A useful Documentary illustrating Globalization – Mediterranean with Simon Reeve

This is a great resource for teaching some of the content of the global development module within A-level sociology. 

I caught the final episode of the BBC’s Mediterranean with Simon Reeve on Sunday night, and I ended up watching the whole thing! It may only be in the Med, which is relatively local to the UK, but nonetheless this final episode is so useful for illustrating many aspects of globalisation.

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In retrospect I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised at this: the Med is the boarder between Europe, the Middle East and Africa after all, so it spans three very different regions in the world.

The documentary series is available on iplayer for the next 8 months, so you can use it for teaching globalisation for almost the entire 2019-20 academic year.

I can’t speak for other three episodes, but the final one alone covers the following, mainly focusing on migration and environmental problems in the Med.

  • How over-fishing has led to the declining viability of fishing for a living in Tunisia and how this is making fishermen turn to people smuggling (destination Europe) instead.
  • The brutality of detainment centres in Tunisia – in which illegal migrants, mainly from Sub-Saharan Africa are kept and effectively work as slaves.
  • The hundreds of square miles of plastic covered farms in Southern Spain which grow year round salad veg, much of which we eat in the UK.
  • The plight of the workers (often illegal migrants) who work in said salad farms.
  • The fact that much of the plastic waste from said farms ends up in tiny shreds in the Med and in our food chain.

Simon Reeves also visits Monaco, the world’s most expensive place, and comments that it’s a sunny place for shady people. He doesn’t seem too impressed by this tax haven for the undeserving privileged having spent the previous month touring around some of the less advantaged places in neighbouring countries.

Anyway, it’s a great documentary: very sociological!

 

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The challenges of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Ebola recently resurfaced in Democratic Republic of Congo, and has now infected more than 2500 people in the Eastern part of the country, near the border with Uganda.

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Ebola is one of the world’s most infectious and deadliest diseases: as of 22nd July 2019 the World Health Organisation reported 2503 cases in this latest outbreak, with 1764 deaths. (Source: Relief Web).

The World Health Organisation first declared an Ebola outbreak in the DRC in August 2018, but the number of cases have increased dramatically since Spring of 2019. This is now the second largest Ebola outbreak after the 2014-16 epidemic in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which killed 11, 300.

Health workers have a new vaccine which appears to work to deploy to help keep the disease under control but they face the following barriers to treating people:

  1. There is ongoing conflict in Eastern DRC. This extends to attacks on health care facilities – there have been around 200 such attacks reported which have killed 5 people.
  2. Local people are being displaced as a result of the conflict – at least 300 000 so far, and some of these are heading across the border to Uganda, where there have been some reported cases of Ebola.
  3. There is a local rumor that aid workers are actually infecting people with Ebola because they are ‘paid by the corpse’ – and in a country mired by corruption and conflict, I guess this sounds plausible.

It remains to be seen whether the Ebola outbreak can be kept under control: the ongoing conflict and local suspicions are certainly going to hamper efforts, and it seems aid agencies are going to have to spend a lot of time working with locals and building trust in order to keep things under control!

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This recent tragedy should be of interest to any students studying the Global Development module in A-level sociology. The case of Ebola in the DRC illustrates the relationship between conflict and health problems and it also shows some of the local challenges Aid agencies face when trying to deliver emergency aid.

Additional Sources 

The Week, 29 June 2019

The UK – a world leader in renewable energy generation…

The UK is generating more energy from zero carbon sources than from fossil fuels for the first time since the industrial revolution, the National Grid announced recently.

Gas and coal generated 46.7% of Britain’s power in the year to the end of May, while zero carbon sources generated 47.9%. The rest came from biomass.

A decade ago coal plants generated almost a third of the UK’s electricity. Now there are only 7 left, two of which are going to close in the near future.

Energy from renewables has risen from 2% in 2009 to almost 25% with most coming from wind (18.8%).

renewable energy.png

What’s the relevance of this to A-level sociology?

For anyone studying the module in Global Development, this is a great counter trend to the doom and gloom of the ‘environmental decline’ we see in so many parts of the world.

