Costa Rica: Renewable Energy’s Success Story

By Derek Brody

Costa Rica is a Central American nation known primarily for its lush rainforests and booming tourism industry, but this year it is attempting to make another claim to notoriety as the first country to last an entire year running on only green energy.

The country has become a pioneer in renewable energy, and has spent the last 5 months subsisting solely on green energy sources, rather than fossil fuel. Twenty fifteen was a landmark year in the push for green energy in Costa Rica, as the country spent 285 days powered entirely by renewable energy sources according to the Costa Rican Electricity Institute, also referred to as ICE. The country has not been powered by fossil fuels since June 17 of this year, meaning they are almost halfway to their goal of an entire 12-month cycle. In fact, ICE announced in April that they “now consider fossil fuels a backup energy generation source.”

In the place of fossil fuels, Costa Rica uses a mixture of hydro, wind, geothermal, and solar energy. Hydropower provides the majority of their energy, greater than 80%, with geothermal plants providing 12.6%, wind turbines providing 7.1%, and solar energy providing 0.01%. The country has been able to utilize its climate and terrain, using its large river system and heavy tropical rainfalls to create large amounts of hydropower. The nation has been lucky in 2016 because of the heavy rainfalls near the country’s four hydroelectric power facilities. Carlos Manuel Obregon, the executive president of ICE, noted that Costa Rica will soon turn on its Reventazon hydroelectric project, which is massive in size and scope. According to the Tico Times, the dam’s five turbines will have a generating capacity of 305.5 megawatts, or enough power for an estimated 525,000 homes.

Costa Rica is also not alone in its quest to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and a number of European countries have been reasonably successful in their attempts to make greater use of green energy sources. Sweden, for example, draws approximately half of its power from renewable sources, as Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced that the country will work toward becoming the “first fossil fuel-free” nation in the world in a speech to the UN General Assembly earlier this year. In September, his government announced it would allocate 4.5 billion kronor (approximately $521 million) to green infrastructure, funding projects like the production of more solar panels, wind turbines, and a cleaner public transport and energy grid.

Denmark has also made major steps toward reducing dependence on fossil fuels, and currently ranks as the world leader in energy sourced from wind. In fact, nearly 40 percent of the nation’s electricity came from its wind turbines in 2014. Even Portugal, a nation not well-known for its commitment to renewable energy, ran for 107 straight days without using any fossil fuel-based sources earlier this year.

That is not to say, however, that Costa Rica’s success comes without challenges and obstacles. In fact, it can be argued that their overwhelming reliance on hydropower is actually harmful to the environment, according to Gary Wockner of “Save the Colorado.” In August, Wockner warned against the dangers of hydropower when he said, “Hydropower has been called a ‘methane factory’ and ‘methane bomb’ that is just beginning to rear its ugly head as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions that have so-far been unaccounted for in climate change discussions and analysis.” Additionally, rainfall can be fickle at times and long periods of drought result in countries having to resort back to the use of fossil fuels.

It is also incorrect to assume that Costa Rica’s success is easily transferrable to other countries. The country has only 4.9 million inhabitants, and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimated they used about 10,713 gigawatt-hours of electricity in 2015. In contrast, the United States generated about 373 times more electricity in 2015, with roughly 4 million gigawatt-hours of total generation.

Recent actions taken by the United States, however, suggest that the U.S. is not as committed to green energy as it could be. In mid-August, the state of Wyoming declared that the state itself owns the wind. This measure, passed by the state legislature, allows the state to increase taxes on energy produced by wind turbines from $1 per megawatt hour to $12 per megawatt hour. This legislation has been criticized for its deleterious effects. Matt Agorist of the Free Thought Process noted that, “This move by the state is not in the interest of the people, nor it is even in the interest of raising funds for the government. In the four years that it’s been law, the state has only raised $15 million from taxing the wind. This move is purely retaliatory and meant to stifle new businesses who threaten the dinosaur coal and fossil fuel industry’s grip on energy production.”

Nevada also passed legislation designed to suppress green energy production, hiking its tax on solar power by 40 percent in January of this year. To make matters worse, the tax increase was applied retroactively, effectively squashing investments in the growing solar industry. Former SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive expressed his displeasure at the increase, saying, “It will destroy the rooftop solar industry in one of the states with the most sunshine. There is so much wrong with the decision. The one beneficiary of this decision would be NV Energy, whose monopoly will have been protected.”

