The Novel Coronavirus

As of late, I can safely say that January has not been the best start of the new year (2020). So far, we have faced several challenges, one of them being the Australian fires and the other being the World War 3 scare after the assassination of Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani. However, we now face a bigger problem: the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

The Novel Coronavirus is a part of the coronavirus family, which has never been encountered before. A Coronavirus is one of the various viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. The virus, in humans, causes respiratory infections, like the common cold, which are typically mild. However, rarer forms such as SARS, MERS and Novel Coronavirus can be lethal. The symptoms vary in other species. For example in chickens, they cause an upper respiratory disease, while in cows and pigs coronaviruses cause diarrhea. Unfortunately, there are no vaccines or antiviral drugs to prevent or treat human coronavirus infections.

There are numerous symptoms as well as the virus causes pneumonia. People who have fallen ill suffer from coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, there can be organ failure.  Antibiotics are of no use as this is viral pneumonia. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.

As of February 13 2020, here are now just under 60,000 confirmed cases and 1,380 deaths in mainland China. There are cases in 28 other countries outside China, with deaths recorded in one case in Hong Kong, and one case in the Philippines. The number of people to have contracted the virus overall could be far higher, as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected.

Singapore currently has been affected incredibly as citizens fear another outbreak similar to that of the 2002 SARS. The country is very vulnerable to the coronavirus spread as many international cases of the coronavirus from the UK to South Korea can be traced back to Singapore and some countries are now advising against travel to the international hub. As the virus came to Singapore, it automatically affects other countries as well because Singapore is a major international flight hub.

So far, over 30,000 illnesses and 635 deaths have been reported in mainland China which has caused global anxiety. Although the country is doing its best to contain the spread of the virus, there are countless repercussions throughout the country. There has been an increasing rise in racist abuse because of the outbreak. In Singapore, especially in school communities, there have been some xenophobic harassment and racist comments about the far east Asians in schools. Several people have begun to stay away from Asian students and tease them about wearing masks or telling them that they should be quarantined in LOA.

Although, understandably, these comments are purely out of fear of the virus. However, it doesn’t make it just to throw snarky comments around in the air. It is not easy for the people on the receiving end of these comments. Currently, in countries worldwide, countless Chinese restaurants have been losing customers due to the stereotype that the Chinese are unclean and uncivilised. Old racist tropes are fueling fears and societal barriers will only worsen over time.



My thoughts on “When you are engulfed in flames”

The book ‘When you are engulfed in flames’ by David Sedaris is a collection of essays which are semi-autobiographical in nature. As the blurb mentions, Sedaris uncovers the absurdity just below the surface of everyday life. However, what piqued my interest was the cover of the book which is ‘Skeleton’ by Vincent Van Gogh. The art piece portrays a skull smoking a cigarette. I had seen the painting in the Netherlands and the first thought that came to me was the contradictory theme of killing oneself despite being dead already. The painting radiates sarcasm and this threw me off as his other paintings such as ‘Sunflowers’ are more earnest. 


 In the book, Sedaris’ essays revolve around the painting ‘Skeleton’. What struck me is how the essays are actually different interpretations of the painting as reflected in his own life. Interestingly, Van Gogh was a heavy smoker all his life like Sedaris, and both of them struggled to give up their addiction. 


Among the essays, the most straight forward theme is that smoking kills. In the last essay, ‘The Smoking Section’ Sedaris discusses how throughout his life, starting from his childhood, he was a smoker. He talks about how “It wasn’t the smoke but the smell” that bothered him at first when both of his sisters would smoke in the house. In comparison, his room was “clean and orderly”. However, when he was fourteen he was peer pressured by his “handsome roommate”  to “lie back while I blow smoke into your mouth”. This kickstarted his addiction and the next twenty-three years of his life revolved around getting high on pot. The essay describes in Sedaris’ usual humourous way, his journey to Kyoto where he spends forty-five days trying to break his addiction. In the end, he essentially turns over a new leaf, by picking up trash whenever he sees it. However, he refuses to touch cigarette butts because of the fear of relapsing into smoking again. 


Though this straight-forward interpretation of the painting was interesting, what I found more interesting was the second parallel that I found: we all have bad habits. Just as Van Gogh shows a skeleton which forms the basic structure of every human being, Sedaris also shows the same bad habits which might exist in all characters. This is most obvious in the essays “Of Mice and Men” as well as “Town and Country”. In the latter, Sedaris’ narrates the story of his taxi ride to his sister’s house. In the scene, Sedaris gets frustrated at his driver as he keeps repeating the phrase “fucky-fuck” which irritates him because he wasn’t enjoying the topic of the conversation which was the driver’s sexual experiences. Ironically, as Sedaris is in his sister’s home, they soon begin to discuss Beastiality in sexual life. Which by the end of the essay makes him realise that there is no real difference between him and the driver. Similarly “Of Mice and Men” describes another taxi ride where Sedaris talks about stereotypes. In the beginning, the taxi driver remarks “about what snobs and cowards the French are”. Sedaris criticizes him for being racially discriminatory only to realise that he was equally as discriminatory as the driver in the next conversation he had with a friend. 


