Category Archives: Content Alert

The Future of European Aviation?

by Benjamin Sacks

Proposed European FABs.

Proposed European FABs.

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökul volcano on 20 March 2010 demonstrated the weaknesses in Europe’s diverse air traffic control network. As a massive ash cloud up to 8 kilometres high gradually extended across western Europe, forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights and stranding millions of passengers across the entire continent. Although European air controllers correctly prioritised passenger safety above all other factors, the scenario left many airline industry commentators and journalists frustrated with the European Union’s apparent inability to swiftly and effectively act on changing meteorological and airline information. With few exceptions, the maintenance of separate airspace quadrants by each EU member, each with different processes, response mechanisms, as well as external pressures from airlines and politicians, all contributed to delayed and even contradictory responses in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Oslo.

In Eyjafjallajökull’s wake, the International Aviation Transportation Authority (IATA), in cooperation with the EU, proposed the establishment a single European air zone, divided into nine ‘functional airspace blocks’. Citing the current system’s woefully inefficiency – e.g., ‘With fewer air traffic controllers the United States FAA [Federal Aviation Authority] is able to deliver 70% more controlled flight hours than Europe]’ – the IATA / EU consortium called for a reorganisation, or ‘rationalisation’ of air traffic control hierarchies, technological modernisation, and substantially better (and more transparent) communication between national aviation authorities. Optimistically entitled ‘Single European Sky’ (SES), officials set a date of 4 December 2012 for its implementation.

But, as Dr Christopher Lawless (Durham University) reminds us in his March 2014 Geographical Journal commentary, 4 December 2012 came and went with little change. Only two of the nine blocks – Denmark-Sweden and UK-Ireland – had reached operational status. National-level aviation oversight bodies – intended to be the vanguard of transnational cooperation – had made little progress in communicating or facilitating with their neighbouring counterparts. Bickering, unsurprisingly, had early on replaced collaboration. At the EU Aviation Summit in Limassol, Cyprus, Siim Kallas, European Commission joint Vice President and Transport Commissioner, attacked EU states for ‘their “undue protection of national interests’” (Lawless p. 76).

Of the seven non-operational airspace blocks, two (Iberian Peninsula and Central Mediterranean) had not even progressed beyond the ‘definition stage’ (p. 77). Fearing the loss of their jobs and the complete overhaul of learned ATC procedures, French and German air traffic controllers repeatedly threatened strikes.

Lawless examined SES’s problematic history through Sheila Jasanoff and Sang-Hyun Kim’s 2009 paradigm of ‘sociotechnical imaginary’. The European SES programme sought to mix technological requirements with larger political aspirations, inevitably leading to discord between various member states. Airlines, already struggling to break even financially, balked at restructuring costs (p.80). Spatially, air spaces were eventually designed along largely existing geographical and geopolitical lines, as the UK-Ireland, Denmark-Sweden, and Italy-Mediterranean sectors clearly demonstrate (p. 78). In reality, these geopolitically-influenced air spaces make little sense with the traffic patterns of most passenger flights:

[T]he highest density region of European air traffic…spans a corridor encompassing the airspace of the UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Under the current arrangement, this straddles four separate FABs…(p. 78).

Lawless concludes by calling for a comprehensive inquiry into sovereign states’ concerns, risk assessments, and considerations, and re-drawing the air space landscape in a more logical (and less state-specific) manner. Ultimately, he stressed that even such ‘apolitical’ projects as SES are unfortunately ridden with politics, negotiation, and self-interests.

The SES debate will continue to fascinate observers for some time. Agonising, protracted discussions over the future of London’s airspace – the world’s busiest – between Conservative officials, led by Boris Johnson, and Labour opponents seem unlikely to end amicably, or soon. This regional crisis, combined with Britain’s current national debate over its long-term role within the EU, will only further complicate the SES’s possible re-development and implementation.    

