Climategate 2.0 proves global warming is man made

By Dev Nadkarni

More proof came to the fore last month that it is men who cause global warming: men with vested interests who put a dangerously deceitful spin on science, that is – not quite you and me, be assured!

Two years ago, the University of East Anglia’s leaked “climategate” emails eloquently told the sordid story of hostility of the anthropogenic or human caused climate change brigade to climate scientists with an opposite view. The emails revealed manipulation of documentation and distortions and data doctoring to suit the anthropogenic climate change view.

The university’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) was one of the main sources, which the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) based its science on. In the following weeks, UK newspapers reported that one of IPCC’s key findings on melting glaciers “may have been simply taken from a press interview with an obscure Indian scientist.” Based on such a flimsy premise, the IPCC had made a prediction that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.

While the climategate emails of two years ago continue to be investigated by various authorities, new emails, all in the same vein, were leaked to the media last month. Many of the scientists in question are linked to the previous scandal, which has further eroded the credibility of the lobby that has single mindedly pushed the cause of man made global warming – and tried to reap huge monetary reward based on it.

For on this lobbying has been built the highly complex and sophisticated edifice of emission trading schemes, which many governments across the world are beginning to look at with rising suspicion. While many governments simply adopted a wait and watch approach to the unfolding anthropogenic climate change scenario – exemplified by their continuing intransigence at successive climate change summits – others that were quick to jump on the bandwagon are scaling back. New Zealand is one example of this.

New Zealand’s National party, which had forcefully pushed for an emissions trading scheme in its last government in the face of much criticism from almost all quarters, announced a dramatic climb down ahead of last month’s elections. Someone clearly saw the writing on the wall and took heed of it.

Climategate version 2.0

The volume of the new leaked emails is much larger than the one two years ago and even more damaging. Consider the extracts below, taken from the emails now widely published on several websites across the world.

In one of the emails, scientist Peter Thorne writes, “Observations do not show rising temperatures throughout the tropical troposphere unless you accept one single study and approach and discount a wealth of others. This is just downright dangerous. We need to communicate the uncertainty and be honest. Phil, hopefully we can find time to discuss these further if necessary […]” In another he says, “I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run.”

Professor Jagadish Shukla, a lead IPCC author and one of the most senior climate experts remarks, “It is inconceivable that policymakers will be willing to make billion-and trillion-dollar decisions for adaptation to the projected regional climate change based on models that do not even describe and simulate the processes that are the building blocks of climate variability.”

These and hundreds of other leaked emails of scientists whose “findings” were quoted by the advocates of man made climate change as the gospel truth to build the complicated mechanisms of the carbon economy reveal that deep down, the scientists themselves were not convinced with the theory and were simply endorsing a fabricated “inconvenient truth.”

It is unfortunate to think that it is such unabashedly fudged data dictated by vested interests and erroneous observations by scientific institutions that played a large part in shaping Kyoto and Copenhagen. And the same dodgy data was used to pour scorn on anyone who legitimately challenged them, not to mention the US$ 100 million it made for Al Gore’s documentary that helped perpetrate the anthropogenic myth.

Many rational people have rightly seen carbon economics based on anthropogenic global warming for what it really is – the 21st century version of the emperor’s new clothes. People are no fools. Chicanery, no matter how contrived and sophisticated, can never last too long.

The whole concept of adaptation and mitigation has been built on the premise of anthropogenic climate change – as if nothing else is responsible. The very fact that countries have been so reluctant to buy into it, going by the lack of any meaningful progress in terms of firm commitments “to show the money” during climate jamborees in the intervening years is testimony to that.

This has done gross disservice to the phenomenon of climate change, which is absolutely real – there is no doubt about it. Whatever the reasons may be – natural cycles, unknown phenomena, anthropogenic, a combination of all three – climate change is for real. No one else knows it more acutely and alarmingly than people who live in isolated communities at sea level and who depend on seasonal cycles for all their activities.

The islanders’ voices screaming out their increasingly vulnerable status to global audiences were drowned out at the summits amidst hairsplitting arguments on whether to reduce global temperatures by half a degree or two degrees – all based on much of the “scientific research” of the men whose leaked emails have discredited them so much.

The latest leaks are proof enough that mega, over-arching global strategies are seriously flawed. The need for a change in approach to dealing with the effects of climate change is urgent. Strategies must be arrived at and implemented in a need-based manner not on an over-arching, one size fits all approach like big ticket concepts that could hardly address the immediate problems staring the most vulnerable in the face.

It is time the world’s leaders to stop putting the cart before the horse and not wait for the science to dictate what to do in the future, while the what is most needed is action here and now.

First appeared in Islands Business, December 2011

A cup to drown New Zealand’s sorrows in

By Dev Nadkarni

At last there’s something for Kiwis to cheer about. Last month’s victory over France to end the 24 year wait for another Rugby World Cup win was indeed nail biting to the very end, even pyrrhic some would say, but it was a win all the same. And a win is a win is a win, even if it is only just.

New Zealand and the All Blacks needed it. Badly.

In many ways this year has been eminently forgettable for the whole world. There has been little to cheer as a slew of disasters of both the natural and financial kind – not to mention bloody political turmoil in many parts of the Middle East – unfolded with such metronomic regularity.

New Zealand had one of its worst years in recent memory. The country has never seen a natural disaster on the scale of the Christchurch earthquakes, which resulted in the loss of more than 160 lives and loss of assets running into billions of dollars. The aftershocks continue and some 7500 of them have been recorded since the big one on February 22.

Then there was the Pike River disaster, which took 29 lives. A succession of financial disasters that led to the bankruptcies of a number of high flying investment bankers and the liquidation of their organisations, put thousands of Kiwi “mum and dad” investors out of pocket.

And smack in the middle of the seven week long Rugby World Cup event that brought some 100,000 overseas visitors to its shores, a container ship, the Rena, ran aground on a reef on the picturesque Bay of Plenty, causing one of the worst maritime environmental disasters the country has ever seen.

So, the Webb Ellis cup will indeed be the cup that cheers all of New Zealand – and will, in all likelihood, be enough to help the rugby mad country to wash away all the year’s accumulated sorrow.

For a team that never in the history of the Rugby World Cup lost a single pool match, the All Blacks’ record in quarters, semis and the finals of the tournament ever since it won the inaugural one in 1984 has been disappointing. But this year, their convincing semis win over the Wallabies convinced most Kiwis and All Blacks fans all over that the Cup was in the bag. The French, though, put up a tough show and kept the All Blacks and their fans on tenterhooks till the final whistle.

