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  • Archive for the 'Harriet Bradley' Category

    Ozone: An Update

    By Lucy Phillips, on 28 March 2014

    By Harriet Bradley, IPPR Environment Columnist

    The ozone hole (2006)

    The ozone hole (2006)

    27 years on from when the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer first came into force, it emerges that at least four anthropogenic substances, not banned by the previous treaty, are likely threatening the recovery of the seasonal ozone “hole” over Antarctica. Evidenced in the Oxford Martin School’s October 2013 report ‘Now for the Long Term’ as an exemplar of international problem solving, the Montreal Protocol has been widely heralded as the most successful international environmental treaty. However, this recent revelation, uncovered by scientists at the University of East Anglia, undermines its perceived long-term efficacy. The implied increase in scope of a treaty that bans additional ozone depleting substances (ODS), particularly given their links with greenhouse gases, paves the way for an enlarged economic and political arena of debate.

    The revelation is interesting for International Relations (IR) scholars and public policy makers alike. For IR scholars, it is interesting to consider what the discovery of these substances pose for theorists of ‘transnationalism’ and ‘epistemic communities’ – these theorists predict that transnational communities of experts (such as the scientific community) bear an important influence on transnational policy making, increasing the likelihood of cooperation. The revelation provides a potential ‘test case’ to help answer the question as to how far science informs and/or provides the impetus for international agreements, and how long it takes for this influence to manifest itself in policy. For those who contest the formative role of science in such agreements, it could be used to test whether the enlarged scope of these new revelations bears an impact on the political will to deal with the issues at hand. For example, two of the newly identified ‘harmful’ substances are used in insecticides and chemical feedstock (which UNEP is not obliged to report under the protocol), whilst the most highly emitted ODS, nitrous oxide, is widely used in fertilizers – predicted pressure from powerful lobby groups, such as farmers, will perhaps undermine any enthusiasm politicians might have had in confronting the issue.

    For policy makers, the news throws up a number of interesting questions. These include the possible existence of loopholes or violations of the original treaty, as well as the need for policy to remain up to date with scientific developments. To be effective over the long-term, agreements based on science must be constantly and vigilantly monitored. It will be interesting to see whether policy debates surrounding renewed threats to the ozone will be affected by the same lines of division that plague climate change talks. There is a risk that the ozone debate will once again be politicised, undermining the likelihood of generating a simple successor to the Montreal Protocol.

    From a wider political standpoint, the issue begs the question as to whether national governments possess the tools, or indeed the will, to forge a new international agreement? It is possible that the issue will be even more contentious than in the 1970s and 1980s, when the strength of the public environmental movement in the US (along with the American development of alternatives to CFCs), set the US as the natural leader of the Protocol. Considering the widened scope and concomitant interests involved, whether the US has either the ability or desire to continue to lead the movement remains open to debate.

    What is interesting is that some players who were instrumental in their initial support of the Montreal Protocol, such as Canada (where the Protocol was signed), today show signs of reluctance in allowing policy to be influenced by science. The Canadian government under Prime Minister Steven Harper have introduced significant cuts to the funding of environmental science. For example, in 2012, the government cut funding to the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory, (PEARL), an organization which provides scientific data on ozone depletion and climate change for scientists around the world. One of its founders, Dr Tom Duck, fears the move could be related to the government’s pursuit of valuable oil and gas resources in the Arctic, as they become increasingly accessible with climate change.  In September 2013, Canadians demonstrated against the cutbacks to science funding, and against the campaign to relax laws on what scientists can reveal to the public.

    Contrary to its presentation in ‘Now for the Long Term’ and elsewhere as a ‘closed chapter’ from which international policy makers can now all learn, this news highlights the real lessons of the issue of ozone depletion: the need for constant vigilance and ongoing adaptation of policy and international accords to keep up with rapid developments in the interlinked areas of technology, the environment and science.

    What’s in your latte?

    By Claire McNear, on 6 March 2014

    By Harriet Bradley, IPPR Environment Columnist

    latteRecent history suggests that the global food system is becoming more openly political in public discourse.

    With consumption of many luxury goods in Europe in decline, specialty coffee is one habit that has defied the recessionary trend in the UK: last year sales were up 5 percent since 2009, and in 2012 1.4 billion specialty coffees were sold. By some measures the most popular of coffee specialties, in the US the latte has even become an object of political attacks by the right on so-called “latte-drinking liberal elites.” The drink’s cultural currency is so great that it is now the star of the annual World Latte Art Championship, the tenth incarnation of which will be held this May in Melbourne following a series of national qualifying rounds around the world.