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Gertisser R, Eyjafjallajökull volcano causes widepread disruption to European air trafficGeology Today 26.3 (May-Jun.: 2010), 94-95.

books_icon IATA / EU, A Blueprint for the Single European Sky: Delivering on safety, environment, capacity and cost-effectiveness, 2011.

books_icon Lawless C, Commentary: Bounding the vision of a Single European SkyThe Geographical Journal, 180.1 (Mar., 2014): 76-82.

60-world2 Sacks B, Eyjafjallajökull: Geography’s Harsh ReminderGeography Directions, 18 February 2011.

60-world2 Q&A: EU response to Iceland volcano ashBBC News, 25 May 2011.

60-world2 Iceland volcano ash: German air traffic resumingBBC News, 25 May 2011.

60-world2 Hofmann K, French, German ATCs postpone strikes over Single European SkyAir Transport World, 24 January 2014.

 

A British Arctic Policy for the Twenty-first Century

by Benjamin Sacks

HMS Alert's 1875-76 expedition to the Arctic. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

HMS Alert’s 1875-76 expedition to the Arctic. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Britain retains significant interests in the Arctic Ocean, according to a recently published commentary in The Geographical Journal. To the general reader, this point may be somewhat surprising: physical geography aside, the United Kingdom’s more famous interests in the South Atlantic and Antarctica tend to make headlines. The Cold War, in particular, popularised the Arctic environment as the preserve of Russia, the United States, and Scandinavia. In 2007 and 2010 the House of Lords formally discussed Britain’s supposed lack of a coherent and tangible Arctic policy, proposing that the House of Commons, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the National Oceanographic Centre formulate at least a mission statement outlining British objectives in the region. Britain’s intimate relationship with Canada, and increasingly with Norway, have also been cited as key motivators to both expanding Arctic goals and defining the terms of Arctic activity. Various Parliamentary committees have discussed the possibility of establishing a powerful Arctic scientific research body similar in scope and size to the British Antarctic Survey.

The Arctic has long drawn British explorers, entrepreneurs, strategists, and naval planners. The British Empire brought Canada’s vast Arctic territories into the public imagination, and the Second World War catalysed a strong bilateral British-Norwegian relationship which continues to the present. In the twenty-first century, this exploration- and defence-based relationships have been complemented with an increasing range of corporate and public interests, from environmental activism and scientific inquiry to petroleum and rare earth minerals exploration.

Yet as of present, the British government has yet to publish or promote a formal Arctic policy. Duncan Depledge (Royal Holloway) suggests that this is because London remains concerned ‘about over-committing itself where the UK’s interests are often peripheral in relation to wider global concerns’ (p. 370). But as Depledge contends, Britain’s economic and strategic interests require a strong Arctic presence.

From a defence point-of-view, Britain both retains and will need to increase its Arctic interests. In a 2012 white paper authored for the United Royal Services Institute, Depledge and Klaus Dodds recalled their first-hand experiences observing a series of joint operations between Britain and Norway. Referring to it as the ‘forgotten partnership’, the authors stress Norway’s strong reliance and confidence in its North Sea neighbour to ensure the North Atlantic’s protection in the event of conflict. Physical geography also plays an important role: extreme weather training remains as important as ever for British forces.

Scientific and corporate interests are no less important. Beyond never-ending Parliamentary quibbling over white paper naming and policy terminology (pp. 370-72), London has repeatedly claimed that it wishes to become a leader in environmental protection and rehabilitation. World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and BBC Earth awareness programmes have accomplished significant strides in raising public awareness for ‘saving’ the Arctic from excessive human development. Ultimately, Depledge stresses the need for clarifying British Arctic policies across defence, scientific, environmental, and corporate spheres, as well as recognising Britain’s position as a non-Arctic state. Britain will need to work with Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, and the United States to seek common ground while respecting national interests.

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Duncan Depledge 2013 What’s in a name? A UK Arctic policy framework for 2013, The Geographical Journal 179.4: 369-72.

books_icon Duncan Depledge and Klaus Dodds 2012 Testing the Northern Flank: The UK, Norway and Exercise Cold ResponseThe RUSI Journal 157.4: 72-78.

