What is the Hydrogen Economy?

Many leaders have varying opinions on what exactly the hydrogen Economy is.  The hydrogen Economy, in its simplest form, is the mission and vision people have to see the world run off of hydrogen-fueled electricity and energy.  This dream is not based upon using high-carbon methods of production.  Low-carbon emissions are what these dreamers hope for.  Hydrogen, an element that is not naturally generated and found on this earth, is something that takes natural gas to create it.  Once hydrogen is liquefied or compressed, hydrogen can be used to create stores of energy.  Some believe that hydrogen is more of an intermediary between the user and natural gas, which has high-carbon emissions.  Regardless of what side of the wire you stand on, one thing we do know is that hydrogen is of such great interest to people nowadays because it’s only “emission” is water.  That is it.  Now do you see why hydrogen is still on the table?

Automobiles, for example, would probably have the greatest benefit from using hydrogen as energy, because it could use something called a “fuel cell” to convert the energy into electricity.  According to The Guardian:

“At the moment, hydrogen is most commonly produced from natural gas. In this situation, a typical fuel cell car generates 70–80g CO2 for each kilometre driven – similar to a modern gasoline hybrid or to a battery electric vehicle charged with today’s UK grid electricity. These emissions can be reduced towards zero if the hydrogen is produced using low-carbon electricity sources such as renewables, nuclear or CCS to electrolyse water. The downside is that in this situation only around half as much electricity comes out of the fuel cell as was put in to produce the hydrogen in the first place. The rest is lost as heat.

“Partly for this reason, and partly due to concerns over the commercial readiness of hydrogen fuel cell cars, battery-based electric cars have received more attention in recent years than hydrogen cars. However, hydrogen vehicles retain a number of important advantages: they can be rapidly refuelled in just a couple of minutes and have a range of many hundreds of kilometres. So the best technology depends on the final cost, carbon mitigation potential, and consumer needs in each case.”

Do you think it would take more energy to have only a hydrogen-run fuel economy? What are your thoughts on hydrogen being used as fuel? Tweet me @JohnSlifko to continue the discussion!

Part Two: Did You Know War Affects Children’s Education This Badly?

War disrupts the normal trajectory of children’s lives, due to the fact that tens of thousands of children are forced out of their schools during these times. Children who might have finished high school by the age of 18 are now child soldiers or have been in refugee camps for so long that they have no education at all. According to the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health (NLM/NIH), “It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of young people under 18 serving in militias in about 60 countries.” Getting a proper education can keep war from happening in certain areas by making the area more civilized. Education is massively important, and it’s time to start facing the facts about how it is affecting our civil society as a whole.

Leaving School

War keeps children from gaining an education due to the armed forces taking over schools or playgrounds children once played on. Many children are forced to run for their lives, as they are in immediate danger for trying to attend school. This splits apart families and causes children to have to start working to provide for themselves or to join armies to survive.

Living in Refugee Camps

Children are forced to live in refugee camps, because they have nowhere else to go. The NLM/NIH shares that “they wait for years in miserable circumstances for normal life to resume, if it ever does.” Refugee camps do not start out with educational facilities in them. Those that have some educational resources are fortunate but have them in extremely small quantities. NGO’s and NPO’s try their best to support these educational efforts, but it’s not nearly enough to keep a country from becoming underdeveloped.

Creating an Underdeveloped Country

War makes education such an impossible feat for so long in many countries that it starts to change the culture. According to the Peace Pledge Union:
“As the conflict continues without an end in sight and humanitarian organisations continue to struggle to provide the immediate material needs of the victims of the war, it is increasingly possible that a whole generation might be left without a basic education. This turn of events alone will plummet a developed country into an underdeveloped country.”

Countries that do not have education for numerous years in a row leave children grown up with no sense of direction. They have little to no job skills and have to obtain exceedingly low paying jobs in order to survive. This will leave a country with fewer resources and means to live and will start to affect their ability to import and export. This slowly starts to deteriorate a country’s ability to conduct business, plummeting the economy further and further down.

