Why I Think This World Should End by Prince Ea
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|Lee Kuan Yew - Father of Singapore|
IF YOU seek his monument: look around Singapore. Prosperous, orderly, clean, efficient and honestly governed, it is not the work of Lee Kuan Yew alone. But even his severest critics would agree that Mr Lee, who died early on March 23rd (Singapore time) at the age of 91, played an enormous part. Singapore’s leader from before "self-government" from Britain in 1959, he was prime minister until 1990, and retired in stages, leaving the cabinet only in 2011, and remaining a member of parliament until his death. Under him Singapore, with no natural resources, has become one of the world’s richest countries. Many admirers look to it as a model, and Mr Lee as a sage. He did indeed have much to teach the world; but some, especially in China, draw the wrong lesson: that authoritarianism works.
Part of Mr Lee’s influence stemmed from his role as a clear-eyed, blunt-speaking geostrategist. He was an astute observer of the defining contest of our era—China’s emergence and how America reacts to it. He was also a respected interpreter of each to the other, and an important voice, with unique access in both countries, arguing for continued American engagement in Asia and for Chinese tolerance of it.
Critics mock Singapore for being like North Korea or as "Disneyland with the death penalty", as William Gibson described it in 1993. However, Mr Lee’s defenders argue that the restrictions are a small price to pay for stability and prosperity. GDP figures do not lie: Mr Lee’s policies have worked. Singapore is a thriving city-state. Unlike North Korea or Disneyland, it offers a real challenge to the liberal notion that growth, prosperity and freedom should and do go together.
China’s leaders, especially, are fascinated by Singapore’s style of one-party rule. They see flaws in "Western-style democracy": its short-termism; its disregard for non-voters such as children and foreigners; and its habit of throwing up unqualified leaders. Mr Lee’s "meritocracy" promises a solution.
But four peculiarities of Singapore make it look like an anomaly. First is its size. It is a city with a foreign policy, which means it has a cohesion that vast, diverse countries cannot match. Second, this cohesion is reinforced by the turbulent circumstances of its birth. After a painful divorce from Malaysia in 1965, the government has never let Singaporeans forget that a Chinese-majority island, surrounded by Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia, would always be vulnerable. Geography is third. Singapore has flourished in part because of the failings of the rest of its region. Rather as Hong Kong’s prosperity was based on being Chinese but not entirely part of China, so Singapore is in South-East Asia, but not of it.
Only one Lee Kuan Yew
However, the most important reason for Singapore’s singular experience is Mr Lee himself. Incorruptible himself, he kept government unusually clean. He ensured that Singapore pays its ministers and civil servants high salaries. Under today’s prime minister, his son Lee Hsien Loong, the bureaucracy has remained orderly and clean. Unlike many other independence leaders, Mr Lee designed a system to outlast him. Singapore’s government claims it has faced enough electoral competition to keep it honest but not so much that there was a high risk of losing power. So it has been able to eschew populism and take decisions in the country’s long-term interests.
But in most countries, probity requires checks, balances and an opposition that is not always condemned as unpatriotic. In China, for example, Xi Jinping, two years into an anti-corruption campaign, shows no sign of winning the battle. Across much of the developing world, those in opposition are treated as traitors whether their criticisms make sense or not.
Even in Singapore the model may not outlast its creator for long. Singaporeans are having few children and ageing fast, so the government faces demands for more generous social-welfare provisions. And growth has become dependent on high levels of immigration, angering natives who feel the influx is suppressing their wages and making it impossible to get a seat on the tube. That balance between competition and inevitable re-election is shifting uncomfortably. The Singapore model may prove unsustainable even in Singapore. More
The UN organisation in charge of global climate change negotiations is backing the fast-growing campaign persuading investors to sell off their fossil fuel assets. It said it was lending its “moral authority” to the divestment campaign because it shared the ambition to get a strong deal to tackle global warming at a crunch UN summit in Paris in December.
