“Indonesian lawmakersunanimously passed a sweeping new criminal code on Tuesday that criminalizes sex outside marriage, as part of a tranche of changes that critics say threaten human rights and freedoms in the Southeast Asian country.” SOURCE: BBC
Classical liberal values (free speech, rights for minority groups, fair elections, freedom of press, etc.) have grown in most places in most times, but that isn’t a guarantee that it will always be so or that it will in all places it will be maintained. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim majority population with a diverse set of religious traditions emmeshed. Indonesia, with thousands of islands, is also home to great array of linguistic diversity.
Indonesia, at the end of 2022, outlawed sexual interactions outside of those legally recognized marriages. The government framed the old laws as vestiges of an old colonial legacy that will allow them to return to traditional cultural values of the country, while others feel that this is conflating what is considered sinful with the criminal. This with likely impact the tourism industry as those traveling abroad that are not in marital unions will likely head to other tropical Southeast Asian destinations. A week after the law was passed, the governor of Bali (a noted travel destination for Australians and Europeans) went on record that tourists would not be investigated under this law.
Geography is the stage on which the play of History unfolds. As a kid, I loved studying the great wards of history and—not surprisingly—I was drawn to the maps that showed flanking maneuvers, bottlenecks, marching around mountains, getting lured into marshlands, etc. I especially was intrigued when a local force used superior knowledge of the local terrain to defeat a superior, invading force.
This video shows the geography of the Crimean Peninsula through of the Russian occupation of the peninsula. Before 2014, the land was controlled by Ukraine and Russia has controlled and annexed the land. The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine was a continued expansion of these territorial ambitions, and if Ukraine’s full goals are to be achieved, reclaiming the Crimean Peninsula would be an final step. The naval stronghold of Sevastapol, the tiny narrow neck of land, the swampy lagoons, and the Black Sea are all discussed in this video looking at the Russian advantages in maintaining control and Ukraine’s difficulties in trying to recapture this territory.
How one nation’s sovereignty movement is setting off a chain reaction among former British colonies in the Caribbean.
“Though Barbados gained its independence as a constitutional monarchy in 1966, only last year did the nation formally sever ties with Britain—removing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and electing the nation’s first president in the process. Removing the Queen as head of state is not a political endpoint, then, but one step toward reasserting Black Barbadian identity and sovereignty.” SOURCE: The Atlantic
What is the difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and England? Or what about the distinction between the Commonwealth, possessions of the Crown, and the British Empire? It is easy stay out of the complicated nature of these questions, but many people in former parts of the British Empire are starting to delve into these questions; the death of Queen Elizabeth made many of these conversations more on the forefront of the public consciousness. Some Commonwealth countries like Barbados have distanced themselves from what they see as vestigial remains of a complex colonial heritage, and countries like Jamaica are seriously considering following suit.
Questions to ponder: What old forces have kept political connections between the UK and former colonies in place for so many decades? What new forces are reconfiguring political and cultural institutions in the Caribbean?
The collapse of the Sri Lankan government was a shock, but outside of regional experts, few were paying attention to the South Asian Island nation during the global pandemic to worry about their agriculture and economy. Now is the time for us to reflect and consider. There was a currency crisis, food shortages, energy shortages, a suffering tourism industry during COVID, a popular uprising, but underneath it all were the policies that destabilized the whole system. Policies that sounded seductively enticing, and generated global admiration from the WEF and sustainable agriculture advocates. Sri Lanka received a glowing ESG score, but despite this international acclaim, it came with one fatal flaw—the policies didn’t support the people of Sri Lanka.
I will focus primarily on the agricultural aspects of crisis (since it fits best with human geography curriculum) but yes, there were other political and economic factors. Organic farming is only for the wealthy in developed countries that can afford organic food as a lifestyle choice, or the very poor in rural, underdeveloped regions that engage in subsistence agriculture without access to Green Revolution technologies. Organic food accounts for 1% of the global food trade, and most of humanity relies of the technological advancements made by the Green Revolution for their food supply.
The government of Sri Lanka announced a 10-year plan to transition to 100% organic farming, by banning synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (the very inputs that double Sri Lanka’s yield in the 1960s from the Green Revolution). Over 30% of Sri Lankan farmland lay dormant without enough manure and other approved replacements. Something else that we often forget is the modern agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuel usage for the heavy machinery to replace manual labor. As the economy struggled, fuel prices went up and resources were rationed so that farmers couldn’t run their machinery and couldn’t get they products to the market. 85% of farmers suffered crop losses and overall production declined by over 20%, which might not sound like much as the 4th largest tea exporter in the world and a country that primarily consumes rice, crashing the rice and tea markets in catastrophic.