Shock of the Global: Post-War Britain and Globalisation

A 'make do and mend' poster, c.1942.

A ‘make do and mend’ poster, c.1942.

by Benjamin Sacks

The Second World War permanently altered Britain’s relationship with the rest of the globe. Before 1939 the empire, particularly India and the settler colonies, dominated Britons’ conceptions of international affairs. But nearly six years of global conflict incontrovertibly changed this mindset. Isolated from its dominions by Axis submarines, ‘austerity’ Britain quickly adopted severe rationing and a ‘make do and mend’ approach. Gardening, raising small animals, and comprehensive recycling and reusing of countless household items became part-and-parcel of daily life. The British government and various civil organisations promoted the ‘local’, not the ‘global’ (to borrow sociologists George Ritzer’s and Roland Robinson’s terminology), prioritising national entrepreneurship and ingenuity over importing and exporting of goods.

This radically – and painfully – changed after 1945. India and Pakistan’s independence in 1947 catalyzed the empire’s irreversible (but relatively ordered) disintegration. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as fierce economic competitors, with considerably greater physical resource assets. At home, voters ousted Winston Churchill in favour of Labour Party leader Clement Atlee, who promised to refocus government policies on domestic social welfare. Internationally, Britain was forced to contend with a radically-changing marketplace. By the 1950s, it was increasingly evident that it could no longer solely rely on domestic production and inter-Commonwealth trade to both satisfy consumer demand and maintain the state’s strong international profile.

In ‘Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: the making of geographies of manufacturing’, Thomas Birtchnell (University of Wollongong) skillfully demonstrates how – in short order – the Board of Trade, private businesses, and public organisations sought to re-educate consumers and producers alike of the global marketplace. They widely circulated such advertisements as ‘how can cycles sent to Africa fetch us cotton from U.S.A.?’ (1947) (p. 437). Officials popularised a “container-ship culture” in schools, trade and commercial magazines, and businesses in an effort to ramp up exports and imports of both raw materials and finished goods. Birtchnell recalled how social economist Karl Polanyi’s 1944 study, The Great Transformation, was trumpeted to promote Britain’s long history of international trade alongside other ‘economic propaganda’ campaigns (pp. 437-438).

To accomplish this goal, the Board of Trade and its allies tapped into a culture of consumerism and luxury that had persisted despite the war’s enormous pressures. At partial odds with Guy de la Bédoyère’s 2005 study The Home Front, Birtchnell proposes that Britons were at first exorted to produce and export advanced luxury items (e.g. radios, clothing, automobiles) in exchange for essentials. But this found little favour with British audiences, who had quietly clamoured for higher-end goods during the war, and now demanded their availability in the post-war environment. From 1947 the language changed: the Board of Trade instead promoted the export of British goods in exchange for foreign luxuries – silks, perfumes, electronics, foodstuffs. Such historians as Llewellyn Woodward promoted this programme via their writings; in 1947 he pronounced that ‘An English housewife finds it odd that English china to match a tea-set shattered in the Blitz can be bought in New York but is not on sale in London’ (p. 439). Birtchnell’s study is a fascinating contribution to our knowledge of Britain’s immediate post-war recovery, and hints as well at how Britain’s manufacturing base gradually switched from mass production to luxury, bespoke goods.

books_icon Thomas Birtchnell 2013 Fill the ships and we shall fill the shops: the making of geographies of manufacturingArea 45.4: 436-42.

Also see:

books_icon George Ritzer 2004 The Globalization of Nothing (Thousand Oaks, CA and London: Pine Forge Press).

books_icon Llewellyn Woodward 1947 Middle EnglandForeign Affairs 25.3, 378-87.