    Yet for all specialty coffee’s ubiquity, the components of what has become for some an everyday necessity are intertwined with surprisingly complex political questions about the equity of the global food supply chain and its impacts on humans, animals and the Earth’s environment and ecosystems. The issues go deeper than scandals like the 2012 discovery of horsemeat in supermarket beef products: rather than considering its intermittent illegalities, they ask us to question the food production system itself.

    I could not do justice here to the theme of the global food and drink production system, let alone the components that make up a latte and other speciality drinks. The focus here is just one – milk – and I provide only an overview of that. Nonetheless, as an item whose uses are expansive, milk symbolises issues that relate to all types of consumables, both everyday and luxury.

    The latest available statistics show that Britons consume an average of 249 litres of milk per capita per year, which equates to an average of 682 ml each day. However, until recently, public debate over milk has largely been confined to whether milk is nutritionally sound for humans, rather than its broader health, environmental and animal welfare implications, all of which have been heightened by the industrial methods of modern milk production and distribution. The just-published Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat has drawn praise for revisiting the grim realities of industrial farming methods. Among other things, the book revealed that cattle raised in intensive dairy farms live an average of just two to three years; the normal life span of a cow is 10 to 15 years longer.

    Consuming milk produced in this way poses a number of potential health risks to humans. In the US, cows reared via industrial methods are injected with the growth hormone recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST or rBGH), originally developed by the Monsanto Corporation, to stimulate milk production. rBGH remains banned in the European Union, Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand. Cows treated with rBGH tend to develop more udder infections, called mastitis, which are then treated with antibiotics. In the US, more than 80 percent of antibiotics sold are administered to livestock, in which the drugs are also used as growth promoters. Last December, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new voluntary regulations to curb the use of antibiotics as growth enhancers in livestock, amid fears that drug remnants in livestock products were contributing to the increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics in the treatment of human diseases.

    Although the debate over the FDA’s assertions remains unresolved, in no small part because of the influence of political and other special interests, the evidence suggests that the human health risks of modern dairy farming are serious. Under modern dairy methods, cows are kept pregnant as often as possible to boost milk production. A 2006 study by Harvard’s Ganmaa Davaasambuu revealed that this practice raises the level of the estrogen compound estrone sulfate in their milk to up to 33 times that of milk from a non-pregnant cow. Davaasambuu suggested that because dairy accounts for 60 to 80 percent of estrogens consumed in the human diet, it is of particular concern in the development of hormone-dependent cancers. However, judging by the fact that the year-round milking of pregnant cows in such environments remains legal, the burden of proof to show whether these methods are safe seems for now to lie with those raising the concerns, rather than those responsible for the methods.

    An intensive dairy rotary milking shed.

    An intensive dairy rotary milking shed.

    The scandal over British milk prices in 2012, in which it emerged that the market price for milk in the UK was less than the cost of production, indicated that we are not just addicted to cheap meat but to cheap dairy, too. This illustrates the pervasive imperative to drive down costs in numerous sectors of production, which led to the development and growth of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in the US since the 1950s. This mode of operation limits the time and space animals receive outdoors, and involves a non-natural feed, usually corn or soya, instead of grass.

    Although initially a feature of the American farming landscape, intensive dairy farming has been on the rise in Europe since the mid 1980s, propped up by subsidies from the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy. In 2010, planning for the UK’s first zero-grazing “mega dairy” at Nocton Heath, Lincolnshire, intimated that the practice was to spread across the pond. But January’s news that plans for a 1000-cow mega dairy in Powys, Wales, have been put on hold pending a judicial review over concerns for animal welfare suggests that pressure is mounting on producers.

