The end of the world as we know It?

Could unsustainable resource exploitation combined with unequal wealth distribution be the end of modern society?  A new NASA Goddard Space Flight Center study suggests the possibility, using simulations of civilizational survivability.  Could this be how “our” world ends–with a bang instead of a wimper?

The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business – and consumers – to recognise that ‘business as usual’ cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.

Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies – by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance – have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a ‘perfect storm’ within about fifteen years. But these ‘business as usual’ forecasts could be very conservative.

via Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’? | Nafeez Ahmed |

For more, Jared Diamond has written a book on the subject, chock full of examples of historical indicators that reveal how past civilizations have ended.  Key factors include human impact on the environment, climate change,  changing alliances, and dysfunctional political and cultural practices.

Voting Blocks and the Academic Career

Understanding voting dynamics can play a key role in an academic career. After all, the decision to hire you and grant that all-powerful tenure status is made by a group of faculty consisting of various blocs and interest groups.  David D. Perlmutter, dean of the college of media and communications at Texas Tech breaks down the key groups: by-the-bookers, collegians, in-my-dayers, politicals/hobby horsers:

In this series about the players who can affect your career, I focused first on the chair and then on the head of the department’s promotion-and-tenure committee. Now I’d like to turn to the role played by tenured faculty members. How they vote is rarely idiosyncratic or random. There tend to be constituencies of like feeling and opinion. Understanding those constituencies early in your career and identifying which faculty members fall into which category will give you some sense of who will decide your fate, why, and what you might do to win them over

via Know the Vital Players in Your Career: The Tenured Factions – Advice – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

French Muscle, American Cheese –

All smiles: US Sec State Kerry, EU fp chief Catherine Ashton, and Iranian FM Zarif

Isn’t France “America’s favorite–and sometimes only–shooting buddy” as Yochi Dreasen observed last August?  Then why the diplomatic friction of late? (And even French Travel Advisories are causing a problem.) Details on why the French objected to several loopholes within the US-led negotiations with Iran in Geneva are highlighted here:

Their concerns focused on three areas: The heavy-water plant at Arak that the Iranians are building, where the outline agreement seemed to allow continued construction; language that appeared to concede prematurely an Iranian “right to enrich” or something close to it; and what measures exactly Iran would take to dispose of its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium. Much of the Geneva meeting focused on the French determination to close these loopholes — only for the changes to prove unacceptable to Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, and his team.

Keep in mind the larger context–that just a few years ago the tables were turned:

French-American relations, often a study in how close love can be to hatred, have taken an interesting turn of late. The cheese-eating surrender monkeys of France, in the phrase from “The Simpsons,” have become the world’s meat-chomping enforcement tigers. As for the United States, it has, in the French view, gone a touch camembert-soft.

via French Muscle, American Cheese –

And as Phillip Carter notes, the US tends to foot the bill for French and NATO lack of investment in global force projection–as seen most recently in the French peradventures in Mali.

Ending a Feud Between Allies –

The stakes are high for an alliance in Asia among a trio that needs to pull together, according to two Asia watchers.

Should these tensions continue, and deepen, they could undermine President Obama’s “pivot” to Asia. Without defense cooperation between South Korea and Japan, the United States cannot respond effectively to North Korea’s nuclear and missile provocations.

While the trilateral alliance does not seek to contain China, the absence of cooperation among the three like-minded allies on everything from cybersecurity to missile defense inhibits America’s capacity to shape China’s rise in constructive ways.

And the United States cannot work as effectively on a host of global issues, including climate change, international development, nuclear security and free trade without the cooperation of these two major economies.

via Ending a Feud Between Allies –

Country Focus: Moldova Caught Between East and West

Recently Russia’s deputy prime minister had these ominous words for a country considering increasing ties to Europe:

“Moldova’s train en route to Europe would lose its wagons in Transnistria,” Rogozin said during a press conference in the capital, Chişinău. Then he reminded his audience about how Moldova is completely dependent on Russia for its energy. “Energy is important,” Rogozin said. “The cold season is near. Winter is on its way. We hope that you will not freeze this winter.”