Despite the challenges put forth by certain state legislatures, the planet as a whole has made large strides away from dependence on fossil fuels and toward a more sustainable future. Leading the charge, perhaps unexpectedly, is a tiny Central American country who may just make history this year.

Castro’s Complicated Legacy

By Victoria Herring

On November 25th, two cities just 90 miles away from each other experienced a radically different array of emotions. In Havana, the streets were silent; some people wept and others retreated into their dark houses. In Miami, shouts erupted from the Cuban community and people paraded through the streets with banners and music, waving both Cuba and American flags in jubilation. Cuba had just announced the death of Fidel Castro, aged 90. The country established a nine-day period of mourning for the deceased leader and shut down concerts, nightclubs, and public performances. University students at the school where Fidel himself had studied law seventy years earlier laid flowers and photos at his monument. His death has brought up many different sentiments, as 51 year old Graciela Martinez, whose father fought in the revolution and whose relatives escaped to the US, said: “For those who loved him, he was the greatest…for those who hated him, there was no one worse.”

Many in the “free world,” as capitalist and democratic countries call themselves, have trouble understanding why those in Cuba are saddened by Castro’s death. However, those Cubans were raised under Castro’s leadership and grew to respect and revere him. He inspired the zeal of the revolution and created important health care and education reforms on the island. As a young Cuban woman stated, “The Cuban people are feeling sad because of the loss of our commander in chief Fidel Castro Ruz, and we wish him, wherever he is, that he is blessed, and us Cubans love him.” As a people, Cubans are proud of their country, for they are a vibrant and adaptable people with an uncanny openness and a strong sense of community. Undoubtedly, all Cubans are in the process of reconciling many feelings, as Castro was the catalyst for many who escaped the country, the communist structure of Cuba, and the indefinite split among many families, many who never saw their loved ones again after leaving Cuba. A quote from another Cuban living in Miami expresses yet another powerful emotion, one of hope and of the disillusionment Castro later incited, “It’s a moment that we’ve been waiting for 55 years. We’re free at last. The man that caused so much suffering, so much people to be sad in my country … has passed away.”

It will be difficult to assess if there are similar sentiments on the island, as social media and wireless access is significantly restricted and all of the news available to outsiders comes from Cuban government sources, as the country has the most restrictive laws on freedom of the press in the Americas. According to citizens of the country who escaped to the U.S., Castro’s death means the end of an era. Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother who has governed Cuba for the past eight years, is 85 years old. There is no other individual officially lined up to take over power, leading many to believe that the time has come for a new Cuban generation. While it is uncertain as to whether the world will see a democratic uprising or another Castro hardliner, the future of Cuba will be the subject of many political debates in the coming months.

Castro was much more than the chief commander of the Cuban revolution; he was and will continue to be a legendary figure, romantic inspiration, and even remarkable survivor – authorities report there were six hundred attempts on his life. He lived to see a historical reestablishment of diplomacy between Cuba and the United States under the Obama administration; many Americans who remember the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis – where Russia, Cuba, and the United States narrowly avoided nuclear war – regarded the island nation as a threat to democracy. Geopolitics required that the U.S. exercise great caution with its close neighbor, and Castro fiercely defied the United States and its embargo on his small and financially struggling country as relations frayed in the 1960s. Over the decades, the embargo proved to be counterproductive: Cubans began blaming the United States for their economic hardships and Latin American countries criticized the U.S. for isolating the island. At the memorial for Nelson Mandela’s death in 2013, Obama and Raul shook hands. The international community pondered whether this symbolic greeting had any meaning for the two nations, it was heralded as “the second handshake between leaders of the two countries in the past half-century.” The action proved to be indicative of change, for Obama became the first U.S. president in 88 years to touch down on the island and meet with leaders. Soon thereafter, relations began to normalize, and certain travel and financial restrictions were weakened; just last week, Southwest and United Airlines announced regular commercial flights to Havana. Congress continues to disagree with the president, however, and debate concerning the lifting of the embargo continues.

In order to gain an idea of what the future of Cuba looks like, one must understand how Fidel has influenced Raul’s leadership in the country for the past eight years. Political analysts speculate as to whether the younger brother held back social and economic reforms for fear of opposition by Fidel; the original commander of the revolution had reportedly kept the Communist Party from carrying out major reforms at the party’s conference just last year. Yet, as he retreated from the public eye due to serious illness, Raul countered the three principles of “Fidelism” – paternalism, idealism, and egalitarianism – with new reforms. He replaced his brother’s established military leaders with his own trusted ones, opened a minuscule space for small businesses, introduced performance-based salary increments and reduced state welfare distribution. After these small measures, Enrique López Oliva, a retired church historian in Cuba, expects an accelerated rate of change with the death of Fidel.