It might also be a sign of a new value consensus emerging about the ‘right way’ to generate energy? At least at the level of the UK.

However, I guess we shouldn’t overstate the importance of this, the UK is only home to >1% of the global population after all!

Sources

The Week, 6th July 2019

 

Global Justice Now – A Useful Example of an NGO

Global Justice Now is a decentralized democratic global social movement which aims to challenge the powerful and create a more equal and just world.

It’s a great example of a small, politically oriented NGO (Non-governmental organisation) so makes a great study for that part of the Global Development module within A-level sociology.

Some of their current main campaigns include focusing on promoting Fair Trade that works for people and planet and the Freedom of movement for people (pro migration).

They have a strong anti-Corporate and anti-Trump agenda.

They organize several activities every year to highlight global social justice issues, which typically involve small protests and handing petitions to ministers expressing concern about generally neo-liberal policies.

They also produce a magazine full of leftist articles focusing on fair trade and the global south and organize occasional meetings around global social justice issues.

One of things to be critical of is how effective (or ineffective) this organisation is their budget is only £1.5 million a year, which is less than the annual salaries of most of the CEOs of the companies they criticise!

Still, it’s a good NGO case study and useful source of information to keep you up to date with global justice issues.

 

China – The World’s Biggest Tech Thief?

Chinese theft of intellectual property from other countries (mainly the US and those in the EU) represents the greatest transfer of wealth in history according to Keith B Alexander, former director of the US National Security Agency.

intellectual property includes such things as patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets and software, and China has a long history of stealing such things ever since it opened up its economy to foreign trade in the late 1970s. China has long been known as the country of origin for counterfeit DVDs (among other products), but more recently one its largest tech firms, the phone manufacturer Huwai was accussed of encouraging employees with bonuses for gathering confidential information from competitors.

To give you an idea of the scale of this, The United States estimated in 2017 that Chinese theft of American intellectual property costs between $225bn and $600bn annually,

The type of information stolen covers a huge range of sectors: everything from the designs for wind turbines to cars, medical devices and computer chips. In one infamous case, Germany’s Siemens introduced the high-speed train to China only to find that subsequent extensions of the system were manufactured by its Chinese partner, China National Railway Corporation, which had developed similar technology suspiciously quickly.

How has China managed this?

Back in day China was more likely to engage in full on cyber-espionage, but more recently it has developed a set of policies which forces foreign multinationals working in China to divulge secrets while they are forbidden similar access to Chinese companies’ information.

Technically this is against WTO rules, but it seems that China, being a ‘big player’ on the international scene can get away with this.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is a great example of a ‘state crime’ – state sponsored theft of intellectual property, and it’s a great example of a crime that up until this point has gone unpunished!

It also reminds us that where globalisation is concerned, there is no such thing as genuine free-trade, it’s only as free as the large nation states allow it to be.

NB – as a final note, Chinese intellectual property theft might be a thing of a past, China has invested so much in skilling its population up in technology that it is likely to become a cutting edge tech innovator in its own right in the not too distant future!

Would would falling back on WTO rules mean for Britain?

If the UK leaves the EU with ‘no deal’, it will fall back on World Trade Organisation Rules, but what does this mean?

The WTO and Free Trade 

The WTO was founded in 1995 and sets the rule book by which global trade takes place.

One of the main things it has done over the past two decades is to reduce tariffs (basically taxes) levied by governments on imports and exports, and to promote a free-trade agenda.

In 1947, the average external tariff charged by GATT (the predecessor of the WTO) signatories was 22%, which was a massive disincentive to trade, by 1999 it was down to 5%, and today the weighted average tariff charged by the US and EU is 1.6%.

Over the same period, there has been a massive increase in world trade: In the 1950s international trade accounted for 8% of the world economy, today it accounts for 30% of a much bigger global economy.