Through a different perspective in the essay “The Understudy” Sedaris describes how his babysitter reflects his mother. He specifically describes how torturous he was towards him and his siblings, “she made us scratch her back until our arms almost fell off”. However, by the time his parents return from their weeks getaway and the children complain but their mother refuses to believe them and dismisses them, “I don’t believe that for a minute”. Thus, the babysitter is actually just the understudy of the mother as they have very similar character traits and don’t really care for the children. 


Another interesting parallel between “Skeleton” and Sedaris is the theme of accepting the harsh realities of life and finding beauty in the seamier side of life. This is specifically shown in the essay “That’s Amore” which begins with an opening quote describing dead rats in New York City, “flattened by cabs, and I’d bend over the body, captivated by the foulness of it”. Sedaris clearly finds a reflection of the dead rat’s character in his elderly neighbour, Helen. Helen’s character apparently seems very unattractive as she loses her temper, abuses at random and is overly critical of everyone around her, “2 young men + 1 bedroom – ugly panelling = fags”, she says.  When Sedaris gets Helen a gift, she exclaims, “Take it away, I don’t want it”, rather than appreciating the efforts taken by Sedaris, she dismisses him and pushes him away. Nevertheless, the pair have a close bond as at some point, Helen calls Sedaris over to “rub in some Tiger Balm for her” after she has a bad fall, and Sedaris does this willingly, showing their closeness. For me, this essay is very similar to Van Gogh’s artwork, for example, his collection of “Sunflower” paintings where Vincent highlights the beauty in unappreciated parts of life – wilting flowers which were not known for their beauty.  


 Lastly, another of Sedaris’ interesting ideas which revolves around the painting is turning tradition on its head. Van Gogh initially made the artwork while he was attending art classes in Antwerp. It was common practice then to use live humans as models in order to understand human anatomy. He felt as though the classes were boring and taught him nothing. Thus, in order to override the traditional method of painting people, Vincent began painting skulls and skeletons. The same kind of ironical idea is reflected in the book as Sedaris similarly uses his gay relationship with Hugh to thwart the conventional stereotype of LGBTQ relationships. In the essay “Keeping Up” he depicts through a description of him and his partner in Australia how their problems are similar to the problems in a heterosexual relationship. 

My Opinion on Greta Thunberg

Who is Greta Thunberg? She is a 16-year-old climate activist who has inspired an international youth movement. At just 16 years, Greta Thunberg has started an international youth movement against climate change. 


Thunberg first became known for her activism in August 2018 when, at age 15, she began spending her school days outside the Swedish parliament to call for stronger climate action by holding up a sign saying (in Swedish) “School strike for climate”. Soon, other students engaged in similar protests in their own communities. Together they organized a school climate strike movement under the name Fridays for Future. After Thunberg addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference, student strikes took place every week somewhere in the world. In 2019, there were at least two coordinated multi-city protests involving over one million students each. 


Greta Thunberg has really affected today’s society and has created the “Greta Thunberg effect”, in response to her outspoken stance, various politicians have also acknowledged the need to focus on climate change. Britain’s secretary for the environment, Michael Gove, said: “When I listened to you, I felt great admiration, but also responsibility and guilt. I am of your parents’ generation, and I recognise that we haven’t done nearly enough to address climate change and the broader environmental crisis that we helped to create.” Labour politician Ed Miliband, who was responsible for introducing the Climate Change Act 2008, said: “You have woken us up. We thank you. All the young people who have gone on strike have held up a mirror to our society … you have taught us all a really important lesson. You have stood out from the crowd.”


However, despite the incredible things Greta has done so far, giving speeches to the UN, meeting Trump and the Pope, there are some elements that need to be addressed about the way Greta is trying to influence this new view of Climate Change. It is understandable that as a 16-year-old, it would be impossible to pressure governments to implement immediate change, though she has managed to influence certain countries. Her tactic so far is simple. She raises awareness and she has masses of communities who follow her join her in her strikes and her attempts to raising Awareness on the issue of climate change. However, this is actually a way to implement change through society. Her aim is to pressure the governments through groups of people to make a change. However, that plan isn’t completely stable as the environment isn’t just affected by society but also the economy. Until Greta’s recent speech to the UN, she never mentioned or acknowledged how making such sudden changed could affect the way we live as well as the effects on the economy. 


I personally feel that the objective of this change-making is being guided into another direction as people are becoming more focused on Greta herself rather than the problem. People are becoming too fixated on things like Greta having Asperger’s Syndrome and using it to her benefit when this shouldn’t be the topic of discussion at all. We shouldn’t be arguing whether a teenage girl is right or wrong, either way, the environment is deteriorating and it is collectively our fault so rather than pointing fingers and finding figures to blame, we should actually be working together to change things, together. 


Although she is trying to make a change, she is constantly being mocked: 


President Trump tweeted sarcastically on Monday that Thunberg, who had just charged the audience at the United Nations Climate Summit with stealing “my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” seemed like “a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.” Others who can be called right-wingers also mocked and dismissed Thunberg, with conservative commentator Michael Knowles calling the 16-year-old activist a “mentally ill Swedish child” on Fox News.


