Workers are covered in oil after cleaning a spill at Cavero Beach in Ventanilla, a town near Callao, Peru, Jan. 21, 2022 (AP photo by Martin Mejia).

Half a century ago, MIT meteorology professor Edward Lawrenz famously posited that if a butterfly flaps its wings, it could ultimately trigger a tornado. The notion, which came to be known as the “butterfly effect,” aimed to illustrate how chain reactions in nature can be kicked off by unexpected events or phenomena, with unknowable consequences.  Lawrenz would have found a fine case study for his work this week in events that started with a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific and led to dramatic results—political, social and economic—far away in Peru. Ten days ago, a volcano at the bottom of […]

U.S. President John F. Kennedy and President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana talk as they sit in a limousine at Washington National Airport on March 8, 1961 (AP photo).

Anyone with even a sketchy understanding of the Cold War knows that it was a time not only of intense direct competition between the reigning superpowers, but also of grand schemes by both the U.S. and USSR for integrating their allies and clients into adversarial blocs, as well as for poaching the partners of the rival power—especially in the developing world—into their own camp. Throughout much of this era, the West regarded professions of neutrality among poorer countries with skepticism or even outright hostility. Beginning with the Eisenhower administration, the view took hold in Washington that non-alignment was just a […]

A man lifts a tarp to show a flood inside his covered farm in Zhaoguo village in central China’s Henan province, Oct. 22, 2021 (AP photo by Ng Han Guan).

For the past 60 years, a series of agricultural innovations have helped feed the world. New varieties of staple crops produced high yields. New fertilizers encouraged crop health. And improved agronomic methods helped farmers make the most of their resources. These new tools and practices became foundational to the production of agriculture in the U.S. and around the world, enabling marked increases in output and important reductions in rural poverty. But that productivity-centric model is no longer meeting global needs. Over the past decade, hunger has once again started to rise, bringing with it doubts about our long-term ability to […]

Suriname’s President Chan Santokhi speaks during the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 2, 2021 (photo by Adrian Dennis via AP).

Suriname and Guyana find themselves at the forefront of a dilemma for developing countries endowed with hydrocarbon resources, one that will only become more challenging as the climate crisis worsens: how to balance their development needs with their climate commitments. Fortunately, both countries might be able to achieve the seemingly mutually exclusive goals of alleviating poverty while respecting their commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement. The key lies in their forests. Both Suriname and Guyana are desperately poor, with poverty levels at 47 percent and 36 percent respectively. Both are also in the early stages of developing what appear to be […]

Attendees walk past an electronic display showing recent cyberattacks in China at the China Internet Security Conference in Beijing, Sept. 12, 2017 (AP photo by Mark Schiefelbein).

Davos Man has seen the future, and it is bleak. Last week, the sponsors of the World Economic Forum released their 17th annual “Global Risks” report on the most worrisome threats confronting humanity in 2022 and beyond. Sadly, this latest crystal ball-reading exercise suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may soon be the least of our worries. Over the next decade, the most pressing task confronting humanity will be ensuring the survival of life on planet Earth—and at the same time, the world’s governments will need to navigate surging economic inequality, rising barriers to migration and growing vulnerabilities in both cyberspace and outer […]

A miner at a gold mine in Bouda, Burkina Faso, Feb. 23, 2020 (AP photo by Sam Mednick).

The residents of Solhan, a village in northeastern Burkina Faso, are painfully aware of the connection between artisanal mining and insecurity.  Last June, insurgents invaded the village, targeting the civilian self-defense force in the area as well as an artisanal gold mine located there. They went on to burn down a market and several houses, killing at least 160 civilians in the process. The regional governor directly blamed the incident, which marked one of the deadliest-ever insurgent attacks in Burkina Faso, on artisanal gold mining, and he subsequently banned the practice after the attack. Several hundred miles to the east, […]