The big win comes at a crucial time for New Zealand. For later this month, on the 26th, the country goes to the polls. Prime Minister John Key’s National Party led government has been wildly popular and is expected to win fairly easily, going by the lead it has maintained over its rival Labour Party in successive opinion polls over the past year.

A few months ago, a group of psephologists working from several countries published an academic report that found an overwhelming correlation between a country’s national team winning an important, major sporting event and an incumbent government being re-elected in a poll – if the poll was held close on the heels of the winning sporting event.

By that reckoning, the All Blacks win assures the National Party a happy romp home on November 26. But in any case, the party’s position was so much ahead in the opinion polls, that even an All Blacks loss at the finals would not have affected the result greatly.

As things stand National has virtually no opposition – which is an extremely undesirable scenario in a democracy. One hopes that after the November election Labour will hopefully get its act together, have an effective leadership in its forefront and prove a worthy parliamentary counter to the ruling party.

Labour has failed in projecting an image of a party that is solidly behind its leader, Phil Goff. It has a serious crisis of leadership and has shown extreme paralysis in dealing with it. Quite obviously, the strategy of the second line of the leadership has been to treat this election as a lost cause and hope for better traction in the years to 2014 – until then let Phil Goff lead and become the obvious fall guy after this year’s election.

The policies that it has come up with so far, too, have little to draw supporters of the ruling party to it. But whatever sparkling policy Labour comes up with in the little time that is left until the November 26 polls, there is little ground it can cover to close the gap with National.

If it wins this months election, National’s second term will probably be far more eventful than its first. On many important issues it has more than soft-pedaled, even going slow on its 2008 election promises, despite the overwhelming mandate. It is likely that boosted by its re-election it will be tempted to bring in its cherished policies too fast in the second term. A meaningful, vigilant and strong opposition can provide a strong counter.

Meanwhile, the win will doubtless bring back confidence at all levels as the country moves into the high spending season that is Christmas. A boost in confidence and bigger spending in the run up to next year, will undoubtedly be good for the economy, if it could be translated into growth.

Social scientists and economists are predicting a spurt in spending and there is one study that says there will be a mini baby boom nine months from now – just as there was one nine months after the country won the world cup the last time in 1987.

The feel good factor is often the most important energisers that will set the economic ball rolling faster in any country. And New Zealand has plenty of it since last month’s win – even if it continues to borrow close to $400 million every week to pay its bills.

The nation has been so preoccupied with the Rugby World Cup that nobody has paid enough attention to other matters of importance. For instance, the response to the public submissions to Auckland City’s thirty-year strategic plan was so poor that the last date has been extended.

Similarly, with less than a month remaining for the elections, the campaign heat is only just building up. The political parties will find it hard to catch the attention of the celebrating Kiwis over at least the next couple of weeks.

Undoubtedly, the win is exactly what the doctor ordered for New Zealand.

 

First appeared in Islands Business, November 2011

Melanesia still a speck in NZ’s South Pacific map

By Dev Nadkarni

With the rise and rise of the South Pacific as a region of great geopolitical importance and huge, untapped hordes of natural resources, resource hungry nations from every continent have been joining the lengthening beeline at every successive annual Pacific Islands Forum summit.

As continents run out of natural resources and oceans of their fish stocks, the world has its attention trained on the last frontier – the island nations of the Pacific Ocean, particularly those in its southern quarters.

In recent years, these nations have had their exclusive economic zone boundaries redrawn – or are in the process of being redrawn – putting larger areas of open sea under their sovereign control. This potentially reduces the swathes of ocean that were no go zones because they belonged collectively to the world – the world’s commons, so to speak.

Besides natural resources and geopolitics, small island states also are important because of their voting power on international platforms, which is another reason for the biggies to woo them.

New Zealand’s deep relationship with the nations of the South Pacific has been acknowledged widely by the world’s nations. It was on show once again at the landmark 40th anniversary of the Pacific Islands Forum held in Auckland last month in the run up to one of the world’s biggest sports events – the Rugby World Cup.

The country flaunted its long and deep ties with the nations of the South Pacific by putting up an engaging showcase of its culture, heritage, cuisine and opportunities for investment.  It certainly has reason to be thankful to Pacific nations for the supplying the continuous stream of legendary players that have sharpened the cutting edge of the All Blacks over the years.

New Zealand’s biggest city and business capital Auckland also takes pride in calling itself the world’s largest Polynesian city because more Pacific Islanders live there in any other city anywhere else in the world. For instance there are more Niueans in Auckland than there are in Niue. Ditto for the Cook Islands as well.

A couple of years ago the United States started to realise that its neglect of the Pacific was sure to cost it dearly in coming decades. It began sending a string of senior envoys and officials to tour the region. While visiting New Zealand, one of them famously said the US needed “New Zealand’s eyes” to view the region. That visit has been followed up none less than the Secretary of State, who warned the US would not “cede” the Pacific to any nation – as if it already had ownership of it!

So New Zealand’s importance as the local expert in the South Pacific Ocean has grown considerably.

But its involvement in the region though undoubtedly deep, long and enduring, is quite lopsided. For New Zealand and New Zealanders, the South Pacific is still mainly Polynesia. The Melanesian states don’t quite figure in their reckoning the same was as Polynesia does. That lopsidedness by and large shows in much of the country’s Pacific initiatives.

For many New Zealanders, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and to a lesser extent Vanuatu don’t figure on their radar as much as the Polynesian countries do. The only exception is Fiji, which straddles the Melanesian-Polynesian divide because of both its geography and history. It is undeniably the gateway to the South Pacific – literally and figuratively. One can’t travel directly to most of the Melanesian countries from New Zealand unless you change planes in Fiji (or Australia).

Australia, on the other hand, has struck a deep, engaging and mutually beneficial relationship with the Melanesian island nations. This is both because of its geographic proximity and its deep interest in the natural resources sector. The Melanesian states are growing at rates comparable to China and India on the back of the natural resources boom in their respective countries.

In that sense, New Zealand has missed out on building a steady growing relationship with the Melanesian states. For whatever reason, Melanesia still does not figure in its scheme of things in the Pacific the way Polynesia does, though it must be said that New Zealand has allowed in far more Melanesian seasonal labourers to work in its horticulture sector than Australia has.