    The Nocton Heath mega dairy proposal has stalled as well. Among the objections cited by the Environment Agency and local council to the Nocton Dairy were the “significant risk to groundwater quality, including the nearby public water supply,” “significant uncertainties regarding the impacts and control of odour […] and its effects on residential amenity” and adverse impact on local wildlife due to “increased ammonia and nitrogen deposition.” These objections illustrate the widely documented environmental impacts of intensive dairy farming, in particular groundwater and river pollution due to the high amounts of waste animal silage, which is stored in “slurry lagoons” before being sprayed onto neighbouring fields. A study carried out by Johns Hopkins University for the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production says many CAFOs dump more waste than the land can cope with. Much is then washed away by rain, ending up in local watercourses; there have been reports of river contamination and deaths of fish and other aquatic life as a result. A 2012 report by Friends of the Earth suggested that at 8,100 cows, the Nocton Dairy would have generated enough manure each year to fill approximately 75 Olympic swimming pools, the presence of which, along with increasing nitrogen levels in water, increases the risk of releasing pathogens (such as salmonella and E. coli), antibiotics and hormones into water sources. The Pew Commission also found evidence that those living near such farms suffered from asthma and other respiratory complaints at a higher rate than the general population. The effect of this contamination has also been reported to have an impact on adjacent farmland, compromising the ability of farmers to grow organic foods.

    Wind back to the emergence of a café culture in the UK and elsewhere: it takes an estimated 200 litres of water to produce the average grande latte (out of which the milk comprises 49.4 litres of water). This touches on yet another emerging debate about the sustainability of modern farming methods: the ethics and consequences, human and environmental, of using water in regions where it is scarce, such as Kenya, for irrigation and non-essential food items. The intensifying issue of water scarcity brings the ethics of treating a latte as an everyday essential into sharp focus.

    Whilst this may be more detail than the average latte drinker would have time to contemplate at the till, I would argue that it points to some of the most severe systemic problems within the food production industry. The case of the dairy industry illustrates that the “politics of sight” function in many aspects of daily life; perhaps the more common an item is, the less visible its less-palatable features become. In the case of milk, ubiquity is coupled with a greater difficultly of discerning quality and inferring standards of welfare than with other products: regardless of how it is produced or what is in it, milk mostly tastes and appears the same. It is likewise easy to take the ready availability and cheapness of an item like milk, unlike for example, tiger paws, as evidence that its production and procurement is relatively harmless. What a small amount of research reveals is an intense political arena in which both sides claim to be more sustainable, contribute less to climate change and be better placed to solve world hunger. Whilst the horsemeat scandal was a single illegal disruption within an ostensibly functioning system, a brief foray into what’s involved in producing just one ingredient in something as ubiquitous as a latte yields surprisingly complex and political results, and, hopefully, a little food for thought.

    “Septic” science

    By Claire McNear, on 15 February 2014

    By Harriet Bradley, IPPR Environment Columnist

    Prince Charles and Scarlett Johansson both made headlines at the end of January over their battles with corporations. Unlike Johansson, the less-glossy Charles defied corporate interests, by attacking the funding of climate scepticism by powerful lobby groups. Could shining a light on the sources of climate scepticism through public statements like these help to change the discourse surrounding climate change from a question of science to a question of power?

    It would be a mistake to let one’s ideological aversion to the inherited privilege of the monarchy overshadow the content of Charles’ recent comments. As Paul Vallely, a visiting professor of public ethics at the University of Chester, commented, “In practice the Prince, like the House of Lords, offers a useful practical long-term antidote to the short-term posturing of elected politicians.” There is certainly a moral case for accusing privileged public figures of hypocrisy when they criticise abuses of power and wealth, but the reality is that such public figureheads can help to get these sorts of debates out of the circles of the already interested, and into those circles where climate scepticism remains influential.

    The scientific evidence that climate change is man-made is overwhelming. So too is the evidence of corporate funding of major climate sceptic groups, such as the Heartland Institute in the US, “the world’s most prominent think-tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change.” Its funders have included some of America’s largest corporations including the Koch oil billionaires, GlaxoSmithKline, Microsoft and RJR Tobacco.

    The campaign to discredit man-made climate change science by those who recognise the costs curbing it could impose on polluters has been likened to the propaganda effort by tobacco firms to cast doubt on the findings of those scientists who first suggested that smoking might be harmful to health in the 1960s and 1970s. Sowing seeds of doubt is a highly effective tactic to undermine the ability of scientists raising climate concerns. Indeed, in 2012 it was leaked that the Heartland Institute was funding a campaign in American schools to teach that “the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.” This all suggests that we must look beyond state actors to understand the powerful networks of economic interests that influence national and international discourses on issues like smoking and climate change.

