19 February 2018   Leave a comment

The situation in northwestern Syria has become even more bizarre.  At first, there was the odd situation of the US backing Kurdish forces who were then attacked by Turkey, an American ally.  The Kurds have been effective fighting forces against ISIS and therefore aligned with the American interest of defeating ISIS (coincidentally, defeating ISIS was also the objective of Iran, an American enemy state).  Now the press is reporting that Syrian government forces have made an alliance with the Kurds in the region which has prompted Turkey to threaten to attack Syrian government forces.  Of course, ISIS is opposed to the Syrian government, so Turkey is fighting the enemy of its enemy.  Such a course of action violates the basic precepts of the balance of power which suggests that the Kurds are the primary Turkish enemy and that no mutual alliances come close to compensating for the degree of animosity to the Kurds.  Interestingly, both Turkey and Iran regard the Kurds as enemies (as possible secessionists) and are beginning to coordinate their activities. 


Italy has a national election scheduled for 4 March and the election will serve as a good index of political winds in Europe.   Since the Great Recession, European politics have tended to repudiate traditional parties as we have seen in France with the election of outsider Macron and in Germany with the weakening of the power of Chancellor Merkel.  Generally speaking, right-wing parties have benefited from this disillusionment, amplified by a strong minority adamantly opposed to refugees and immigrants.   Italy has experienced very slow economic growth, has very weak banks, and a very high government debt load: a combination that contributes to its historically weak government.   What we should look for in the upcoming election is the outcome of a political struggle between these anti-traditional sentiments and those forces who are well aware of Italy’s extraordinary dependence on being a member of the European Union.  If the latter group loses, then Italy will be primed for its own right-wing resurgence.


Meehan Crist has written a review of a new book by Jeffrey Goodell entitled The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities and the Remaking of the Civilised World for the London Review of Books.  The review lays out how new research has forced increasingly dire forecasts of sea level rise due to climate change.  She writes:

“Global sea level rise is hard for scientists to predict, but the trend is clear. Massive ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic have begun to collapse, in a phenomenon known as ‘marine ice-sheet instability’, which previous models of global sea level rise didn’t take into account. When the Paris Agreement was drafted just over two years ago, it was based on reports that ice sheets would remain stable and on the assumption that sea levels could rise by up to three feet two inches by the end of the century. In 2015, Nasa estimated a minimum of three feet. In 2017, a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), the pre-eminent climate science agency in the United States, revised estimates up dramatically, stating that by 2100 sea levels could rise by more than eight feet. Last year, a study estimated that if carbon emissions continue at present levels, by 2100 sea levels will have risen by as much as 11 feet. Higher sea levels mean higher storm surges, like the nine-foot surge that inundated Lower Manhattan and severely affected neighbourhoods in Long Island and New Jersey, but also that low-lying coastal areas, from Bangladesh to Amsterdam, will be underwater in less than a hundred years. It’s worth remembering that two-thirds of the world’s cities sit on coastlines. In a high-emissions scenario, average high tides in New York could be higher than the levels seen during Sandy. A rise in global sea levels of 11 feet would fully submerge cities like Mumbai and a large part of Bangladesh. The question is no longer if – but how high, and how fast.”

Crist outlines the significance of such a change:

“Today, more than 145 million people around the world live three feet or less above sea level, many in poor countries in the global South. ‘As the waters rise,’ Goodell writes, ‘millions of these people will be displaced, many of them in poor countries, creating generations of climate refugees that will make today’s Syrian war refugee crisis look like a high school drama production.’ There is no longer any doubt that the rise in global sea levels will reshape human civilisation.”

We should also remember that the estimates of sea level rise have changed dramatically in recent years because we have found out things about sea ice that we did not know before.  It would not be surprising if there are other aspects of sea ice about which we are still unaware.

Posted February 19, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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