Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The dynamics of terror

An act of terror is inflicted upon all of humanity, regardless of whether we are direct or indirect victims. Some victims don't live to tell what they went through; others carry the trauma throughout their lives; the rest, who are the vast majority of us, become overwhelmed by fear. Terrorism is powerful because we let it be.

It would be pointless to try to comfort survivors or the relatives of fatal victims of a terrorist attack by saying that we all feel the same, that this pain and suffering has equally fallen upon us. It simply hasn't.

In truth, terrorism does not have the purpose to cause the most damage possible. It has only one objective, which is to inflict as much fear to as many people for as long as possible. In that sense, millions and millions of people are victims for the rest of their lives.

Only in 2015, there have been almost 10,000 gun murders in the United States. It is more than three times the number of deaths by terrorism on U.S. soil since September 11th. This other kind of random violence also inflicts fear among the entire population and even beyond their borders.

The origin of fear is fairly simple: we are exposed to certain information about something undesirable that has happened to someone else, and we project it as something that is likely to happen to us in our future. As fear increases, so does our level of certainty about this sinister occurrence.

One of the negative by-products of globalization has been religious terrorism. Some claim that one could go as far back as 500 years, when in the name of a Christian god millions of people were "baptized to death" during days of European kings in their overseas colonial adventures. The last 20 years, the kind of terrorism we have seen, the one that is broadcast day and night on TV and social media, has made us all so very fearful. We have been terrorized, especially in Western cultures, where several generations of us had never been exposed to such levels of despicable violence close to us. And the more terrorized we become, the more we want to consume that featured terror, even on a mobile device near you.

Watching the news, especially videos, about terrorist attacks, reinforces the belief that something as horrible as that could and will happen to us. It triggers a permanent sensation of fear and terror. It ends up breaking us, surrendering to the slavery that comes not when a man subdues another, but when a person gives up on her own liberties.

Fear is an attitude. We can choose it or we can choose any other attitude. As simple as that. We could choose to be brave, instead. Or compassionate. Or proactive, empathic, you name it. Doing so, we would perceive different moods and other feelings, not only within ourselves but also towards others. Our impact in society would be different. Our leadership would be constructive. Our character would shine out of virtue.

Fear paralyzes. It weakens us. It steals our sense of optimism, our hope for a more prosperous future, our willingness to be good samaritans, exemplary citizens, better persons altogether.

We all hurt with terror. But if we survived, and more so if we have not even been witnesses of such unspeakable acts of horror, we must dust ourselves, wipe our tears and get back on our feet. This world needs more good people to do the right thing: to love, to care for those in need, to guide, to lead. As Edmund Burke reminds us, "All it takes for evil to prevail is for good [people] to do nothing."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Alienation and civilization from Paris to the world

Last week, I spent a couple of hours at a restaurant in République, the Parisian neighborhood where a bar was struck by a horrific episode of brutal and lethal violence last night. This morning, I imagined myself in that same place shuffling chairs and tables trying to run away from the bullets, feeling my heart beating inside my throat, adrenaline rushing through my entire body, focused on escaping the infernal scene of madness, being reached by a deadly bullet and knowing that was the end of my story: murdered randomly, victim of the alienation that has invaded many men in my generation.

Alienation is the estrangement or loss of contact with reality. Among the many causes that may lead to it are drug consumption, sports fanaticism, fiction from books, movies or video games, religion, social exclusion, violence, and indoctrination of all sorts. The perpetrators of such heinous acts of terror, in Paris and in other places around the world, are alienated.

There is no simple cause or explanation. Some of them belong to the “lost generation”, kids that migrated to Europe at a young age and remained at the margins of society. Since September 11th, Muslims worldwide have been unfairly stigmatized as a violent culture with a violent religion. These kids grew up under the promise of a more prosperous future but the largest economic crisis in decades has kept millions of educated, healthy, young adults unemployed and unattended. They have been victims of structural violence, when a disharmonious system inflicts pain and suffering on a group of people. Violence always breeds violence. They have become ideal recruits for paramilitary organizations that are fighting a war of alienation. The so-called IS, or Islamic State, is the most notorious, structured, and powerful form of alienated organization.

Civilization is not inherent to humanity. As a species, we have evolved socio-politically until becoming civilized. Among all civilized values, I claim peace is the most precious, forged over millennia, through cultures and generations that have seen and fought lengthy, deadly wars and have been exposed to vicious degrees of violence. In this context, I borrow my definition of peace from Galtung: the ability to transform conflicts creatively and harmoniously. This is, to a great extent, the way in which many nations around the world deal with conflict. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case for all nations.  