The Limitations of the WTO

Recently, the WTO’s trade liberalisation has stalled, and most of the progress countries have made in reducing barriers to trade have been through regional and bilateral trade agreements. The European Union is a principle example of this: UK companies pay no tariffs on exports to Europe or imports from Europe, which makes trade easy.

If we were to fall back on WTO trade rules, there are some economic areas which still have very high tariffs – cars and car parts would face a 10% tariff every time they crossed a boarder (making BMWs a LOT more expensive! given international supply chains) and agricultural tariffs stand at 35%.

The latest Treasury forecast predicts that the UK economy would be 9.3% smaller in 15 years if we exited the EU under WTO rules.

Isn’t this just all part of ‘project fear’?

Of course Brexiteers argue that we could forge new bilateral and multilateral trade agreements once we leave the EU, but most estimates suggest that a no deal WTO fall-back Brexit would be detrimental to the UK economy.

However, what all of the above suggests is maybe that ‘globalisation’ isn’t so good for world trade anymore…. maybe it’s too difficult to sort out genuinely mutually beneficial trade agreements between all 160 odd member states of the WTO.

Instead it seems that regional agreements are much more important for economic growth – it makes sense that it’s easier to get a deal between a dozen local countries rather than ten times that number after all.

To my mind it seems unlikely that we’re going to be able to negotiate dozens of little deals with specific countries that outweigh the benefits of being part of a massive trading block like the EU!

Sources:

The Week, 26 January.

 

More Neoliberalism – Brazil’s shift to the right

The extreme right wing candidate Jair Bolsonaro was recently declared as Brazil’s president – he’s anti-gay, anti-immigrant, and anti-environment, and yet the public voted him in to take office from January 2019.

neoliberal brazil.jpg

He’s also strong on law and order: he’s praised former Brazilian dictatorships which used torture, among other tactics as a means of social control, and he’s promised to outlaw protest and op positional social movements.

Given that Brazil is the fourth largest democracy in the world, and one of the BRIC nations, this is quite significant in terms of global politics – it probably means that Brazil will be opened up for even more deregulated trade, while the poor who suffer the consequences of this will be disciplined more harshly by the state’s security forces.

In short, this is the most significant global shift towards more repressive neoliberal politics since Trump’s election. It’s something worth keeping an eye on!

This comment piece by Simon Jenkins in The Guardian is worth a read (it’s short) – it  blames this shift to the right on the failure of a corrupt left-wing government in Brazil to effectively maintain social order, and he also blames social media – which becomes an echo chamber for far right scapegoating and polarises public opinion.

With this shift to the right, it seems that global consensus politics has become even less likely!

The Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion

Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world after oil, at least according to Stacey Dooley’s Google investigation during her latest BBC documentary: Fashion’s Dirty Secrets.

The program is only available on iPlayer for another couple of weeks, but what I’m going to do here is link into the people and issues covered in this excellent documentary.

Issues brought up in the documentary…

  1. Fashion is a surprisingly polluting industry – the reason it comes in at number two is because of all of the pesticides, fertilizer, and not to mention the sheer volume of water it takes to make many of our most basic threads, cotton being the biggest problem, given its popularity. Check out Lucy Siegle’s writings for more info.
  2. Stacey visits Kazakhstan to witness one of the biggest human made environmental disasters in history. The country used to be home to the Aral Sea – which used to span 68K square kilometers. HOWEVER, now most of it has dried up because of dams being put in place to supply water to massive cotton plantations in neighboring countries. The region is now a desert plagued by sand storms.
  3. It takes a staggering amount of water to produce cotton… 15 000 liters to grow the cotton in one pair of jeans, for example.
  4. There’s the obligatory trip to Indonesia… where we see clothes producing factories churning out chemical polluted water into local rivers, and local slum dwellers washing their clothes in said water with strange skin rashes. This article by Al Jazeera covers the same ground.
  5. Not one single Chain store (e.g Primark etc.) accepted an invitation to appear on the show, and even the Department for the Environment gave a ‘standard reply’ not focused on fashion, but rather on their plastic bag policy, strongly suggesting all of the Corporations involved in fashion and the UK government couldn’t give a toss about the environment.
  6. Stacey did interview a few fashion vloggers, thinking that these ‘influencers’ could be a way to get consumers to switch to less polluting threads. They seemed extremely ignorant of the high environmental costs of ‘fashion as usual’, but willing to push the moral imperative to shop for more environmentally friendly brands. HOWEVER, only one of the four interviewed actually took this up on her vlog.