In the timeline of U.S.-Cuban relations, a wild card emerges: the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. He has spoken of reinstating economic sanctions on Cuba if he does not obtain more concessions from its government, calling Castro a “brutal dictator.” and thus opposing Obama’s words of reconciliation after the death of Fidel: “(we pursue) a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends.” The collapse of Cuba’s longtime ally, the Soviet Union, along with the removal of financial assistance from ailing Venezuela, has created an uncertain stage with a speculating audience. As the next few months unfold, the world will watch with tremendous interest.

Political Turmoil in the Land of Tears and Soul

By Victoria Herring 

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the site of our most recent Olympic games, is a vibrant city that serves as the cultural heart of one of the largest and most politically turbulent emerging countries in the world. Amid its great tourist attractions, be it to the Amazon rainforest or the beaches of Copacabana and Leblon, a political controversy has pitted many parts of the population against each other. The powerful tug of corruption has enveloped Brazil’s political atmosphere, leading to the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Unemployment has reached unprecedented heights at 11.2%, and with the country spending millions on Olympic infrastructure and combatting the spread of the Zika virus, Brazil’s economy is at a dangerous tipping point. What precisely is the root of this complicated problem, and what can be done to mend it? To understand Brazil one must understand the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff in August of 2016 and how the country reached the point of impeaching their president.

In order to understand the crisis, one must look to history. Brazil has long been known as the pioneer letter in the BRICS acronym, naming the countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. These “Big Five” are depicted as being in a newly advanced stage of economic development, with a promising future as the world’s leading trade partners and producers. What kind of leadership resulted in this enormous catapult onto the international stage? In 2002, the Worker’s Party of Brazil elected Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, frequently shortened to Lula, an endearing and soon to be a controversial figure. This election was one of tremendous importance because of the type of leader Lula would turn out to be; Lula’s education ended in elementary school; he was a poor, uneducated man, and had never run for public office. A leader of this caliber was unheard of in Brazil since the country gained its independence in 1822.

In 2002, Brazilian citizens were in a state of unrest. Many predicted the protests against Lula, due to his seeming lack of qualification to be president, would be enough to discourage voters from supporting his faction, the Worker’s Party. Interestingly, he gained popularity by maintaining the liberal policies of previous governments, as advised by the Washington Consensus’s standards for economic prosperity to developing countries. His leftist policies promoted investment in infrastructure and public goods and services, creating a burgeoning economy by encouraging production and heightened activity. Lula enjoyed the highest approval rating of any Brazilian president in recent history at 87% approval in 2007. His approval rates remained very high until the following year when the American mortgage crisis sent the world economy into a massive recession.

Nearly every single country had to respond to the American crisis. Brazil chose to increase spending in order to maintain its prosperous economy. Unfortunately, this huge public spending created a massive debt. After one year, the national deficit could be represented by sixty-five percent of the country’s total exports; in other words, the capital spent on internal improvements was such that it would take 65% of the country’s products to pay for the debt. How did this affect the social environment? The answer is dangerously simple: it did not.

The social effects of this increase in spending were not felt by the country’s citizens, as it takes months or even years for economic complications to affect a republic’s people personally. This allowed for Dilma Rousseff to be elected with the support of Lula’s popularity in 2007; however, as a president, she was not an independent leader. The previous president handpicked Dilma and her policies were direct recommendations from Lula. During her presidency, people began to feel the consequences of the massive deficit. Unemployment began to rise slowly, and more citizens were falling below the poverty line. As part of the country’s welfare program, the poor have the option of receiving a “bolsa familia,” or “family basket,” that provides necessary material resources to poor and very poor families, or those earning under $200 a month. Main features of this program clearly show how it creates a cycle of deficiency: hard cash is delivered to the family, who has the freedom to use it in whichever manner they choose to. However, with no conditions for continuous aid, namely mandatory vaccinations or attendance in school for children, the money is not able to break the cycle of poverty. In addition, a family may receive this assistance permanently as long as they fit the income criteria. The Worker’s Party wins the majority vote of the poor, and has done little to change the conditions in which their constituents can escape from poverty. This unfortunate truth led to an exceedingly close election between candidates Dilma and Aecio Neves, her opponent, in 2013. The people knew something was terribly wrong, yet the poor served as a significant force in electing the incumbent as opposed to Aecio, who pledged to revise the current welfare system.  

