Canada’s Oil Sands, Pipelines and Atomic Bombs

I am a Canadian, born and raised in Southern Ontario. I founded a Canadian Studies program at my university. I was happy to see our first student recently graduate with a Canadian Studies certificate, and I am currently writing a book on a Canadian topic. So, it has been very painful for me to watch Canada’s recent foreign policy decisions related to global warming and the Oil Sands, particularly this last week in South Africa. My frustration has been magnified by the fact that I myself wrote an article about the Oil Sands years ago that -in retrospect- failed to examine the environmental costs of this resource.

Photo by puttsk at freedigitalphotos.net

Recent technical breakthroughs  have led to a current giddy sense of optimism about energy production, and the promise that the Western hemisphere rather than the Middle East may be the future of oil and gas production. As Daniel Yergin noted in a recent newspaper column: “U.S. petroleum imports, on a net basis, reached their peak -60%- of domestic consumption in 2005. Since then, they have been going in the other direction. They are now down to 46%.” Yergin pointed to the technological changes that made this possible: “The reason is the sudden appearance of `tight oil,’ which is extracted from dense rocks.” The spread of shale oil production has reversed the decline of domestic oil production. But there are costs to this development, and choices to be made. For a long time, the Canadian government has said that it would meet the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol, but that it would do so without restricting Oil Sands development. But in Durban, South Africa last week Canada set this position aside for an all-out attack on Kyoto. …

Egypt’s military and the Latin American experience

On Friday, November 18, 2011, thousands of Egyptians rallied in Tahrir square to protest the military’s efforts to retain power. The military had recently suggested language for the constitutional convention, which would have made the military the guardian of “constitutional legitimacy.” The military has also suggested that it should choose 80% of the members of the Constitutional committee. The protest seems to have captured the growing civilian concern about emergency laws, and the Egyptian military’s influence over society. When Hosni Mubarak was overthrown, people gave credit to the military, which ultimately decided not to repress the uprising. In their current state of disillusionment with the military, Egypt’s people are not in a position dissimilar to that of many Latin Americans in the 1960s and 1970s. For this reason, it’s worth placing what is happening in Egypt now in a broader context. …

More websites for teaching International and Global Studies

Since I last posted some suggested websites to the blog, I’ve learned about several others that are useful for an introductory class in International and Global Studies. I’ve tried to focus on sites that emphasize analysis or resources rather than news, with the exception of one suggestion from The New York Times:

Financial Crisis:

Some students are visual learners. For those trying to understand current economic news in Europe, the New York Times has a set of interactive graphics that convey relative GDP, and debt flows, to make sense of the crisis. …

Indigenous Peoples in International and Global Studies

A "weetigo" dance, photographed at the Sweet Grass Reserve in 1939: Saskatchewan Archive Board, R-A7671.

I am fortunate to be on sabbatical this year, thanks to the generous support of the Ruth Landes Memorial Fund at the Reed Foundation. I am studying how colonialism impacted Algonquian peoples in Canada, particularly women, by examining a particular form of spirit transformation called the windigo. In some respects, I believe that windigo cases acted like the Salem witch trials, in that they created a record of a society under stress, in this case of its encounter with colonialism. Over the course of four centuries, different outside actors created narratives around the windigo in order to assert their power over Algonquian peoples. In my book, I’ll be using Algonquian oral narratives, fur-trade records, missionary accounts, court cases and psychological case files to consider how the French, English and Canadian states interacted with different Algonquian nations through time. …

Websites for teaching International and Global Studies

Because international affairs can change so quickly, websites are a key tool in an introductory class, both to keep up to date, and to find resources for students. In our Teacher’s Manual, we list some helpful sites but here is a longer list that you might want to explore:

Data:

My thanks go to my colleague, Dr. Stephen Frenkel, for sharing what I think is one of the most fascinating websites for International and Global Studies. Gapminder advertises itself as creating a “fact-based” view of the world. Don’t let the reference to statistics make you think that it might be inaccessible for beginning students though. Its resources range from detailed information on equality to videos on everything from population growth to democracy. Check out the resources under the “For Teachers” link. Explore it yourself: http://www.gapminder.org/

