Day: July 19, 2012

Collective action and the end of the world

Today I gave a lecture on the environment and the dilemmas of collective action in my course on Introduction to International Relations. Despite the best efforts of St. Elinor (the patron saint of political science and my alma mater), I’m still a fairly pessimistic adherent to Mancur Olson’s diagnosis of public-goods provision. Consequently, the environmental lecture (“Saving the Sunlit Earth”) is probably my most depressing canned talk. (The “sunlit earth” comes from a speech by Nobel laureate F. Sherwood Rowland, who co-discovered CFCs’ harmful effects.)
Simply put, unlike the Montreal Protocol that reduced CFC emissions and put the ozone layer on track to be healed within a century or so–a smashing success for environmental diplomacy, and no I’m not being sarcastic–the number of countries involved in negotiations on climate change and the distribution fo the costs and benefits of reducing CO2 emissions make me so despondent over the chance for a lasting agreement that I’m pretty glad that I’ll likely be dead before the ice caps are completely melted.

To illustrate my argument, I downloaded the most recent stats on CO2 emissions I could find and cranked them through Stata. As we can see, per-capita emissions in the rich world have been relatively constant or even declining since 1990:

But those modest increases on a per-capita basis in China and South Korea have nevertheless yielded tremendous shocks to total CO2 output.

Astonishingly, China–which produced about as much CO2 in 1950 as Great Britain had in 1750–now produces more CO2 than the United States did in 2000. And, of course, the first and second derivatives on that time series are positive.
I’m glad to see social scientists paying more attention to these issues. Frankly, if the threat of great-power conflict was the animating purpose for international relations theorists to get out of bed in the morning during the post-World War II era, I think it’s fairly clear that issues relating to political economy–and global climate change is, at root, a political-economy problem–should drive us in the post-Cold War era.
Below, a Google n-gram of the relative popularity of the two types of end of the world: “nuclear war” and “global warming.” 
I’m going to use this to begin my most optimistic lecture of the semester, which about nuclear weapons. 


Morning Linkage


Scenes from the National Museum of Scotland, Part the Second

In my previous post I mentioned the recent broadside against Brave for its anti-Pictish discourse and representations. I’m not being fair, of course, as its author, Melissa McEwan, doesn’t use the term “Pict” any time during her essay. Which is interesting, insofar as Brave is saturated with Pictish symbols. As an astute commentator notes:

The Scots are represented not as a homogeneous group but as a diverse people, including ethnic differences from Pictish, Celtic, and Viking ancestries. While you may choose to see this as an Othering, it is a step above the kind of racial elisions that tend to happen with Native Americans in films (since that got mentioned.)

Regardless, the original post and subsequent exchanges illustrate nicely what happens when there’s a kernel of truth heaped beneath the crazy, but the crazy emerges triumphant.

Of course, one persons’ serious of ethnic slurs is another’s nationalist myth making. Hence I was not terribly surprised to learn that the National Museum of Scotland has embraced Brave wholeheartedly.

So while McEwan (who, naturally enough, admits to never having seen the film) complains about the stereotyping “Scottish people” as using “silly instruments,” the embedded link makes clear she has bagpipes in mind.  Bagpipes, which I hardly consider “silly,” are in Brave. But I first thought, rather naïvely in retrospect, that the discussion was sophisticated enough such that she was referring to the carnyx (the rightmost picture above), which makes a prominent appearance in the film.

Listen to a Carynx.

But to return to my main point, about how one person’s ethno-chauvinist mockery of a not-so-oppressed American minority is another person’s nationalist myth-making, let us return to the National Museum. There, a significant chunk of the symbolic repertoire on display in Brave finds itself presented at the cultural origins of the Scottish nation. Lest their be any doubt about that, consider the sign pictured below.

In conclusion. Meh.

A postscript: I enjoyed Brave and all that, but for a series that combines excellent narrative, strong characterization, moral ambiguity, excitement, suspense, deep research, and the kind of exoticicizing of white ethnic “others” that would make McEwan’s head explode, check out Nancy Farmer’s Sea of Trolls series. 

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