 

 

Geography, Politics, and Finance

Capitol-Senateby Benjamin Sacks

As this article is being authored, United States senators are racing against a Thursday, 17 October deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling. If the current debt ceiling of £10.5 trillion (or $16.7 trillion) is not raised within the next twenty-four hours, the United States risks defaulting on its domestic and international loan obligations. The Guardian understandably described the mood of major financial markets as ‘queasy’. An announcement by Fitch, a major credit rating agency, that it would consider downgrading the United States’ current ‘AAA’ credit rating if Washington could not agree to a debt ceiling raise, only added to global concerns. The New York Times reported that although Democrat and Republican senators were collaborating to push through a plan, some hard-line conservatives, known as ‘tea-partiers’, continued to rankle bipartisan efforts.

This recent crisis has awoken many ordinary Americans to the real, global impact of US economic decisions. USA Today cited a Pew Research Center poll suggesting that a slim majority of Americans now favor raising the debt limit before continuing Congressional negotiations. Calls from Western Europe, China and Japan, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been widely publicised in US media outlets.

What is less well understood is the international utilisation of the United States dollar as foreign currency. Currently, a number of Latin American and Caribbean states use the US dollar as their official currency; other countries in the Americas and elsewhere peg their local currency to the US dollar, relying on American monetary decisions to determine their currency valuation and purchasing power. According to the United States Federal Reserve’s own estimates, more than half of all other countries use the US dollar in their official foreign exchange reserves. In sum, decisions taken by the US government concerning American currency, valuation, and debt repayment directly affect the currency situations of dozens of other governments, even before import/export and banking relationships are considered.

National debt defaulting is, unfortunately, an increasingly well-worn path in the global economy. In the most recent issue of The Geographical Journal, Ed Brown, Jonathon Cloke (Loughborough University), Francisco Castañeda (Universidad de Santiago de Chile), and Peter Taylor (Northumbria University) recounted the Latin American financial crisis which plagued Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil throughout much of the 2000s. Their research closely examined the world of the ‘unbanked’ – individuals who either cannot or do not engage in ‘traditional’ banking practices (e.g., withdrawing major loans from banks), but instead develop their businesses via micro-finance initiatives. This process is broadly described as ‘bancarización’. Brown et al. contend that geographers still ignore geo-economic studies outside such major financial centres as London, New York, and Tokyo. They add,

Ironically, the (so far) more positive economic experience of Latin American economies during the current global economic crisis may have important lessons for our longer-term understanding of the geography of global financial markets.

Washington, London, and Brussels may indeed have something to learn from Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Montevideo. In part, this is because Latin American governments have (with varying degrees of success) shouldered the responsibility of providing the impoverished with socioeconomic opportunities. Micro-finance initiatives, localised banking infrastructures, and small business development aid has proven remarkably useful in both facilitating entrepreneurship amongst constituencies historically isolated from mainstream business opportunities, and in promoting new money-making endeavours for the middle classes.


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 ‘US debt ceiling: Senate rushes to draft fiscal plan‘, BBC News, 16 October 2013.

60-world2 ‘US pushed to brink of default as hopes hang on bipartisan Senate deal – live‘, The Guardian, 16 October 2013.

60-world2 ‘Senators Press Deal to End Debt Impasse‘, The New York Times, 16 October 2013.

60-world2 ‘Shutdown, Day 16: Can nation avert default?‘ USA Today, 16 October 2013.

books_icon ‘The Federal Reserve in the International Sphere‘, The Implementation of Monetary Policy (Washington, DC: Federal Reserve Publications, 2013), accessed 16 October 2013.

books_icon Brown B, Castañeda F, Clarke J, and Taylor P 2013, ‘Towards financial geographies of the unbanked: international financial markets, ‘bancarización’ and access to financial services in Latin America‘, The Geographical Journal 179.3, 198-210.

The Local vs Global in Caribbean Sugar

by Benjamin Sacks

Cut sugarcane waiting for transport and processing. © 2013 Wikimedia Commons.

Cut sugarcane waiting for transport and processing. © 2013 Wikimedia Commons.

