World Fragility

This year’s Index of Global “fragility” (as reported in the Economist)has been released by the Fund for Peace (FfP) and it quite-well reflects the shifting political landscape around the world. Good news for Canadians – we are seen as being more stable this year than last. For obvious reasons, the US is sliding as are North Korea, Turkey and Brazil.

The graphics in the article make for a great lesson starters for Geopolitics, Media and Politics in general.

Fagile States Index

Syria: what students need to know

What is education these days without TED! And, thanks to TED-Ed there is an excellent resource for helping students understand what’s happening in Syria. Some of the source videos I’ve seen and used before, but having it altogether in one place is not only helpful, but a great source for a flipped classroom.

Climate change causes glacial river in Yukon to change direction

from CBC News…

Glacier retreated so much that its meltwater switched course, in an event not documented in modern times.

Climate change has caused the massive Kaskawulsh Glacier in the Yukon to retreat so much that its meltwater abruptly switched direction, in the first documented case of “river piracy” in modern times.

Instead of flowing into the Slims River and then north to the Bering Sea, the water has changed course and now flows south toward the Kaskawulsh River, the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean, scientists have found.  Read more…

As global groundwater disappears, rice, wheat and other international crops may start to vanish

from PBS Newshour

We already know that humans are depleting vital groundwater resources across the globe. But a new study shows one of the biggest causes of disappearing groundwater is the international food trade. Read more…

Ploughshares and Conflict Studies

ploughsharesDYK: In one year (2014), the world spent over $1.6 trillion on the military, over 1/3 of which was spent by one country…the United States.

DYK: The United States spends more on their military than the rest of NATO (#2) China(#3), Saudi Arabia (#4), Russia (#5), India and Japan COMBINED!!

Lately, I’ve been working with my Canadian and World Studies students on Conflict Studies. This has come out of our work in Current Affairs classes (once per week) which seems, every week, to revolve around conflicts. There is always, always, always conflicts in the news, but very little understanding around who is actually involved and why it’s happening in the first place. There is only so much a news organization can bring into a 30-second sound bite, which is what so much of the news is made up of.

ploughsharesEnter Project Ploughshares. Project Ploughshares started back in the 1970s. It grew out of a Mennonite Central Committee background and currently operates as an arms-length project of in the Canadian Council of Churches. To quote its website:

Project Ploughshares takes its name and its vision from the ancient biblical vision in the Book of Isaiah in which the material and human wealth consumed by military preparations are transformed into resources for human development, thereby removing the roots of war itself.

“God shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah 2:4

The value of is many-fold. It is a local organization to us, operating out of Kitchener, Ontario. It is dedicated to bettering the world: “A secure world without war • A just world at peace”. And, equally important, is its unbiased (read: “not churchy”),  authoritative/credible documentation of the numerous conflicts plaguing the planet today. Each year, it produces an Armed Conflict Report with a summary, interactive map and poster, to summarize the various conflicts, locations, combatants and human toll. My students are using the website to create info-posters to help others understand the background of what’s going on around the world.

It has been a real eye-opener for my students. They are beginning to see the complexity of each conflict with multiple layers of historical background and multi-party support of each side. They are also seeing the huge human toll, not just in news clips of a thousand here and 10,000 there, but in terms of the millions of people who have been internally and externally displaced over the years. They have also come to realize there is a whole area of study at the university level called Peace and Conflict Studies. Just one more realization of “what’s out there”.

Weekend Wandering 9: Are you a Gapminder?

GapminderWhat is it about Sweden and global development statistics? I remember first learning of the Demographic Transition model based on birth and death data from a village in Sweden dating back to 1749. Now, along comes Hans Rosling who is perhaps the most important statistician alive today. He is media savvy as evidenced by his numerous TED Talk appearances. But more importantly, he spreads a message of hope for the world that everyone else is missing. As the TED website says:

In Hans Rosling’s hands, data sings.

HansRoslingYou may know of Hans Rosling from the animated bubble charts he walks you through like a sportscaster. If you’re a geographer and you haven’t heard of him, then you must – right now – watch this 10min TED Talk: Global population growth, box by box. It’s classic Hans Rosling and perhaps his most memorable video. But there’s more – much more.