For those of us who aspire to be civilized, we have the obligation to behave and react peacefully, that is, harmoniously even towards the perpetrators, as difficult as it may be, and creatively in search for solutions to a conflict that is deeper and more widespread than we wish to believe.

There is no difference between a shooting rampage inside a theater in Paris during a concert and at a movie theater in Colorado during a Batman movie presentation. There is no difference between a shooting inside a bar at Republique and a shooting at a kindergarden in Newtown, Connecticut. The executioners lost touch with reality. Gandhi used to say that guns were not the problem, because there was always a finger pulling the trigger. The problem lies within us, in our beliefs, in the narrow-minded arrogance that makes us interpret that we are right while others are wrong.

To say that a particular religion is to blame for this is equivalent to what Hitler did, stigmatizing and persecuting Jews during the Holocaust, a genocide that belongs to an uncivilized time of human history.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Costa Rican observations about Nairobi Conference draft ministerial declaration

Historically Costa Rica has been a demandeur in the Doha negotiations and seeks an ambitious result in all three core issues. We have remained flexible and are willing to accept an outcome that helps to strengthen the multilateral trade system. Having said that, it seems clear that we will not be able to provide for an ambitious result in Nairobi, but it is even clearer that we must provide for a credible one for the sake of the multilateral system.

As agriculture remains the main issue, we hope that discussions advance on the export competition front, and we should also be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Certainly market access discussions have been put on hold, but we would suggest looking at the only aspect of the whole negotiation that has an agreement between large groups of members. Even though Costa Rica has already deepened its market access in agriculture through comprehensive FTAs with its mayor partners, we believe there is added value in the work that has been done with the Tropical Products Agreement that may be a good asset –if played well - in Nairobi.

On the other hand, it is also time to move forward. A Ministerial declaration resulting from the Nairobi Conference must acknowledge a willingness to understand and address the linkages between trade and environmental performance, the transformative nature of global value chains and digitalization; the increasing importance of trade in services and investment; the need to address competition policies; among other topics that are already being discussed outside of the WTO, in organizations like the OECD and through initiatives like the E15 from the ICTSD. The world has changed in a fundamental way during the past 20 years and we must find new ways to tackle old and current problems. The lack of agreements during the past 14 years in the Doha negotiations leaves us with a legacy on unresolved issues that we still need to address, and to that we must add now the disruptive role of climate change.

This is a critical year for the climate debate with the international community gathering in Paris for a climate change summit only one week before the Nairobi conference. Paris will mark a historical tipping point for the mainstreaming of climate change in economic and development pathways around the world.

As long as the WTO is unable to complete the DDA, it will remain being part of the problem. Even if the DDA negotiation continues post-Nairobi, there is a global sense of urgency that the multilateral trade system engages as a provider of solutions at a global scale. This unique opportunity is imminent for this organization and must not be squandered.

In order to deliver swiftly and effectively in this course of action, the DDA requires additional time, say, another 12 months, and the key pillars and topics of discussion should remain the same. It just cannot be “business as usual”. The difference would be a clearer understanding of why this complex effort of the Doha negotiation Round is being undertaken. The WTO requires a broader, more holistic vision about the imperative to advance both the trade and climate change agendas. This century a clearer long-term view is needed where climate science informs our thinking and elucidates our choices this century. With impacts from climate change looming large, the time has come to stop treating the trade regime and the climate regime in silos. The solution is not to merge them – they seek different objectives – but recognize how and why they affect each other. 

For example, this will show, unquestionably, that the greatest threats to agriculture are not policy-based. It is not protectionism or liberalization what will hamper agriculture’s ability to prosper, but climate change. Therefore, we must start a conversation about how trade can help agriculture to become more resilient in the face of climate change.

Also, it will provide a greater sense of opportunity regarding the completion of a modern and robust multilateral agreement in services, a growing industry that has a far lower carbon footprint than the production and trade of other goods. This means that growth in the services sector belongs into a low carbon economy, which is what planet Earth urgently demands.

In addition to agriculture and services, NAMA should be approached from the point of view of a progressive reduction in carbon emissions in the manufacturing process of all goods, and a progressive increase in the renewable energy component in that manufacturing. By 2050, all traded goods that enjoy free tariffs should be manufactured with a source of energy that is renewable, and its embedded carbon emissions neutralized. This requires an ambitious plan with goals to be targeted for completion by 2030, which is only 15 years away (almost as long as the DDA has been discussed). [The OECD offers a magnificent tool to visualize embedded carbon emissions in international trade: http://oe.cd/io-co2.]

