The Carbon Budget: An Explainer

What is the Carbon Budget?

The carbon budget is the amount of carbon dioxide the planet can release into the atmosphere before global temperatures raise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (i.e., the year 1870). The 2015 Paris Climate Agreement set this goal of 2 degrees, but also expressed that the preferred goal should be to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees to prevent very undesirable changes to our climate. New research determines that our total carbon budget, beginning in the year 1870, is about 2.75 trillion tons of CO2. This is the total amount the planet can release and still stay below 1.5 degrees of warming. By 2015, we had already released just over 2 billion tons of CO2. And the planet’s temperature had increased by 0.9 degrees. The world’s annual CO2 emissions is about 40 billion tons as of now. So we have about 750 billion tons of CO2 left to release in our carbon budget, which will last about 20 years at our current rate of emissions.

What Needs to be Done

To end our CO2 emissions sustainably and stay within our carbon budget, researchers say we should cut annual emissions by about 1.1 billion tons of CO2, or 4-6%, per year. Fortunately, the rapid increase in annual carbon emissions has slowed significant and reached a plateau. We still need to improve a lot in a short amount of time to meet keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, however. The only other option is to develop new “carbon capture” technologies to take CO2 out of the atmosphere. These innovations are still a long way off.

Socialism: An Explainer

There are many different versions of socialism (Leninism, Stalinism, etc.), but they mostly fall under the category of Marxism. Karl Marx was a German philosopher and economist who wrote The Communist Manifesto and other influential texts. Marx’s big idea came at a time when many European countries were transitioning from monarchical systems to democratic and capitalist systems. Under the new capitalist economic system, the owners of the means of production, who Marx called the bourgeoisie, were exploiting the common laborers, or the proletariats.

Marx’s solution to this flawed economic system was to shift ownership of the means of production to the workers themselves, instead of the wealthy managers. To achieve this condition, means of production would first shift from powerful individuals to the state, and then to the general population. When the state owns the means of production, the society can be considered socialist. When the proletariat own the means of production, the society can be considered communist. No societies in our world are or have ever been truly communist. Even societies which we consider communist (China, USSR, North Korea), are socialist in practice. That is, the means of production are owned by the state. One reason that the transition between a socialist society and a communist society is so difficult is corruption. In order for the transition to occur, the government must give up all of its control. No government has ever been willing or able to do this, so a truly communist state has never existed as a result.

The system that exists in most countries of today’s world is a mixture between socialism and capitalism. Capitalism lets private business and the free market provide all of a society’s goods and services, while socialism pools money and resources from the citizens and lets the government reallocate these resources to provide goods and services to the people. If there were a spectrum with capitalism on one side (business leaders control the economy) and socialism (government controls the economy) on the other side, the United States would be close to the side of capitalism. And yet, even the United States government controls primary and secondary education for most of the population, health care for veterans, poor, elderly, and Native Americans, and social services like police, fire departments and libraries. Countries like Sweden and Canada would fall much closer to the socialism side of the spectrum. They manage to succeed economically and provide more services to their people from the state.

Source: NowThis World

Civil Unrest in Togo: An Explainer


In the month of September, 3 people were killed amidst anti-government protests. One of the victims was a 9-year-od boy. The President of Togo, Faure Gnassingbe has been in power for 12 years. His father, Eyadema Gnassingbe ruled the country for 38 years before that, beginning in 1967. These two men make up the longest-ruling family regime in Africa. They represent the Union for the Republic (UNIR) party, which holds 62 of the National Assembly’s 91 seats. When the public began showing signs of unrest earlier this year, UNIR promised to introduce a bill for presidential term limits to the National Assembly. It turned out that this bill would not apply retroactively, and would in fact allow President Gnassingbe to run again in 2020 and 2025. The bill failed, so the country will soon vote on the constitutional amendment in a referendum.

The Opposition

The opposition is made of many different factions, the most powerful being the National Alliance for Change (ANC) led by Jean-Pierre Fabre. Fabre came in second place in the 2015 presidential elections, but he and the ANC have begun to work with the Pan African National Party to defeat Gnassingbe as soon as possible. The politics in Togo are tied in many ways to tribal identities. The Gnassingbes actually come from a relatively small northern tribe called the Kabye, but they have filled the government and military with their tribemates, giving the group an outsized level of influence.