In an effort to reduce world ignorance about statistics, data and how the world has changed, Hans Rosling and his son Ola, have co-founded the Gapminder Foundation. At their website you will find a number of up-to-date videos, animations and resources for better understanding how data is used constructively to show how the world is changing. If you’re an educator, then have a look at the downloadable teachers’ resources: 200 years that changed the world and  the Quiz about Global Development.

What is particularly interesting is their work in Ignorance with the Ignorance Project. Interestingly, they are using an icon of a chimpanzee. If you watch one of their TED Talk videos, you’ll know why. Basically, they ask intelligent people basic, multiple choice questions about the world and compare their answers to the reality. What becomes instantly apparent is how our knowledge of the world, based on our own personal biases and reinforced by media bias, has given us a rather distorted view of the world, so we are, in fact, out-performed by chimpanzees. Hans Rosling makes his point in this short YouTube clip from a Swedish or Danish television discussion (with English subtitles): Don’t use the media to understand the world. This is supported by data he presents in the TED Talk – How not to be ignorant about the world – where the media score no better than the rest of the public on basic world facts.

But there’s much more (I know, this is sounding like a late-night TV infomercial!) Gapminder has made available in their Downloads section, the Gapminder World Offline version for Mac, Windows and Linux. This will let you and your students “play” with the data – a perfect way for it to come alive in the classroom generating discussion and critical thinking. These are the animated bubble charts I referred to earlier, made famous by Hans Rosling’s ground-breaking TED Talk way back in 2006: The best stats you’ve ever seen. Call me a GeoGeek, but I can still remember watching that video for the first time and being amazed at how the same data and concepts I had been teaching for 15 years suddenly came alive. I couldn’t wait to show my classes and colleagues they next day.

Alternatively, you can go to the Gapminder World page and play with the data directly. The landing page shows the Wealth and Health of Nations, but you can select other charts under “Open Graph Menu” or you can directly choose x- and y-axes to create statistical comparisons. There is also a Map view for visualizing trends in one data point over time for geographic countries and regions. Powerful stuff!

Gapminder-CanadaOne trick I’ve just discovered… In Chart mode you can select “Play” to watch how the data changes over time. Run it through once then drag the time slider back to the start. Now here’s the cool part… Before selecting Play again, select a country: hover your cursor over a bubble to reveal the name. Once you’ve found the country you’re looking for, click on it. Now hit “Play” and you can watch the “trail” that country makes through time. I selected “Canada” and what becomes instantly apparent is the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 (and the end of WWI) and the effects of the Great Depression on incomes in the early 1930s. Very powerful stuff!

I’ve posted this as a Weekend Wandering because it’s the kind of website that just might capture your interest for a few hours. Being a holiday weekend (here in North America, anyway), you can spend your Labour Day Monday delving into the world of Gapminder – Enjoy!

Climate Change done right

It’s quite astonishing that one of the best climate change information sites comes out of a country well-known for its climate change denyers. NASA’s Global Climate Change – Vital Signs of the Planet is excellent. The first menu option is FACTS presenting the evidence, causes, effects and consensus exactly as one would expect from good and proper science. If only my own government could do the same – allow scientists to say what’s really going on. [Aside: For those who don’t know, I don’t live in an oppressive developing nation, but in Canada, where our democratically elected government has been muzzling federal scientists (and here) for years now. Yes, it’s the same Canada of UN peacekeeping fame and the country that once promoted openness, fairness and democracy, but has gone through a difficult time under its current right-wing leadership. Perhaps the Oct 19 election will change that.]

It’s also surprising that a whole government agency (NASA) can be saying something that someone who hopes to be president (Donald Trump) calls a complete hoax

Back to the NASA site: In particular, you will find the Infographics page and the EarthMinute animations helpful, especially in a classroom setting. There are also a number of Interactives to allow some independent exploration of the issue. It’s the kind of site you could spend hours exploring. And if you have contact with Mr. Trump, you may want to suggest he reads this!