Though New Zealand has stepped up its engagement in Melanesia in recent years, particularly in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands’ education sector, it needs to do much more in building its business and investment relationship with Melanesia if it wants to take advantage of the entire region’s booming economy. It must realise that engaging with Melanesia would be like taking an opportunity that is right on its doorstep.

 

Islands’ investment promotion activity needs boost

Pacific Island countries’ investment promotion websites are good but not good enough.

Working with experts across a range of disciplines, the World Bank Group has evolved a set of tools and benchmarks to help investment promotion agencies in countries around the world tune up their investment handling processes at all levels – from technology and human resources to organisational processes.

The World Bank Group’s Global Investment Promotion Benchmarking (GIPB) system periodically provides a comprehensive overview of global best practices in investment facilitation, evaluating the performance of 189 countries.

According to GIPB surveys, online sources are among the most important influencers of corporate executives with respect to perceptions of business climate, while making investment decisions in any country.

It rates investment promotion websites across four criteria critical to websites as a tool to attract global investors and help garner precious foreign direct investment  (whether regional or international) – something that has been increasingly hard to come by in the present global investment climate since the worldwide financial crisis.

Its reports indicate that while the websites of investment promotion organisations of the Pacific Islands are good in some respects, they fall behind best practice standards in others.

These four are content, promotional effectiveness, design and information architecture in order of priority (the last two have equal weightage). Pacific Island websites compare fairly well with design and information architecture best practice standards but fall short when it comes to content and promotional effectiveness.

This clearly reveals that government ministries and departments charged with the operations of investment promotion agencies need to do much more to keep websites going with the right type of fresh and useful updated content as well as promote it both online and offline.

The study points to the fact that once websites are created, the responsible agency does not allocate financial and human resources to keep content fresh and engaging enough to entice prospective investors.

Last month the World Bank Group held a three-day “training the trainer workshop” for Pacific Island investment promotion practitioners and consultants in Sydney to address these issues.

As well as providing the participants with tools and course content to help tune up their own organisational systems and develop better human resource skills, the clear message to governments and funders of investment promotion agencies was the need for continuous resource allocation for promotional activity, particularly for websites and digital media.

First appeared in Islands Business, October 2011

Islands bask in their big week in the NZ, Australia sun

By Dev Nadkarni

The Pacific Islands region owes it to New Zealand for the strong Pacific flavour imbuing the ambience of the main events centres in Auckland in the run up to New Zealand’s greatest ever show – this month’s Rugby World Cup.

New Zealand and the islands have strong ties stretching back to ancient times when seafaring islanders from Polynesia began making New Zealand their new home. As well, New Zealand has had significant roles to play throughout the recorded history of the islands – from managing the islands for colonial masters to being a close friend in the post colonial era.

Auckland is regarded as the world’s biggest Polynesian city. There are more Niueans and Cook Islanders living in Auckland than there are back in Niue and the Cook Islands. That is the extent to which New Zealand and Auckland are inextricably linked to the islands.

Naturally, the region and New Zealand have had a continuously thriving relationship spread across a wide spectrum of activities – from cultural exchange and commerce to rugby. New Zealand cannot be grateful enough for islanders’ contributions to the All Blacks’ successes down the decades and has always deeply acknowledged it.

That acknowledgement and the general sense of bonhomie that New Zealanders feel toward the islands comes through spontaneously in the manner in which the islands are being celebrated in and around the region’s most high profile event since the Sydney Olympic Games more than a decade ago.

The spanking new purpose built “Cloud” facility specially for the Rugby World Cup on Auckland’s spectacular waterfront will be thrown open to the public by Pacific Island events rather than those centering on New Zealand. The tastefully and functionally designed enclosure showcases a range of different aspects of New Zealand’s relationship with the islands.

The series of events start in the week of the kick off after the inauguration of a Pacific themed party for VIPs by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on September 5.

A one-day investment summit titled “Oceans of Opportunity” coordinated by Pacific Islands Trade & Invest (PIT&I) in collaboration with the New Zealand Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes place at the convention centre in “The Cloud” on Tuesday, September 6.

The summit discusses the range of opportunities available for trade and investment in the resource-rich region while helping interested investors establish the next steps toward following up on exploring their chosen investment areas.

The event aims at exploring the range of opportunities that the Pacific has through discussion panels hosted by industry experts. The intention is to create interest and encourage people to view the Pacific as a potential investment destination.

The day long seminar will cover a host of investment areas including: infrastructure, tourism, agriculture, fisheries social enterprise and renewable energy.

A detailed bankable projects document designed to help international investors make decisions on investing in Pacific Island projects, published by PIT&I, will be released at the event. In addition, an exhibition area in the Cloud will also feature several Pacific Islands projects looking for investors. Many Pacific Island businesses have been flown to the venue to showcase their businesses and their wares.

On following days, a veritable food and cultural fest, put together by the Pacific Cooperation Foundation, follows. A live cooking demonstration of Pacific Island cuisine by award winning author and chef Robert Oliver takes place at the events centre. Oliver’s book Me’a Kai on Pacific Island cuisine was adjudged the best cookbook in the world at a world competition in Paris earlier this year.

Twenty-four of the Pacific’s most innovative food producers will be sampling and selling gourmet gastronomic treats such as spices, coffee, chutneys and jams, honey, noni juice and tropical fruit.

Incidentally, many of these food producers are also participating in a major event across the Tasman Sea in Sydney Australia at the huge Fine Foods Australia show. Some 10 players from the Pacific Islands are showing off their wares at a common booth facilitated by PIT&I in the same week. In fact, some of these players have had to split their teams to attend both the events, exhibitors told me in Auckland.

Fine Foods Australia is the largest gathering of international food, drink and equipment for the retail, foodservice and hospitality industries. The show gets under way on September 5 and runs until September 8 at the Sydney Convention Centre.

This is a milestone for the Pacific Island food industry because it is the first time that it is participating at a show of such an international profile. The high profile show is expected to bring considerable exposure to the participating companies, especially because of the novelty factor of Pacific food and cuisine and its reputation for being the home of some of the most wholesome of natural foods anywhere.

Millions of dollars of trade are concluded during the course of such shows and the Pacific food industry is looking forward to raising its profile in the international market while also establishing the industry as a revenue earner for the region.

Back at Auckland and the Rugby World Cup kick off week, visual and performing arts, live demonstrations of Pacific Island handicrafts like lei making, weaving, painting and sculpting is expected to regale crowds that will mill around the vast areas around the Cloud.

