Category Archives: Globalization and World Geography

Might Britain Really Leave the European Union?

London under construction

Construction cranes for new building in central London give clue to that city’s role in the world economy, a matter of grave concern to the financial world as Britain votes on June 23d on a referendum to leave or stay in the European Europe. (Photo by Rowntree)

Next week on Thursday, June 23d the British will vote in a referendum on whether the country will leave the European Union (EU), a process referred to as “Brexit”. Regardless of the outcome the ramifications are huge for Britain and Europe. Though the arguments for and against leaving the EU get rather complex they basically come down to the proponents arguing Britain will have more control over its borders and finances by leaving the EU while those against the referendum say Britain will suffer dire economic consequences from leaving the world’s largest trading bloc. While the British government itself is against leaving the EU, there is enough public support for Brexit that right now, seven days before the vote, pollsters say it’s too close to call. Want more info? Here are links to recent Brexit articles in the New York Times, along with the lead paragraphs of those articles.

Brexit Plan for the Financial World? Cross Your Fingers“. NY Times, June 15, 2016

By PETER S. GOODMAN Among those who manage gobs of money, the possibility that Britain might actually disavow the European Union seemed until recently like a remote and even outlandish possibility. But about a week before voters go to the polls to determine their future, masters of finance are suddenly absorbing the prospect that Britain might really walk, unleashing anxiety and uncertainty throughout the global economy. Like local responders readying sandbags as a hurricane menaces their shores, financial industry overseers have been quietly drawing up contingency plans while surveying the expensive havoc a so-called Brexit is already wreaking. Central bankers from London to Washington have been monitoring the tempest while making preparations to unleash credit should markets seize with fear.

• “Brexit Vote Has European Workers in Britain Unsure of Future” New York Times. June 13, 2016

LONDON — Filipe Graca hovered over an espresso machine at the British food chain Pret A Manger and frothed out a cafe latte for a waiting customer. Until last year, he had struggled to find any kind of a job in his native Portugal. But when he arrived in London, he was able to work almost right away. So were the young women from Hungary, France and Albania who cheerfully tended the cash registers. And the staff from Poland, Spain and Italy cleaning tables and preparing sandwiches for the lunch crowd. Only one thing seemed to bother them: the prospect that Britain might actually leave the European Union.


Photos from The Berlin Wall, Yesterday and Today


The 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Opening of The Wall

Berlin border guards watch over crowds of people celebrating (prematurely as it turned out) the opening of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989,

Berlin, Germany, and perhaps all of Europe are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s opening the weekend of November 9, 2014. The Berlin Wall was built in August 1961 to stop the flow of people leaving communist East Germany for democratic West Germany. As such this  monstrous concrete and barbed wire barrier to migration was an integral part of the 866 mile Iron Curtain that physically divided Germany into two distinct political entities from 1946 to 1990. But in early November 1989, in response to civil unrest the East German government began easing travel restrictions to West Germany by funneling those wishing to leave the country through a remote border station in the country’s southwest corner. However, a bungled press conference announcing these new regulations was misunderstood by Berlin residents (as well as the shoot-to-kill East German Wall guards) as also applying to the tightly control Berlin Wall border crossings. As a result thousands of joyful East Berliners crossed into West Berlin during the night of November 9th (mainly in the early morning hours of November 10th) resulting in an accidental opening of The Wall that the East German government could not stop. Not only did this lead to the physical destruction of the Berlin Wall within weeks but also to the fall of the East German government and, within a year, the unification of Germany, East and West. At a global scale this radical political change in Berlin and Germany was closely linked to political changes in Moscow leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union and, further, to a wave of political and economic change in the former Soviet satellite states of Eastern Europe.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall the city will mark the path of the former barrier with a string of white balloons

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall the city will mark the path of the former barrier with a string of white balloons

More Information on the Berlin Wall:

• Wikipedia’s entry on the Berlin Wall is here

• Numerous photos of the Berlin Wall are found here.

• A n excellent 43-minute National Geographic video on The Wall is here.

• The 25th Anniversary celebration website (in German and English) is here.

A view of The Wall from the West Berlin side, with an East Germany guard tower on the East Berlin side. The crosses commemorate those killed by border guards as they attempted to flee East Berlin

A view of The Wall from the West Berlin side, with an East Germany guard tower on the East Berlin side. The crosses commemorate those killed by border guards as they attempted to flee East Berlin

A Personal Note

Berlin had been a continual source of tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union since WW2’s end in 1945 because the former German capital lay within the Soviet zone of occupation. Like occupied Germany itself, Berlin was also divided into four sectors (British, French, Soviet, and American) with free movement between sectors guaranteed by international treaty. Unlimited access across the Soviet zone to Berlin from the west to Berlin was also a part of this treaty, however this became problematic when the Soviet puppet state of East Germany was created in 1949. One of the first major crises of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union started in June 1948 when Moscow blocked all access to Berlin. (See Wikipedia “Berlin Blockade” here) Although Moscow backed down a year later in 1949 when the western allies gave tacit approval to the creation of the Soviet puppet state of East Germany (which led to a division within Berlin of East and West Berlin, one communist, the other not), the United States’ commitment to the city grew as the Soviet Union expanded its power over all of Eastern Europe. Thus the building of the Berlin Wall around East Germany in August 1961 with its denial of free movement for the city’s residents created an international crisis that many thought would trigger WW3. Indeed, in October 1961 Soviet and U.S. tanks and soldiers faced each other with loaded weapons at point blank range at Checkpoint Charlie, the U.S. entry point to East Berlin. Fortunately no shots were fired and after several days the Soviet armor withdrew. But tensions remained high between the two superpowers as each country expanded its military presence in Western and Eastern Europe.