Just last year, Brazil learned that Dilma Rousseff had been masking Brazil’s massive deficit over the years. Further economic scandals among Worker Party “elites” and Dilma herself – namely with oil giant Petrobras – revealed a state of corruption never before seen in Brazil, calling for a reassessment of transparency and integrity within the government. It is important to note that the goal of such corruption was not to put money in politician’s pockets, but to perpetuate the power of the Left. Accused of hiding the deficit from the people illegally under the guise of creative accountability, Dilma was impeached after an arduous process in August 2016. This crime of responsibility came with outrage from the people, who protested and largely participated in the forces to either impeach or keep her in power during the months leading up to the contentious vote. An indispensable aspect of the nation – freedom of speech and of press – proved to be instrumental in this turbulent time. The independence of the federal police force, supreme tribunal court, and the public ministry significantly helped to unveil the vast amounts of corruption taking place. The transition of power to her vice president, Michel Temer, led to much relief and the call for change in the form of transparent economic policies from the Brazilian people.

As president, Temer has reinstated the economic standards of the Lula years – investment in infrastructure and public goods. With the rise of investment in public goods and laissez-faire, the country’s currency, the real, has gained value. The movement towards free enterprise stimulated growth, particularly among trade and the stock market. Today, Brazil’s economic situation is slowly improving. Its people are hesitant and untrusting of the government, and understandably so. It will be a gradual path to recovery; nonetheless, the vibrant culture and warmth of Brazil, with one of the largest and most influential economies, is alive and well.

A Scandal of Olympic-Sized Proportions

By Adithya Sivakumar

 

As the world closely watches chaos unfold in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, another nation in the bottom half of the hemispheres is grappling with crises involving its elected officials: Brazil. Slated to host the Summer Olympics later this year, Brazil has already been swamped with concerns about the environment for visitors, especially with the prevalence of the Zika virus. However, a new problem of political instability could lead to massive negative effects on the Brazilian economy and major events such as the Olympics.

The current president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was elected in 2011 to oversee a booming economy after the popular presidency of her mentor, Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva (Lula).  As the first female president of the Latin American nation,  she  is known as having a hard line on corruption, even removing six of her own cabinet members due to graft allegations. Her effective management of the government has won her praise from various sectors of the public.

Her honeymoon stage with the public’s opinion, however, began to see its end in late 2014,  when details of a massive corruption scandal involving Brazil’s state-owned energy company, Petrobas, were released. The premise of the scandal was that government officials enjoyed massive kickbacks from the energy company in exchange for contracts, a process that largely happened in Rousseff’s oversight of the company as head of board of directors. At first, it appeared Rousseff was safe from any real attempt at impeachment, as the Senate found her to be clear of benefiting personally from any of the aforementioned exchanges.

In early 2015, the scandal became even worse, engulfing politicians across party lines and those in Rousseff’s inner circle, which exacerbated the force against the President who was also facing high unemployment rates and a stagnant economy. Demonstrations ranging in the millions have been organized to protest the government, and Rousseff’s approval rating has dropped to abysmal levels. More arrests of senior figures began to cause Rousseff’s walls around her to slowly collapse, and the threat of impeachment was slowly becoming more viable which each new development in the scandal and products of the economic recession.

Then, after months of back-and–forth discussion, impeachment proceedings finally began against Rousseff in late 2015, and not even due directly to the Petrobas scandal; in fact, she was indicted based on possibly doctoring accounting to hide the extent of deficit in her reelection campaign. Additionally, the impeachment was approved by the speaker of the lower house, who himself was facing corruption charges from the Petrobas scandal, which may have given him political impetus to impeach Rousseff or fall just like countless politicians around him.

Interestingly, dissent against Rousseff mainly stems from the middle class, white, and privileged segments of society, not necessarily the poorer, less white segments. This divide may stem from the fact that Rousseff and her left-wing party pushed for relief for poorer Brazilians, which may have caused a loyalty among these segments toward Rousseff’s party. Nevertheless, the segments on the street have played a large role in pressuring lawmakers to do something about Rousseff, indicating the power these privileged groups hold in Brazilian elections.