Plastic, performing art and handicraft from Niue, Tahiti, Samoa, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tokelau, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea will be showcased.

Visitors will have the opportunity to purchase artifacts and handicrafts from all these countries at a night market, which promises to be a hit being the first night event during the cup festivities. On sale will be fashion, jewellery, beauty, furniture and tourism experiences.

Most significantly, the Auckland event is in the same week as the 40th anniversary of the annual Pacific Islands Forum Summit, which will see the heads of government of the Pacific Islands Forum nations all in one place.

Auckland City and all of New Zealand has worked hard to make the big event happen. And much of the opening phase, indeed one of the most anticipated and charged with infectious enthusiasm, is dedicated to the Pacific Islands.

The Rugby World Cup in New Zealand is one big opportunity to further strengthen the already strong links between the Pacific Islands and New Zealand.

First appeared in Islands Business, September 2011

A simple, practical ‘food-for-all’ idea

By Dev Nadkarni

The effects of climate change on agricultural productivity, the rising costs of hydrocarbon fuels, declining freshwater tables and plummeting local private sector investment and interest in the agriculture sector have all conspired to sharply increase the Pacific Islands region’s threat to food security in the past few years.

Moreover, depleting fish stocks because of both overfishing and climate change, increased salinity in inland freshwaters and erratic rainfall patterns have only exacerbated this looming threat. This has inevitably shot food prices through the roof all over the region – a fact borne out by research from the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO): statistics show real food prices, after adjusting for inflation, have increased by a whopping 19 percent in the islands region over the past two years.

There are grimmer tell tale signs on how fragile the food security scenario is: A report from the Centre for Sustainability in Hawaii has recently put out research that says 95 percent of the islands food is imported and delivered by just one shipping company. According to the research, if the ship fails to arrive for any reason, natives of the world-renowned holiday destination are just 9 meals away from hunger and 20 meals away from starvation.

It gets even more alarming. In May, the World Bank gave a US$ 2 million emergency food grant to the Kiribati government to supply food to some 62,000 people living in the sprawling country’s outer islands. Kiribati, which imports most of its food, has been hit particularly hard by high and volatile food and energy prices. According to estimates, iKiribati spend as much as 50 percent of their household budgets just on food.

Given these daunting factors, promoting conventional agriculture in the islands and making it work productively is clearly an uphill – if not increasingly impossible – task.

But there is a viable solution. An agricultural technique that was practiced in ancient China, Mesopotamia and other ancient peoples is being revived in many parts of the world and seems to be gaining ground because of its many positive attributes.

Interestingly, the technique has found adherents both in the developed and the developing world, demonstrating that the perception of threat to food security is universal – not just restricted to far flung islands. Agriculture universities around the world are also engaged in researching this technique with a view to fine-tuning and tweaking it to suit different environments and milieus. Many projects have been set up at the community level after the devastating Haiti earthquakes and are running successfully.

The technique is called aquaponics. It combines two forms of recognised farming methods – aquaculture and hydroponics – to create a sort of symbiotic system of production. It brings together the best of both systems to cultivate both fish (protein) and plant, effectively overcoming the individual pitfalls of aquaculture and hydroponic systems. There are no herbicides, pesticides chemicals or fertiliser used and it has almost zero water wastage or use after the initial system fill.

It uses extremely nutritious fish effluent that contains almost all of the required natural elements for optimum plant growth therefore eliminating the need for chemical additives for growing the plants. Rather than discharging the water, as in aquaculture, aquaponics uses the plants to clean and remove nitrogen and then re-establish the water balance which is then returned back into the fish tank. The water can constantly be reused, needing replacement only when moisture is lost through transpiration or evaporation.

The simplicity and elegance of the technique is crystal clear. It is actually as simple as it sounds and I have seen it in action at a full scale experimental aquaponics farm in New Zealand. The beauty of it is that it is scalable. It can be done in small tubs on windowsills and backyards to larger operations in the size of a barn.

Aquaponics addresses soil erosion, water usage, productivity issues and tackles many of the existing biohazard issues within the Pacific’s agricultural export industry. Because of this simplicity, low costs, quick turnarounds and incredible scalability, it is being embraced in countries as farflung as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South America and several small islands across the world.

Pacific Islands Trade & Invest (PIT&I) – a Pacific Islands Forum organisation – is spearheading efforts to implement this innovative technique in the islands.  In the past six months, research by its team headed by New Zealand based Trade Commissioner Adam Denniss – in concert with an aquaponics academic and expert who has set up several successful aquaponics operations on both sides of the Tasman – has shown that aquaponics is a viable system for food production.

“It is a practical solution in addressing food security concerns particularly in isolated communities of the Pacific who suffer from poor soil and limited access to fresh water,” Mr Denniss says.

The technique has shown itself to be a commercially viable concept and is completely scalable to suit any level of population. This means its potential to be used at home by Pacific families to feed families or as a large scale commercial operation is all very achievable.

A successful example of this already exists in Hawaii’s Friendly Aquaponics operation, which is a commercial one. It grows eight times more vegetable produce in the same time and in the same land area as conventional farming, while using only 12 percent of the energy per unit of produce as does farming in the ground, with only 2 percent of the water used.

Aquaponics’ advantages are many: the technique, with minor and inexpensive tweaking to the basic infrastructure, can be used to grow almost any fruit, vegetable or crop. Remember, with harvestable fish at hand, there is also an associated protein source – like no other farming technique. It also highly productive and conserves space, water and energy.

It is completely organic and since no soil is required, it potentially skirts a number of soil related quarantine issues if the produce is destined for export. It is scalable and transportable – especially important in the face of natural disasters like tsunamis and cyclones. Also, the beauty of the technique is that the produce can be grown on tabletop tubs, eliminating the need to bend over or squat on the ground as in conventional agriculture.

But perhaps its most attractive proposition is that it is detached from the oil economy and global food supply chains, thereby promoting import substitution and putting food security right into the hands of the community with no inputs required from extraneous sources.

PIT&I is working toward helping Pacific Islands communities build and maintain both commercial and community-based projects, says Trade Commissioner Denniss. “We propose to build a commercial aquaponics facility that will produce and act as an education and research house as well as potential commercial sales to support its existence. This facility will grow product that can be sold at market or for exports. However, although commercial in its model, it will act as a free education facility,” he adds.

