“We need to talk about this” – updated version

I am wrapping up the much improved version of “We need to talk about this“. There is now a chapter on euthanasia, for instance, with a discussion of the Groningen Protocol.

I didn’t write this book to convince you that my views are the right ones, even though I hope you will agree with many of them. I wrote this book to encourage as many people as possible to develop their own opinions in these areas, to go beyond impassioned exclamations like “this is so wrong” or “this is very good” and to make their opinions known to their governments and  academics, and to discuss these issues with their friends, relatives and colleagues. Continue reading

Tackling climate change could bring North and South Korea closer and help stabilise the region

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North Korea is no doubt watching closely as the region moves forward on energy cooperation.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Hun Park, Yonsei University

The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 requires every country to make pledges to tackle climate change. North Korea is no exception.

Given that air pollution doesn’t recognise borders, there are already several emissions-reduction projects underway that will require cooperation between Asian nations.

To meet its obligations, South Korea has pledged to buy emissions credits on the international market, offsetting 11.3% of its business-as-usual emissions in 2030. That is 96.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions – already more than North Korea’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 (78 million tonnes).

Because North Korea has its own obligations now, foreign countries including South Korea can no longer earn carbon credits from their carbon-offsetting projects in the country.

But if South Korea provides technical assistance such as satellite monitoring of North Korea’s reforestation progression and then can obtain the country’s “informed consent”, a mutual effort to generate carbon credits could be discussed.

Air pollution

Addressing transboundary air pollution is the latest development in regional cooperation. North Korea has been an inaugural member (since 1993) of the North-East Asian Subregional Programme for Environmental Cooperation (NEASPEC), one goal of which is to mitigate transboundary air pollution.

A recent study by the Seoul Metropolitan Government (written in Korean) revealed that 38% of pollution particles in the city’s ambient air come from China, and another 7% from North Korea.

A Japanese air-transport model estimated that more than 45% of ambient PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) concentration in Nonodake (350km north of Tokyo) is from China. Although reducing this pollution in a coordinated way will be a difficult task, real-time data exchange (as proposed by NEASPEC) might be relatively easier.

If the Northeast Asian countries share real-time emissions data as well as the currently available meteorological data, they could generate more reliable pollution forecasts and help people prepare for high-pollution events. The harder task of particle pollution mitigation will be better addressed when the level of negotiating partners is upgraded from the current ministerial level to head of state level.

Developing neighbour-friendly energies

If Northeast Asia is to have a sustainable energy future, more regional cooperation will be required.

The trilateral Russia-China-Korea natural gas pipeline is bringing Russian natural gas to South Korea. Natural gas is not a sustainable energy source, but it can be a “bridging fuel” to help countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal until their renewable energy technology and systems evolve. Then, a natural gas pipeline is an attractive option for South Korea, the world’s second-biggest LNG importer after Japan.

Currently, South Korea’s natural gas imports consist entirely of more expensive LNG. In the early 2000s, the Trans-Korean natural gas pipeline proposal was planned to supply Russian natural gas to South Korea using a shortcut pipeline passing through North Korea.

Reportedly, South Korean President Moon has shown interest in the project too. However, the project is not possible until the nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula is resolved.

Instead, there is an alternative for South Korea to seek a regional détente with a natural gas pipeline. Russia’s “Power of Siberia” pipeline is planned to connect into the capital region of China. If this happens, extending the supply chain to South Korea via an undersea pipeline between China’s Shandong peninsula and Korea’s Incheon will be simpler. The pipeline would enhance the three countries’ economic ties and political cooperation.

Asia clean grid connections

The other energy option, the Asia international grid connection, is a project promoted by South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia. The basic idea is that vast solar and wind energy potential of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert can be utilised by South Korea and Japan. A super grid would connect the countries in Northeast Asia.

This option’s most prominent supporter is Masayoshi Son, chief executive of SoftBank, Japan’s third-largest public company. Several research institutions and the Korea Electric Power Corporation, South Korea’s only operator of the national grid, have been studying its feasibility.

The Asian Development Bank is conducting a technical feasibility assessment, at Mongolia’s request. In April, the Renewable Energy Institute, an organisation founded by Mr Son in Tokyo, found the project will benefit all participating countries, citing many successfully operating international grid connections. But it lacks China’s active participation.

If further research can find evidence that the project will significantly improve China’s air quality by reducing coal consumption, national governments of the region might help make it happen.

The ConversationOf course, true green détente in Northeast Asia cannot happen without North Korea’s support and participation. However, if any of the reviewed four options become reality, it will give North Korea a strong incentive to cooperate.

Hun Park, Research Professor, Sustainability, Yonsei University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why Brexit is a good thing

It is exposing flaws. It is shining a very bright light on all areas in which there has been room for a lot of improvement for a long time.

 

That improvement is only possible through major changes, and the halting of Brexit.

There is nothing new about the “mess” that Brexit has turned into. This situation, of British politicians making an ass of themselves, of the UK government thinking in “us” and “them” terms, and being unable to conduct negotiations at the international level has been in existence for many years. David Cameron was no better at it than Theresa May.

  • Want to recite another poem, Mr Johnson, and talk about a few more dead bodies that need to be moved out of the way?
  • The EU is the “enemy”, Mr Hammond? Really?

The Brexit mess shows very clearly that most British politicians lie all the time, that they are not striving to unite, but to divide and how they use humans to get what they want.

Most British voters believe the lies their politicians tell them. Because why else would they deliberately have voted for the destruction of their own future?  (Okay, some did that because they thought they would have no influence on what would happen next as the referendum was a non-binding one.)

The poorer and more powerless the masses are, the more power governments have.

In other countries too, many people are appalled about how the British government is currently using the three million Europeans – and other foreigners – in Britain as bargaining chip. But Britain doesn’t treat its own citizens any different.