Unfortunately for Rousseff, even with this group’s backing, her position in the government hit a new low in the past week. The earlier impeachment charges had died out, indicating that Rousseff could escape the imminent threat of dismissal. However, once Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor Lula was put under investigation for corruption, alarm bells went off for the Brazilian public who knew the two worked in conjunction. Their fears appeared to be realized when, in a surprise appointment, Rousseff appointed Lula to the chief of staff position in her cabinet. Subsequently, a judge heading the Petrobas scandal investigation released a phone call between Lula and Rousseff that implies that the appointment was to put Lula out of prosecutors’ reach; this is due to the stipulation that cabinet members can only be tried by the Supreme Court, not prosecutors like those heading the Petrobas scandal investigation. After the release of these calls, many Brazilians once again took to the streets, demanding Rousseff’s ouster. Impeachment proceedings were opened again, and a Supreme Court judge blocked Lula’s appointment due to the contents of the phone call. At this juncture, Rousseff has walked into what appears an inevitable demise. Her ruling coalition does not appear to be able to defeat a move for impeachment in the lower house, which would lead to near-certain conviction in the senate.

Despite the political upheaval that is likely to come about due to these developments, Brazil hosts a whole barrage of other issues, especially the new onset of the Zika virus. Many towns are unable to control the virus due to the lack of funding for medicine and prevention, a condition that is widely blamed on the recession. And with the eyes of the world already upon Brazil due to the Summer Olympics, it appears that without a change in governmental policy, instability will be the word of the year in Latin America’s most populous nation.

 

The Beginning of a Central American Spring

By Bella Jones

 

The Northern Triangle, a region in Central America encompassing Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, is known to harbor some of the most notorious criminals involved in illegal drug trafficking.  Additionally, this area suffers from government corruption, rampant gang violence, weak economies, and extreme poverty.  Because of the resulting instability, citizens of countries in the Northern Triangle have fled to the United States, often illegally, through Mexico drawing international attention.  Though the Mexican government has attempted to end the flow of refugees and migrants, their methods often cause mistreatment and extortion of thousands of desperate people. Furthermore, many of these are young children fleeing danger and starvation. All these factors have contributed to4 massive social instability that may soon rock the foundations of Central American governments.

Governments of the Northern Triangle cannot address alone. Yet, influential countries and international organizations have been hesitant to get involved directly within the Northern Triangle government. This reluctance may be due to muddy involvement in civil wars of the past. Before, during, and after the Salvadoran civil war, the U.S. had been controversially involved with the right-wing leaders of El Salvador’s militaristic government. Back then the U.S. unknowingly planted the seeds for much of the ongoing violence that has plagued the small country ever since the 1992 UN-negotiated Chapultepec Peace Agreement. Today, it  is one of the most violent countries in the world in non-conflict zones, as unbridled gang violence continues to terrorize its citizens. This example show just how influential external involvement can be, whether for better or for worse. Despite the mistakes of the past, it is important to recognize a government in need when it is most crucial for the country’s development and the protection of its people’s human rights.

An increasing number of citizens in Honduras and Guatemala have been protesting the government’s injustices, raising questions of a possible Central American Spring. Without more active involvement from international organizations or external influential governments, Central American governments will be unable to handle the detrimental results of these growing revolutionary sentiments. If the  U.S. is serious about addressing immigration policy reform, it will need use a different approach than just implementing stronger border control and deportation policies. These deterrence measures do nothing to address the root of the problem, which resides in the Central American countries themselves.

Recently, the United States, along with international organizations such as the United Nations, made a step in the right direction by intervening in addressing systemic corruption in Guatemala. The initiative established the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an independent corruption agency driving the force behind investigations that have rooted out corrupt leaders,such as former Guatemalan president, Pérez Molina. The CICIG has had much success compared to national anti-corruption efforts in Honduras, a nation which has had much less hands-on international involvement. If similar efforts were to be implemented in Honduras, the results could be much more fruitful than current intragovernmental efforts.  These efforts could majorly contribute to a social stabilization that could avert dissent.