Pakistan’s Military, Irregular Forces and Latin America

This has been a difficult year for Pakistan’s military. First came the May 2, 2011 killing of Osama Bin Laden in a house in Abbottabad, less than a mile from the Pakistan Military Academy. Then came a militant attack on an air-base in Karachi on May 22, 2011, which led to ten deaths and the destruction of two American-built P-C 3 Orion surveillance planes. On May 31, 2011 came the death of Syed Saleem Shahzad, the reporter for the Asia Times. He had covered the assault on the naval base, and reported that the cause of the militant attack had been the navy’s arrest of its personnel. He stated that naval intelligence had detected militant cells within the navy, which were plotting an attack on American targets. After their arrest, the militants opened negotiations with the navy for their release. When the navy refused, the militants responded with this assault. His death was widely blamed on Inter-Service Intelligence, a creature of the Pakistani military, which led to a firestorm of protest: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syed_Saleem_Shahzad) The continuing U.S. drone attacks in Waziristan, which the Pakistani military is perceived as tolerating, also stoked widespread anger within Pakistan. Finally, on September 22, 2011, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the insurgents who had attacked the U.S. embassy the prior week had used cell-phones to call their handlers in Pakistan before and during the attack. The U.S. believed that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI was behind the attacks (www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/09/23/eveningnews/main20110965.shtml).  In sum, U.S. observers have suspected Pakistan’s armed forces –or elements within it- of being complicit with Osama Bin Laden (or incompetent in not detecting him), of being infiltrated by militants, and of supporting violence in Afghanistan, all while taking large amounts of U.S. military aid. …

Vaccines and Global Health: Indonesia, the World Bank and Pandemic Influenza

Pandemic preparedness is a tricky question in global health governance. How do you create a framework that will ensure the global public good, in a context in which if every country follows its national interest, all nations may wind up in a worse position than if they cooperated? What makes influenza a challenging problem to address is its episodic nature. The last highly lethal pandemic was in 1918. In 2007 the mortality from avian flu in Indonesia was 87%. This means that the global community needs to prepare for this threat, but it cannot know when a pandemic may begin. For other diseases –malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS- there is an alphabet soup of non-governmental organizations that advocate for those who are ill or at risk. These don’t exist for influenza, because of its episodic nature, which makes influenza a distinct global health governance issue. For this reason, the World Health Organization may not be able to prepare for a pandemic on its own, although it would certainly have authority once a pandemic had begun. Within the current framework, there seems no way to address the current stand-off regarding viral seed stock sharing, which threatens to create “rogue states” out of nations such as Indonesia. In this sense, a rogue state is a nation that acts outside the framework of international law and practice, although this definition is always also political. Currently, the United States is trying to identify next-generation vaccine technologies that will create more vaccine in a faster fashion. This will help, but there is no technological solution to this ethical and political problem.

Influenza Virus by renjith krishnan at freedigitalphotos.net

One example illustrates this point. In order to create pre-pandemic vaccines, global health authorities need access to virus samples from regional outbreaks. But countries that have avian flu outbreaks may not benefit from the vaccine, which means that they are sometimes unwilling to share this seed stock. In 2007 Indonesia decided to not share viral samples with the World Health Organization, and instead to make a private deal with a vaccine manufacturer.  Indonesia was frustrated that viral samples it had shared with the World Health Organization had been shared with pharmaceutical companies to create vaccines, and that some companies allegedly intended to patent sections of the virus’s genome. For this reason, the nation tried to reach an arrangement with Baxter Healthcare, in which Indonesia would exchange viral samples in return for inexpensive access to vaccine, as well as other assistance to prepare the nation for a pandemic. Developed countries harshly criticized Indonesia’s decision,  which was depicted it as a “rogue state” in the global health system. But Indonesia argued that the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity gave it control over genetic material from within its borders, thus creating the idea of “viral sovereignty.” From Indonesia’s perspective, they were cutting out the middleman, the World Health Organization, as part of an effort to ensure better access to vaccine for their population. …

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