Comparison to The Gambia

Given the increasing levels of civil unrest, citizens of Togo may be seeking help from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which was instrumental in ousting Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia. ECOWAS assembled troops at the border of The Gambia when Jammeh seemed he would refuse to give up his office after losing the presidential election. ECOWAS has not responded to the civil unrest in Togo so far. While the situation is not the same as in The Gambia, another complicating factor is that the president of ECOWAS is married to Faure Gnassingbe’s sister.

Source: The Economist, September 23rd

The Civil War in Yemen: An Explainer

For many years, Yemen has been the poorest country in the Arab region and suffered from many armed conflicts. But for the last two and a half years, Yemen has been in the midst of a devastating civil war. In 2014, Houthi rebels from the north overthrew the government with the help of certain sections of the Yemeni army. Other countries joined the fight in 2015 as Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition of Arab countries and the United States. The coalition began fighting the Houthi rebels to restore the former government. The two sides are still fighting, without a decisive victory for either side.

The damage to the country and its people has been severe. Bridges, hospitals and factories have been destroyed. The Saudi coalition has closed the Sana international airport, which has made it difficult for supplies to enter and for people in need of medical assistance to leave. Doctors and civil servants are no longer receiving pay. And in addition to the civilian casualties from the fighting itself, 500,000 people have been infected between June and August 2017, resulting in 2,000 deaths.

Cholera is a bacterial infection spread by water contaminated by feces. The sewage systems have failed, so when heavy rains came in April, many drinking wells were contaminated with waste. The disease is treatable with antibiotics, but many malnourished children in Yemen are left more vulnerable and are dying as a result.

The United Nations has labeled the situation in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and requested $2.3 billion to help deal with it. 10 million people are in need of assistance, but only $964 million has been mobilized so far. The UN has also attempted to broker peace talks, all of which have so far failed. As of now, the Houthis are still in control of the capital city Sana. Fighting and the spread of disease continue as well.

Source: The New York Times

The Rohingya in Myanmar: An Explainer


The current conflict in Myanmar Rakhine’s state involves Rohingya Muslims, who practice a branch of Sunni Islam. Religous tensions developed in the majority Buddhist country in the 1970s, but violence has been on the rise in recent years. Many thousands of Rohingya have fled the country for neighboring countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand).


The area that is now Rakhine state was governed by Great Britain until Burma became independent in 1948. The nation changed its name to Myanmar in 1989. Muslims arrived in Rakhine state as early as the 1400s, and continued to move there during British occupation.

Rohingya Status in Myanmar

The Rohingya are systematically discriminated against, and their Rakhine state suffers from deep poverty due to neglect from the government. The government has always refused the Rohingya official citizenship, but offers them temporary “white cards”, which allows for some rights. These white cards were revoked in early 2015 by then-President Thein Sein, and the Rohingya were thereby prevented from participating in that year’s election.

The Government’s Response

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won elections, but they have done mostly nothing to help the Rohingya people. Recently, Aung San Suu Kyi has at least assembled a committee to make suggestions for resolving the Rohingya’s plight in Myanmar. The committee is led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and their report is due to be released in August 2017.

The Recent Violence Began in 2012

In 2012, Buddhist nationals began killing Rohingya after a group of Rohingya men were accused of raping a Buddhist woman. The ethnic violence drove 120,000 Muslims into internment camps, which offered hardly any social services.

January 2014 – May 2015

Large numbers of Rohingya began to flee the country, making dangerous ventures overseas. 88,000 Rohingya left Myanmar by boat during this period.

October 2016 – January 2017

An additional 65,000 Rohingya crossed the border into Bangladesh. Violence against them had increased after they were accused of attacking security posts along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Many Rohingya homes were burned and aid (food, medicine) was prevented from reaching their villages. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Malaysian Foreign Minister both accused the Myanmar government of ethnic cleansing, which the government denied.

[Source: Council on Foreign Relations]

August 2017

A group of militant Rohingya attacked around 20 police posts and a Myanmar army base. In response, the Myanmar army and Buddhist vigilante groups are attacking Rohingya villages with fire and guns. Thousands more Rohingya are fleeing to Bangladesh to seek refuge, although food, housing, and medicine for refugees there are inadequate.

[Source: The New York Times]