Knowles (a conservative podcaster) appears to have been insulting Thunberg for having Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Autism isn’t a mental illness, it’s classified as a developmental disability. But advocates say that attacks like the ones Thunberg has faced are all too familiar for autistic people. “were about science it would be led by scientists rather than by politicians and a mentally ill Swedish child who is being exploited by her parents and by the international left.”


Recently, Jeremy Clarkson (a broadcaster) called Greta Thunberg a “spoiled brat” after her speech in front of the UN. He raged, “How dare you sail to America on a carbon fibre yacht that you didn’t build which cost £15million, that you didn’t earn, and which has a back-up diesel engine that you didn’t mention. Pause for a moment to consider how soundly you sleep at night, knowing that adults are building and servicing and flying Sweden’s fighter planes. To keep you safe. We gave you mobile phones and laptops and the internet. We created the social media you use every day and we run the banks that pay for it all,’ he added. ‘So how dare you stand there and lecture us, you spoilt brat.’ (read the full article: link


In a way, Clarkson isn’t incorrect. A majority of the things the current generation has access to is because of the previous generations. Of course, the way Clarkson has lashed out at Greta is unacceptable, but, it was a response to her initial speech at the UN. In his response, Clarkson mentioned how “Because science is what will solve the problem eventually.” He’s right, science is the only way to substantially end climate change. However, spending this precious time, time that we could be spending on actually finding proper solutions on instead discussing whether Greta is a fraud or not, shouldn’t be in the limelight. It should be remembered that in one decade the carbon footprint will be irreversible in its impact on Earth. 


In conclusion, I think that it is safe to say to that either way, it is admirable that Greta Thunberg as a 16-year-old has been able to move several people into wanting to make changes. So, rather than constantly debating whether her personal life matters or not, the focus should be on finding practical solutions to ending climate change. Like Greta, a similar activist, Malala was very popular in 2011 after she survived a bullet to the head. Despite her popularity increasing and her winning a Noble Peace Prize, Malala over time began to fade away and became a poster girl while her cause of providing women education in Pakistan didn’t entirely see any success. Greta too should not be reduced to becoming a mere figurehead endorsing climate change over whom left (in support) and right-wingers (against) will squabble.  

Anna Karenina Reflection

I recently re-watched the movie Anna Karenina. It was about Anna Karenina, the wife of a Russian imperial minister who creates a high-society scandal by having an affair with Count Vronsky, a dashing cavalry officer in 19th-century St. Petersburg. Anna’s husband, Alexei, offers her a difficult choice: Go into exile with Vronsky but never see her young son again, or remain with her family and abide by the rules of discretion. 


The director Joe Wright, uses an interesting type of graphic cinematographic technique as he recreates a majority of the scenes in Anna Karenina on a stage to signify the facade that Anna and the rest of the elite Russian society maintain. Anna Karenina is based in mid-1860’s Russia during the rise of realism and foreshadowed the introduction of communism that would later take place in 1917 after World War I. Though communism wasn’t present at all in the novel as it would come to Russia after World War I, what Leo Tolstoy shows is the complete difference in lifestyle of the elite and the poor. It is interesting to note that Anna Karenina is set during the years 1852 to 63 during which period there was an Emancipation Reform where the Russian Tzar, Alexander issued a manifesto emancipating the serfs (an agricultural labourer bound by the feudal system) as there was constant rebellion against the feudal Russian society. Leo Tolstoy himself was an aristocrat. However, after experiencing a profound moral crisis and spiritual awakening in 1870, he realized that the message he was being taught in the Orthodox Russian Church was different from what Jesus truly intended in the Bible. This is what led him to write Anna Karenina as he realized that a true Christian could find lasting happiness by striving for inner self-perfection which happens in seclusion, away from the Church. This kind of epiphany, which is closely reflected in Levin’s character, made him come to the realization that there should not be class division in Russian society. 


Joe Wright portrays Tolstoy’s aim to suppress social division by depicting the story through the eyes of the elite. The aristocrats’ stories are portrayed on a stage to represent their lifestyle in a  highly stylized and is made beautiful until it seems artificial. Whereas the poor are portrayed to be shown living underneath the stage sets, out of the vision of society. It is almost as if society did not acknowledge the existence of the poor. In one of the opening scenes, Princess Kitty Shcherbatsky is portrayed to be sitting on the stage wearing a white dress with flowers in her hair. She is sitting amidst clouds and represented as an angel from the heavens.  Kitty needs to represent that she is innocent and virginal, thus making her the perfect and ideal woman of that time in Levin’s eyes. On a similar note, Oblongsky (Stiva), Anna’s brother is introduced as the stereotypical Russian elite as he is seen walking into his office as his clerks were helping him take his cloak and hat off. The scene is almost like a burlesque as the workers are rapidly stamping papers. In the scene, Oblongsky says, “The heart of Russia today is nothing but paperwork” referring to the artificial Russian society. Another important scene that is shown as a stage play is when Alexei Vronksry (Anna’s lover) loses a horse race and ends up shooting his favourite horse. Vronsky shoots his own horse as his pride is dismantled in front of society which causes Anna to realize how much Vronky values his social pride. 