Known to be the one of the most violent countries in the world, Honduras suffers from systemic corruption in government, which perpetuates unrestrained drug wars and gang violence. This unhindered violence resulted in a homicide rate of 66 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014, a rate 50% higher than that of Detroit, the most dangerous city in the U.S. The country’s high murder rates have been a major cause of the massive waves of Honduran refugees across the border into the United States. From 1980 to 2013, the size of the Central American immigrant population grew nine-fold from 354,000 to 3.2 million. Since 2011, a growing number of unaccompanied children, largely from the Northern Triangle, have arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border. These issues raise humanitarian and migratory concerns that involve not only the interests of the Northern Triangle, but also the surrounding nations such as Mexico and the United States. If these nations want to address the crisis, they’ll need to tackle its cause –  the endemic violence. Efforts by the  Honduran government to address the rampant crime have been undercut by internal corruption. In June of this year, Mario Zelaya, the former head of the Honduran Institute of Social Security allegedly embezzled USD $200 million in social security funds for the luxuries and campaign expenses of the National Party during the 2013 elections. News of this injustice spurred thousands to take to the streets in protest this summer and gave rise to a movement known as the Indignados, or “The Outraged”. In July, congressional Vice President Lena Gutiérrez was accused of a medical sales scandal in which a company he owns sold government subsidized medicine at inflated prices. This spurred more protests from the Indignados, and strengthened their demands for the impeachment of President Juan Orlando Hernández.

To address corruption, Tegucigalpa created an anti-corruption commission called the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). The commission offers recommendations on justice system reform but lacks any investigatory or prosecutorial powers.  Without these features, the MACCIH cannot appease the people’s growing resentment. The Indignados have voiced their discontent with the MACCIH’s lack of muscle and continues to protest for stronger reform, instigating rio fierce riots in Tegucigalpa.

Some suggest that the Guatemalan model of a UN-supported anti-corruption agency may not be a good fit for Honduras because of the inherent and deep-rooted corruption of the overall system in Honduras’s government. There is a great need for a supranational authority to intervene when a government has become corrupt to the point that it cannot implement self-checking systems. The United States injected USD $5 million into Guatemala’s CICIG, and should pursue a similar course of action in Honduras for an effective anti-corruption solution. The country is showing signs of the beginnings of a Central American Spring. The UN and the United States, who have high humanitarian and immigration interests in the conflict, have the potential to play an integral role in how the Indignados reshape the political landscape of both Honduras and the Northern Triangle as a whole. If no solution can be found by the region’s governments to their endemic problems, then protests, dissent, and social upheaval seem inevitable.

Abortion: Canada’s Silent Issue

By Daria Berstell

 

Reproductive rights, especially abortion policies, are highly contested issues around the world. However, perhaps nowhere is the debate over abortion as divisive, and occasionally violent, as it is in United States, where abortion, while legal, is subject to intense regulations. In Canada, on the other hand, abortion is not as much of an issue on the political stage and in the media, as one of the only countries without legal restrictions on abortion. The divergence in abortion policy in the United States and Canada can be traced to the respective U.S. and Canadian Supreme Court cases of Roe v. Wade and Morgentaler v. the Queen. These cases helped foster different legacies of abortion policy in both nations regarding abortion as a constitutional right, abortion as a medical issue, political party permeability, and legislative inactivity. The nature of these cases was progressive for its time, but resulted in the stagnation of abortion rights’ dialogue in Canada for many years to come. Today, the issue is rarely broached.

 

Abortion Rights in Canada

 

Until the 1800s, abortion was only against the law in Canada after quickening, the stage of a pregnancy when the fetus’ movements can be felt. This was derived from English common law, as many of the regulations and laws of Canada were. It wasn’t until 1803 that abortion after quickening was made a capital offense. Then, in 1837, quickening was dropped as the distinguishing stage of pregnancy and abortion in general was made illegal. Despite its criminalization , the laws were unenforceable and both safe and unsafe abortions continued.

 

Within the Canadian legal code, there was an exception that allowed for abortions to preserve the life of the mother. Abortion was allowed if the pregnancy “would make the woman a physical or mental wreck.” This legal ambiguity allowed some freedom for doctors to perform abortions. In the 1960s public opinion about abortion laws began to change with increased publication on new research and inquiries into abortion deaths. In 1969, the Canadian Criminal Code was amended to make abortion legal if signed off on by a three-doctor committee.Thus while some abortions were legal, others were not and abortion remained as part of the Criminal Code.

 

However, in 1988 the Canadian Supreme Court ruling of Morgentaler v. the Queen in Canada nullified the 1969 Criminal Code ruling on abortion. In this ruling, the Supreme Court declared all of Canada’s abortion laws to be unconstitutional. The Court decided that forcing a woman to carry a fetus to term if she did not meet certain requirements for an abortion subjected her reproductive capacity to the government and was a “breach of the woman’s right to security of the person.” This right was guaranteed in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms which had been passed in 1982. Interestingly though, thirteen years earlier, the Canadian Supreme Court had refused to intervene in an abortion controversy, developing a policy of judicial restraint regarding abortion on the part of the Canadian Supreme Court.