Relevance to A-level Sociology…

mainly relevant to Global Development the material in this documentary is yet more supporting evidence for TNCs not promoting development, and both the Aral Sea disappearance and the river polluting factors in Indonesia are good examples of green crime.

Global Warming: Last Chance to Save Planet Earth?

The Intergovernmental Panel’s Report on Climate Change (IPCC), published earlier this week, doesn’t make for pretty reading…

Human activities are estimated to have caused 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

With this level of warming, the report estimates that about 4% of the earth’s surface will undergo significant ecosystems change (in layman’s terms that means some areas becoming deserts, and lots of dead polar bears in the arctic), more extreme weather conditions, and some small island communities disappearing due to sea level rise.

And those in less developed countries will generally bear the brunt of the negative consequences of climate change.

The report also points out that warming could be more severe, and that to limit warming to 1.5C, will involve “annual average investment needs in the energy system of around $2.4 trillion” between 2016 and 2035.

Relevance to A-level Sociology: 

Unfortunately this important update is only of direct relevance to the minority of students who study the Global Development topic. For those that do, this report puts everything in perspective: this is the ‘global challenge of the day’.

However, for all students of sociology it’s possibly a good reminder of the limits of optimist globaliszation. Globalization has gone so far that we’ve effectively got a global consensus that climate change is taking place and that it’s man made. HOWEVER, we’ve actually known this for decades, but still nothing significant is being done about it, because those who occupy the seats of global power don’t see it as being in their current interests to actually take the necessary large-scale action (i.e. make the massive investments now) to reduce the risks of global warming.

Of course, if you’re a hard line neo-liberal risk society theorist, you might just see all of this IPCC stuff as scare mongering, nothing to worry about, and remain confident in the fact that the planet can handle the shock, and that techno-solutions will be found at some point in the not too distant future.

America’s New Space Force

Despite being a third world country, as  judged many and varied social indicators of development, America is set to spend $8 billion on a new ‘space force‘ over the next 5 years.

China and Russia are currently competitors for military advantage in space, and it seems this has got America worried. In 2007 China successfully shot down one of its old weather satellites, orbiting 500 miles above the planet. In 2015, Russia launched a successful test of an anti-satellite missile.

Approximately 1800 active satellites currently orbit earth, half of them sent up by America, are vital to many of our day to day activities. We rely on satellites for the following:

  • Anything using GPS positioning for navigation – which includes various civil and military organisations
  • Financial markets depend on them for super-sensitive time-synchronisation
  • Weather forecasting
  • Traffic lights
  • Various mobile phone applications.
  • Some television and video conferencing.

It would seem that satellites have somehow become the ‘foundation’ of our daily postmodern, globally networked lives.

What might space war look like…

Besides firing missiles into space, there are other options: lasers could be used to blind or dazzle satellites in order to disrupt their functionality, or cyber attacks could be ‘launched’ to hack into them.

As with most things warfare, it seems that the USA is already years ahead of its competitors. The USA first launched a successful strike against an obsolete satellite in the mid 1980s, and they are already ‘hardening’ existing satellites against attack – by positioning redundant satellites to act as back ups, for example, and they are looking into giving them their own defensive capabilities.

What are the possible consequences of Space War?

If there was an all-out space war, it could create a debris-cloud which would render space unusable for future generations, however, if global relations deteriorated to this point, we’d probably be more worried about the radiation sickness from the previously deployed nukes!

Relevance of this to A-level sociology…

Quite a useful example of the continued power of the Nation State in a global age…. seriously, how many nations have the power to shoot down satellites…. really just a handful, and no other body besides them!

Sources/ Find out More

The Week, 25 August 2018.