Sustainable agriculture sounds lovely as a goal, but not if the needs of the people are not being met first. Sri Lanka serves a cautionary tale for countries prioritizing international environmental aims over policies that will promote economic growth and human flourishing within their borders. The romanticism of organic agriculture is a fine choice for those who can afford it, but horrible to impose on those who cannot.
I was in the waves, enjoying the beach on my vacation to San Diego, when the importance of geographic scale to political governance hit me (I know, I’m a geography nerd…guilty). Local, state, national, and international organizations administer laws and regulations over space, and there are going to be overlapping jurisdictions and different priorities at different scales. I visited the two beaches I always went to as a kid, Coronado and Imperial Beach (IB). These are the two most southern beaches in California, and Coronado is now famous for the Top Gun: Maverick beach scenes with Point Loma in the background. Not surprisingly, tourism is incredibly important to these beach communities, especially in the summer. As is often the case, this little case study shows how geographic topics and scales are interlinked on the ground (or in the water as it were).
INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT: The Tijuana River flows through downtown Tijuana and crosses the U.S. border before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The river is heavily industrialized in Mexico with pollutants and sewage from the major urban area of Tijuana, but the river is treated as a wetlands wilderness preserve in the once it crosses into the United States (downstream of the pollutants).
LOCAL (CITY) CONTEXT: The South Bay beach communities have built a summer economy around surfing, sandcastles, and chilling at the beach. This municipalities generate a substantial portion of local revenue from the shops, restaurants, and businesses (Hotel Del Coronado is the most famous seaside venue here).
COUNTY CONTEXT: In May, 2022, San Diego County changed their methods of testing water quality. They implemented a DNA test to screen for bacteria in the water. This test is more sensitive that the older tests and San Diego County is the only county in the U.S. using this heightened standard to measure water quality at the beach.
PANDEMIC CONTEXT: Public health is more on the forefront of people’s radar and many agencies are more risk averse than individuals.
SITUATION: The water at Imperial Beach, Silver Stand, and Coronado failed the new 2022 test more often than not even if it would have passed by the old standard. May and early June, the beaches were closed over 50% of the time. San Diego County cities can’t control the Tijuana River much before it crosses back into the United States, so they are limited on options to clean up the river, but the Federal government though, through the EPA, announced in 2021 that a $300 million initiative in conjunction with the Mexican government. This summer, Coronado has had to cancel large regional events and now the mayors, city councils, business leaders, and residents are pushing back against the new county testing procedures, citing economic damage to their communities. They have settled on a new advisory system that includes a comprise warning—one where the state is acknowledging that the water is polluted (3% chance of getting sick), but that people who have been to these beaches for years can choose for themselves to swim or not.
What is the right choice? Depends on your priorities (maintaining the tourist economy or public health benefits?) and the scale at which you are looking at the situation.
“Perhaps against the wishes of an older West Indian generation, the new republic made a move that leaves an open question about what comes next. Barbados breaking with the Queen shows how younger leaders of color will continue to push their countries out of the shadows of colonial rule.” SOURCE: NBC News
Barbados has been an independent country since 1966, so what does this push against the remaining vestiges of the old British Empire mean? It means that the Queen will no longer be the nominal head of state with a local Prime Minister in Barbados; the new position of President will be fully acknowledged as the head of state without any deference to the Queen of England or the United Kingdom. Barbados is NOT, however, leaving the British Commonwealth, a trade association among former members of the British colonial empire. The great thing about the article linked above is the that while skeptics might say this is window dressing, but this symbolic shift is has some powerful cultural reverberations as a new generation is reconsidering the legacy of slavery and colonialism as they frame their future. Jamaica is another country in the Commonwealth now reconsidering their relationship with the British crown.
While I try to keep things nonpartisan, sometimes objective truths become partisan issues, and often the study of human geography can improve our collective political dialog. Department of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg (a.k.a. Mayor Pete) said “there is racism physically built into some of our highways.” Online detractors noted that rebar, concrete, and asphalt can’t be racist, etc. You see the over-literal interpretation, but I want to discuss his bigger point—how has racism shaped the building of infrastructure and urban landscapes?
