Our Greatest Challenge and Awareness Issues?

Akin to war, humanity is on the precipice of the greatest challenge. That is, existence. The outcome, however, is unknown and continuous. Therefore, every decision even the seemingly innocuous ones have massive ramifications. Further, big questions, such as understanding how governmental institutions and private sector forces ought to allocate seemingly abundant resources like capital or labor are more than challenging. This begs questions like: How should incentives be structured? What behavior ought to be promoted? How do we know if the implementation of certain policies are effective? Why should we solve climate change when initial investments to curb greenhouses will generate more carbon to be released? What is the right balance between saving the world, our fellow humans, and not derigging the economy that would lead to mass unemployment reflective of the Great Depression?

While some questions will remain unanswered, every generation on this planet has the ability to adopt the “Greatest Generation” moniker. But, we must start today. To reiterate, we stress impact over ideology. Pragmatism over rigidity. To elaborate, from famous activists like Julia Hill (defended a California Redwood tree for two years) to corporate leaders like Howard Schultz (former Chairman and CEO of Starbucks from 1986-2000 and 2008-2017) to our beloved parents, every person is a stakeholder in the ecological preservation of our planet. Stereotypes from the ‘conservative climate change denying capitalist’ to the ‘liberal tree hugging environmental-socialist’ are infantile and, either, distractionary or, potentially, detrimental to real progress. Or, in other words, from the arid, dusty battlefields of Afghanistan to aisle seven at Walmart, the individuals and infrastructure of a nation-state ought to incentive ‘Green Economics’. But, how?

Well, in November 2009, the Council on Foreign Relations published a comprehensive report about the “Public Opinion on Global Issues”. Similar to any issue is understanding and accepting that a problem exists -- like the 12 step sequence by Alcohol Anonymous. In particular, the report described the results of various respected polling agencies and concluded the following:

“Perception of Climate Change as a Problem or Threat A majority in every country polled says that global warming is a problem or a threat and that governments should give it a high priority, while only small minorities say it is not a problem. Despite these numbers, people tend to underestimate how much other people are concerned about climate change. While the number of people concerned about climate change has been increasing for some years, recent polls indicate that it may be leveling out.”

    -Page 1, Chapter 5a: World Opinion on the Environment

Based upon the Council on Foreign Relations’ findings, the issue is predominately not the lack of awareness.


Georgetown Strategy Group: First Annual Letter - 2019

DEAR FRIENDS:

On May 1, 2018 at 6:00 am, we launched the Georgetown Strategy Group with a social media campaign attracting 20,000 people in its first days. Last week, the the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee introduced me, “the Managing Director of the Georgetown Strategy Group,” as its first witness of the new 116th Congress to speak about U.S. Policy in the Arabian Peninsula (read statement and watch hearing). Every day in between has been heady, exciting, exhausting but always interesting.

OUR MISSION

From the outset, the Georgetown Strategy Group had one mission: to leverage talent, technology, and capital to help solve some of the world’s most complex problems. Working with the private sector, communities, and governments, the Georgetown Strategy Group seeks to promote trade and investment, develop economic opportunity, advance security and stability, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the Middle East and Africa. The leaders of the Georgetown Strategy Group have dedicated their lives to improve the human condition. We have designed and managed programs to deliver essential services; negotiated agreements to facilitate the movement of goods and people; developed businesses and tech ecosystems; and contributed to building more effective institutions throughout the Middle East and Africa during times of war and crisis.

THE RESULTS

In the first 8 months, the firm has demonstrated profitability, growth, and impact. Revenue exceeded projections; strong earnings continue in early 2019. The firm has diversified its client base with 12 customers and prospects for 50% further growth by the end of the first full operating year. Importantly, the firm has no long term liabilities and has sufficient financial sustainability to continue to grow. Aside from a financial bottom line, the firm has assisted non-governmental organizations and for-profit corporations manage critical challenges. The firm is positioned to take advantage of the growing nexus between capital and technology in frontier markets. We have advised FinTech companies intending to launch in Yemen, agricultural firms seeking to open high-end markets; structured big data analytics throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Africa; provided strategic management for leading DC consulting firms; and helped bring pre-commercial research and development of remote sensing, advances in renewable power and water, and operational research and analysis to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS

The Georgetown Strategy Group (GSG) entered into two strategic partnerships in 2018. In June, GSG announced its partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory. MIT’s mission is “to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world,” and through Lincoln Laboratory, has developed novel technologies in support of stabilization and humanitarian assistance. The Georgetown Strategy Group and MIT Lincoln Laboratory seek to disrupt and improve humanitarian and disaster assistance response capabilities to meet the most pressing challenges of this century.