    So, are human beings rational actors who weigh the costs and benefits of a given action? Considering the effects of climate change are already being felt in developed and developing countries alike, from the most destructive typhoon the Philippines’ history late last year, to flood damage in the UK, to unprecedented hurricanes in New York, to the melting of the polar ice caps, it seems that climate change denialism is not rational from the point of view of long-term economic and other interests. Given the stakes are so high, to explicitly claim, as countries including Canada, Russia, Japan, the US and the UK have, that any real trade-off between economic growth and cutting pollution is unjustifiable seems implausible.

    In the context of the recession, the Conservatives’ 2010 election slogan to “vote blue, go green,” alongside their pledge to build a green economy, has seemingly given way to the traditional dichotomy between economy and ecology. The UK’s Secretary for the Environment Owen Patterson, who publicly denies man-made climate change, has overseen a 41% decline in spending on domestic climate change initiatives this financial year, given the green light to shale gas extraction and opposed the EU’s call for binding renewable energy production targets. With powerful representatives of multinational corporations such as the Chairman of Nestlé (self-proclaimed as “the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company” and with its own Commitment on Climate Change) coming out with the same denialism just last week, it seems that climate change “scepticaemia” amongst businesses and our elected politicians is endemic. If unchecked in the public arena, such discourses provide governments with an excuse to backtrack on national and international environmental policies, as appears to be happening.

    All this goes to show that in this case, Charles has touched on something very important in the arena of environmental politics.

    Statements like Prince Charles’ which confront the power relationships behind scientific scepticism have the power, in theory, to alter public discourse on climate change, sowing their own seeds of doubt about the basis for scepticism, and alerting us to the importance of interrogating our sources of information. The heir to the throne may embody a non-democratic institution, but his speech demonstrated both a willingness to speak out about globally powerful non-democratic forces that many would argue currently dominate the policy agenda, and an opportunity to reinvigorate political support for policies in the long-term public interest.

    Interview: Steven Rathgeb Smith

    By Saskia Kok, on 3 February 2014

    By Harriet Bradley and Francisca Stewart

    SRSmithProfessor Steven Rathgeb Smith is the new Executive Director of the American Political Science Association (APSA), of which he has been a member for over 30 years. He holds a PhD in Political Science from MIT and has taught at a number of major American universities, including Duke and Georgetown. Steven is a leading scholar on non-profit organisations, public management and social policy.

    He is currently co-researching a comparative project into the welfare-state regimes of Canada, the US, the UK and Australia. Looking at the relationship between the voluntary sector and the state, Smith’s research asks to what extent there is convergence or change amongst these countries, in their provision of public services. He argues that there is convergence with regard to a move towards a more market-orientated approach to public service provision. On the other hand, Smith argues that the UK is distinct from the US in the emphasis that David Cameron has placed on the ‘Big Society’ meaning the provision of services by the voluntary sector is more pronounced in the UK than in the US.

    During Smith’s visit to UCL, we asked him about the implications of his research and also to share with us some insights into his professional development, and as Executive Director of the APSA his ambitions for political science.

    Q: Are there any experiences or reasons that you can highlight for your interest in public management, non-profits and the voluntary sector?

    A: That’s an interesting question. Certainly my formative experience was working in the voluntary sector after university- in child welfare- and then got a Masters in social work. I initially thought I might work in direct services, but then I changed focus while I was in graduate school to policy administration and that led me to a research career in policy administration.

    Q: Was that based at all on a feeling that you could have more impact by going into research and the policy side of things?

    A: Well, it’s a different kind of impact. I got very interested in doing research and I was attracted to learning about different voluntary organisations and how they are managed. By writing on the topic, I did feel that I could have a broader impact on how people manage these organisations and manage their relationship with the government. I like the teaching part of being a faculty member, too. Certainly if you’re working in a direct service role you can have a profound influence on people’s lives, but it’s different kind of influence.

    Q: What do you think the voluntary sectors’ future role will be, especially in the context of the economic crisis?

    A: I think there will continue to be a role for community-based organizations, and if anything their role will grow as the public services continue to be restructured. But in certain policy areas that lend themselves to routinisation and standardisation, such as home-care for the elderly or disabled, across the world you’re seeing a growing role for for-profit organisations and a declining role for the voluntary sector. The remaining kind of voluntary organisations in those kind of services tend to be large. One of the big issues in Sweden these days is the growing role of for-profit healthcare companies. Sweden is a little different in that they have an important role for the state sector and a small role for the voluntary sector in the area of social health services, where service delivery which has mostly been controlled by local government.