“We support divestment as it sends a signal to companies, especially coal companies, that the age of ‘burn what you like, when you like’ cannot continue,” said Nick Nuttall, the spokesman for the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC).
The move is likely to be controversial as the economies of many nations at the negotiating table heavily rely on coal, oil and gas. In 2013, coal-reliant Poland hosted the UNFCCC summit and was castigated for arranging a global coal industry summit alongside. Now, the World Coal Association has criticised the UNFCCC’s decision to back divestment, saying it threatened investment in cleaner coal technologies.
Several analyses have shown that there are more fossil fuels in proven reserves than can be burned if catastrophic global warming is to be avoided, as world leaders have pledged. Divestment campaigners argue that the trillions of dollars companies continue to spend on exploration for even more fossil fuels is a danger to both the climate and investors’ capital.
“Everything we do is based on science and the science is pretty clear that we need a world with a lot less fossil fuels,” Nuttall told the Guardian. “We have lent our own moral authority as the UN to those groups or organisations who are divesting. We are saying ‘we support your aims and ambitions because they are fairly and squarely our ambition’, which is to get a good deal in Paris.”
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, sent a related message to investors in November, saying: “Please reduce your investments in the coal- and fossil-fuel-based economy and [move] to renewable energy.” But he stopped short of backing the divestment campaign itself.
Many religious groups are among the 180 organisations that have already divested their funds from fossil fuels, as well as city authorities and universities. “We see the divestment of churches very much as a moral imperative for them,” Nuttall said. “If their goal is relieving the suffering of millions of people, then divestment is in line with how they want the world to be.”
A recent tweet from the UNFCCC said: “Divestment worked to free [South Africa] of apartheid. Now it can help free us of fossil fuels.” The tweet carried a quote and image of the archbishop Desmond Tutu, who in 2014 told the Guardian: “People of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change.”
Divestment campaigners say their aim is to bankrupt fossil fuel companies morally, not financially. “No one is saying divestment by churches and universities will shift the market in a one-to-one way,” said Nuttall. “The message now is that you can get off fossil fuels without undermining your investments. It’s a different world now. You can save the world and get a good return on your investment.”
Many senior figures and institutions in the financial world, including the World Bank, Bank of England, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and Standard and Poor’s, have warned that only a fraction of known fossil fuel reserves can be safely burned and that the remainder could plummet in value posing huge risks to investors.
Benjamin Sporton, acting chief executive of the World Coal Association, rejected the linking of divestment from fossil fuels with divestment from tobacco and apartheid South Africa. “The coal divestment campaign is not comparable to any other divestment campaign,” he said. “Active and responsible investors play a vital role in encouraging investment in cleaner coal technologies. Demand for coal is not going away.”
As global warming argument moves on to politics and business, Alan Rusbridger explains the thinking behind our major series on the climate crisis
Sporton said the divestment campaign was a concern: “There are economic and social dimensions that mean divesting from fossil fuels – and in particular coal – comes with significant risks, not least when 1.3 billion people are still without access to electricity.” The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in November that global warming is set to inflict severe and irreversible impacts on people and that “limiting its effects is necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication”.
“Meeting the demand projected by the International Energy Agency will call for $18.5tn of cumulative investment between 2014 and 2035,” said a spokesman for the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP). “This doesn’t support an argument for divestment.” Replacing coal-fired power stations with gas can halve carbon emissions, he added.
New York wants to get serious about solar power. The state has a goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and it’s already among the nation’s solar leaders. New York ranks ninth overall for total installed solar, and in 2013 alone it added enough to power more than 10,000 homes.
While that’s great news for solar companies and environmentalists, it’s a bit of a problem for electric utilities. Until recently, the business model of electric companies hadn’t changed much since it was created a century ago. (The country’s first electric grid was strung up by Thomas Edison in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1880s, and some parts of it continued to operate into the 2000s.) Utilities have depended on a steady growth in demand to stay ahead of the massive investments required to build power plants and the electric grid. But now, that tradition is crumbling — thanks to the crazy growth of rooftop solar and other alternative energy sources and some big advances in energy efficiency that have caused the overall demand for electricity to stop growing. Meanwhile, utilities in New York are also required to buy the excess power from solar buildings that produce more than they need — a policy called "net metering".