 

Abortion Rights in the U.S.

 

Abortion was not prohibited or regulated in the United States, except for after quickening, before 1821 when Connecticut was the first state to create legislation that made it harder to obtain an abortion with restrictions placed on drugs needed to perform abortions. Also in 1821, New York made abortion after quickening a felony and pre-quickening a misdemeanor while retaining exceptions for when a pregnancy endangered the life of the mother. Between 1830 and 1900 there was steady progress towards making abortion illegal,  with forty-one states passing anti-abortion legislation. By 1900, abortion was a felony in every state. Despite the establishment of these anti-abortion policies, the laws were not enforced until the 1960s, when the prevalence of illegal abortions became public knowledge. While many states had followed New York’s example and put in places exceptions for preserving the woman’s life, many states did not. In those states, abortion was completely illegal under any circumstances which resulted in a significant amount of illegal abortions.

 

In 1973, Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States on the basis of a right to privacy. The ruling stated that criminal abortion laws that do not take into account the stage of the pregnancy and the interests of the woman are unconstitutional because they violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment where the right to privacy, which protects personal decisions from government interference, was established. Though the Due Process clause does not explicitly state this right to privacy, recognizing that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law,” which was established in previous court decisions, notably Griswold v. Connecticut created this precedent. Griswold made clear that while the Constitution does not mention privacy, the court had recognized it as a right. It would seem from these two stories of judicial legalization of abortion in certain circumstances that the issue in both countries developed on similar trajectories. However, closer reading reveals immense differences.

 

Differences in Interpretation

 

The greatest difference between Roe v. Wade and Morgentaler v. the Queen is that while the U.S. created a constitutional right to abortion by guaranteeing the right to abortion as part of the constitution of the United States, Canada asserted that its old abortion law violated Canada’s Charter of Rights, which eliminated all anti-abortion legislation and essentially legalized abortion. Thus, while the U.S’s legalization of abortion created and protected the right to abortion, Canada’s legalization resulted in no legislation on abortion, thus neither protecting the right to abortion nor banning abortion.

 

As such, the debates and lack thereof over abortion the United States and Canada, respectively, can be connected to these two decisions. In the United States, the two sides of the abortion debate are each connected to greater movements, and unlike in Canada, an ongoing battle continues. The pro-choice (pro-access to abortion) group is fundamentally tied to the feminist movement, while the pro-life group (anti-abortion) are connected but not tied to Christian groups and to the Republican Party. Pro-life groups are free to advocate and fight for their issue as single-issue groups do; while pro-choice groups must deal with being one part of the greater women’s movement. For pro-choice groups, this means they must advocate for their cause to remain a priority within the women’s movement while also advocating for their cause against the opposition. While pro-choice activists must fight on two fronts, pro-life group’s place in the Republican party allows activists a significant amount of room to influence legislation that attempted to restrict or repeal Roe. [1] In addition, the increasingly conservative court in the late 1970s made it much harder for pro-choice groups to use judicial appeals as their method of doing away with legislation that restricted abortion. The anti-abortion movement becoming a plank of the Republican Party has allowed it to exert a significant amount of influence in politics. This relationship has resulted in anti-abortion ideals having more success than pro-choice groups in legislative and judicial politics since 1973. Yet while the issue is hotly debated due to the nature of the “invented right” of abortion, the concrete legalization of abortion under the Canadian constitution has made the issue a silent one in Canada.

       

After the Morgentaler decision of 1988 Canadian abortion groups did not gain much traction in bringing their issue to the forefront of legislative or judicial agendas, unlike in the United States where abortion remained a public and legislative issue after Roe and does until this day. One factor in this may be that the morality of abortion does not seem to be a major question in Canada; rather, abortion is seen more as a medical issue. [2] Additionally, the Canadian government has a history of shying away from definitive responses, especially on social policies. [3] After Morgentaler, the Canadian Supreme Court showed a consistent desire for abortion to be a legislative issue with decisions in two other important cases where the Supreme Court refused to rule about a fetus’ right to life or a woman’s right to abortion. [4] This has resulted in abortion policy in Canada remaining at a standstill since 1988. This has continued the legacy of lack of action on abortion in Canada, while in the U.S., abortion policy legacy remains one of attempted policy and judicial changes. Abortion has not played a central role in Canadian politics for the past 20 years, while new legislation on abortion and especially regulation of abortion services is brought up nearly every year in the American legislature. While the American right to abortion remains a constitutional right, there is a legacy of attempting to repeal, change, and influence that right, while Canadian abortion policy has remained consistent and stagnant, resulting in abortion becoming relatively ignored in that country.