Ambassador Munteanu will speak at the Kennedy Center on 10/19 on this and other challenges facing his country–issues that are also relevant for Belarus, Georgia, and Ukraine–and will shape the future of the region.

Numerous concerns exist, and the Ambassador commented in an interview about his greatest long-term issue:

 I am personally worried about the growing insecurities of the modern world, including terrorism, large income inequalities around the world, and other societal dangers. I am equally concerned by the chronic inability of some international organizations to respond adequately to emerging threats posted by non-state actors. An example of this would be the case of the separatist regime in Transnistria, which is heavily sponsored by Russia, who pays the bills of its illegal administration. They have generously equipped Transnistria’s military with serious war craft, used to blackmail constitutional authorities of Moldova and influence its foreign policy trajectory. I share the ideal of a war-free world, where small states like Moldova can work together to achieve mutual peace, long-term economic prosperity, and moral ends. I believe Moldova can achieve this cooperation with a stronger and more explicit framework of engagement with Western organizations and states, where our national heritage can be freely expressed and protected.

via Rahim Kanani: An Interview With Igor Munteanu, Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the USA and Canada.

Another candidate for the EU AA agreement, Ukraine, has a difficult path forward, as well. The NYT reports that “Under the agreement, Yulia V. Tymoshenko would be pardoned by her rival, President Viktor F. Yanukovich, in exchange for a commitment from her to leave the country.”

Booklist | Mike Leavitt on Finding Allies, Building Alliances

A new book by Utah’s successful former governor and would-be Presidential transition head for Mitt Romney offers advice that politcos and diplos alike would be wise do consider.  How to get things done?  Its all about diplomacy and leadership:

In Finding Allies, Building Alliances, Mike Leavitt and Rich McKeown use their personal public and private sector experiences to help readers understand that challenges extend far beyond them and their organizations. Finding solutions to larger issues requires cooperation between diverse stakeholders, and in this rapidly changing world, only those able to adapt and network successfully will produce fast, competitive solutions. The 8 elements required for a collaborative network to succeed detailed in the book are:

1. A Common Pain—a shared problem that motivates different people/groups to work together in ways that could otherwise seem counterintuitive.

2. A Convener of Stature—a respected and influential presence who can bring people to the table and, when necessary, keep them there.

3. Representatives of Substance—collaborative participants must bring the right mix of experience and expertise for legitimacy and have the authority to make decisions.

4. Committed Leaders—individuals who possess the skill, creativity, dedication and tenacity to move an alliance forward even when it hits the inevitable rough patches.

5. A Clearly Defined Purpose—a driving idea that keeps people on task rather than being sidetracked by complexity, ambiguity and other distractions

6. A Formal Charter—established rules that help resolve differences and avoid stalemates.

7. The Northbound Train—an intuitive confidence that an alliance will get to its destination, achieve something of unique value, and that those who aren’t on board will be disadvantaged.

8. A Common Information Base—keeps everyone in the loop and avoids divisive secrets and opaqueness.

via Finding Allies, Building Alliances by Mike Leavitt and Rich McKeown Addresses Much-Needed Collaboration.

After the Election, Fear Is Our Only Chance at Unity –

A superb illustration of the theory of collective security–in which an attack on one is an attack on all.  From an individual and group level, it helps to have a common objective, even an enemy.  In this case, Jonathan Haidt calls them “asteroids”:

A basic principle of moral psychology is that “morality binds and blinds.” In many pre-agricultural societies, groups achieved trust and unity by circling around sacred objects. In modern societies, much larger groups bind themselves together by treating certain books, flags, leaders or ideals as sacred and by symbolically circling around them. But if your team circles too fast, you lose the ability to see clearly or think for yourself. You go blind to evidence that contradicts your group’s moral consensus, and you become enraged at teammates who suggest that the other side is not entirely bad (as New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, is now finding out).

Unlike a foreign attack, a problem that threatens only one side’s sacred values can therefore divide us, rather than unite us. It’s as though a giant asteroid is headed for the Earth. One side sees it coming and screams, but the louder it screams, the more stubbornly the other side covers its ears and averts its eyes.

via After the Election, Fear Is Our Only Chance at Unity –