First appeared in Islands Business, August 2011

Spotlight on islands at Rugby World Cup

By Dev Nadkarni

What would New Zealand rugby be without its star players of Pacific Island origin? For decades now, the Pacific Islands have provided Kiwi rugby teams with a continuous stream of talent that has given them an undeniable cutting edge. This has often come at great cost to the national teams of the players’ countries of origin.

Besides, New Zealand has strong historic ties with the region and an involvement that has been long and deep enough for a United States diplomat to have publicly said that the US needed New Zealand’s eyes to view the Pacific while mapping out its geopolitical strategy in the region.

The decision to set aside resources and train the arc lights on the islands in the run up to what is billed to be the biggest ever event hosted in New Zealand, has understandably come with enthusiasm from the government. The plans it has laid out to showcase the islands go well beyond promoting them as pretty and exotic tourist destinations – for the first time they are being packaged as attractive investment options.

Rarely if ever before have the islands collectively had the opportunity to get so much of the world’s attention all in one place at one big event in the region. The Shanghai expo last year did afford the islands a similar opportunity, with a sprawling pavilion – reportedly the third biggest at the show – but that was outside the region and catered to a far more diverse audience. It is also debatable what tangible benefits the islands gained from that participation, which highlighted mainly their tourism and cultural aspects.

After months long debate on “party central” – a venue that would be a magnet for the more than 100,000 visitors (30,000 each from Europe and Australia; 5000 from South Africa; 7000 from the Americas) expected to descend on Auckland during the games held in the city, the government finally decided on a huge structure on the city’s picturesque waterfront.

An innovatively designed structure made of steel, wood and PVC in the shape of a long white cloud (which is what Aotearoa, New Zealand’s Maori name means) is in an advanced stage of completion at the city’s Queen’s Wharf. Called “The Cloud”, the 3400 square metre covered area has the capacity to comfortably hold 6000 people. The Cloud is expected to become a major hub of activity, with a full programme of events scheduled for the 45 days of the tournament.

Last month, New Zealand’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Rugby World Cup Minister Murray McCully revealed plans for a “Pacifica showcase” planned around the event. A team headed by the New Zealand government co-funded Pacific Cooperation Foundation has been tasked with coordinating the programme.

Pacific Cooperation Foundation Chairman Peter Kiely revealed that The Cloud’s 443 square metre atrium, would as part of the programme, showcase cultural performances by Pacific Island artistes from across the region. Areas adjacent to the atrium will also display products and services from around the islands region, during the time allocated to the region (a range of other displays and programmes have been planned for the duration of the tournament).

This programme will coincide with two important events for the Pacific Islands. One is the fortieth annual Pacific Islands Leaders Forum, which is being held in the week of the tournament’s kick off (the opening match between the All Blacks and Tonga). It will be held in the special area set aside in The Cloud for VIP functions and events, a mezzanine area that can house some 300 people and has with full catering facilities.

The second event is the “Oceans of Opportunity” investment summit that is expected to see more than one hundred investors from New Zealand, Australia, the Asia Pacific region besides China and India.

Forum organisation Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s New Zealand and Australia offices have put together the programme for the investment summit, the second of its kind, after the successful and well attended inaugural one held last year in Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

“The one day Oceans of Opportunity summit will showcase the range of opportunities available for trade and investment in the resource-rich region while helping interested investors establish the next steps toward following up on exploring their chosen investment areas,” says Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s New Zealand Trade Commissioner Adam Denniss. The summit is being held at The Cloud on September 6.

The summit brings together key senior officials, ministers and even heads of governments face to face with potential investors from all over the world. Unlike other such summits, this one is unique in that nearly all the islands’ leaders will be in Auckland at the time. “The chance to interact with key Pacific Leaders is a crucial one,” Denniss says.

“A tradeshow showcasing potential Pacific Island investment avenues will also be part of the summit, as will a publication listing and outlining a selection of the best investment projects throughout the Pacific Islands,” he adds. The offices have already compiled an exhaustive list of bankable projects for investment throughout the region. The list will be distributed to those attending the Oceans of Opportunity summit.

New Zealand government agencies as well as Pacific Islands Trade & Invest’s offices in China and Japan are in various stages of coordinating participation from around the region and beyond. Minister McCully is already in the midst of a fairly extensive programme of touring the islands to discuss how best they could leverage this rare opportunity just before one of the world’s most watched sports events. He visited Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands in June and will travel to the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Niue this month.

The minister said this milestone fortieth Forum summit would be made even more significant because of the high attendance of global agencies and development partners for the Post Forum Dialogue, which he said would see a large contingent from the United Nations, the European Union and major nations around the world, whose senior staff would be here because of the event coinciding with the Rugby World Cup.

This is an opportunity the islands cannot afford to miss. They have long been projected as great tourist destinations but little else. This is the first time that there is a serious effort to add their investment potential. The islands as destinations to live and work more than just spend a holiday is as irresistible as a dip in the azure waters of the lagoon on a hot summer day.

First appeared in Islands Business, July 2011

A law that’s an ode to Mother Earth

By Dev Nadkarni

The intensity of activism on most issues concerning the common people’s interests always tends to taper off as one goes up the hierarchy in any democratic political system.

Commonly, therefore, activism is most visible and vocal at the level closest to the masses – at the grassroots level. The extent for support for it tends to thin off as one travels up the political food chain in any elected government. Issues are kept alive by the opposition but the motive in doing so more of ten than not is to gain political mileage.

Any activism favouring the larger interests of the people and one that starts at the top of a country’s political pyramid is rare anywhere in the world. And when it is reported from one of the poorest nations with some of the lowest human development indices, the world better take notice.

Legislators of the largely impoverished South American nation of Bolivia are on the verge of passing a rather unusual law called the Law of Mother Earth, that guarantees to grant nature the same rights and protections as humans. The Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra legislation has the ring of any grassroots political activist’s perfect cause to it – but the big difference is that it comes from elected leaders.

And the beauty is that it is not just top down legislation foisted on the people, as may often be the case with governments making most laws that affect a country’s economy. It is an acknowledgement of a grassroots movement that has existed over the past few decades where the country has suffered because of the indiscriminate exploitation of its natural resources by powerful commercial interests.

The legislation puts a political stamp of approval, as it were, by the highest body representing the people, the country’s legislature, on the urgent need to encourage and set in motion a radical shift in conservation attitudes and actions. This is designed to lead to a regime that will help enforce new control measures on industry, with the ultimate goal of reducing the rampant destruction of the environment around the country.