This holistic vision would be like a new pair of prescription lenses that could provide a mindset for a negotiation framework that would result in a successful DDA, not with minimal ambition, but, quite on the contrary, with maximal one, as it would be clear that the outcome of the negotiation would be a means to a very concrete and tangible end, a vehicle to advance development and prosperity while fighting climate change.

Costa Rica is willing to engage and actively contribute to further this view, in an attempt to obtain from Ministers a mandate in line with all previous ones for the Doha Round, but focused on an outcome that will be a bold statement towards advancing trade while contributing with solutions to climate change.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Let's Get Going

This is the first time I hear a politician speaking something closer to the truth about climate change that I have enthusiastically studied for well over a decade. 
From a conflict transformation perspective, it is planet Earth's greatest conflict, that is, its greatest incompatibility of goals between the way humanity runs its voracious and destructive existence, and the fairly thin web that supports life on this, the only planet known to science where life exists. 
No other life form is responsible for its causes as humans are, but each and every one of them is a victim of its consequences, including humans, of course. Some species don't even exist anymore. The Center for Biological Diversity calculates that dozens of species vanish from the face of the Earth permanently every 24 hours, and this has been going on for many years. Forecasts indicate that as many as 50% of life forms could disappear by mid century. By then, my daughter will be younger than I am today. Her planet will be radically different than it is today, and not in a good way. Amidst this vast vacuum of global leadership, global citizens appreciate such bold words from a true global leader as president Barack Obama spoke last Monday at the GLACIER Conference in Alaska. 
It is clear in his gestures that he is having a hard time saying some of the things he is saying. He is describing his daughters' world and he won't be here to do anything about it. But he can now, and so can we. Just picture, for an instant, 90 centimeters more of ocean levels in the coast nearest to you, or at the beach of your last tourist destination, or on the city or island where your good friend lives or that you would like to visit one day. That's a conservative forecast that has been approved by scientific consensus and leading towards climate change negotiations later this year in Paris. 
If you ask widely reputed scientists, like former NASA's James Hansen, it could be as high as 14 meters of sea level rise by the end of the century. If one meter was a challenge to London, Shanghai, New York, Lagos, Rio de Janeiro, all of Florida, all of Bangladesh, fifty island nations around the world, 14 meters is bye-bye to all of these human communities and natural ecosystems as we know them. 
Now picture what should be done: pretty much all the fossil fuels that have not been extracted from beneath the crust of the Earth -be it oil, natural gas, shale gas, tar sands, coal- should stay underground. This implies a massive shift in cleaner, renewable sources of energy to supply a growing demand used to power our cars, buses, trains, airplanes, ships; to power our electric appliances at home to cook, wash, keep us warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and be entertained; to pump, purify, transport and discard water for human and agricultural use; to give us electric lighting. That is just the first step. It is urgent. It is indispensable. It is non-negotiable. The other steps deal with consumption of other renewable and non-renewable natural resources, like some types of animal protein, forests, fertile soil, water, clean air, marine life and biodiversity in general, to mention a critical few. 
But first, energy. The technology and the finances are there. The public opinion and the desire of the peoples of the world are there. It seems that what is holding us back is politics. If it doesn't work in our favor, then let's innovate and go around it. Let's bypass it. Let's bring it back to what serves the best interests for the greatest majority in the most effective manner. Unless we are willing to talk, walk, stand and act like U.S. President Obama. In which case, let's get going. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Negotiating by Interests

Rule number one of conflict transformation says: negotiate by interests, not by positions. Why do we consistently fail at this? There might be multiple explanations. Anyhow, it could be a style we carry from the XX Century or from the Cold War era, to negotiate in a “tit-for-tat” way, as if it were a chess game, winner-take-all, or zero-sum game. We all know what it means and we all know it doesn't work anymore.

Negotiating by interests is what allows us to engage in XXI Century negotiation tactics to create shared value, to crowdsource solutions, to transform conflicts into future scenarios of prosperity. That’s what innovation is all about, and we are not talking about technology or business only, but social and political innovation as well.

For example, in discussing climate change, we need more and deeper dialogue and engagement between ecologists and economists, between engineers and lawyers, between artists and entrepreneurs, so that cross-pollination of ideas renders eclectic solutions that no single stakeholder has thought about herself.

Identifying positions is very easy: we usually know where our counterparts stand on all issues. But do we know why? Do they know why? This “why” is key to identify the interests that drive stakeholders into a negotiation or into a stalemate, which is the most likely outcome of a negotiation based on positions.