The root cause of all the misery in the UK is a whopping degree of inequality, coupled to the fact that upward mobility is very limited here.

Class thinking lies at the base of all of this. The idea that there are “lesser” and “higher” humans – and the idea that your degree of humanity is measured as “net worth”.

How do we turn this class nonsense upside down?

Probably through a mass movement that consistently ridicules and devalues it.

By the way, where does Theresa May get her ill-fitting jackets from? This one seems to be missing one or more buttons. Did she dig it out of a tip somewhere?

Oh wait, the British have already been doing that for many years too…

Okay, I may have a better idea.

If you believe people are worthless, you make them worthless. If you believe someone cannot be trusted, you make that person untrustworthy. If you believe some people are powerful, you make them powerful.

Start every day with one thought. “Today, I am going to do at least one thing that will make someone else happy.” Regardless of who or what he or she is.

You won’t know what that one thing is until it happens.

 

PS

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PPS
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, a prime minister grabs his bicycle and rides it to the King’s palace to discuss the country’s new government.

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PPPS

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PPPPS

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Underpaid, overworked and drowning in debt: you wonder why young people are voting again?

Paul Whiteley, University of Essex

The 2017 general election was highly unusual as far as the youth vote was concerned. The Labour party won 65% – the lion’s share – of the youth vote. The nearest comparisons are with 1964 and 1997. In both those years, Labour took 53% of the youth vote. In the 2015 election, just two years earlier, the party had won just 38% of the youth vote.

How the under-30s vote

Tracking the youth vote between 1964 and 2017.
Paul Whiteley, Author provided

The contrast between the youth vote in the 2010 and 2017 shows how radically youth voting patterns have changed. During this period, their turnout rose by 19%. This change in youth participation, combined with a massive swing to Labour, has unsurprisingly led some to talk of a “youthquake”.

What could have brought this about? Political and cultural drivers are clearly at work. That includes youth support for remaining in the EU and their preference for Jeremy Corbyn over Theresa May. Only a quarter of 18-to-25s voted to leave in the EU referendum compared with two-thirds of those over 65.

But economic drivers also played a crucial role. Young people, put simply, have lost out both in the economy and government policy making. Since 2010 the British government has been preoccupied with shoring up its political support among middle aged and retired voters. It has largely ignored the concerns of the young, very often dismissing them because, in the past, most young people did not vote. That all changed in 2017.

Paying for education

One obvious driver of youth voting is the rapid increase in student debt imposed by a government which sought to privatise higher education during the austerity years. Tuition fees were originally introduced in 1998 and had reached £3,000 per year by 2006-7. At the time, it was widely accepted that the considerable graduate premium which existed in lifetime earnings justified a contribution to the costs of higher education by the beneficiaries.

But things radically changed in 2010 when the coalition government introduced a fees cap of £9,000. Ironically, this increased privatisation of the costs of higher education was accompanied by ever-increasing regulation, so that the less the state supports higher education the more it wants to control it. This trend culminated in a 2016 proposal to scrap maintenance grants and raise fees to £9,250 while at the same time charging interest rates of 6.1% on student loans at a time when the Bank of England base rate was 0.25%.

Such a reckless disregard for the interests of more than 40% of the under-25s is quite hard to understand, particularly in light of the fate of the Liberal Democrats following their u-turn on tuition fees after they joined the coalition in 2010.

The bias against youth was not confined to university students. In April 2016, the minimum wage was raised to £7.50 an hour, but this change only applied to employed workers over the age of 25. The minimum wage for apprentices under the age of 19 was a meagre £3.50 and hour and this did not change. Young people were essentially ignored.

Another aspect of the same issue relates to the self-employed, none of whom receive the minimum wage. Historically, self-employed workers have been older than the workforce average age – but, in recent years, self-employment has grown faster among the under 25s than any other group with the exception of 40-year-olds. Between 2008 and 2015 the number of self-employed people in the UK increased from 3.8 million to 4.6 million people with part-time self-employment, often synonymous with under-employment, increasing by 88%. Thus young people have lost out on the increases in minimum wages, with many of them being underemployed and working part-time for wages that are well below average.

Are you even listening?

It was, therefore, no surprise that when the pollsters YouGov recently asked citizens to rank their priorities for the country, 46% of 18-24 year olds selected increasing the minimum wage to approximately £9 per hour. That compared to a national figure of 28% (and 19% among pensioners).

In our panel survey of the electorate conducted immediately before the 2017 general election, we asked respondents if they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “The government treats people like yourself fairly”. We found that 18% of the under-25s agreed with this statement compared with 28% of the over-65s. In contrast, 49% of the under-25s disagreed with it compared with 32% of the over-65s. Youth have not only been left behind but many of them are aware of this fact and have a sense of grievance arising from it. The stark difference in the responses of youth and pensioners to this statement is related to the differences in the government’s treatment of them.

The so called “triple lock” on pensions was introduced by the coalition government in 2010. It was a guarantee to increase the state pension every year by the rate of inflation, average earnings or by a minimum of 2.5% whichever was the highest. By 2016 it produced a situation in which retired people had average incomes £2,500 higher than in 2007/8, while those who were not retired earned an average of £300 less over this period. The latter reflects the fact that real wages have been flat-lining for more than a decade.

Given all this it is no surprise that the 2017 election was a case of youth striking back.

The ConversationThis article is based on research by Paul Whiteley, Harold Clarke, Matthew Goodwin and Marianne Stewart. Paul Whiteley is speaking at Youthquake 2017! Can young voters transform the UK’s political landscape? a joint event between The Conversation and The British Academy on October 9, 2017.

Paul Whiteley, Professor, Department of Government, University of Essex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.