Tag Archives: Global Issues

Spatial and Local Factors in Understanding Financial Crises

By Benjamin Sacks

Picturesque Pforzheim, Germany belies local and regional financial woes. (c) 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Picturesque Pforzheim, Germany belies local and regional financial woes. (Image credit: Parlacre (CC 0)

Geography, economics, and finance are intimately linked disciplines, a relationship that is sometimes misunderstood or ignored entirely by contemporary media. Port access, weather, spatial and network relations between various tiers of government, private sector businesses, and third-party (e.g. academic) institutions, even the positioning of financial headquarters – as recent threats from Standard Life and Lloyds to relocate from Edinburgh to London in the event of Scottish independence demonstrate – can all drastically affect financial markets, long-term monetary stability, and the ability of particular precincts or sectors to recover from such recessions as the 2008-2010 global financial crisis.

In the most recent suite of articles in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Reijer P Hendrikse (University of Amsterdam) and James D Sidaway (National University of Singapore) undertook a focused study of Pforzheim, a German city of some 120,000 people in Baden-Württemberg, near the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. In ‘Financial wizardry and the Golden City’, Hendrikse and Sidaway critiqued the media’s focus on national-level bailouts, arguing that provincial- and city-level bailouts and financial negotiations were just as, if not more important to comprehending both the scale of the 2008-2010 crisis as well as possible solutions. Further, they recalled and adopted David Harvey’s 2011 argument criticising French and German media pundits and financial analysts alike who saw ‘the crisis in cultural or even nationalist terms'; as somehow a ‘distinctive Anglo-Saxon disease’ based in London and New York City.

The authors chose to examine Germany, in part, because of that country’s apparent economic stability in the face of difficult industrial and economic issues in neighbouring Eurozone states. Berlin famously directed the bailout of several EU member states: Greece, Portugal, and Spain. But a closer examination revealed a significantly more complex and debt-ridden landscape. Various German cities were ‘like Greek islands within Germany’, Die Tageszeitung reported, ‘having slowly but surely drowned in their debts over recent years’ (p. 195). Pforzheim, following a trend blazoned by other cities in the Rhine heartland, bought a large series of Deutsche Bank interest-rate swaps. This speculative maneuvre, popular in the world of hedge funds and day-trading currency exchanges, permits institutions (e.g. a city) to obtain a more cost-efficient fixed-rate interest arrangement enjoyed by another corporation. Ideally, both parties benefit from reduced interest-rate-associated costs. However, the risks are highly variable, and dependent on the financial stability of both parties. As A R Sorkin described, and Hendrikse and Sidaway reiterated, German cities were ‘gambling that [their] costs would be would be lower and taking on the risk that they could be many times higher’ (p. 196).

Theoretically, Pforzheim should have been a model city. After enduring a horrific bombing campaign near the end of the Second World War, Pforzheim’s economic base recovered, thanks to longstanding jewelry and watchmaking industries in the city. But Pforzheim’s geographical location limited its growth. The city shares Baden-Württemberg with Stuttgart, Heidelberg, and Mannheim, each major cities with significant economic and political clout. These cities traditionally attracted major corporations away from such smaller, more specialised urban centres as Pforzheim. Although the financial stresses of the late-2000s put pressure on all German cities, smaller, less economically vibrant communities suffered significantly worse. A Pforzheim administrator summarised the city’s awkward geostrategic situation: ‘We are a jewelry- and watchmaking city that has brought a relatively mono-structured economy’, more sensitive to economic shifts than larger, more diverse cities as Frankfurt-am-Main and Cologne (pp. 198-99). In a dangerous game of financial roulette, Pforzheim and other small German cities engaged in increasingly complicated and risky collaborations with German and EU financial institutions – unaware of these banks’ own instabilities. Pforzheim’s recession, the authors concluded, was demonstrative of how integrated German and continental European financial markets are to Anglo-Saxon banking paradigms, even as they continue to assert a supposedly distinct, fiscally conservative methodology and culture.

60-world2Robert Peston, ‘EU Law may force RBS and Lloyds to become English‘, BBC News, 5 March 2014.

60-world2Robert Peston, ‘Is Standard Life alone?‘, BBC News, 27 February 2014.

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Reijer P Hendrikse and James D Sidaway, ‘Financial wizardry and the Golden City: tracking the financial crisis through Pforzheim, Germany‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (2014): 195-208.

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David Harvey, ‘Roepke lecture in economic geography – crises, geographical disruptions and the uneven development of political responses’, Economic Geography 87 (2011): 1-22.

books_iconA R Sorkin, ‘Towns in Europe learn about swaps the hard way’, The New York Times 16 April 2010.