The Caribbean, with over five hundred years of continual direct Old and New World involvement, remains a unique world region. At present, the Greater and Lesser Antilles comprise a motley collection of European and North American overseas possessions (including four French département d’outre-mer, two American unincorporated territories, and one French, six British, and six Dutch overseas territories), independent democracies, and one of the world’s last remaining Communist states. It is home to some of the world’s poorest nations by GDP per capita (Haiti) and some of its wealthiest (Cayman Islands). Few independent countries, however, enjoy full autonomy; most remain subject to strong European and American influence. Consequently, the Caribbean has often been subject to European Union economic, political, and social policies. Sugar has been at the centre of Europe-Caribbean relations since the late sixteenth century, and continues to play a dynamic role.

Most pre-existing scholarly studies of the lucrative EU-Caribbean sugar relationship have focused on high level negotiations, or generalised trends between islands and regions. Peter Jackson (University of Sheffield), Neil Ward (University of East Anglia), and Polly Russell’s (The British Library) 2009 Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers article sought to bridge the gap between thematic and local conceptions: they carefully examined moral questions and concerns in the international sugar industry, albeit from a Euro-centric perspective, interviewing British farmers and market trade representatives.

But what of the sugar growers themselves? The labourers who harvest sugarcane, process it, and prepare it in an uphill battle to somehow satiate the world’s ever-growing demands? In the most recent issue of Area, Pamela Richardson-Ngwenya (University of KwaZulu-Natal) sought to examine the local impact of EU-Caribbean sugar policy reforms, particularly in recent light of what she described as ‘the on-going entrenchment of neoliberal principles in the EU’s trade regime’. Richardson-Ngwenya followed Clarence Thompson, a Barbados sugar farmer, through his daily routines and his negotiations with other farmers and local agencies concerning prices, wages, and regulation. Thompson and his colleagues remain steadfast supporters of the Caribbean sugar industry, a trade that, according to the World Bank, the West Indies should wind down and ‘move on’ from in favour of considerably larger Brazilian production efforts. Thompson, in recorded video interviews, articulated the centrality of sugarcane beyond its immediate EU-centric impact: ‘Let me tell you something: if we ever stop planting sugar cane in Barbados, the whole island is finished. Because sugar cane is the only crop that keep the island into cultivation. It’s the best crop we have’. The lives and experiences of such farmers as Thompson remind us that industries are often more than the ‘bottom line’ – they represent ways of life, and can resound with deep historical and cultural meanings.

60-world2 2013, Country Comparison: GDP – Per Capita (PPP)The CIA World Factbook 2013, accessed 18 June 2013.

60-world2 2013, The EU’s relations with the CaribbeanEuropean Union External Action, 25 January 2013, accessed 18 June 2013.

books_icon Jackson, P, N Ward, and P Russell, 2009, Moral economies of food and geographies of responsibilityTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series, 34, 12-24.

books_icon Richardson-Ngwenya, P, 2013, Situated knowledge and the EU sugar reform: a Caribbean life historyArea45, 188-97.

On the history of sugar, see Sidney W Mintz’s extensive scholarship:

books_icon 1960, Worker in the Cane: A Puerto Rican Life History, New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press.

books_icon 1985, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York: Viking.

Content Alert: Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Volume 37, Issue 4 (October 2012) is Available Online Now

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Volume 37, Issue 4 Pages 477– 657, October 2012

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Content Alert: Geography Compass, Volume 6, Issue 8 (August 2012) is Available Online Now

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RGS-IBG New Content Alert: Early View Articles (22nd June 2012)

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Commentary

Static imaginations and the possibilities of radical change: reflecting on the Arab Spring
Federico Caprotti and Eleanor Xin Gao
Article first published online: 19 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01110.x

Original Articles

Wootton Bassett and the political spaces of remembrance and mourning
K Neil Jenkings, Nick Megoran, Rachel Woodward and Daniel Bos
Article first published online: 15 JUN 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01106.x

Content Alert: Geography Compass, Volume 6, Issue 6 (June 2012) is Available Online Now

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