There is almost a poetic ring to the legislation, which is completely different from other draft laws that seem a veritable verbal forest bedding down procedures and processes in a maze of the dullest possible long drawn phrases.

The Law of Mother Earth, while conferring the same rights to nature as to human beings, redefines natural resources as blessings.  As in the case of humans, the piece of legislation confers on mother nature, personified as the Goddess Pachamama in Bolivian culture, the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.

In incorporating the most modern scientific concepts such as genetically engineered agriculture and forestry, which in itself is highly controversial territory with a slew of ethical and religious implications, the legislation commits to preserve the natural balance and equilibrium in nature’s own processes. While this will undoubtedly fuel raging debates, it is the first time that a law has been contemplated to preserve the integrity of nature’s own systems.

But what is most commendable for a politician, especially one who is in power, is to appear to do something contrary to what is not only an easy revenue stream for the country but also that goes against what is often a vested interest for the powerful political class anywhere in the world: the exploitation of natural resources. That activity is a source of huge corruption and has long established gravy trains in all parts of the developing world, which are hard to derail.

On this matter, the law goes on to guarantee for mother earth “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.”

The effects of indiscriminate logging and exploitation of other natural resources including minerals and other forestry products have scarred Bolivia and much of South America. These activities have affected thousands of living species including remotely living tribes. Many of these species have been driven to their extinction.

This is a legislation with a heart and it is driven by the President of the country himself. Evo Morales is Bolivia’s first indigenous President and has always championed the cause of mother earth and has been quite outspoken about his disappointment with the world’s efforts at addressing climate change. He has been openly critical of the accords signed at Copenhagen and Cancun and has been pushing for change at a more fundamental, people’s level.

Indigenous beliefs that run through the ancient cultures of American Indians both in North and South America are at the heart of the legislation. In many parts its provisions are redolent of the famous 1850s speech of the Chief Seattle, which professes respect for nature, the earth and all its creatures (no matter if skeptics doubt its very veracity).

“Our grandparents taught us that we belong to a big family of plants and animals. We believe that everything in the planet forms part of a big family,” the country’s Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said in true Chief Seattle style. “We indigenous people can contribute to solving the energy, climate, food and financial crises with our values.”

Bolivia’s initiative shows great promise because it is rooted in genuinely deep respect for nature that has its roots in its people’s culture, mythology and everyday life. It codifies in law what has been practiced by its people for millennia. While all this looks ideal, Bolivia will have to yet work out how to balance the commercial activity that has to do with the exploitation of natural resources – which indeed is a dire requirement for the country’s GDP and its people’s prosperity and financial security – with these beautiful concepts.

Having come this far on the legislation, there is little doubt that its lawmakers will find a way achieve that balance as well. Let us hope they can. If successful, Bolivia would have taught the world a thing or two about conservation and dealing with climate change like no mega conference involving 190 countries could ever.

By the looks of it, Bolivia is already having a few followers in its own neighbourhood: Ecuador appears to have incorporated similar aims in its constitution while Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda have shown vocal support for Bolivia’s initiative.

Call her Pachamama, Gaia, Dharti Maa or Mother Earth, an acknowledgement that She sustains all life is a fact that mankind had buried in the rubble of his search for riches. We owe it to Bolivia for showing the way.

First appeared in Islands Business, June 2011

Bringing private sector pragmatism in government

By Dev Nadkarni

A few weeks ago an interesting advertisement for employment appeared in the mainstream New Zealand media. The advertiser was the New Zealand Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the advertisement was for the position of High Commissioner in the Micronesian Pacific Island state of Kiribati.

It is certainly not common for a position of a High Commissioner – perceived in most quarters as a sensitive Government position – to be thrown open for contest among the general public. Such positions are usually the exclusive preserve of a bunch of Government bureaucrats, who have long served in foreign affairs positions.

The reward for such long service is usually the top diplomatic position in a foreign nation, with all the high remuneration, the perquisites and the myriad trappings that come with it. So it certainly is out of character for any Government to open up such a position for contest among the general public.

At first, the impression was that this has been done – particularly in the case of Kiribati – as a last resort, on not finding an official within the system to take charge of this remote, Pacific outpost. One couldn’t find fault with ambitious officials perceiving a posting in isolated Kiribati as not challenging and relatively devoid of the excitement that would come with a posting in Singapore, Paris or Beijing.

But that does not appear to be the case and the idea of throwing open diplomatic positions outside the career diplomatic fraternity seems to be in line with a new line of thought in the ministry. In a speech delivered at the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs last month, Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully elaborated on this new thinking.

His rationale for fresh thinking in the way New Zealand conducts its international affairs is a sea change from the decades old status quo that has only succeeded in bloating both staff numbers and expenses while achieving little incrementally through its diplomatic missions around the world.

In other words, the size and cost of the operation is not only difficult to justify in the midst of present realities, but the present dispensation is also clearly ill equipped to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing global environment.

McCully has recognised that New Zealand now plays in a vastly different world with new emerging economic powers appearing on the horizon. Over the next few years, New Zealand’s government will have no choice but to function in greatly constrained financial circumstances while hoping to step up achievements in geo-political and trade alignments.

The rationalisation of the foreign affairs ministry that he suggests is not the quintessential slash and burn action that politicians resort to in tough financial times but appear to have been the result of considered thought. He suggests taking ideas out of private sector best practice for optimising establishment and operating costs, infrastructure and for recalibrating achievement yardsticks.

The ideas he suggests are all about pragmatism and practicality to effectively meet the challenges of existent financial realities and emerging political ones in the international arena that will have a bearing on the manner in which New Zealand trades in future and who it will trade with.

New Zealand’s long felt comfort of western world alignments are changing because of a number of reasons and new countries emerging out of Asia, Africa and South America present as much of an unknown quantity as an opportunity.

Mr McCully raises the idea of more private participation in New Zealand’s missions abroad and asks why New Zealand expertise spread across the globe should not be harnessed to gain competitive advantages for Kiwi products and services to give the existing diplomatic system a sharper, more business and trade oriented edge.

Some of his suggestions are the stuff that could quite easily tick off entrenched bureaucratic thinking. In that sense, McCully has taken a huge political risk – for as the old adage goes, politicians come and go but bureaucrats go on forever. It needs to be seen in the right perspective, through the prism of pragmatism, not the rose tinted glasses of political populism and keeping bureaucracy happy.