In contrast, Joe Wright depicts the story of the poor people who have been ignored by the Russian upper class by portraying them in scenes which are distinctly darker and realistic. An example would be the scene where the railway worker at the train station was run over by the train while checking the wheels of the compartments. At that point, if Anna had not mentioned how awful the scene was, Vronksky would not have given the other railway workers money to dispose off his body. Similarly, in the scene where Levin’s brother Nicolai is introduced and shown to be on the verge of death and is represented to be under the sets of the stage in the dark. Nicolai is as an idealist who has lost faith in his ideals and drinks away his sorrow. It is almost as though he is being held a prisoner, so that the nonidealists could keep track of his movements and prevent him from spreading his views. 


Against this setting of a clearly divided society, are the three characters, Anna Karenina, Konstantin Levin and (Dolly) Darya Oblonsky who are looking for the real meaning of life. The three characters could be perceived to be reflections of each other in carrying forward the theme of reality. Dolly attempts to break away from her marriage with Oblongsky due to his infidelity. However, she is unable to as she is a woman and has no status in society without the name of her husband as the Russian Orthodox Church would not accept a divorced woman. In a different version of the same story, Anna Karenina breaks away from her unsatisfying marriage and into the arms of her lover (Vronsky), succeeding to a large extent with her rebellion as she was intelligent and strong-headed enough to understand her needs. However, eventually, her plan backfired as she was ostracized by society. In contrast to both the women, Levin’s character finds his reality after being rejected by Kitty the first time. He decides to abandon urban society and begins to work at his family home in the countryside with the serfs that his father used to own. During this time Levin find his faith in God in a spiritual awakening like Tolstoy which leads him to set the serfs free and confront Kitty once again near the end of the movie. In a comparison of all the three characters, Levin finds the most satisfaction in his life as he is a rich man and society would look at him with tolerance no matter his actions. Additionally, unlike Anna and Dolly who are unable to find happiness in the realities they are seeking, Levin’s reality is based on his faith and his real understanding of the real God. This ensures he can build a life of sustained happiness. 


anna karenina
Alexei Vronksy
Alexei Karenin
Princess kitty
Oblongsky (Stiva)

The Politics of the Amazon Fires

The fires in the Amazon Rainforest have captured the planet’s attention. The Amazonian fires which have been burning for weeks and have received less coverage than the Notre Dame’s fires is a symbol of humanity’s indifference to the environmental disorder, especially climate change. 

Climate change is not the only cause of wildfires. Most say that a majority of California blazes are sparked by accident and are then intensified by climate change.  However, the Amazonian fires are not wildfires at all. These fires did not start by a lightning strike or power line, they were lighted. The fires largely affect the land which is already cleared for ranching and farming. They have begun to spread into old-growth forest.

Brazil’s political leadership has changed in the past year. On January 1, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who has openly pined for his country’s authoritarian past, was sworn in as President. During his campaign, he promised to weaken Amazon’s environmental protections which have been effective at reducing deforestation for the past two decades and open up the rainforest to economic development.

Now he is making good on that promise. As the three Brazilian states which have witnessed the worst spikes of the fire this year have all been governed by Bolsonaro’s allies. The states which are governed by Bolsonaro’s political opponents have actually seen a decline in fires. Additionally, according to accusations by the global news site OpenDemocracy, leaked documents show that Bolsonaro’s government intends to strategically prevent conservation projects in the Amazon. 

Recognizing that the fires are a political problem as well as an environmental one does not make solving them any easier. Bolsonaro implied that environmental NGOs were behind the burning. Bolsonaro blames the NGOs for the burning as he is a right-winged politician and does not want minority groups to gain support from them. After President Emmanuel Macron of France called the fires a crisis, tweeting that “our house is burning,” Bolsonaro, accused Macron of a “misplaced colonial mindset.”

The Amazon rainforest does, in some sense, belong to Brazilians and the indigenous people who live there. But as a store of carbon, it is fundamental to the survival of every person. If destroyed or degraded, the Amazon, as a system, is simply beyond humanity’s ability to get back. Even if people were to replant the entire region, the diversity of creatures across Amazonia, will not be replenished for almost 10 million years. And that is 33 times longer than homo sapiens, as a species, has existed.


Key Points/Takeaways:

  1. French President Emmanuel Macron and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said separately last week they would move to reject a landmark European Union trade deal arranged with South America unless Brazil takes action to protect the rainforest.
  2. This pact requires Latin America to obey by the Paris climate accord, which Bolsonaro has threatened to leave and also aims to end illegal deforestation, including in the Brazilian Amazon.
  3. In efforts to protect the forest, G7 countries (advanced economies in the world: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) on Monday agreed to provide more than $20m to help fight the fires. Canada and the UK pledged an additional $11m and $12m of aid. – This was announced by Macron
  4. Brazil’s government said it would reject the funding as it was going to affect the country’s sovereignty (supreme power or authority).

Time Traveler’s Wife Reflection

The Time Traveler’s Wife is the debut novel of American author Audrey Niffenegger, published in 2003. It is a love story about a man with a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and about his wife, an artist, who has to cope with his frequent absences and dangerous experiences. Niffenegger, frustrated in love when she began the work, wrote the story as a metaphor for her failed relationships. The tale’s central relationship came to her suddenly and subsequently supplied the novel’s title. The novel, which has been classified as both science fiction and romance, examines issues of love, loss, and free will. In particular, it uses time travel to explore miscommunication and distance in relationships, while also investigating deeper existential questions.


