TOPICS ON MY MIND
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CHINA’S ONE-PARTY SYSTEM: THE KEY TO CARBON NEUTRALITY IN 2060
Received an Honorable Mention in Journalism Category in 2021 Scholastic Art & Writing Award,
During the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September 2020, President Xi Jin Ping announced China’s ambitious goal of achieving a carbon emission peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. In addition, President Xi urged nations to, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, prioritize both economic recovery and environmental sustainability. Pundits have accused China of being overly ambitious: China leads the world in greenhouse gas production, generating 30 percent of global emissions, and relies heavily on its industrial backbone for its economy (Nakazaqa, “Biggest Polluter”). Yet commentators overlook the fact that China’s political institution is best suited to combat climate change because of its unique one-party system—a trait foreign commentators often criticize. China’s one-party system, with the China Communist Party (“CCP”) firmly in control, enables the nation to bypass political opposition and public opinions, and prioritize the distribution of resources to further objectives deemed important by the communist party at the expense of less important agendas.
China’s single-party system makes it uniquely suited to tackle climate change because the Chinese government can implement ambitious policies while having little regard for political or commercial opposition. Unlike other nations that often face political turmoil when attempting to agree on issues like funding, enforcement measures, compensation, and practicality for climate change policies, China is able to avoid political discourse and efficiently pass policies that the party prioritizes. For example, from 1980 to 2015, the CCP generally required families to only have one child to reduce overpopulation even though the policy was very unpopular, but since the CCP saw the policy as critical, the policy remained entrenched for 35 years (Pletcher). The Chinese government saw the dire outcome that might result from overpopulation, especially its effects on the country's resources, so they ignored public opposition and imposed the one-child policy on the nation (Whyte). Similarly, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (“MME”), a state organization in charge of addressing climate change, has the tantamount power to bypass the interests of carbon-intensive sectors and enforce policies to promote carbon emission goals without heeding to corporate demands (“China Puts”). Private sectors have no choice but to abide by the restrictions instituted by the MME even if doing so would result in escalated economic cost, as failing to follow regulations would often result in substantial penalties (“China Puts”). As long as the CCP remains committed to combating climate change, political opposition will remain subdued, if not suppressed, by the brute political might of the central government. Because of a lack of opposition, China is, when attempting to address climate change, able to develop and promote ambitious policies to meet its goals even if these policies result in significant economic and social sacrifices.
Further, politicians in China are less vulnerable to the bias that comes from cyclical elections, thus allowing them to focus on the long-term benefits of public policies rather than short-term payoffs. In 2018, China amended its constitution to allow President Xi to serve for a lifetime (Doubek). While this amendment certainly has drawbacks, as it rejects the safeguard set in place to prevent political corruption, the extension of Xi’s term as President benefits the country by allowing him to prioritize long-term success over short-term accomplishments, an important factor when solving issues like climate change. China’s ability to prioritize long-term environmental progress over short-term political payoff can be compared to the approaches in the United States. U.S politicians, even if they are well-educated and fully aware of the devastating effects of climate change, are often half-hearted about promoting environmental policies for the fear of displeasing the voters they represent, and unlike the CCP, U.S. politicians do not have to grapple with the long-term negative effects of climate change. U.S. politicians have a desire to satisfy public opinion to increase their chances of re-elections, thus are more prone to mobilize resources to address immediate issues like Covid-19, corporate profit, and urgent geopolitical tensions because their effects have an immense as well as more imminent impact on the lives of citizens (Moss). In contrast, longer-term issues like climate change are often left unaddressed because the effects do not manifest immediately to the public eye (Nishimura). China, without elections and political discourse, does not have the need to placate opposition and appease voters. For climate change, Chinese politicians are able to focus on the long term welfare of the country without being distracted by corporate interests and public opinion. As long as China is committed to deal with climate change, the only limitation of this powerful one-party country is the political will of government officials.