Time to rethink the e-waste problem

By Josh Lepawsky

My eye is caught by a recent news headline that proclaims “U.S. Isn’t Flooding the Third World with E-waste“. In the article, journalist Adam Minter – who in January spoke at the RGS-IBG Monday Night Lecture series – reports that the export of e-waste from the US is a trickle, rather than the flood it is often portrayed to be in a variety of NGO reports, news media, and academic publications. Tracing global flows of e-waste is a challenging task, one I take up most recently in The Geographical Journal.

After an analysis of 16 years of trade data for 206 territories and more than 9400 trade transactions, I’ve found that, indeed, it is necessary to rethink common representations of e-waste flows. Instead of a flood of e-waste flowing from so-called ‘developed’ countries to ‘developing’ countries, between 73-82 percent of total flows are traded between countries designated as ‘Annex VII’ signatories (the EU, OECD, and Lichtenstein) to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal – a key international agreement regulating the trade of hazardous wastes, including e-waste. More importantly, I’ve found that flows from ‘developing’ to ‘developed’ countries – the opposite of the usual e-waste storyline – grew substantially over the 16 years of available data. Indeed, flows of e-waste from non-Annex VII territories (or ‘developing’ countries’) to Annex VII territories (‘developed’ countries) climbed from just of 6.5 million kilograms in 1996 to over 140 million kilograms in 2012.

These findings offer crucial conceptual and policy insights into the issue of e-waste. Conceptually, the intense focus on e-waste dumping means that efforts at amelioration remain fixated on end-of-pipe solutions. As a consequence, insufficient effort is directed by those concerned about e-waste toward changing how the extraction of raw materials for them, their design, manufacturing, or their durability is done. Policies premised on halting the flow of e-waste from the global ‘North’ to the global ‘South’ via industrial recycling mean that a variety of environmental and economic benefits of repairing, reusing, and refurbishing digital equipment are destroyed. Moreover, trade bans like those envisioned under the Basel Convention, are increasingly irrelevant to present and likely future e-waste trade patterns – such trade is occurring almost entirely in directions that are either permissible under extant rules or in patterns not even imagined by those rules to be worthy of regulation. It is time to rethink the e-waste problem.

About the Author: Josh Lepawsky is a Professor in cultural, economic & political geography at the Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

open-access-icon Lepawsky, J. (2014), The changing geography of global trade in electronic discards: time to rethink the e-waste problem. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12077

60-world2 Minter, A., U.S. Isn’t Flooding the Third World With E-WasteBloomberg View, 26 May 2013.

Movie Icon Minter, A., Our junkyard planet: travels in the secret trash tradeRGS-IBG Monday Night Lecture Series, 20 January 2014. [Members and Fellows of the Society can re-watch this lecture online].

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.

 

Rapid land-use changes are creating the geology of the Anthropocene

By Eli Lazarus

Deforestation, palm oil plantations, and erosion in Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia.

Deforestation, palm oil plantations, and erosion in Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

From a historical perspective, land grabbing – deals involving acquisitions of large-scale land assets – is not a new global phenomenon. But it is a resurgent one. Investigative journalists and non-governmental organisations have been reporting on land grabs with particular attention since 2008, when a market-driven spike in food prices triggered a widespread geopolitical crisis over food security. The crisis is ongoing, further complicated by conflicting interests in land for water access, biofuel production, timber, mineral wealth, industrial expansion, environmental conservation, and the protection of local and indigenous peoples’ rights. Academic researchers have begun to examine the social, political, and institutional dynamics of land grabbing, but such expansive land-use transitions can also have profound, lasting effects on physical landscapes. In my article, published in Area, I consider land grabbing as a peculiar force of change in human–environmental systems.

Through agriculture, construction, resource extraction, and other activities, humans move around a lot of dirt. In terms of mass, we displace more of the planet’s surface on an annual basis than any natural agent of geomorphic change, including rivers, glaciers, wind, hillslopes, and waves. Sediment cores from Central America reveal erosion signals coincident with land clearing by Pre-Columbian empires. Lakes across the western US retain the sedimentary record of the catastrophic 1930s Dust Bowl, which followed the introduction of industrial agriculture to the Great Plains. Environmental historians suggest that humans have caused thus far three global-scale pulses of soil erosion in our time on Earth, and the volume of soil and rock we have moved since early millennia BCE has increased nonlinearly as a function of population and technology.

What makes land-use transitions driven by land grabbing so remarkable is their scale: no natural process of environmental change (aside from a cataclysmic event) operates as rapidly over such vast areas and in so many settings. Global landscape changes driven by human activities are the precursors to what will become the geology of the Anthropocene, an epoch characterised by the legacies, material and indirect, of our built environment. Could this new era of land grabbing ultimately register in sedimentary records around the world? Much as past climates have left their own geologic signatures, humans are already leaving our own in the volume of sediment we move – and in the astounding rates at which we move it.