“I had kind of got the idea that there’s not going to be some fabulous perfect soulmate out there for me, so I’ll just make him up.”


Henry is not only married to Clare; he’s also married to time. She also drew on her parents’ marriage for inspiration—her father spent the bulk of each week travelling. Despite the story’s analogies to her own life, Niffenegger has forcefully stated that Clare is not a self-portrait; “She’s radically different. I am much more willful and headstrong. … I don’t think I could go through a lifetime waiting for someone to appear, no matter how fascinating he was.”


Niffenegger identifies the themes of the novel as “mutants, love, death, amputation, sex, and time”, and focuses on love, loss, and time. 


In a way, the book Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) is a metaphor for life. It is similar to the book The Time Traveler’s Wife because it has the element of time. Both books talk about how the main characters wait for their partners for almost a lifetime and once they realize how painful it is to wait for so many years, it’s already too late and they have to let go. This idea is portrayed through several little signs which portrays a long-distance relationship.  For example, in the book Never Let Me Go, the significance of the distance in the relationship was shown at the end of the book when Tommy realizes that he is going to have to die and he and Kath blindly accept that they barely have time together and they end up staying together until the end. Similarly, even though Henry keeps disappearing, Clare refuses to leave him and continues to be by his side until she passes away. The last time she sees him is when she is 82 years old, years after his death. The characters in both books are similar as they both despite the consequence of being lonely, in the end, stay true to the people they love. Both books show the difficulty of falling in love and highlight both the highs and lows of being in a relationship.

The Fate of Antarctica

Right now, much of the top of the world is smoked out. NASA satellites have observed what looks like a vortex of smoke swirling over Siberia, which has been on fire for weeks. Multiple satellites in orbit have been monitoring huge plumes of smoke from wildfires in parts of Russia, including Siberia, as well as Canada and Alaska. For the past few months now, scientists with Europe’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) have been keeping an eye on over 100 fires above the Arctic Circle, all pumping pollution into the sky. As of now, we don’t actually have that much evidence on the fires in Antartica.


But what we do know is what would happen if Antartica thawed. What do you think would happen if it completely melted?


Of course, the consequences of Antartica melting would be similar to if we cleared the Amazon as the effects would contribute to the ongoing issues of global warming and climate change. 98% of Antartica’s surface is smothered under a massive ice sheath with an average dept of 1.6 kilometres and despite how big/small Antartica looks on the map, it is actually the fifth-largest continent in the world  (14 million square kilometres). Antartica is made up of 26.5 million cubic kilometres of ice, that is if you disregard the land underneath. 


That’s a lot. 


Antartica actually contains 70% of the Earth’s freshwater so if it would all melt from global warming, there would be serious repercussions. Primarily, if it already wasn’t obvious, sea levels would increase by 60 metres. This would result in widespread flooding, and anywhere near a coast would not be safe. In total, anywhere between 1 to 2 billion people could be displaced by this event. Secondly, the freshwater from Antartica would affect and alter the salinity of the seawater. Consequently, this would damage several marine populations and ecosystems and could even force species (like coral) into extinction as they may not be able to adapt to freshwater. However, more importantly, if the salinity of the water decreased, that means that the density of the water has also decreased which in turn would disrupt ocean currents. This would throw off the entire circulation of water throughout the ocean and the atmosphere. The circulation of the sea is such that cold water (as it is less dense) will flow at the surface and warmer water will sink down to the bottom (as it is denser). In countries near the equator, cooler water flows to… well, cool the region down, which is why the water in the northern and southern hemisphere is a lot warmer. So if the seawater becomes less dense due to the decrease in salinity, it means that there wouldn’t be a structured way to detect ocean currents. This, in turn, would affect our weather. The ocean and air act like heat engines, which move heat to the poles in a constant quest for balance. This disrupts the overall heat flow, thus causing massive hurricanes which countries like Puerto Rico the Philippines have been experiencing. (the reason this happens is that there is no ice to limit the amount of moisture that moves from the ocean to the atmosphere and create these super tornados.) 


So, aside from losing several cites like Seoul, Korea, the river basin in the Amazon and other coastal regions, we would have to face a drastic increase in the number of natural disasters as well as global warming and climate change. This would worsen the condition of the planet as it would destroy the balance of nature which is an irreversible change. Additionally, countries which do not have stable economies (ie, South American, Asian and African countries) would have difficulty in surviving these extreme environmental changes due to the lack of resources. 


The problem seems too vast and there doesn’t seem to be any possible solutions. 

Fires of Amazon

The world’s largest rainforest, the Amazon spans over eight countries and covers around 40% of South America, an area that is nearly the size of two-thirds of the US, according to the World Wildlife Fund. A new plant or animal species is discovered there every two days. The Amazon forest, which produces about 20% of earth’s oxygen, is often referred to as the planet’s lungs. Today, an inferno in the Amazon, ⅔ of which is in Brazil, endangers the rainforest ecosystem and this threatens to affect the entire globe.