At that time (and continuing until 1973) the U.S. armed forces relied heavily on the compulsory military service—known simply as The Draft—required of all male citizens. And although college students were usually able to defer their service until after graduation the 1961 Berlin crisis reshuffled these rules so that many young men who had not given much (if any) thought to their military obligation found themselves drafted into the U.S. Army and shipped off to West Germany to prepare for war with the Soviet Union and its East European allies. I was one of those young men taken from college, and after several months of infantry training I found myself in Germany in March 1962 carrying a rifle and preparing to meet the enemy.

Within a month, however, I was able to trade my rifle for a typewriter, as I was transferred (at my request) to the 24th Division headquarters in Augsburg, Germany to work as a newspaper reporter in the Public Information Office (PIO. With reporter’s notebook in hand I saw the Iron Curtain up close, traveled to Berlin to write about The Wall, and crossed through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. My experiences were rich and life-changing, resulting in a lifelong interest in European affairs. I’ve traveled back to Berlin numerous times, and recently returned to the Iron Curtain to hike and bike along the former border that I knew as a soldier. I’ll post more on those recent trips soon.

The Wall separated one of Berlin's most famous landmark, the Brandenburg Gate. This sign from the 1960s says "Attention: You are now leaving West Berlin"

The Wall separated one of Berlin’s most famous landmark, the Brandenburg Gate. This sign from the 1960s says “Attention: You are now leaving West Berlin”


United Nations Science Panel Issues Strongest Warning Yet About Global Warming


Mining machines digging for brown coal in front of a power plant near Grevenbroich, Germany, in April. Credit Martin Meissner/Associated Press

The United Nations science group charged with the responsibility of studying climate change issued its latest report yesterday, November 2, 2014, on the problems the world faces with global warming and the news is not good. The new report comes just a month before international delegates convene in Lima, Peru, in an effort to devise a new global treaty or other agreement to limit emissions, and it makes clear the urgency of their task.
Appearing at a news conference in Copenhagen Sunday morning to unveil the report, the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, issued an urgent appeal for strong action in Lima. “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message,” Mr. Ban declared. “Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”
A core finding of the new report is that climate change is no longer a distant, future threat, but is being felt all over the world already. The group cited mass die-offs of forests, including those in the American West; the melting of land ice virtually everywhere in the world; an accelerating rise of the seas that is leading to increased coastal flooding; and heat waves that have devastated crops and killed tens of thousands of people.
A summary of the UN’s 175 page report is in the New York Times and is found here while the full UN report will be found here. And below are several important paragraphs from the NY Times article:

“ The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.

Despite growing efforts in many countries to tackle the problem, the global situation is becoming more acute as developing countries join the West in burning huge amounts of fossil fuels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said here on Sunday.

Failure to reduce emissions, the group of scientists and other experts found, could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.”


The Top Four CO2 Emitters: China, U.S. Europe, and India

The Global Carbon Project’s 2014 Report shows that in 2013 China’s CO2 emissions were twice that of the second largest carbon emitter, the United States. Third largest were the 28 European countries of the European Union (EU); India was in fourth place. Important to note is not just the rapid rise of China’s emissions but also that they grew at 4.2% last year. This contrasts with the downward trend of both the U.S. (with a small uptick in 2013 because of increase in coal usage) and Europe. India’s emissions showed the highest year gain and will continue to do so, particularly because according to a recent statement by an Indian official the  country has no plans to limit the CO2 emissions. (Read that article here). You’ll find the Global Carbon Project report here.


A recent report from the Global Carbon Project shows China’s soaring trajectory for heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Credit Global Carbon Project


Why Not Now? Video from UN Climate Summit

An extraordinarily powerful video watched today (September 23, 2014) by world leaders at the UN Climate Summit Meeting. Recommended highly. The link is here.



CO2 levels in atmosphere rising at dramatically faster rate, U.N. report warns

Greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013, a U.N. report says, in part because of rising emissions from automobiles and smokestacks. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013, a U.N. report says, in part because of rising emissions from automobiles and smokestacks. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

An article in The Washington Post by Joby Warrick reports on the alarming rise in atmospheric CO2 levels documented by the U.N’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Extracts of the article are below. A link to the article is here. The WMO report can be found here.

“Levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose at a record-shattering pace last year, a new report shows, a surge that surprised scientists and spurred fears of an accelerated warming of the planet in decades to come.

Concentrations of nearly all the major greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013, reflecting ever-rising emissions from automobiles and smokestacks but also, scientists believe, a diminishing ability of the world’s oceans and plant life to soak up the excess carbon put into the atmosphere by humans, according to data released early Tuesday by the United Nations’ meteorological advisory body.

The latest figures from the World Meteorological Organization’s monitoring network are considered particularly significant because they reflect not only the amount of carbon pumped into the air by humans, but also the complex interaction between man-made gases and the natural world. Historically, about half of the pollution from human sources has been absorbed by the oceans and by terrestrial plants, preventing temperatures from rising as quickly as they otherwise would, scientists say.

“If the oceans and the biosphere cannot absorb as much carbon, the effect on the atmosphere could be much worse,” said Oksana Tarasova, a scientist and chief of the WMO’s Global Atmospheric Watch program, which collects data from 125 monitoring stations worldwide. The monitoring network is regarded as the most reliable window on the health of Earth’s atmosphere, drawing on air samples collected near the poles, over the oceans, and in other locations far from cities and other major sources of pollution.”