If war alone can do this in one country, how powerfully does it speak to war’s ability to impact negative change throughout the entire world? War needs to end, now.

This blog was originally posted here.

Part One: Did You Know War Affects Children’s Health This Badly?

Children are left broken and destitute as a result of war. According to Letty Thomas of WarChild.org, “[C]ivilians were once far removed from the fighting; they’re now routinely targeted and make up 90% of the casualties.” Thousands of children die as a direct result of violence in war each year. Thomas goes on to say that “Hospitals and health [centers] are destroyed. Doctors and nurses are killed or have fled. Children are most vulnerable to diseases like [diarrhea], malaria and cholera. Treatment is simple and cheap, but millions of children have died through lack of it.” Moreover, thousands of children are injured each year specifically by weapons. Landmines are particularly vicious. Children are more likely to get hurt by landmines than adults are. Injuries occur as a result of poor knowledge of how to use weapons, being in the line of fire, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Children are further disabled from war. According to the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health (NLM/NIH), “A child may have to wait up to 10 years before having a prosthetic limb fitted.” The NLM/NIH further states that children have poor access to proper, “nutrition, water safety, sanitation, housing, and… health services.” Because of this, illness becomes an indirect effect of war on children. Because children are often separated from their parents/guardians throughout the lifespan of a war, they are often left with guardians who do not care for them as much. These children end up having to scavenge for medical help on their own, which most can’t or won’t.

Oftentimes, people do not view mental health as a part of physical health, but it is. The mind is just as much of an organ as any other body party, and it gets affected deeply during the process of war. Children will oftentimes have high levels of anxiety and depression as a result of experiencing horror and loss of life, both of loved ones and strangers. Many end up with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. The NLM/NIH explains that “They may have to change their moral structure and lie, steal, and sell sex to survive. They may have their moral structure forcibly dismantled and replaced in training to kill as part of a military force.” Sexual assault is becoming a way to wage war now, too, leaving many young girls pregnant or unable to have children. Being taken advantage of physically can result in incredibly traumatic experiences for children both psychologically and on their physical bodies. They can be abused verbally or physically and be taken advantage of.

Children are true victims in the case of war. They are vulnerable because of their age, their size, and their naivety. Children are often lead astray and get involved in things they never wanted to, to begin with. Children need to be helped more than most other people groups. Learn about how children are negatively affected next month, because their education is stolen from them. Feel free to tweet me any thoughts, questions, or comments you may have @johnslifko!

This blog was originally posted on here.

Cyber-Activism: Harnessing the Power of the Internet to Enact Change

As you may have already gathered from my other blog posts on this website, my primary academic interests lie in the origins of democratic civil society and eighteenth-century worlds of print. What you may not know is that outside of the classroom, I’ve spent most of my life championing for equal rights as a social and political activist. Interestingly, as the internet continues to grow and change, it seems as though my academic and personal interests are beginning to overlap with one another in the form of what is referred to as Cyber-Activism.

Egyptian Revolution John Slifko

Cyber-Activism on Twitter played a significant role in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

In a 2015 podcast for PhilosophyTalk.org, John Perry defined Cyber-Activism as “political activism that is made possible by the use of cyber tools like email, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other sites.” Essentially, the internet has now made it possible for activists to spread their messages to a wider audience than ever before by using digital platforms as their soapboxes. As you can imagine, this has certainly changed the face of activism; for proof, one need only recall the Egyptian Uprising of 2011, in which social media played a crucial part in letting the rest of the world know what was going on in that country when all other vehicles for communication were locked down. During the Egyptian Uprising, people around the world changed their IP addresses – or the digital string of numbers that tells other people and the internet the location from which you’re accessing the internet – to Egyptian IP addresses. They did this to protect Cyber-Activists in Egypt from having their identities exposed, which would have led to them incurring the wrath of their government for spreading this information. Or think about the fact that with the internet, we are now plugged into a global 24-hour news cycle, capable for the first time of watching events unfold in other parts of the world in real-time.