Recently, it has been brought to the world’s notice that South Americans are deliberately starting fires in the Amazon rainforest to illegally deforest indigenous land for cattle ranching. Currently, as it stands, the Amazon is the world’s deforestation front which is controlled by 9 developing nations (Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Equador, Chile, Peru Guyana, Suriname) which means that each country in this region is trying to use their natural resources to improve their economic development and living conditions. Roughly, 20% of the Amazon rain forest has been cleared so far to make room for livestock. This may not seem like too much, considering the size of the Amazon. However, if the consequences of cutting the Amazon down in one go is so terrifying, then burning it down may worsen those consequences. 


Suppose that 100% of the Amazon is indeed cut down without control… what would the consequences be? 


Primarily, we would have to cover 5,5000,000 square kilometres and approximately cut 390 billion trees down. Once, the trees have been cut down, they would have to decompose over time. When organic materials decompose, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now, if we wipe the Amazon out, the trees would decompose and release around 140 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air which is almost 3-5 times what we emit annually (worldwide). This would drastically increase the amount of CO2, making it harder for us to breath even if the process of growth and decay is (almost) equal. The sudden increase in CO2 would also affect the oceans as increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would translate into more dissolved CO2 in the ocean water. Thus, decreasing the pH level and turning the water acidic. This would damage sensitive marine ecosystems such as corals and would lead to bleeding and “mass die-offs” (where large masses of organisms are killed). Not to mention, the trees aren’t the only organisms living in the Amazon. This rainforest has the world’s greatest collection of life on earth which means that once the Amazon is cleared we will lose 40,000 plant species, 2,500,000 insect species, 1,300 bird species, 400 mammals and 400 amphibians species all gone!  To top it all, the Natives who live and rely on the Amazon rainforest for their survival. 


If we now look at the impacts of the missing rainforest, the land in South America would experience drastic degrees of erosion as there would be no more trees holding the soil together. As the rainforest is situated in the largest drainage basin, the water would collect and carry the infertile soil (which we need for agriculture) as there are no plants to help absorb the water. 


The destruction of the forest would also affect the South American countries’ economy as the rainforest aids as a factor of production for agriculture and labour. It also is a tourist attraction, so jobs that rely on the forest would collapse and force the people residing in the countries further into poverty. 


However, the most drastic change in the world would be the Earth’s weather system. There is a process that plants undergo called transpiration (also known as evapotranspiration). It is a process of photosynthesis where plants release water vapour from their leaves (due to the transpiration pull) into the atmosphere. This water vapour floats up to become clouds and becomes the rain. The rainwater isn’t negligible as plants actually use very little of the water that they take in. Plantlife on Earth accounts for 10-15% of all the water in the atmosphere, the rest being provided by the ocean which is an enormous amount of water. Thus the forest virtually makes its own rain, as water evaporates and forms clouds, this process is what preserves the ecosystem in the rainforest. If we take these trees away, there will be less transpiration, but if we take all of the tree’s away, there won’t be any more rain. Consequently, this would lead to the world experiencing droughts, these droughts can, in turn, cause forest fires and worse.   


What an indigenous woman have to say, from the tribe Pataxó:

“These assholes came in and burned down our reservation… I want all of the media here to see this. For 2 years we’ve fought to preserve our reservation & these assholes came in & burned it down. They are killing our rivers, our sources of life, & now they have set our reserve on fire. Tomorrow we are closing the roads & I want all the media here to see this. We need action, we need now, we need to take those ones to justice and take President Jair Bolsonaro to respond to this too, we need people to wake up that being a conservative it’s not the same as being a stupid retrograde-image Indigenous people, animals and nature are screaming in pain for help.” from “Quebrando o Tabu” and Sunrise Movement on Twitter

Reading about Global Politics

The IB year starts in just a couple of days and I’ve never been so excited for school to start. For one of my HL subjects I have chosen Global Politics and as the schedule was just released today, I was encouraged to work harder for this subject. 


To have a basic understanding of Global Politics and at least grasp the fundamental concepts, I started to read this book called, “Global Politics” by Andrew Heywood. At first, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to comprehend the concepts because they would be too complicated, but it turns out that the theories are quite simple which help me to relate these topics to real-life situations (such as Brexit and the South China Sea dispute).


Apparently, one of the most important things about studying Global Politics is understanding what the world ‘global’ really means. ‘Global’ could either mean that there is a worldwide significance or that it is comprehensive. When ‘global’ is understood in terms of worldwide significance, it suggests that politics must be conducted at a global level and focuses on the work of organisations such as the UN (United Nations) or WTO (World Trade Organization). Incidentally, when it comes to global worldwide significance, the focus is mostly on economic and environment based organisations. On the other hand, when ‘global’ is interpreted in terms of comprehensive, it implies that politics must refer to all the elements within a system (economic, political, social). So when ‘global’ is in terms of comprehensive, the term must reject the idea that the global level must include politics at the national or local level. 


“How do ‘the global’ and ‘the international’ complement one another?”