    So I think that the voluntary sector will remain important, particularly at the community level, but I do think that in some of the other service categories for-profits will continue to play a prominent role.

    Q: You spoke about decentralisation of the provision of ‘human services’ in the US- if provision is based more on market demand, will there be less continuity in the kind of services provided?

    A: I was just writing an article about this. I do think that the environment for the voluntary sector is more turbulent than it used to be. Before, some of these large voluntary organisations in the US and the UK could depend on government funding- they had a kind of market niche that was quite stable. Now it’s quite a turbulent environment, which is prone to disruptions- whether it’s budgetary disruptions that might be influenced by the economy, or political change.

    The similarity that you have between the US and the UK is that the national government has historically provided some way of ensuring that there’s more equitable delivery of services around the country. To the extent that you get more decentralization and national government cuts back on its role, you’re going to get more variation at the local level. And it seems to me that’s what’s occurring in the UK as well.

    Q: So access to services is becoming more of a post-code lottery?

    A: Yes, for the users it’s very insecure absolutely, and in the US it also means that the voluntary organisation itself is in a more uncertain environment. There’s been a big discussion in the voluntary sector about the role of business models and how that affects the way you manage these organisations. The argument would be that voluntary sector organisations faced with uncertainty are more risk-averse, and so are more likely to adopt various kinds of business models or financial measures and financial management tools from the business sector. The interest in social enterprises and social innovation also means that it’s attractive to adopt these more commercial business-oriented models in the sector as well.

    Colleague and friend Dr. Sarabajaya Kumar: You also get very high-profile business people who say they don’t think certain organisations should be funded if they’re not efficient and run in a business-like way, which has an influence.

    Q: Do you think governments who encourage voluntarism as a replacement for public service provision are shirking their responsibilities?

    A: I do think what’s happened in the UK and to a certain extent in the US as well, is that the public sector just cuts back and leaves it essentially to the local community by saying do it on your own without any money and on a volunteer basis. I don’t think that’s fair, and in this way I do think that the public sector is shirking their responsibilities. If the public sector said we’re not going to provide it through the public sector anymore, we’re going to shift it to the voluntary sector organizations, and we’re going to give them some money to do it, then that’s something different. You see some of that transfer in the U.S. [from the public sector to the voluntary sector], particularly with things like public parks and recreation. And it has had the effect of engaging a lot of community members in a kind of co-production activity and mobilizing community members in volunteering and donating money. And I think that it can work sometimes.

    I think that the drawback in volunteering is there are also differences in class and education. Also, different communities and different service categories are more likely to have volunteers than others. Over the years I’ve done quite a bit on substance abuse and treatment services, which historically in the United States get very little philanthropy. It’s very difficult to generate donations and they get very few volunteers. Some of the services for the chronically mentally ill also have difficulty generating philanthropic dollars. So in those cases for the public sector to say we’re not going to provide these services, we’re going to depend on volunteers, even with some public funding, seems like an abdication of responsibility because you know they are going to have great difficulty generating philanthropy.

    Q: Do you think there are weaknesses in the field of political science that need strengthening? And how do you think APSA could help with this right now?

    A: Well, political science is a very diverse field. You have people with very different approaches to the study of political science; they have very different substantive interests. Some are interested in theory, some are interested in comparative politics, some in international relations or in citizenship. Political science as an association has responded by saying, well, we’re an association that any political scientist can join but we have subfields that people with similar interests can join. I think in many ways it reflects the dynamics of any large membership association as it evolves and changes. But the challenge of course, and I think that this is something that the APSA faces today, is to say what the relationship between these subfields is to the larger association.

    I think that academic associations are facing many of the same challenges that are affecting other institutions in society. There’s a disaggregating impulse going on. Academic associations used to have to join academic associations because you needed the journal and you had to go to the conference. But now you can get the journal online. So now people individually become more powerful in terms of the kind of information they have access to and have control over. It’s changed the role of academic associations.

    I think political science is facing more questions about the value of political science, such as how do you become a better person by studying political science in a university, or do you become a better citizen if you study political science? And then it’s a question about the value of political science research, which I think we’re delving into in the United States. APSA is a part of that conversation. A lot of political scientists study elections, and you can kind of see where that might have some important impact in terms of promoting transparency and good elections, and less corruption and fairness and things like that. But I think for some things in political science it’s a little more complicated to see what the point is. I think that’s going to be a big challenge for us, to communicate the value of political science.