To me, Cyber-Activism is a stellar example of how the invention of the internet represents a new era in the way humans communicate with each other and advocate for those in need. With more access to information and to each other than we’ve ever had before, this shift is as historically significant – if not more so – than the one that occurred after Gutenberg invented the Printing Press. I, for one, am certainly looking forward to witnessing the myriad other ways that the internet will help propel us into a brighter future…a future in which it is virtually impossible to plead ignorance about the injustices that are committed every day around the world.

Literacy in the World

literacy-peace-image John Slifko BlogLiteracy is a human right, a tool for personal empowerment and a means for social and human development.  Traditionally, it has been understood as the ability to read and write. Over time, however, the term’s meaning has been expanded to include the ability to use language, numbers, images and other means to understand and use the dominant symbol systems of a culture.

According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), as society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies.

However, last year, during International Literacy Day on September 8, 2015, new data from the Institute for Statistics (UIS) revealed that approx. 757 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – still lack basic reading and writing skills. UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) is the primary source for monitoring international literacy targets associated with Education and All (EFA) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). UIS literacy statistics are considered the standard for benchmarking progress globally and are featured in diverse reports, such as the EFA Global Monitoring Report, the World Development Indicators and the Human Development Report.

According to the UIS website, “By 2015, the international community pledged to reduce adult illiteracy rates by 50% compared to 2000 levels as part of the Education for All (EFA) goals.” Yet, given the recent data and findings, there are still 757 million adults including 115 million youths who cannot read or write a simple sentence. So, what happened?

Educational opportunities depend on literacy.  Americans who need basic literacy instruction also need financial literacy skills. They struggle with everyday budgeting and more complicated tasks like comprehending mortgage documents, which means they’re often the victims of predatory lenders and financial scams. Low literate individuals are also twice as likely to be out of work, contributing to the high rate of unemployment in the U.S. Although many are eager to compete in the 21st century job market, they simply lack the skills and training to do so. ProLiteracy says, while the number of people seeking help keeps growing, overall funding for literacy programs has dropped. Even when we combine all of our government and philanthropic funding, we only have enough resources to help 3 million people

Low literacy is a global crisis that affects all of us.  In today’s tech-centric world, basic literacy skills simply aren’t enough. Adults need computer skills and access to technology to succeed in our society, whether they’re trying to apply for a job online, find accurate health information on the Internet, or simply send an email to their child’s teacher.  

During the past decade, an increasing number of empirical studies by economists, educational researchers, and other social scientists have documented the critical importance of literacy among communities. Furthermore, some research has been able to show the direct correlation to high literacy rates and economic and social success of individual workers, their families, regional economies, and nations. Although there remains an urgent need to do more, I hope this blog post made you a bit more aware.

Ending Global Extreme Poverty

Poverty_in_Colombia_by_Luis_Perez

It’s 2015 and we are starting to see powerful people, organizations and countries come together to try and end extreme poverty on this planet. The rapid growth of technology coupled with the increased visibility of extreme poverty has pushed many to take action.

The simple definition of extreme poverty is those that earn less than $1.25 a day but many are skeptical of using an income-level as a definition. Living in extreme poverty is very difficult. These people often live without access to medicine, food and water, housing or education. Everyday these people have to make life and death decisions between these things that the rest of us take for granted. In 1995 the United Nations defined extreme poverty as:

“a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.”

It is estimated that 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and some regions are more susceptible than others. India and China have quickly improved extreme poverty in their countries but countries in sub-Saharan Africa have had a much harder time overcoming their systemic issues that lead to extreme poverty.

Almost all countries are growing but poorer countries are growing very slowly. Poverty has many different levels. One hurdle for ending extreme poverty is corruption. There is a direct correlation between poverty and levels of corruption. Money and revenue from corrupt countries goes into the offshore bank accounts of those countries’ wealthy. No investments are made to improve the country’s infrastructure and institutions.