Global politics is based on a comprehensive approach to world affairs that takes account not just of political developments at a global level, but at all levels, global, regional, national and so on. In that sense, ‘the global’ and ‘the international’ complement one another and should not be seen as rival or incompatible. ‘International’ politics has been modified into ‘global’ politics through a variety of developments that have taken place. It is the levels of interconnectedness and interdependence in world politics that have increased and the international disorder has been altered by regional and global governance. 


What have been the implications of globalization for world politics? 


Globalization is the development of a complex web of interconnectedness which means that our lives are increasingly shaped by events that occur and the decisions that are made globally\. Globalization itself has several different definitions from textbooks over time:

  1. ‘[T]he intensification of worldwide social relations that link distant localities in a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa’ (Giddens 1990)
  2. ‘A process (or set of processes) which embody the transformation of the spatial organization of social relations and transactions’ (Held et al. 1999)
  3. The processes through which sovereign nation-states are crisscrossed and undermined by transnational actors with varying prospects of power, orientations, identities and networks’ (Beck 2000)
  4. ‘The integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, direct foreign investment, short-term capital flows, international flows of workers and humanity generally, and flows of technology’ (Bhagwati 2004)
  5. ‘A reconfiguration of social geography marked by the growth of transplanetary and super territorial connections between people’ (Scholte 2005)


The differences in political decisions are commonly formed between economic globalization (the process through which national economies have, to a greater or lesser extent, been absorbed into a single global economy), cultural globalization (the process whereby information, commodities and images that have been produced in one part of the world enter into a global flow that tends to ‘flatten out’ cultural differences between nations, regions and individuals) and political globalization (the process through which policymaking responsibilities have been passed from national governments to international organizations). However, there are significant discussions about whether globalization is actually happening and how far it has transformed world politics.


How do mainstream approaches to global politics differ from critical approaches? 


The two mainstream perspectives on global politics are realism and liberalism. These are both grounded in positivism and focus on the balance between conflict and cooperation in state relations, even though they offer quite different reports of this balance. Critical theories, in contrast, tend to adopt a post-positivist (accepting that theories, background, knowledge and values can influence what is observed) approach to theory and challenge the global status quo by aligning themselves with the interests of marginalized or oppressed groups. Realists generally place greater emphasis on conflict, while liberals highlight the scope for cooperation.


Realism is grounded in an emphasis on power politics (the assumption that the pursuit of power is the principal human goal), based on the following assumptions:

  • Human nature is characterized by selfishness and greed. 
  • Politics is a domain of human activity structured by power and coercion. 
  • States are the key global actors.
  • States prioritize self-interest and survival, prioritizing security above all else. 
  • States operate in a context of anarchy and thus rely on self-help.
  • The global order is structured by the distribution of power (capabilities) among states. 
  • The balance of power is the principal means of ensuring stability and avoiding war. 
  • Ethical considerations are (and should be) irrelevant to the conduct of foreign policy


In contrast, liberalism is based ultimately, on a belief in human rationality and moral goodness so the principle of balance or harmony operates in all forms of social interaction. The liberal form of global politics is based on the following key assumptions:


  • Human beings are rational and moral creatures. 
  • History is a progressive process, characterized by a growing prospect of international cooperation and peace.
  • Mixed-actor models of global politics are more realistic than state-centric ones. 
  • Trade and economic interdependence make war less likely. 
  • International law helps to promote order and fosters rule-governed behaviour among states. 
  • Democracy is inherently peaceful, particularly in reducing the likelihood of war between democratic states.


However, critical perspectives of global politics try to go beyond the positivism of mainstream theory, emphasizing instead the role of consciousness in shaping social conduct and, therefore, world affairs. These so-called post-positivist theories are, therefore ‘critical’ in that they not only take issue with the conclusions of mainstream theory but also subject these theories themselves to critical scrutiny, exposing biases that operate within them and examining their implications.


How have the contours of world politics changed in recent years? 


One of the ways the contours of world politics has changed is through the rise of Non-Government organizations which have emerged as important players and shapers in global politics. The trend of NGOs had officially begun with the United Nations (UN) in 1948 which is seen as the only true NGO of the world today. Since then, in recent years, there has been a rapid growth in the number of non-governmental organisations. For example, there are around 2 million NGOs in the United States, 65,000 in Russia and a newly developing country like Kenya has 24,000 NGOs. 


As it has emerged, there are two types of NGOs in today’s world, operational and advocacy. Operational NGOs, primarily focus on design and implementation of development-related projects which could be community-based, global, national or international. In contrast, advocacy NGOs, aim to promote or defend a particular cause which is why they are also known as promotional pressure groups or public interest groups. It is better to be or support an operational NGO as they deliver about 15 per cent of international aid, demonstrating a greater speed of response and level of operational effectiveness than governments in contrast to advocative NGOs which gain help by forcing and pressuring societies and communities. 


The rise of NGOs causes political controversy as NGO supporters believe that they enrich and benefit global politics as supporting NGOs help to widen peoples’ sense of civic responsibility. However, critics argue that NGOs attempt to gain a high media profile and attract support and funding, by making exaggerated claims thus distorting the public perception of the problems when they are not presented with precision. 


How has global politics changed in recent years in relation to the issues of power, security and justice?


