise, it was a shock. My sister, Elle Wild, wrote a wonderful tribute, which I wanted to share:
The family of author Phyllis Smallman wishes to announce the passing of their family matriarch, storyteller, beloved wife, and mother.
Phyllis grew up in the countryside of southern Ontario, where she spent her childhood accepting ill-considered dares from her four siblings, such as pig riding in a white frock. She met her life’s partner, Lee Smallman, during high school and quickly recognized a fellow adventurer and dreamer. At the tender ages of 17 and 21, Phyllis and Lee were married, and spent the next 56 years laughing, creating, building, sometimes bickering, but always loving. Phyllis was occasionally overheard saying to Lee, “When I want your opinion, I’ll jerk your chain.”
At an age where others retire, Phyllis and Lee moved across the country to Salt Spring Island, where they joined a lively community of artists and innovators. Phyllis went on to write the award-winning Sherri Travis mystery series, and more recently the Singer Brown series, Long Gone Man and Beach Kill. Those who spent time with Phyllis knew her as a caring person who loved fiercely, laughed loudly, and was always a friend to anyone in need. In keeping with her dark sense of humour, her last book was ironically titled Last Call, the final Sherri Travis mystery. The night Phyllis died, Last Call won a “Reader’s Favourite” Book Award. Our Phyllis knew how to make a grand exit.
At her request, there will be no final service. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Every Brazilian and Brazilianist that I know is lamenting the loss of Brazil’s National Museum in a terrible fire. The loss is incalculable -fossils of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, the records of extinct languages, a skull from perhaps the oldest person found in the Americas, a library of a half million books, and hundreds of thousands of specimens of every form of animal life from insect to birds. Henry Grabar has a thoughtful article in Slate, which describes the scale of the loss, and how it was almost inevitable: the Brazilian state had so starved the museum of funding that it had to launch a GoFundMe account after termites damaged a room containing an exceptional dinosaur skeleton. Academics mourn for all the lost information. Graduate students must replan their theses after they lost access to the specimens. But most of all, ordinary Brazilians lost a pearl of a museum in Rio de Janeiro, which was housed in the former Presidential palace. Rio de Janeiro has already lost vast amounts of colonial architecture, but none had as much historical significance as this. So many people I know are genuinely distraught, and can’t stop thinking about what this means. Within Brazil, it has come be seen as emblematic of the failures of the nation’s political leadership. …
CNN’s documentary “Global Warning: Arctic Melt” examines the issue of climate change by focusing on the Greenland ice sheet. Reporter Clarissa Ward first visits Greenland, where she interviews climate scientists against stunning backgrounds of fjords, glaciers and ice sheets. She then travels to south Florida, where she interviews Miami’s former mayor about the impact that sea level rise is already having upon his community. The video is brief at 26 minutes. Nonetheless, it is both visually engaging and thoughtfully written. It would be a good documentary for an “Introduction to International and Global Studies” class. Recommended.
My colleague Dr. Christine Boyle is teaching a fantastic new online class on “Transnational Social Movements.” Dr. Boyle has extensive experience teaching in an online environment, and is a popular instructor. The class will look at a wide array of social movements and protests from the student movements to the Arab Spring. Given recent events in Iran, this is a timely class. If you are interested, you can see how to register for the class as a non-degree student here. There are no prerequisites for the course. Questions? You can contact Dr. Boyle at her email on the flyer below. The class will start on January 8, 2018.
I’ve been teaching a “Foundations of Global Studies Theory” course for a few years. I begin the course with a section on classical and modern liberalism, before moving to neoliberalism, because liberalism is a foundational theory for most issues in Global Studies. What has struck me over the years is how little ideological attraction most students feel towards neoliberalism. Although I have taught the class multiple times, I have only ever had a single student who was an ardent proponent of neoliberalism. They also wrote one of the best papers that I’ve ever received, and are now working in an excellent job in the financial sector. Still, most of my students have an almost visceral distaste for neoliberalism, and this has strengthened over time. …
I’m teaching a class on Digital Globalization this winter quarter at Portland State. The course will be fully online, thanks to great support from Vince Schreck, a course designer in OAI, and Linda Absher, the librarian who has tracked down countless documentaries to use as streaming videos, and helped to locate other key resources. Over the first six weeks the students will explore three main topics (Digital Culture; Transformation and Institutions; Security, Privacy and the Nation-State) before spending three weeks on individualized study. The final week of the course will consist of students sharing a Digital Artifact, such as a slideshow or video. I always learn far more from my students than they learn from me, and that’s particularly true with these final presentations. I’ve been working on a brief quiz on digital literacy, which takes five minutes to complete. Are you a cyber expert, who knows about Bitcoin, the Dark Web, the Sharing Economy, MOOCs, Wikileaks, Snowden, and social media? You can take the quiz here to find out.
This February I attended a scholarship awards event hosted by the Oregon Consular Corps at the Arlington Club in Portland. Two International Studies Majors at PSU, Wonde Nevens and Karen Carillo, were scholarship award winners. At the end of the event a past award winner talked about how funds from this scholarship had enabled them to do a study abroad course in Argentina, which had a deep impact on their plans for the future. It’s amazing how these funds can have an enduring effect on students’ lives. I want to thank the Oregon Consular Corps for their generosity, as well as the hard work that they put into reviewing applications from deserving candidates. I also want to thank the INTL faculty who reviewed the applicants’ files, Evguenia Davidova and Stephen Frenkel. Most of all, I want to give my congratulations to Wonde and Karen.