Lots of lovely numbers

A New Year present for data geeks.  In case any of you are bored with twitter and facebook as ways of wasting your time, have a look at this.  ‘Worldometers’ offers real time data on all kinds of things – population, government spending, emails sent, bicycles produced, carbon emitted…based on data from UN, OECD etc.  Of course it’s all guesswork and extrapolation, like most statistics, but very interesting and quite astounding to see some of the counters whizzing round (I’m posting this at 12.55 and there have already been more than 229,000,000,000 emails sent today, apparently!).








How to do facipulation

In plenary and group feedback time, use the “there’s just so much participation going on I can’t capture it all!” trick to ignore or skip over what you don’t want to deal with or what doesn’t fit with where you need the workshop to go. After a few ignores, most people will give up and start grumbling, but that makes them look bad, not you. When this happens, give a pep talk about how important everyone’s participation is, admonish the group for not participating, ask if they are tired, and have the day’s volunteer animator lead an embarrassing (singing/dancing) ice breaker to motivate them.

Just one of a range of ‘facipulation‘ strategies brought to you by the achingly funny blog Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like.

Things they don’t teach you at business school: Grow Facial Hair

The New Year brings news of a boom in facial hair implants in Istanbul. Follically-challenged men are coming from all corners of the Middle East to bolster their beards and multiply their moustaches. For a cool $2,300, those looking for wives or social advancement can buy themselves a head start at one of the city’s cosmetic surgeries – there are even special hair transplant tour packages, estimated to bring in 50 Arab tourists a day.

‘Thick hair is a status symbol,’ one cosmetic surgeon told the Guardian. Another, who is optimistically hoping to expand his operations to smooth-skinned Europe, reported: ‘Both in Turkey and in Arab countries facial hair is associated with masculinity, and its lack can cause social difficulties. Businessmen come to me to get beard and moustache implants, because they say that business partners do not take them seriously if they don’t sport facial hair.’

Global Dashboard readers planning business ventures in the Middle East – male ones anyway – take note.

The US religious right: losing clout, but still holding the world to ransom on sustainability…

The received wisdom about the Tea Party is that it’s pretty different in character to the old Moral Majority style religious right that was such a huge factor in US politics in the 1980s. But not all that different, it turns out.

Polling undertaken in 2010 by the US-based Public Religion Research Institute found that 47% of Americans who consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement also said that they are part of the religious right or conservative Christian movement; and two years later, a poll by the same organisation undertaken just before the 2012 election found that 79% of voters in Romney’s coalition were white Christians – among whom white evangelicals were by far the largest component.

As a result, Protestant fundamentalists views and concerns continue to shape Republican positions on climate change and environment policy. Despite moves among some US evangelicals towards much more progressive positions on the environment, this remains the exception rather than the norm. Another 2012 PRRI poll included data suggesting that – wait for it – nearly 65% of white evangelical Protestants believe that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of Biblical end times (rather than human-caused climate change); and 55% of Republicans say the government should not do more to address climate change.

Admittedly, the political clout of the religious right appears to be on the ebb, and Romney’s poor result in the 2012 election led PRRI to proclaim “the end of a white Christian strategy among voters”. It’s also important to note that a significant and growing majority of the US public that believes that climate change is happening (69% in 2011) and believes that the US government should do more to address the problem (67%).

But while conservative Christians may gradually be losing their capacity to set political agendas, their continuing dominance in the Republican Party means that they have a continuing capacity to block political agendas – particularly given on-going Republican dominance in the House of Representatives. The religious right still matters (like hell, as one might say) for environmental politics in the US and globally.

The US National Intelligence Council’s world in 2030

Here’s a snapshot of the defining features of the world in 2030, courtesy of the US National Intelligence Council’s excellent Global Trends 2030 report, the latest in a series of reports – published, in each case, shortly after US Presidential elections so as to be ready in the in-tray of the new National Security Adviser, whatever the political stripe of the incoming Administration.

The report pulls no punches on the risks of rising inequality – indeed, one of its four headline scenarios is entitled ‘Gini out of the bottle’, and describes a world in which inequalities within countries lead to “increasing political and social tensions”, inequalities in China “increase and split the Party” with middle class expectations not met except among the “very ‘well-connected'”, and “more countries fail, fueled in part by the dearth of international cooperation on assistance and development”.

It’s also emphatic about the risks that come from the food, water and energy nexus. A new Human Resilience Index, commissioned by the NIC from Sandia National Laboratories and presented in the report, is based on a mixture of demographic and ecological indicators. This focus on scarcity issues leads to some interesting conclusions – e.g. Ethiopia is cited as the world’s 10th most fragile country on this basis, ahead of Pakistan, Niger or Chad (c.f. a report of mine on scarcity risks in Ethiopia from a few months back). Interestingly, the index also concludes that the world’s 15 most fragile places in 2030 are precisely the same ones as the index identifies in 2008, albeit in a different order.

Also interesting – NIC also worked with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to identify natural disaster scenarios that could be so severe as to cause nations to collapse. They found four: staple crop catastrophes (which could be triggered, for example, by atmospheric aerosols following volcanic eruptions); tsunamis in selected regions (including Tokyo); erosion and depletion of soils; and solar geomagnetic storms.

And prospects for multilateral cooperation in all this? In essence, NIC concludes that the jury’s still out, and much will depend on whether the US and China can work together. On climate, the worst case scenario is that “global economic slowdown makes it impossible for the US, China and other major emitters to reach meaningful agreement … the result leaves UN sponsored climate negotiations in a state of collapse, with greenhouse gas emissions unchecked”. (I thought that was where we were already, but there we are.)

And the best case? Not that great, it turns out: “Cheaper and more plentiful natural gas makes emissions targets easier to achieve, but ‘two degree’ target would be unlikely to be met”. The silver lining? “As disparities between rich and poor countries decrease, rising powers may be more prepared to make sacrifices”. Which kind of leaves the question hanging, “…and will the US be prepared to make any sacrifices?”

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