Power, security and justice are the three key aspects of politics. All forms of politics are about power as politics is sometimes seen as the study of power. Global power is becoming more fragmented and pluralized, through the role played by international organizations. Power is also demonstrated through the capacity of new technology to alter power balances both within society and between societies, often empowering the traditionally powerless. Power is also divided into two different kinds, ‘soft’ power which is power as an attraction and ‘hard’ power which is power as coercion. Thus, ‘soft’ power is used to influence others by persuading them to follow or agree to norms and aspirations, as opposed to using threats or rewards.


Security is the deepest and most abiding issue in politics. Security has usually been thought of as a particularly pressing issue in international politics because, while the domestic realm is ordered and stable, by virtue of the existence of a sovereign state, the international realm is anarchical and therefore threatening and unstable. ‘National’ security is most focused on as each state must have the capacity for self-defence. This allows countries to have military power, which reflects the assumption that the more militarily powerful a state is, the more secure it is likely to be. However, this only problem this can spark is that military expansion for defensive purposes by one state may be inclined to be potentially or actually aggressive by other states which could lead to other states mobilising. 


Justice has viewed justice as a largely irrelevant issue in international or global politics. This is due to liberals, who insist that international politics and morality should go hand in hand to prevent conflict and violence. Thus mostly focusing on national independence and political freedom. These views from liberalists come from the idea of global justice which is rooted in the belief of universal moral values which apply to all people in the world regardless of nationality and citizenship. 


Although this is just the beginning, I am thrilled to study more on these topics at school! Personally, I’m excited to read further about terrorism and learning its significance and countering it as well as global environmental issues as I would like to see how global politics and the economy could affect climate change.  

Daughters Of Chivalry Book Review

The book, Daughters of Chivalry, written by Kelcey Wilson-Lee portrays the forgotten lives of five remarkable women from the 1200s. The author explores and exposes the myths surrounding the lives of the medieval princesses. These women’s (Eleanora, Joanna, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth) fates included marriages of convenience to Counts and Princes have been largely ignored by historians who tend to focus on their far more well-known brother, Edward II, and his formidable wife, Isabella of France.   


The lives of these women were completely dictated, by their father, Edward I, King of England (1272 to 1307). They were to experience a courtly culture which was founded on romantic desire and pageantry, they knew that a princess was to be disciplined yet a mother to many children, preferably sons. Passive yet able to influence a stubborn husband or even command a host of men-at-arms. As princesses, they were expected to aid in forming alliances, secure lands and territories through marriage. They also had to skillfully manage enormous households, navigate uneven diplomatic waters and promote their family’s cause throughout Europe. Thus, they were utterly unlike the powerless princesses familiar from fairy tales, yet they do not command real power. It is almost akin to being a part of the royal family without having access to the crown. The details about their lives help to shatter many of the myths that continue to surround understandings of the opportunities open to and constraints placed upon medieval noblewomen. 


The princesses witnessed horrific sights as they travelled with their father around Europe, for example in the chapter “Three Deaths”, Eleanora, the eldest, arrived at a jousting tournament to celebrate her wedding, saw her father-in-law, the Duke of Brabant wounded so badly he died. However, traumatic events like this did not prevent the princesses from doing as they pleased. Edward I’s daughter, Joanna of Acre stands out the most (she was separated from her parents at a young age which gave her exceptional independence) as, as a teenager, Joanna fell out with a steward, and dared to “send two knights to Gascony to deliver her version of the story to Edward, along with a letter in which she beseeched: ‘Dear sire, we beg you… to believe the things which they shall tell you by word of mouth from me.’” Additionally, she complained that her younger sister Margaret’s household had two more servants than hers. Thus, two weeks later she did not attend Margaret’s magnificent wedding at Westminster, even though she was staying in Clerkenwell at the time. Hence, proving that despite their father constantly reminding them to act chivalrous, they proceed to do as they pleased and their father was unable to prevent them from doing so due to the “chivalry code”. Thus, despite being treated as fragile and weak under the chivalry code, women of the time were still able to have some say in conducting their own lives. 


Their rebellious behaviour later brought the end of chivalry for women, until Queen Elizabeth I completely ended the tradition of chivalry. However, these five women were not the only unrecognized princesses. Isabella of France, wife of Edward II of England, joined with her lover Roger Mortimer to dethrone Edward and then, have him murdered. Additionally, there was Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Queen of France (then later Queen of England) who was the Duchess of Aquitaine. Her status gave her significant power as a wife and mother and she served as governor in her husband’s absence. She also helped ensure significant royal marriages for her daughters, and eventually helped her sons rebel against their father, Henry II of England, her husband. She was imprisoned by Henry, but outlived him and served, once again, as governor, this time when her sons were absent from England.


Thus, the book illustrates the lives of medieval princesses, from the expectations placed on them as noblewomen, to the limited ways they could exercise authority, to interesting details about their clothing and education and proving that they were able to override basic societal views of the role of princesses. Rather than corporations and entertainment companies like Disney focusing on reiterating known stories of princesses like Cinderella or Snow White, perhaps they could focus on such real-life examples, the richness that is embedded in our own past. The author also portrays that these women, the forgotten daughters of England’s most famous king, were fierce, powerful, political, flawed and human. Thus, the book remains an ode to the earliest examples of empowered women.