The term redlining has a specific definition and a broader application. First, the narrower definition; redlining was a historical practice in the early to mid-20th century where banks and other decision-makers used city maps that marked low-income neighborhoods (pre-dominantly African American), and would deny potential home-owners’ loans to purchase in these neighborhoods. In an era of legalized segregation, African Americans were in a bind; they could not move into the white neighborhoods, but they could not get loans to purchase a home in their own neighborhood. The maps literally used a red line to mark the neighborhoods where the banks would not provide any home-lending services to the residents. Explore this fantastic interactive map, Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America. You can use this to find redlining close to your home, or the city where I teach, Providence, RI.
More broadly speaking, redlining is not just about the denial of home loans. Many practices such as this meant African Americans in the United States could not get access to the full range of services, utilities, resources, and planning to see improvements in their neighborhoods.
The era of redlining also coincided with the era of the private automobile and the beginning of large freeways on the American landscape. The major freeways in urban centers weren’t placed on conveniently open spaces, but by tearing down (typically) poor neighborhoods that had less of a political voice. This happened in African American neighborhoods in Baltimore, Oakland, New York, Detroit, Cincinnati…the list is far too long. Read this piece in the Guardian for some images and examples.
So, when Mayor Pete says that “there is racism physically built into some of our highways,” he means it, and it’s a part of our historical geography. The road itself might not be racist, but the institutions that plowed through poor Black neighborhoods is, and leaves a legacy on the built environment. Redlining is obviously illegal today, but the neighborhoods they shaped, divided by railroad tracks or highways or both, these communities are still impacted by the policies of yesteryear.
For generations, New York City urbanists have adored Jane Jacobs as the champion for local communities and her opposition to the soulless, neighborhood-destroying urban planner, Robert Moses. This is partially true, if simplistic, because hating one individual (Robert Moses) for inserting oppressive elements into the landscape misses the bigger point that he was simply in charge of the system, and if it weren’t for him, there would have been another to take his place. Let’s use one famous NYC, Robert Moses example of racism in the built landscape:
Action: Robert Moses designed Long Island bridges and highways with low overpasses.
Result: Long Island beaches are inaccessible through mass transit.
Purpose: Limit access of NYC poor from the affluent beaches of Long Island.
What are the implications of these facts? One instance of this type of infrastructural planning might be a coincidence rather than a sign of racial bias, or class-based bias, but the preponderance of evidence across the country from this era leads to the obvious conclusion that U.S. infrastructure, especially the highways, were shaped by racist policies that continue to have racial impacts. The evidence is there; for any honest observer, the conclusion that racism shaped U.S. infrastructure is not controversial.
Examine examples in your own community to see how these practices have shaped your local neighborhoods. Once you’ve seen how your community has been shaped, look at at other examples across the U.S. to see that your neighborhood is a part of a broader spatial pattern that shows how racism has shaped U.S. infrastructure.
“If there were a contest for the 2020 event with the most far-reaching implications for global peace and security, the field would be crowded. From the coronavirus pandemic to climate change’s growing impact, the Trump administration’s scorched-earth policies after Joe Biden’s election, the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh, and a deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, it has been an eventful year. In 2021, the world will be dealing with the aftermath and sifting through the debris.
In Sudan, Lebanon, and Venezuela, to mention but a few examples, one can expect the number of unemployed to grow, real incomes to collapse, governments to face mounting difficulties paying security forces, and the general population to increasingly rely on state support at a time when states are least equipped to provide it. The lines separating economic dissatisfaction from social unrest, and social unrest from outbreaks of violence, are thin.”
There are always some ‘hot spots’ around the world that might boil over into armed conflict, and some that are already at that stage, but that we collectively might have forgotten about during the pandemic. These 10 conflicts are highlighted to list some of the geopolitically most pertinent conflicts in the world right now.
There are many simmering conflicts around the world that are not fully resolved but that can intensify very quickly because the underlying issues remain tense even in periods of relative calm. The Armenia/Azerbaijan conflict centers around the ethnic Armenian enclave (Nargorno Karabakh) inside Azerbaijan. To make things more complicated, there is an exclave of Azerbaijan (Nakhchivan) to the west of Armenia.
There have been ethnic/political tensions is this region for generations, but the collapse of the Soviet Union changed the status quo, and there was a cease-fire called in 1994, but that has dissolved in the last few weeks. Now, Turkey and Russia are both seeking to resolve the dispute (or carry out their regional ambitions if you like to approach this more cynically). This shows how a border conflict between two countries can quickly become a broader that can polarize the international community as countries “pick sides” in the conflict. While this is a distressing bit of news for global security and peace, this is a excellent case study to explore many political geographic topics; enclaves, exclaves, borders, sovereignty, devolution, international conflict, etc..