The nature of China’s political system also reduces the likelihood of manifesting and spreading misinformation. In the U.S, only 69 percent of Americans believe that global warming is occurring compared to roughly 94.4 percent in China (Ballew). U.S. politicians like former President Trump persuaded the public to ignore the notion of climate change; President Trump himself even stated “we must reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse” (Cheung). U.S. politicians like Trump are incentivized to speak out against climate change because of the vested interests of their donors and supporters. For instance, one of the Trump administration’s largest donors, Energy Transfer LP, donated over 10 million dollars to the Trump campaign (“Top Contributors”). As a U.S. politician, maintaining a stance against climate change can often be an effective leverage to satisfy voters and donors, and one-sided arguments made by these politicians often lead to an increase in misinformation about climate change. In China, by contrast, only one party sets the tone. Because the CCP acknowledges climate change as a real problem, the Chinese population is exposed to a unified source of accurate, scientific information on climate change (“China Teaches”).
Furthermore, China is committed to cutting carbon emissions because it wants to establish a global reputation, and at the same time, ensure a safe future for its people. If China succeeds in implementing its ambitious plan, the country could elevate its status in the international community as a leader in fighting the world’s most pressing problem. As a country that is often ostracised for its unique political system backed by a formidable and aggressive economic engine, China wants to build friendly alliances with other nations. Building alliances has its obvious benefits: increase in trade, collaboration during wars, etc. Establishing itself as a “leader” and a larger superpower than the U.S. is something China evidently desires. Additionally, transitioning to clean energy provides China with social advantages. Currently, as the world’s largest carbon emitter, the country's pollution threatens the health of its 1.4 billion people, and more harm would be brought to China, in the form of devastating floods and droughts, if they do not seek ways to address their carbon emission problem (Maizland). A UC Berkeley study also concluded China’s air pollution costs the country $535 billion dollars a year, meaning 6.5 percent of its gross domestic product, and 1.6 million deaths a year, roughly 17 percent of the deaths in the country (Chiu). Thus, China, for the desire for global reputation and to ensure the welfare of its people, view pollution as one of their top concerns.
China’s one-party system is the single most important weapon that allows China to successfully deliver on the promises President Xi made during the United Nations General Assemblyin September 2020. This unique political system allows the Chinese authority to efficiently pass legislation and policies without having to face the burden of elections and public opinion. Government officials, all being members of the only political party, have the luxury to ignore short term inconveniences such as cyclical economic shock, pandemics, and mood swings of the populace in order to focus strategies to meet its long term goal. Further, as Chinese authorities understand the ill effects of carbon emissions, with many cities having to deal with China’s smog crisis, there is genuine determination within the government to respect and achieve the carbon emission target. Although China’s one-party system does suffer from drawbacks as less discourse means fewer perspectives, in order for China to attain its carbon emission goal, given its economic and technological prowess, political will is all that is necessary. China’s advanced technological and economic strength, especially in renewable energy, already provides the country a platform to realistically attain its goal and render the negative social and economic costs more manageable compared to other countries (Chiu). Additionally, Chinese authorities understand and prioritize reducing carbon emissions because Chinese cities have seen the ill effects of carbon emissions, with many cities having to deal with China’s smog crisis. While President Xi’s address to the United Nations General Assembly may seem overly ambitious at first, China’s unified commitment to fighting climate change and its ability to promulgate ambitious policies give the country a unique ability to tackle climate change.