The tone of his suggestions reflects the tough financial times the Government is facing after the triple whammy of the global financial crisis followed by the two Christchurch earthquakes and the Pike River mine disaster. It presages what the Government will be all but forced to do in the budget to be announced on the 20th of this month.

Study reports have already begun to make the rounds that hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved every year by rationalising government ministries, departments and their operations.

At the heart of all this is the concept that is now the flavour of the season almost all over the world: reduce the size of Government, rationlise operations, cut out duplication, share resources and cut costs where possible.

To avoid a decline in service standards because of such moves, the New Zealand minister’s ideas to bring in result oriented, private sector style best practice processes and achievement scales and standards makes supreme sense and is certainly worth a try, even if it rubs entrenched bureaucracy on the wrong side.

It is good to note that according to a new ADB study published in March this year, some Pacific Island Governments are beginning to make some efforts on taking on board such concepts of private sector operations as suggested by the New Zealand minister on board. The best performing state owned enterprises (SOEs) in the region are the ones that operate under competitive market pressures and work with private sector disciplines, the study says.

But the Asian Development Bank study points out that a lot needs to be achieved by the governments in the Pacific Islands in getting their SOEs – enterprises that receive budgetary support from the government such as electricity and other utilities companies – in line with private sector best practice.

The ADB study points out to some examples in Tonga and Samoa in the electricity and telecommunication sectors. But most importantly, the willingness of several island Governments to participate in the study shows their intent toward greater privatisation, which indeed is an encouraging sign for the growth of the Pacific Islands business and industry sector.

Though many of the McCully’s suggestions would sound radical, even heretical, to entrenched bureaucratic thinking, it will be difficult to argue against its need of the hour practicality and its forward looking pragmatism – something Pacific Island Governments would do well to take on board both in their internal operations and their foreign postings around the world. It is important to gain more bang for that huge bit precious foreign exchange outlays for those operations.

First appeared in Islands Business, May 2011

The media’s scaremongering shame

By Dev Nadkarni

In today’s times the media’s influence on our opinions, our very worldview, is near total. There is hardly an aspect of our lives – the way we view things, the language and expressions we use, the clothes we wear, the prejudices and biases we form, the trends we follow, the things we converse about and much else – is shaped by the media.

The more recent blossoming of social media and their incredibly rapid and wide acceptance across humanity has strengthened this influence. Depending upon circumstance and timing, media’s effect as an agent of action and change is urgent, instantaneous – whether in creating a fan following a la Justin Bieber and Susan Boyle or triggering a revolution as in Egypt and large swathes of the Middle East at a speed that has stunned the world.

This easy accessibility to all forms of media in this age of increasingly device agnostic convergence and its seemingly total influence on people’s minds – and hearts – is the bugbear of authoritarian regimes around the world. Following the Middle East contagion, these regimes have not only stepped up the routine monitoring of the media but have shut down web resources they fear could trigger mass action. But then that’s another story.

This strong influence and hold that the media have on people’s minds obviously puts tremendous responsibility on the people who present news content and opinion in what a large number of media consumers consider to be credible and authoritative purveyors of information.

Unfortunately, though, this sense of responsibility is increasingly lacking not only in rising numbers of media practitioners but also their hallowed media houses. This was glaringly seen in the aftermath of the trifecta of earthquake + tsunami + nuclear disaster that struck Japan last month.

The earthquake + tsunami is now believed to have taken 18,000 lives and the estimated US$350 billion cost of reconstruction is the biggest bill ever seen by the world. The damage to the nuclear infrastructure, however, has so far not claimed a life but the coverage of its perceived and conjectured threat has been magnified many times over by much of the world’s media – at the inhuman cost of putting the supremely unfortunate human tragedy in the shade: a tragedy that will linger for years, if not an entire generation and beyond.

Just days after the disaster, the focus of the world’s media shifted from the dead and the untold hardships of the living to stories and opinions from all sorts of “experts” about possible radiation that could travel through the atmosphere and up the food chain, causing people in the US and elsewhere around the world to rush to stockpile iodine supplements and other preventative measures at inflated prices.

The news media was filled with theory after sickening theory, with the sole aim seemingly being perpetrating the scare on a global scale. Such alarmism in the media is not only unjustified, it is irresponsible. More than the nuclear reactors and the lives of people in Japan, it was the credibility of both western media practitioners and their outlets that was in a state of meltdown.

Fortunately, there were a few sane elements that did a service to the sense of fair play and brought in a modicum of proportion to the runaway madness about the global nuclear contamination scare – one report of which warned the Pacific Islands to watch out for invasive species because of the nuclear fallout.

One of these infinitely sane journalists was the Daily Mail’s science Editor Michael Hanlon, who effectively explained why the media are so fascinated by the idea of impending nuclear catastrophe at the expense of reporting the real human tragedy that is unfolding before everyone’s eyes:

“The earthquake and tsunami could not be comprehended. Tales of survival will emerge but, in essence, the story of the great Black Wave is over. The towns are gone, the people are dead. We need to ‘move the story on’, to use the media’s dread parlance.

“But the nuclear crisis is all too comprehensible, and on-going. Our fear of the rogue, effervescent atom, the invisible, DNA-mutating ultra-poison appears to be primordial. By concentrating on the atomic plants we make this story about the works of Man, not of Nature, and thus write ourselves back into the centre of a narrative in which we, in truth, have played merely the role of hapless and helpless bystanders and victims. Scaremongering and hubris; an unhappy combination.”

It’s as though the media is incapable of predicting anything positive – only doing the opposite: scaring people based on conjecture. Have we seen stories on the legendary resilience of the Japanese people, their unparalleled experience in nuclear technology, which they developed despite the living memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the greatest human tragedy of all time?

Has the media considered that it is perfectly possible that Japan could not only engineer a containment of the nuclear problem and the lessons it will learn could go a long way in making other nuclear power plants elsewhere in the world safer? Those are possibilities that are clearly uninteresting to the unabashedly sensationalist global media that is addicted to the heady fix of seeing soaring statistical graphs of hits, eyeballs and page views on their flat screens.

In New Zealand, the media made much of the predictions of a maverick magician turned geologist-soothsayer about new quakes in Christchurch causing children to become so scared that they forced their parents to leave the city on the day of the predicted quakes.