About the author: Dr Eli Lazarus is a Lecturer at School of Ocean Earth Sciences at Cardiff University.

open-access-icon Lazarus E D 2014 Land grabbing as a driver of environmental changeArea, 46: 74–82. doi: 10.1111/area.12072

60-world2 Image of the Day: Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia NASA Earth Observatory, 7 July 2012

60-world2 Lakhani N, World Bank’s ethics under scrutiny after Honduras loan investigation The Guardian, 13 January 2014

60-world2 MacFarquhar N, African farmers displaced as investors move in The New York Times, 21 December 2010

60-world2 Vidal J, How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab The Guardian, 7 March 2010

60-world2 Vidal J, Major palm oil companies accused of breaking ethical promises The Guardian, 6 November 2013

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.

On universities as border sites

by Matt Jenkins

The UKBA enforcing the border in a non-educational workplace (UK Home Office, used under a Creative Commons share-alike agreement; from http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5413187108/)

The UKBA enforcing the border in a non-educational workplace
Source: UK Home Office, used under a Creative Commons share-alike agreement, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/49956354@N04/5413187108/

In August 2012, the UK Border Agency (UKBA) revoked London Metropolitan University’s status as a visa sponsor under Tier 4 of the points-based system of immigration. As a result, over a thousand students found themselves with 60 days to find a new university at which to study or face deportation. The university was faced with the possibility of losing a key source of income and possibly shutting down as a result. Universities across the country took note: the UKBA have the power to seriously impair the ability of universities to carry on operating and their instructions must be followed.

This incident may seem like a little local administrative difficulty, but it illustrates a new role for educational institutions in the UK. We have become border sites, places where individuals are sorted into those permitted to be in the country and those who are not on behalf of the UKBA. This sorting is largely done by teaching staff, who are not paid for it and are often unaware that they are doing it. It forces students to study in approved ways, decided for them not by themselves or their institution but by the state border agency. It forces institutions to maintain systems of surveillance, removing from them their ability to decide what constitutes appropriate student behaviour. The implications of this new role, for students, for staff and for the structure and the ethos of educational establishments, are far-reaching and under-examined. Geographers, with our body of literature on borders and their effects, are well placed to undertake such an examination.

About the author: Matt Jenkins is an ESRC-funded doctoral candidate at the Centre for Urban and Regional Development Studies, and is a Postgraduate Fellow of the RGS-IBG. His commentary, ‘On the effects and implications of UK Border Agency involvement in higher education‘ is published in The Geographical Journal.

books_iconJenkins M 2014 On the effects and implications of UK Border Agency involvement in higher education The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12066 [open access]

60-world2BBC News 2013 London Met: How many non-EU students had to leave? 2 December

60-world2Grove J 2012 Home Office ‘to strip’ London Met of highly trusted status Times Higher Education 23 August

60-world2Collini S 2013 Sold Out London Review of Books 35 2 3-12

Climate Change Adapatation: Greening Urban Environments

by Fiona Ferbrache

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Examples of green infrastructure from an exhibition entitled ‘La Ville Fertile’ (Gaillac, 2012)

What happened to your Christmas tree at the end of December?  Did you recycle wrapping paper and Christmas cards?  Perhaps you experienced some flooding from the severe weather during the festive season?  This post explores environmental and climate change adaptation strategies – namely green infrastructure – but first a light-hearted piece of research with a festive theme.

In December, academics from Leeds University calculated Santa’s carbon footprint if he successfully delivered stockings to 7.7 million UK homes.  Travelling roughly 1.5 million km, Santa’s carbon footprint would be equivalent to 9 tonnes per stocking (UK annual CO2 emissions are roughly 7 tonnes per person).  Exploring less costly ways of delivering Christmas gifts, the scientists calculated that stockings arriving from China by container ship, and then to one’s home by van, would result in lower CO2 emissions at 800 grams per stocking.Xmas sack0001

We are asked to take environmental and climate change seriously, not least because without adequate adaptation, lives and landscapes may be put at risk.  This point is made by Jones and Somper in an Early View article exploring how climate change adaptations in London are being integrated into the landscape.  Their focus is on green infrastructure: “natural or semi-natural networks of green (soil-covered or vegetated) and blue (water-covered) spaces and corridors that maintain and enhance ecosystem services” (p.1), and how such spaces can be encouraged and used more effectively (e.g. the Green Roofs Scheme).  Jones and Somper present some examples of existing measures towards green infrastructure in the capital, and also make three key recommendations for policymakers, highlighting, among them, the need for stronger planning initiatives to turn ideals into standard practice.

Next time you visit London, you might observe what measures have been taken towards furthering green infrastructure, and consider whether such strategies might be successful in your own hometown.

60-world2  Greening Roofs and Walls in LondonGreater London Authority

books_icon  Jones, S. & Somper, C. 2013 The role of green infrastructure in climate change adaptation in London. The Geographical Journal. DOI: 10.1111/geoj.12059

60-world2  Santa’s EmissionsUnited Bank of Carbon

60-world2  “Are We Whistling in the Wind?”, Turner, B. 2012 Geography Directions 19 October