“Air quality: Vietnamese professor calls for power price increase over unsustainable GDP growth”

The United States, with its love of big cars, big houses and blasting air-conditioners, has contributed more than any other country to the atmospheric carbon dioxide that is scorching the planet.  Source:  The U.S. Is the Biggest Carbon Polluter in History. It Just Walked Away From the Paris Climate Deal, 1 June 2017, New York Times

The title of this post was the ominous title of a recent article in the Vietnamese media.  Below is the photo that accompanied the article.  Much of the air pollution Viet Nam in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is caused by motorbikes.  Why not require that all motorbikes sold in Viet Nam be hybrid instead of using a traditional combustion engine?  What about hybrid cars, which are non-existent?

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Traffic in Hanoi. Photo: Tuoi Tre

40% of Viet Nam’s power is generated by hydropower plants.  While coal is projected to cover over half of all electricity production by 2030, the government is also targeting renewables such as solar and wind as a high priority.  Fortunately, it made the decision to move away from nuclear power.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black?

Aside from these obvious points, I was stuck by the broader political context of the comments made by this US-educated Vietnamese professor from Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV), essentially a US university.  His recommendation is precious, a case of the pot calling the kettle black.  Which country is the biggest carbon polluter in history?  You know who.  Which country walked away from the Paris (Climate) Agreement?  You know who.  Which country is among the biggest polluters in the world?  Ditto.   

The United States of America currently ranks 2nd with about 5,414 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.  China is #1 but the difference between the two countries is that China is actually trying to do something about it and its contribution to global air pollution is recent, coinciding with its rapid economic development.  The US can’t seem to break the fossil fuel habit and its leadership is in denial about climate change. 

Anytime the US government is involved, or any government, for that matter, there has to be an agenda.  What’s the agenda here?  A colleague suggested the following tongue-in-cheek panel topic at a Vietnamese university: “What should the international community’s response be to a rogue nation that’s disproportionately responsible for the world’s pollution and has just pulled out of the Paris Agreement?”  Now THAT would make for one hell of a discussion.  (I wonder if FUV would consider hosting it, “he asks in a fleeting moment of fantasy.”)

Consider the source.  Always.  People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.  Or perhaps this is yet another case of “do as we say not as we do”? 

Peace, MAA

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“Losing Hearts & Minds” Say What?

(US) American-Iranian Relations & International Education during the Cold War

The question remains about how institutions of higher education can thrive economically and promote responsible internationalization. On the one hand, educational exchange can help generate change around the world and enhance American influence and prestige. On the other hand, schools, like nations, should not compromise principles such as academic freedom to acquire financial gain or a global reach. American schools today should work to internationalize, but they should avoid getting involved with authoritarian states in a way that would damage, rather than bolster, long-term interests and the prospects for future dialogue.  (Matthew K. Shannon)

  There is nothing obscure about the objectives of educational exchange. Its purpose is to acquaint Americans with the world as it is and to acquaint students and scholars from many lands with America as it is–not as we wish it were or as we might wish foreigners to see it, but exactly as it is…  (J. William Fulbright)

NOTE:  No, this is obviously not a post about Viet Nam, at least not directly, but it is about overseas study as an integral part of international education.  (It is most definitely is true to the blog’s subtitle of Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue.)  I haven’t read the book with the above title only this Inside Higher Ed interview with the author of the book.  Since I’m not one to shoot from the hip and review books without having read them, this is only some reflections about some of the answers.

Iranian Students Against the Shah

When I was an undergraduate back in the mid-70s, I had some friends from Iran, who were against the Shah.  I remember some of the discussions we had, including about the CIA-engineered coup d’état in 1953 and the overthrow of a democratically elected prime minister.  (Stephen Kinzer, among others, has documented this centerpiece of US foreign policy since the late 19th century in Overthrow:  America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.)

I also remembered an on-campus demonstration of masked Iranian students shouting “Down with the Shah” and “US advisers, CIA agents out of Iran”.  It was of course the CIA and the Israeli MOSSAD that helped to establish SAVAK, the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s much-hated and feared secret police, domestic security and intelligence service.  That was months before the overthrow of the Shah.

I was studying in Germany when the hostage crisis began at the US Embassy in Tehran.  All my friends were either German or other international students, including one from Iran.  We talked about that incident not as representatives of the countries whose passports we carried but as human beings.

The Purpose of International Educational Exchange

I’ve always viewed overseas study as an opportunity to learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the host country not for that country, in the case of the US, to “generate change around the world and enhance American influence and prestige.”  What kind of change is Mr. Shannon referring to, I wonder?  The kind that only serves US political, economic, and military interests?  The kind that spreads more “democracy and freedom,” at least on paper and, in reality, code for US domination, economic and otherwise, at the barrel of a gun?

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Courtesy of Cornell University Press

I hold this view because I’m a one-time patriot and a longtime global citizen not a US nationalist.  The US has done some good in the world but it also has a long, bloodstained track record in many countries, including Iran and the country I have called home since 2005.  Its leaders and a majority of its citizens have yet to overcome their country’s past in the spirit  of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, a “struggle to overcome the [negatives of the] past.” I wonder if Mr. Shannon, the author of Losing Hearts and Minds, is a patriot or a nationalist?  Like anyone, his world view, and the values system in which it’s rooted, clearly informs his work. 

I also wonder about his statement that the US should avoid getting involved with authoritarian states in a way that would damage, rather than bolster, long-term interests and the prospects for future dialogue.  That would eliminate the majority of current international student enrollment in the US, which is currently in steady decline, the result of a variety of factors that include, but also transcend, the current administration. 

Of Hearts, Minds, & US Nationalism

As someone who has lived and worked in Viet Nam for nearly 13 years and whose first-hand experience with the country dates to 1996, I’m not sure if Mr. Shannon chose the best title for his book.  I wonder if he’s also aware of its rather nasty connotation, given how it was used during the American War in Viet Nam, where not many “hearts and minds” were won by the foreign invader du jour and its client state.   

Finally, this whole notion of “winning hearts and minds” is not a justification for real international educational exchange, unless you represent the US government, the US Chamber of Commerce, or you’re a red, white, and blue true believer aka nationalist.  (We’re #1!  We’re the greatest!  USA, USA, USA!  You get my drift.) 

fulbrightMr. Shannon may want to learn more about J. William Fulbright’s views on this subject, including the one contained in the quotes above and below about the Fulbright Program, taken from this page of Selected quotations by J. William Fulbright on international educational exchange on the US State Department website, no less.  (Obviously, no one from the Trump administration has gotten around to deleting it yet.)   

The essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy–the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately. The simple purpose of the exchange program…is to erode the culturally rooted mistrust that sets nations against one another. The exchange program is not a panacea but an avenue of hope…. [From The Price of Empire]

Peace, MAA