But here’s the thing: Even the most ardent climate hawks agree that we can’t afford for utilities to go out of business altogether. Someone needs to maintain and manage the grid. Hardly any solar homes are actually "off the grid," since they still depend on power lines to soak up their excess electricity during sunny afternoons and deliver power at night. In fact, net metering is a key factor in making solar economically viable to homeowners.
The question of how to aggressively slash carbon emissions without completely undermining the power sector (and simultaneously raising the risk of blackouts and skyrocketing electric bills) is one of the big existential questions that climate-savvy lawmakers are now trying to figure out. And last week in New York, they took a huge step forward.
Under a new order from the state’s Public Service Commission, utility companies will soon be barred from owning "distributed" power systems — that means rooftop solar, small wind turbines, and basically anything else that isn’t a big power plant. (There are some rare exceptions built into the order, notably for giant low-income apartment buildings in New York City that small solar companies aren’t well-equipped to serve.)
"By restricting utilities from owning local power generation and other energy resources, customers will benefit from a more competitive market, with utilities working and partnering with other companies and service providers," the commission said in a statement.
The move is part of a larger package of energy reforms in the state, aimed at setting up the kind of futuristic power system that experts think will be needed to combat global warming. The first step came in 2007, when the state adopted "decoupling," a market design in which a utility’s revenue is based not on how much power it sells, but on how many customers it serves. (Remember that in most states utilities have their income stream heavily regulated by the state in exchange for having a monopoly.) That change removed the incentive for utilities to actively block rooftop solar and energy-saving technology, because lost sales no longer translate to lost income. But because utilities could still make money by recouping the cost of big infrastructure projects through increases to their customers’ bills, they had an incentive to build expensive stuff like power plants and big transmission hubs even if demand could be better met with efficiency and renewables.
Now, under New York’s most recent reform, a utility’s revenue will instead be based on how efficiently and effectively it distributes power, so-called "performance-based rates." This, finally, provides the incentive utilities need to make decisions that jibe with the state’s climate goals, because it will be to their advantage to make use of distributed energy systems.
But there’s a catch, one that had clean energy advocates in the state worried. If utilities were allowed to buy their own solar systems, they would be able to leverage their government-granted monopoly to muscle-out smaller companies. This could limit consumer options, drive up prices, and stifle innovation. That, in turn, could put a freeze on consumers’ interest in solar and ultimately slow down the rate at which it is adopted. But if small companies are allowed in, then the energy market starts to look more like markets for normal goods, where customer choice drives technological advances and pushes down prices.
"New York’s approach to limit utility ownership balances the desire for more solar with the desire to have competitive markets that we expect to continue to bring down the costs of solar," said Anne Reynolds, director of the Alliance for Clean Energy New York.
The upshot is that solar in New York will be allowed to thrive without being squeezed out by incumbent giants like Con Edison and National Grid.
"This is as exciting as the Public Service Commission gets," said Raya Salter, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York who worked with state regulators on the plan. "These are bold, aggressive changes."
The policy puts New York on track for a new way of doing business that many energy wonks now see as inevitable. In the past, the role of electric utilities was to generate power at a few central hubs and bring it to your house; in the near future, their role will be to facilitate the flow of power between countless independent systems.
"We need to plan for a primarily renewable system," said John Farrell, director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which advocates for breaking up the old utility model as a key solution to climate change. "We want to pay [utilities] for doing things we want, rather than paying for their return on investment for the things they build."
So far, the response from utilities has been receptive; a spokesperson for Con Ed said the company looks forward to developing details for how the order will move forward.
The change in New York could become a model for other states, Reynolds said. Regulators in Hawaii are already considering a similar policy.
"Everyone is watching to see what’s happening here," she said. "It’s really a model of what a utility could be in the future." More