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The Southeast Asian transboundary haze has resulted in severe environmental, health, political and economic impacts in the region since the 1970s, and has resurfaced time and again in the past decades. During the episodes of 1997, 2013 and 2015, forest fires and haze brought damage on the scale of tens of billions of dollars to the affected countries—Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia itself, and even to the rest of the world—through carbon emissions and climate change. Mainly the result of agricultural slash-and-burn practices on peatland in Indonesia, the pollution problem remains largely intractable and complex despite repeated efforts to mitigate it. Resolving this cross-border issue is critical, and yet is more insurmountable than it appears.
It fundamentally is a classic problem of public good and common property, where everyone owns the commons that is the atmosphere and yet no one is compelled to be fully responsible for it. Standard economic tools such as Pigouvian taxes or a simple Coasian solution cannot be applied. Indonesia can be pressured but not forced to reduce this pollution. The problem is complex to address, primarily because of its transboundary nature, which has made it difficult to assert extraterritorial jurisdiction without infringing on the sovereignty of the culprit nation. For Indonesia, the processes of enacting land use statutes, changing regulatory institutions and enforcing laws are complex and tedious. Plantation owners often deny using fire to clear land and blame shifting cultivators for starting fires in their smallholdings that later spread to plantations. Proof of negligence must be shown, which is susceptible to delays and transaction costs. Moreover, related to the enforcement problems is the complicated nature of Indonesia's decentralized governance system. The coordination of responsibilities for forest fires and haze is spread unevenly across many central and local agencies, with many overlaps.
It is important for all affected countries to undertake the valuation of negative impact costs of the haze such that a form similar to international aid can be offered to Indonesia and assistance provided to targeted sectors hurt by the haze. One approach could be to spend a sum not exceeding the costs of the haze to enhance the ability of Indonesian authorities to detect, locate and respond to the fires, as well as strengthen their ability to prosecute those responsible.
It is more than fifteen years since Joseph Stiglitz wrote Globalization and its Discontents, with the message that there is evidence of much unhappiness with the way global reforms have been taking place and how they have impacted developing and poor countries. Stiglitz concluded that the main issue is not with globalization, but rather that the process of management was very much lacking. And now Stiglitz in his latest book, Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy, has argued that the message he had about globalization is now affecting the advanced economies.
Professor Jørgen Ørstrøm Møller is never one to evade the complexities and subtleties of current affairs. He pursues the issues of the day with an intellectual curiosity, clarity of thought, and completeness that is enriched by his vast experience in the Danish diplomatic service, policymaking and academia. In this book he uses an interdisciplinary approach to discuss the intrinsic issues, including globalization, that are shaping the world.
Professor Møller identifies the pessimism in current affairs and the apprehensiveness in the global economy as a veil over policymakers. He proposes that a paradigm shift is needed to lift this veil. The concept of a paradigm shift — a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions when existing ones can no longer serve as a framework to a discipline — is rooted in science and technology. While there is much debate on the effect of science and technology on the economy, they are much more profoundly felt across the human landscape.
In health sciences, advances in biotechnology such as embryo selection, where we can cultivate and screen embryos for genetic diseases, and gene splicing, where we can then proceed to edit out the diseases we have missed, promise to revolutionize human reproduction and healthcare.
Robotics, big data and artificial intelligence form the basis of technologies such as self-driving vehicles, drones and 3D printing that loom over our contemporary workforce. The use and usefulness of social media continue to be topics of debate. The Pokémon Go phenomenon has shown how virtual reality is being inverted into augmented reality.
In the current political and societal climate, where populism and personalities trump logic and reasoning, how do we grapple with political and power structures, societal values and economic theory to reasonably frame and implement a conversation about the impact of these technologies on our future?
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