Geographic location is also highly predictive of a country’s propensity to increase per capita wealth. Countries without access to navigable waters are much less likely to become wealthy. Life is much more difficult in tropical regions like sub-Saharan Africa. From poor soil to adverse conditions for photosynthesis, farming is much less productive. In addition, many countries in tropical regions couldn’t take advantage of the modern use of livestock to farm land because of the Tsetse fly.

A good explanation of why some countries are poor and others rich can be seen in this video, by School of Life:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-4V3HR696k]

 

In 2000, as part of the Millennium Development Goal, the UN aimed to cut global extreme poverty in half by this year. This goal was achieved five years early in 2010. Since then, the major players in the international community including the United Nations, World Bank, NGO’s and wealthy philanthropists have set a goal of ending global extreme poverty by 2030.

Despite all the hurdles that countries with extreme poverty face, We have it in our capabilities to end extreme poverty. With a good understanding of what causes poverty and empirical studies that have proven that poverty can be eliminated, it is just a matter of time before the global poverty reaches zero.

Bill and Melinda Gates are the richest couple in the world and have been hard at work in ending poverty since 2000. In their foundation’s annual letter this year they laid out the three reasons they believe the 2030 goal is possible and what they are doing to help expedite the process.

  • First, they aim to cut child deaths by half through better immunization programs. Vaccines for diarrhea and pneumonia will be widespread.
  • Second, they will help bring farming technologies to poorer regions that will help increase yields.
  • Third, electronic technology and mobile banking will continue its rapid growth in adoption helping poor people save money. This technology will also give them access to online education resources.

Other strategies put forth by the international community include connecting countries to the global economy, spreading water filtration technology, investments in renewable technology and educating people on sex and hygiene.

Ending global poverty is in our sights. As we’ve seen with India, Pakistan, China and Indonesia ending poverty is possible. As technology continues to improve and more people and organizations join the fight, we will be at zero poverty by 2030.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

At the end of 1948, shortly after World War II had ended, the United Nations convened in Paris to declare that every person across the world is entitled to certain inalienable rights. One of the Allies’ main goals during the war was to implement a number of fundamental freedoms for individuals. Many of these were later implemented into the more comprehensive Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

The UDHR has changed slightly since the formal declaration was originally drafted in 1948. It was officially signed into international law by a satisfactory majority of United Nations member countries in 1976 as part of the International Bill of Human Rights (IBHR).

The IBHR also included the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The latter two international covenants were separated because member countries of the United Nations believed there was a stark difference between political rights and cultural rights. In addition to stating the rights of individuals regardless of state affiliation, it attempts to implement the rights in the countries that have ratified them.

The three parts of the IBHR contain a lot of similar verbiage including definitions of various freedoms, health standards and education. Leaders understood that changes would not happen overnight so provisions were written in to allow for “progressive realization” wherein countries would be recognized if they were taking steps to implementing standards.

While most UN countries adopted the UDHR at the time, there were some notable countries that did not. Saudi Arabia, a long-time ally of the United States, did not sign the agreement because it included provisions on freedom of religion.

Though the UDHR is not an official treaty, variations of its language have been used to create a number of international treaties. International Human Rights Day is held every year on the 10th of December in observance of the day the UDHR was signed into law.

A video animation of the UDHR can be seen below:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTlrSYbCbHE]

Eritrea and the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis

President_Isaias_Afewerk

On the eastern end of the the African continent in the Horn of Africa lies the State of Eritrea. The population consists of a variety of different ethnicities and most inhabitants are either Christian or Muslim.

The country is no stranger to violence, having been at war with Ethiopia and other neighboring countries at the end of last century and the beginning of this century. More recently, however, the country has seen extreme violence at the hands of President Isaias Afwerki.