SO WHAT ABOUT JAZZ
Published on October 21, 2020
After a long and strenuous morning of classes, it was finally time for my last period of the day. I entered the Jazz Improv classroom and prepared myself for class when Mr. Roeckle announced that he was going to play a piece titled So What? by Miles Davis. At first the song was light and gentle, introduced by a soft chord progression from the piano followed by a few occasional notes played by the bass. Although it was simple, the smooth opening ushered me into the music, almost as if the ensemble of music notes picked me up and carried me into the piece. Suddenly, an abrupt sound came from the cymbal. The tempo and volume of the music drastically increased, creating a feeling of suspense and liveliness. As the music progressed with a more fast-paced rhythm, my foot naturally started tapping along with the beat of the music. After a few measures, Miles Davis, the trumpet player, slid into the piece with his solo by teasing the listener with a few simple short notes. Davis gradually began to play more complex and longer phrases while simultaneously maintaining a casual, careless attitude in his music. The way Davis played his trumpet was like storytelling. The tone of his music and emphasis on certain notes created a conversation through the chords and notes between himself and the rest of the bandmates. His playing style made me reflect on the trumpet sitting on my own lap. How could I develop better playing skills and engage an audience like Davis? It must have taken Davis a long time to develop such an ease and skill with his instrument. Whenever the melody of his solo was too intense and complicated, Davis would gently soften the tone of his music by reverting to a simple melody. As Davis slowed down his rhythm, the energetic feeling I had would subside and would transform into a sense of tranquility. After Davis’ solo, the sax player began playing his own improvised part. One after the other, each instrument player had his or her own unique style that made the compilation of tunes together diverse and colorful. Each time a new solo was played, I felt like I was able to picture the musician as John Caltorone, Paul Chambers, “Cannonball” Adderly, Jimmy Cobb, Bill Evans, and Davis rather than them being a trumpet player, a sax player, bass player, drum player, and piano player. At the end of all the solos, the piano took over and slowly faded away the melody. Unlike many other songs, the piece So What? tells the story of Davis and his bandmates through high level improvisation and technique, and is one of the reasons why I want to continue developing my passion in Jazz.
CARL KING'S FIGHT FOR JUSTICE
Published on July 24, 2020
Colin Warner lived through a nightmare. He was 18 years old when he was convicted of second-degree murder for a crime he did not commit. After spending decades in prison, he lost a significant portion of his life. However, on February 1, 2001, after 21 years of torment, Warner was finally set free. Two days ago, while I was sitting in front of my computer screen, a feeling of amazement filled my body, as I was in a Zoom call with the person who was most responsible for Warner's exoneration -- his friend, Carl King.
Both Warner and Colin were born and raised on the island of Trinidad and went to the same elementary school, “Colin and I knew each other from the age of 5 years old,” King replied. But, King says, they developed a “stronger bond” after they moved to New York in the 1970s, respectively, and reunited in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn while sharing the same social circles. When Warner was imprisoned for murder, King was 17 years old and had very limited knowledge about the law. Yet the case was faulty from the beginning. While the detectives had arrested Norman Simmonds -- who was 14-years-old when he committed the 1980 murder -- they also arrested Warner. It was Warner who was mistakenly picked out of a lineup by a teenage witness, who detectives interrogated without the presence of a parent or a lawyer. Despite the lack of evidence against Warner, he was eventually convicted during the 1982 trial.
When asked about his thoughts about the case, King responded: “I was always hopeful, as long as I had a life, [that] I was never gonna give up on him.” After the case received a major setback when Warner lost on appeal, King decided to set about proving Warner's innocence on his own. King started by educating himself about the case by reviewing trial transcripts, tracking down the original witnesses, and researching the law. He also decided to raise funds from community residents to pay for a private attorney.
At every turn, King faced many hurdles while trying to prove Warner’s innocence. One of the biggest challenges was trying to overturn a case that was considered settled with the final convictions of Warner and Simmonds. Not only that, but King also had to investigate the case without knowing much about the law, which he resorted to teaching himself. And even with these obstacles, King never lost faith and remained dedicated to saving his friend.
A crucial turning point came when King found additional defense witnesses for Warner, who were excluded from testifying at the trial, in addition to Simmonds -- who would confess to his sole responsibility for the murder. King managed to track down witnesses and an autopsy report when private investigators couldn’t. King believes one of his strengths is that he can “think outside the box,” as he had never studied law extensively. A large part of King’s success was also attributed to his emotional connection with the case, he knew Warner personally and saw how the case against him did not ring true.
