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Posts Tagged ‘Alps’

Trouble in Grenoble

July 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Grenoble, France. The scene of the latest socioeconomic riots in France.

The cities of France are no strangers to the pitfalls of socioeconomic and immigration strife. Sparking memories of the 2005 riots in Paris’ suburbs, Grenoble – the self-proclaimed capital of the Alpserupted into violence this past weekend after the shooting death of the alleged casino thief Karim Boudouda. The next day, following a memorial service for Boudouda, riots spearheaded by youths from the slum of Villeneuve engulfed the city. In two days over 70 cars were burnt out. While no one was seriously injured in the riots, four young men have been detained for shooting at police during the mayhem. While the origins of this newest round of rioting seems ultimately perverted, it once again brings to light the tension that continues to fester between liberté, égalité, fraternitéand the reality of French immigration.

Immigration to France continues to stay at a high level despite the economic downturn and recent immigration restrictions imposed by the government. As a haven for liberty and social justice, France has long seen itself as model example of tolerance and foreign assimilation. The French pride themselves on a – some would say less-than-tactful – secular bombardment of integrating immigrants. It makes sense at face-value: replacing religious and former national identity with the French way of life facilitates a easy transition to French identity. You can see the culmination of this strategy the international controversy that followed France’s ban on conspicuous religious symbols in the public sphere.

Now, if this form of national identity integration works is a completely different story. I think it is safe to say that the 2005 civil unrest, referenced above, and the riots of 2007 cast long shadows over the practices. The 2005 incident was directly triggered by the death of two teenagers, Zyed Benna and Bouna Traoré, by electrocution while they hid from police officers they believed to be chasing them. Spreading to other cities, it was about three months before the situation was finally returned to normal. In 2007, when two teenagers died after their motorcycle collided with a police vehicle, the poor, immigrant-populated Parisian suburbs Villiers-la-Bel and Arnouville burned in scenes identical to the 2005 riots. What we see here is a pattern starting to develop; animosity lingering between downtrodden new immigrants and agents of the state.

I won’t pretend that I can explain to you the vast network of reasons for the continual outbreaks of violence in France in this short post but I will try to leave you with a couple points to chew on…

First, the immigrants and lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder that live in the suburbs where these riots continue to happen have had to endure a de facto ghettoization.** There is a separation between city dwellers and the immediate suburbs; lines are rarely crossed other than for labor needs. This obviously promotes distrust and hostility between people and their adopted society. There is, unfortunately, a reason that the Paris Métro closes at just 2am.

Second, for all of the lip-service paid to integration and tolerance, there is a double standard between action, words and intent within the French government. Liberté, égalité, fraternité is a wonderful thing to practice in an ideal world but it is hard to get past preconditioned beliefs that undoubtedly still pervade French society. With that in mind, I present to you two quotes to think about:

“There is a simple and clear reality in this country: there’s no future for hoodlums and delinquents because in the end the public authority always wins.” – French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux

Discussing the 2005 rioters, then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy referred to them as “scum” that the they should be “cleared with a fire hose” from the slums in which they live.

This kind of talk, from high-government officials, cannot possibly engender respect or confidence in the state in which people, with only the shirts on their back, look for protection. Until things change, we can expect the cycle of unrest to continue.

**This hyperlink is an in-depth looking into the underpinnings of the 2005 riots by the Brookings Institute; absolutely worth a read.

Whitewashing the World

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

The Peruvian Andes.

In 2009, the World Bank held an international competition to find “100 ideas to save the planet.” Traditional, cutting edge, unique and crazy; the competition featured breathtaking theories to thwart environmental degradation worldwide. One of the twenty-six winners was Peruvian Eduardo Gold. Mr Gold, an inventor and self-taught glaciologist, had a crazy idea: why don’t Peruvians use natural materials to proactively combat the rapid glacier loss in the Andes? How could they go about doing that? Well Mr. Gold came up with the simplest of solutions: homemade, Peruvian whitewash.

Using only lime, egg white and water, Mr. Gold’s theory on glacial reinstatement relies on the simple fact that white objects are naturally cooler than those that are dark colored. Whitewashing the peaks that are now devoid of their former glacial brilliance will hopefully lead to a continuously incremental temperature drop. The thought is that this will eventually promote the return of the Andes’ glaciers. Simplistic? Maybe. Without merit? Absolutely not. First, the World Bank, out of over 1,500 submissions found enough empirical evidence to award the idea a $200,000 grant. Second, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu endorsed an idea based on the same principle that white produces cold. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s so simple, it might work.

Worldwide glacial recession is nothing to scoff at. Every continent, from Asia to Antarctica have seen unimpeded and epic glacial loss in the past four decades. An in depth World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report is a cohesive study on the subject. Since the 1980s, Europe’s Alpine glaciers have lost an estimated 10-20%. A remarkable statistic when you think about the magnitude of the geological formations. The highland glaciers of Central Asia – the water source of millions in Western China, Nepal, Tibet – are declining at the astronomical rate of almost 1% annually since the 1970s. This is clearly a ecological disaster waiting to happen. South America, especially Peru, has been specifically hard hit. Of the three major tropical glaciers, almost half of their masses have been lost in the past fifty years; a truly staggering thought.

This is all very controversial. It all just seems too simple. Maybe we should just sit back, see the results of Eduardo Gold’s experiment and hope for the best. A wise and ingenious professor once told me, “The flashpoint of conflict in the coming century will be clean water and clean water sources.” Glacial loss will inevitably contribute to this fact. So think on it, come up with your own solution or tell your friends to brainstorm. In the meantime, whitewash your local peak; you might be saving the earth for future generations.