 

The United State’s Responsibility to Fight Climate Change

By Dustin Cai

Amidst the more visible problems currently going on in the world, the relative invisibility of climate change is no excuse to ignore the ever-looming problem. In fact, the world has already seen its effects: The UN’s former secretary general Kofi Annan released the world’s first comprehensive study on global warming and found that 300,000 people die each year as a result of climate change with an extra 300 million people negatively impacted.[1] Even small increases in global mean temperature of 2°C can negatively influence the market sector in developing countries, increase the frequency of heat waves, increase the transmission of infectious diseases like malaria and dengue fever, and destroy agricultural production and increase the amount of malnourished people in the world by 10%.[2] Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive and a world leader in technology development recently gave a speech in Berlin citing the world’s climate change as the direct cause of the mass refugee problem that we will see in the future that will dwarf the Syrian crisis we see today.[3] Musk explains that climate change will only exacerbate the current problems of water shortages,[4] food insecurity,[5] and the displacement of people due to rising sea levels.[6]

In the face of such crisis, it becomes a moral imperative for the most developed countries, namely the United States and others in Europe, to mitigate these effects in an attempt to prevent the greatest crisis of the century. If, in a relay race, I were to run a terrible segment, the blame of our team’s atrocious time would certainly not be on the guy I passed the baton onto; similarly, the blame of the world’s climate problem should not be put on the countries currently in the develop cycle. Rather, countries that have historically owned the largest shares greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – to the tune of 75% from 1705-2005[7] – should carry this weight.

Thus, in terms of a moral responsibility, it falls upon the rich and developed nations to ensure a stable future for global development. Because these developed nations in the industrial North created the majority of the problem in GHG emissions and climate change, they therefore bear the same proportional responsibility in cleaning up after themselves.[8] It would be a great injustice to those who are most affected by climate change in the Global South to also bear the responsibility of mitigating its effects. It is already a moral imperative to act on climate change in the face of its devastating effects with the responsibility falling on the shoulders of the industrial North. Now, the question deals with feasibility and timing.

Some people like Nicholas Stern argue that countries like China and India are the ones that need to step up to the plate as a result of their current state of GHG emissions, which now are responsible for the bulk of global emissions.[9] However, developing countries, most notably China, have already taken pacts to act on climate change, but their promises are only in the future. China has pledged to reduce their carbon emissions by 65% in 2030.[10]

With all this in mind, what can the US do to ensure the globe acts now? Lead by example. A cap and trade policy, which sets limit on carbon emissions for companies while also allowing companies to trade their unused portions of their limits to other companies, has shown promising effects: The EPA reports that a Clean Air Interstate Rule, a cap and trade system in 27 American states, has reduced GHG emissions by 70% in seven years.[11] The Center for Environmental Journalism analyzes the effects of a cap and trade policy like this one if implemented by the entire United States and finds that it translates into the entire world avoiding 1.75°C of warming by 2100.[12]

But change from one country alone won’t offset or stabilize the current condition of global climate change. While developing countries have pledged to take action in the future, it comes upon the Global North to take action now. Ethically, the industrialized nations can no longer afford to remain ignorant to the problem of climate change that we face now and potentially will face in the future; rather, it becomes a moral obligation to stabilize Earth’s condition while developing nations are given their equal right to develop in the same ways that developed nations did decades ago.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/may/29/1

[2] http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg2/pdf/wg2tarchap19.pdf

[3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/elon-musk-in-berlin_560484dee4b08820d91c5f5f

[4] http://water.worldbank.org/topics/water-resources-management/water-and-climate-change

[5] http://www.fao.org/forestry/15538-079b31d45081fe9c3dbc6ff34de4807e4.pdf

[6] http://www.climate.org/topics/sea-level/

[7] http://paristext2015.com/2015/08/should-emerging-economies-be-expected-to-bear-the-burden-of-climate-change-equally-with-western-developed-countries/

[8] http://spot.colorado.edu/~vanders/pubs/JPR_responsibility.pdf

[9]http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/dec/04/lord-stern-developing-countries-deeper-emissions-cuts

[10] http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/07/11/china-climate-change-greenhouse-united-states-policy/

[11] http://www3.epa.gov/ttncatc1/dir1/fnoxdoc.pdf

[12] http://www.cejournal.net/?p=1880