To this day, King continues to fight and advocate for the freedom of those who are wrongfully imprisoned. “... success,” he says “is when you can actually lift somebody up”
HONG KONG'S FALL AS ASIA'S WORLD CITY
July 10, 2020
This summer, when I took a stroll around the center of Hong Kong, I realized the ambiance of our city has changed. The drowning noise of traffic, construction sites, and people chattering still hit me as soon as I stepped out of my apartment, but the lively atmosphere that used to encompass the streets and alleys has now been replaced with a feeling of irritation. The sweltering heat of summer and the humidity in the air was still unbearable; however, people were more preoccupied with the effects of the yearlong protest and the coronavirus. Squeezing myself into the crowd that covered the entirety of the sidewalk, I finally made my way into a coffee shop in the corner of the street, where I could finally take a breather. It was obvious that our city has lost its charm, vibrance, and positive energy; we had lost our honor of being one of Asia’s best cities.
Walking to the back of the line, I noticed that the coffee shop was mostly comprised of people wearing professional attire, most likely taking a break from the long repetitive hours of sitting in the office. There were no tourists, especially Chinese tourists whom the locals looked down upon as if they were pests in the city. Many find it hard not to dislike them when it felt like the city was being overrun and taken over by the mainland Chinese people. We felt like we were the cool kids and didn’t want to be associated with them. However, now that they are gone, the city feels empty. Although many still deny it, we have distanced ourselves from our best friend and have tarnished our city’s reputation. At times when we need our friend the most, we have pushed them away even further, putting us in a more dire situation than before.
After what seemed like hours of waiting in line, it was finally my time to order. I headed towards the counter to choose my drink on a small menu. The cashier put on an emotionless smile and repeated to me the thank-you she has been instructed to say and has said to the customers for the millionth time.
There was no purpose anymore. There was no purpose to being a cashier and no purpose in working in the city. People have lost their directions while they resumed their daily repetitive lives. There was no end goal, the pride which used to resonate amongst every individual in Hong Kong evaporated into the thin air. People no longer live their lives with hopes and dreams, but instead only live just to see each day pass by.
As I grabbed my drink and left the coffee shop, I thought about the Hong Kong I used to know and how it evolved to its current situation. A city that I was once proud to be a part of. Hong Kong is no longer a place full of charm and energy, we have lost our role as Asia’s world city.
UBI AROUND THE WORLD
Published on March 13, 2020. Originally for the January 2020 Issue of The First Amendment (The Lawrenceville Schools political publication) written by Ethan Leung
Universal Basic Income (UBI) a type of social security that guarantees a certain amount of money to every citizen within a given governed population, without having to pass a test or fulfill a work requirement according to Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang's campaign website. With the 2020 election around the corner, Yang is receiving a lot of attention for his proposal to implement a guaranteed income, the Freedom Dividend, or a form of UBI. The proposed Freedom Dividend is a guaranteed payment of $1000 a month, or $12,000 a year to every U.S. citizen over the age of eighteen. Yang believes that UBI will counteract the impending issue of automation in the workplace. He has stated that by 2015, automation had already destroyed four million jobs and predicts that a third of working-class Americans will lose their jobs in the next 12 years. Yang argues that current prospective policies, like retraining workers, are not suitable solutions to combat this issue, and the U.S. government should implement a form of UBI. His justification states that even though automation relieves workers of dangerous and monotonous jobs, they will not be able to afford basic necessities like groceries, purchase homes, or save up for an education. Furthermore, he endorses the Freedom Dividend to empower Americans to go on extended job searches to find better-fitting positions, start a business, or go back to school. Through the last few decades, there have been more than 35 UBI test programs and cash transfer experiments which illustrate its effectiveness.