Such eroded credibility because of stories that proverbially cry wolf gives an extremely convenient handle to authoritarian regimes to clamp down on the media for exaggerated and irresponsible reporting – something which we have seen in fair measure even in the Pacific Islands context. And when it is not the system that clamps down on the media, it is people in power who do so in their individual capacity.

This is not to suggest that media should steer clear of controversy or soft pedal on blowing the whistle. In fact, that is their very raison d’etre. It is just that they must get their facts right; facts are sacred, opinion is not – and the two must consciously be kept apart.

The social media certainly are a rich source of tips and leads for the media but the news media must never parrot them.

Leave all the goss, the opinion and the madcap theories of apocalypse and other radioactive scaremongering to Facebook and Twitter. Or else prepare for a meltdown of the news media.

First appeared in Islands Business, April 2011

Jasmines could bloom in the islands

By Dev Nadkarni

When a street vendor in the Middle Eastern nation of Tunisia immolated himself in extreme frustration on being unable to gain redress after a raid on his miniscule enterprise by the country’s authorities, it set of a chain of events that has plunged the entire region into an unprecedented crisis.

It was as though this event was the last straw that broke the camel’s back in the Arab nation. The street vendor’s tragic action became a focal point for the pent up frustrations of hundreds of thousands of Tunisians, the spontaneous anti government protests turned violent causing the deaths of at least 219 people. The mass action ultimately toppled Tunisia’s long reigning President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali who fled the country to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Fears that several countries in the Middle East, particularly those with long standing autocratic leaders who ruled their countries with iron fists behind a façade of so called democracy had reached similar tipping points proved right.

In the short weeks that followed, the world saw unrest escalate in Egypt, a Middle Eastern nation that has long been considered more open, progressive and stable than other Arab nations. After eighteen days of raging violence that brought the country to a virtual standstill long reigning President Hosni Mubarak, who assumed power after the assassination of iconic leader Anwar Sadat in 1981, resigned after mounting pressure from the nation’s armed forces.

The unrest has next spread like a contagion to other Arab states such as Bahrain, Yemen and Libya, with hundreds of deaths being reported in the latter. Reports late last month also said that many of the country’s diplomats around the world had defected to the protesting parties as Muammar al Gaddafi’s forces turned violently against his own fellow countrymen. Gaddafi has clearly lost the iron grip over the country’s 6.5 million people since 1969.

Many of these countries have enjoyed a reputation as oil rich havens because of the opulent lifestyles and the high visibility of their leaders on the international stage – not to mention the theatrics of mavericks like Gaddafi (he insisted on staying in his customary tent while visiting New York some time back and caused a scramble in the security apparatus as his officials went about looking for a site to pitch his tent).

Recent events have however given the lie to that claim proving beyond doubt discontent among the hoi polloi had been simmering for decades and needed all but a nudge before it boiled over claiming hundreds of lives and sending the autocrats and their cohorts packing.

The common thread that runs through all the leaders of these countries is the legendary wealth they have accumulated at their people’s expense, keeping them in perpetual impoverishment. Egypt’s Mubarak is said to have stashed away US$70 billion. Varying estimates put Libya’s Gaddafi wealth amassed from his country’s oil deals at between US$250 billion and $US1 trillion – much of it spent on impractical ventures that have brought no value to people’s lives.

While Mubarak and Ben Ali tried their best to buy time by promising all sorts of grand plans, they had to escape for fear of life and limb. But the Gaddafi regime has so far tried putting up a brave face and staying put with the dictator’s son Sayf al-Islam promising political reforms while conceding that the police and army had made “mistakes.” Factions of the army appear to have turned in support of the protestors, which threatens the very integrity of the country.

While revolutions throughout history have been triggered by seemingly innocuous events like the Tunisian vendor’s suicide, they are essentially tipping points that turn the tide in a nation’s history that expose the raw nerve of the long suffering, silent multitudes.

Can such a phenomenon as we have seen unfold in the Middle East happen in the Pacific Islands? Let’s look at some of the ingredients that go into the potentially explosive tinderbox that causes these Middle East type revolutions.

For one, these are ruled by iron fisted despots, often political dynasties leaving no room for dissent, debate or the fair distribution of wealth and essential services such as education and healthcare among the masses. Leaders build their power base and personal wealth on a structure that is aimed at keeping the masses poor, uneducated, disempowered and all too focused on the business of survival.

This last point has become increasingly important for the poor of these and many nations across the world as food prices have spiraled through the roof following a cocktail of circumstances ranging from the global financial crisis to climate change and freakish weather that has affected agriculture and food production in many parts of the world including the Middle East.

Add to that bubbling cauldron the fact that the Middle Eastern nations have shared histories as well as shared cultural and religious mores. They are also land locked facilitating an easier transfer of ideology and people – not to mention weaponry, as has been reported at least in the case of Libya, where there is allusion to foreign forces fighting on behalf of the protestors.

But probably the factor that has the rapidest multiplier effect spreading such unrest far and wide and in the most unlikely of places is the proliferation of mobile and online social media.

Both Tunisian and Egyptian protests are believed to have reached a critical point following Twitter and Facebook messages exchanged between citizens, spurring the Mubarak and Gaddafi regimes to pull the plug on the nation’s internet service. What has now come to be the “Jasmine revolution” is even reported to have spread to China, where authorities have swiftly moved to snuff out even the slightest whiff of dissent.

The geography, social mores, political and economic ground realities and the levels of activism of Pacific Island peoples is vastly different from those of people from the troubled Arab countries. It is unlikely that the same drivers that ultimately sparked the revolution that is rapidly spreading to the fringes of the Arab world and beyond could drive similar movements in the Pacific.

However, leaders simply cannot afford to be complacent with that unlikelihood. None of the Arab leaders saw the revolutions coming until the tsunami of protesting citizens hit them from all sides, causing them to flee.

The extent of discontent among people, the deep distrust of politicians and their jetsetting lifestyles at taxpayer expense, their indulgence in corruption, nepotism and routine abuse of power eventually builds to a tipping point. The ever rising prices of food, fuel and essentials, diminishing opportunities for employment, worsening living standards and a general feeling of despondency and deprivation brings the cauldron to a boil.

All that is required to tip it over is the instant media that today’s communication technologies provide. It is by far the most powerful tool available to the common citizen. And no political leader of any hue anywhere can afford to ignore that.

So there is nothing to suggest that jasmines can’t bloom in the islands.

First appeared in Islands Business, March 2011