Starting with why allows us to fully and transparently grasp the essence of our interests, and allows our counterparts to help us satisfy our needs, solve our problems, and achieve our goals. Welcome to the world of co-creation, the world of transversal partnerships, of showing each other’s cards and generating synergy. That is, to jointly generate the greatest possible outcome for everyone involved. If you are familiar with the concept of enlarging the pie, it is precisely that: instead of trying to fight for grabs of the biggest slice one can take, first let us figure out a way to make the pie larger. This will ensure that the slice you get will be bigger than any other slice you could have taken.

Negotiating by interests is boring if you like the thrill of poker, where the winner takes it all and where you are encouraged to lie and bluff if it means winning. It requires authenticity and an attitude of openness. It is incredibly effective if we want to create new value, to go beyond where we could have gone by ourselves, and to reach higher echelons of success.

Success is made by a long chain of partial failures. It is reached when you exhaust all the mistakes that are required to learn the lessons that will make it sprout: a very natural process indeed. As long as we negotiate by interests, this trial-and-error process will lead somewhere prosperous. Otherwise, negotiating by positions will only make us cave in deeper into a vicious cycle of no return. If you have clarity about your position, ask yourself why it is so until you find your interests. Encourage your counterparts to do the same. Become partners into co-creating success. We are all in the same boat anyway, and no one is getting out of it alive, so make the absolute best of it you possibly can.

Friday, May 08, 2015

400 PPM

[English below]
El 19 de noviembre de 2013 fue la primera vez que se midieron 400 partículas de CO2 por millón (PPM) en la atmósfera, en el observatorio de Mauna Loa, Hawaii. Lo recuerdo porque fue el día que nació mi pequeña Aiko.
Para poner esa cifra en contexto, los últimos 4 millones de años, durante los cuales se mantuvo estable el clima en la Tierra, las PPM se mantuvieron en 280, con las oscilaciones normales según las estaciones anuales y con picos presenciados durante mega-erupciones volcánicas alrededor del mundo a lo largo de este vasto período.
Esta cifra comenzó a subir a inicios del Siglo XIX. Desde mediados del Siglo XX, el aumento ha sido vertiginoso. Hace 30 años sobrepasamos la cifra de 350 PPM, que se consideraba como el límite máximo para preservar la biocapacidad de los ecosistemas, sostén de la vida en el planeta.
Esta semana, por primera vez se registraron 400 PPM a nivel global. Es espeluznante lo que se ha acelerado la concentración de gas carbónico en la atmósfera en apenas 18 meses de vida de mi hija.
No sé qué le diré a ella cuando tenga capacidad de comprender lo qué habrá sucedido. La nuestra es la única generación que es en parte víctima, en parte victimaria, y en parte responsable del cambio. Ninguna otra ha estado ni estará en nuestras circunstancias.
Se requiere con urgencia de liderazgos virtuosos de alcance global. Todos estamos invitados a la mesa. No es cierto que todos hacemos lo que podemos. Podemos más. Mucho más: crear conciencia, divulgar información crítica para transformar el conflicto, cambiar actitudes y comportamientos, innovar. Hablemos más del tema. Co-creemos soluciones. Experimentemos. Volvamos a intentar. ¡Vamos!

On November 19th, 2013, was the first time that 400 particles of CO2 per million (PPM) were measured in the atmosphere, at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. I remember well because it was the day my little Aiko was born.
To put that number in context, for the last 4 million years, the Earth’s climate remained stable at 280 PPM, with the normal oscillations related to yearly seasons and with peaks registered during mega-volcanic eruptions around the world throughout this vast period of time.
This figure started climbing since the beginning of the XIX Century. Since mid XX Century, the increase has been dramatic. Thirty years ago we surpassed 350 PPM, which was considered as the maximum limit to preserve ecosystems’ biocapacity, the web of life on the planet.
This week, for the first time 400 PPM were registered globally. It is frightening how CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have accelerated in the 18 months of my daughter’s short life.
I don’t know what I will tell her when she is able to comprehend what would have happened. Ours is the only generation that is partly a victim, partly a victimizer, and partly responsible for the change. No other has been or will be in our circumstances.

We urgently require virtuous leadership of global reach. We are all invited to the table. It is not true we are doing all we can. We can do more. Much more: raise awareness, share information that is critical to transform the conflict, change attitudes and behaviors, innovate. Let’s talk more about the topic. Let’s co-create solutions. Let’s experiment. Let’s try again. Let’s go!