The government of Kenya, instead of using food programs, has started to give money to Northeastern Kenyans who suffer from intense droughts in the area. While the government expected the recipients to use the money to buy food, they often instead use the money to start small businesses. For example, a widowed mother of seven opened a retail shop and a slaughterhouse. With the money that she has received, she was able to renovate and rent out a set of small kiosks built from iron sheeting, allowing her neighbors to take advantage of those spaces. Around 90 percent of recipients have used it in similar means and decided to open new retail businesses. This program was supported by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development which aimed to prevent families from sinking deeper into poverty and having to resell their remaining assets due to drought. Recipients have stated that it has been a success. Mary Aking'ol Lokirindi from the Eliyie village stated that "If [she] was given foodstuff worth the same amount, [she] would be having nothing, and instead, [she] would be waiting for more food-aid to come."
In 1976, when oil production began in Alaska, the state established the Alaska Permanent Fund. The purpose of this fund was to save a share of the public revenue generated & om oil. Derived from gas and oil revenue, the Alaska Permanent Fund distributes an annual dividend of $ 1000- 2000 to every Alaskan who registers for it. Due to the funds' popularity, the Alaska Permanent Fund will continue to influence the state economy and seal structure in the foreseeable future. However, it remains a controversial program just as many who would vote to enshrine the state program would likely choose to eliminate it.
Finland held a two-year UBI experiment on 2,000 unemployed individuals from 2017-2018. The randomly selected individuals were granted with €560 ($634) per month, and they would keep that money regardless of whether they managed to obtain a job or not during the experiment Finland concluded that the experiment did lead to increased happiness but not a raise in employment percentage that deviated from those without UBI. With this being said, Finland is still evaluating the benefits of the program, but will most likely not implement UBI ‘for the country.
Brazil has implemented Recitivas, a privately-funded basic income for small, impoverished communities in the rural areas of the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Founded by Bruna Augusto Perira and Marcus Vincius Brancalione, the project pays 30 Brazilian reais which is around $15 per month to the community in Quatinga Valho, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Even this small amount of money can be extremely impactful to the people living in the rural areas of Brazil, providing access to clothing, better living conditions, and resources to maintain overall nutrition and health. This progress has been verified and noticed by the coordinators through their interactions and observations with the Brazilian people, as they have found an increase in self-esteem and social interaction, reduction of social insecurity, and a rising expectation for the future. The project creators, including the founders Bruna Augusto and Marcus Vinicus, have also stated that "the point of the project is not to study [basic income guarantee],” as they have not seen an increase in the use of alcohol or illicit drugs, convincing them that the model has proved effective.
In Northern Uganda, the Women's Income Generating Support (WIGS) program strives to help women overcome economic barriers. A study evaluated this program in which citizens are provided cash, business skill training, and advising to help women develop an understanding on how poverty affects new businesses in Northern Uganda. The money from the WINGS program is given to young women and girls who have suffered the most economically and educationally in post-Civil-War Northern Uganda. In 2007, the Association of Volunteers in International Service (AVSL) a nongovernmental organization, conducted a survey which suggested that the development of new economic opportunities and social capital will help to reduce poverty and improve the health, education, and well-being of youth, specifically young women. This was achieved by doubling the WINGS beneficiary monthly cash income from 16,211 UGX to 32,692 UGX which posted a 98 percent increase over controls. Ultimately, the WING program has shown an immense improvement in the lives of these women and the effectiveness of UBI.
NEW YORK CITY
New York City formerly implemented a form of UBI called the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). The CCT was a three-year conditional cash transfer to low-income families in New York City. It reduced poverty and material hardship by implementing 20 cash rewards that could be applied to children’s' education, preventive healthcare, and groceries. Not only did the CCT help families in the city improve their financial situations, it also had positive impacts on the educational sector, raising the on-time graduation rate of ninth graders by 12 percent above the 67 percent graduation rate among students who were proficient at reading when they entered the program. However, there were problems with this program as once the reward payments became unavailable, low poverty rates plateaued and material hardships re-emerged. This program also had failed to affect elementary and middle school students. Despite its issues, the program successfully provided many benefits to children in low-income families.