A large proportion of Eritreans have fled the country because of the methodical injustice inflicted on thousands of Eritrean citizens. These human rights abuses include systematic torture, kidnapping, slavery and rape all at the hands of Afwerki and his government, which he has been in control of for nearly 20 years.

A human rights panel of United Nations officials has found that the situation in Eritrea slowly deteriorated after the country implemented mildly oppressive practices in an effort to curb violence in the 90s.

It has gotten so bad that hundreds of Eritreans are fleeing the country every day. This is not an easy decision to make either. The journey to Europe is perilous. It is estimated 2,000 people have died this year traveling the Mediterranean to Europe to escape Eritrea and other violent countries in region. Exact numbers are not available because often bodies of the perished are lost at sea.

This exodus from Eritrea was briefly met with more violence when security forces of the country were ordered to kill escaping citizens.

This year has seen record numbers of refugees coming from the region seeking refuge in Europe and it has become a huge problem for Greece and Italy. The number of Eritreans reaching these countries is only surpassed by Syrians who are also dealing with a grave human rights situation in their country.

Human rights organizations have not been allowed into the country and these abuses persist. European nations have to decide between granting Eritreans asylum or sending them back to Eritrea where they will likely be tortured or put to death.

Human Rights in North Korea

Party-Foundation-Monument-North-Korea

When Kim Jong Un came into power after his father’s death in 2011, very little was known about the young man. The unknown led to speculation that maybe he would be a reformer, after all he as a basketball fan and was educated in Switzerland. Unfortunately, the human rights situation has not improved and in many cases deteriorated.

North Korea is a highly secretive country and little is known about even its highest ranking member. In theory, the country has agreed to a number of human rights treaties and even gives rights to its citizens through a constitution. But there is little to no freedom in the country.

International human rights and other civil society organizations are not allowed in the country to keep the regime accountable. From within the country there is only one political party, one source for news and opposition to the status quo can be deadly.

All publications, television and radio are controlled by the state and even possession of outside broadcasts is illegal. Citizens aren’t even allowed to have cell phones to speak with friends and family outside of the country.

One of the only ways we are able to get information about North Korea is from defectors. Their stories are abhorrent not only for their brutality but also for their regularity. Prisoners are tortured through beatings, rape, sleep deprivation, and forcing prisoners to remain standing. Another common practice is to send prisoners to prison camps where they are forced to work for inhumane hours without pay.

These camps, that government officials deny exist, are replete with prisoners of conscience and their families. North Korea practices collective punishment. The immediate family of these prisoners are sent to prison camps, and in some cases even the grandchildren. Children working in horribly unsafe conditions is a regular sight in these camps according to defectors. Prisoners have very little clothing, are regularly executed and die from starvation.

The government’s repressive actions are meant to deter opposition. Threats of forced labor and the sight of public executions are commonplace. Defectors often leave their family behind to certain imprisonment. Travel outside of the country is illegal and border guards have the right to shoot escapees on sight. China does not recognize defectors as refugees and sends them back to North Korea. Any defector that is returned by China faces torture and forced labor.

The death penalty has become simply a formality in the country and can effectively be enforced for any crime because the laws around it are so vague. Kim Jong Un himself has employed the death penalty for a number of political foes and even an ex-girlfriend.

Even ordinary workers in North Korea are treated poorly and barely earn enough money to provide for their family. Workers are not allowed to organize and must accept horrendous working conditions.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) strategy to keep its stranglehold on the people’s mind is ineffective. Despite the threat of forced labor camps, and execution there is a vibrant black market and South Korean television is popular. The military at the border happily accept bribes to smuggle people out of the country and entertainment from flash drives and DVD’s. Defectors are constantly looking at ways to undermine the oppressive government with information.

In April of 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council opened an investigation into DPRK for “crimes against humanity”. North Korea has not cooperated with the UN and has denied all requests for visits from UN representatives. Though it will be difficult to hold the country accountable because they are constantly on the defensive with their military and are unresponsive to sanctions.