In November, the Georgetown Strategy Group entered into a joint venture with Souktel Inc., a leading provider of custom digital solutions solutions for emerging markets. Through this partnership, the firms will work jointly to expand into new markets across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — building on Souktel’s decade-long track record of digital solutions delivery, to add new private sector business lines in 2019. With the launch of the new partnership, I have assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer for Souktel, Inc. and will continue to lead GSG.

INTREPID OPPORTUNITIES

While scouting opportunities for the Souktel-Georgetown Strategy Group joint venture, I traveled to Gaza in December. This time not as a diplomat, journalist, or aid worker, but rather as an entrepreneur in search of software developers and rugged water technologies. My first stop: Gaza Sky Geeks. This Mercy Corps incubator operating in Gaza City helps startups build products and offers teams of designers and full stack developers for international clients. I then met with the CEOs of half a dozen firms leading the Gaza tech sector; these firms are doing early stage outsourcing in the region and beyond. Collectively, their firms employ over 150 engineers who work through blackouts, disruptions, and conflict to deliver services to the world. The eager young developers at Gaza Sky Geeks, coupled with the more seasoned tech firm leaders, provided great insight into the emerging talent, passion, creativity, and drive that can flourish, even in one of the most challenging of circumstances.

Software is not the only nascent sign of hope. The collapse of the water aquifer and the resulting necessity of desalination of nearly all the water in Gaza has propelled new thinking in water and treatment technology that could be viable in frontier markets around the globe. MIT is piloting a community based off-grid solar desalination plant for brackish water; this technology is pre-commercial but primed to hit emerging markets in 2019. This technology adapted in Gaza would be effective for the people of Yemen and can readily be employed as an off-grid alternative to refugee communities along the Syrian border or in the horn of Africa. Moreover, Gaza is ripe to test other, newer technologies such as air-to-water systems, greywater re-use in rugged environments, and private community solar and water, obviating the need for large-scale government infrastructure.

THE MEDIA

The firm’s expansion strategy includes building a name brand public platform. In the first 8 months, the firm has been prominently referenced in leading U.S. and international media including the New York Times, National Public Radio, The Hill, The Atlantic, Associated Press, United Press International, and Jerusalem Post coupled with television interviews on Al Jazeera, i24, TRT and other channels. This profile has led to numerous speaking engagements throughout the country and has helped to drive business opportunities in the Middle East and beyond.

POSITIONING FOR THREE TRENDS IN THE NEXT DECADE

The Georgetown Strategy Group sees three macro political-economic trends shaping the Middle East and Africa in the decade ahead

First, the world order as largely built by the U.S. post-World War II, which has served as the greatest force for peace and prosperity in history, is being challenged by emergent world leaders. These WWII institutions, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the UN, and the multilateral finance banks served as global shaping forces for more than 70 years. We are now witnessing the rise of a new great game with China, Russia, Turkey, and Iran vying for power, position, and markets throughout the Middle East, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula as well as in the Horn of Africa.

Second, the decade ahead will be defined by rapid technological changes, (particularly in artificial intelligence and big data analytics), rapid public and private capital flows (including increased financing from non-U.S. sources), the continued mass movement of people across borders and regions as we have seen in Syria, and a shifting of markets and trade routes away from the dollar economy in favor of our rising nation state challengers.

Third, national aspirations, particularly in the Gulf states, will result in unprecedented opportunity and serious inflection points for American business leaders. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are rising regional powers with complementary and, at times, competing geo-political interests. Saudi Arabia has an ambitious economic vision for 2030 that will require a respect for human rights and consistent rule of law if it hopes to actually implement its vision. The United Arab Emirates seeks economic expansion and political influence, as demonstrated specifically by its race to build regional seaports, boost trade partnerships, and create new markets. Rising national aspirations, coupled with rapid technological and financial trends, will likely accelerate the Israel-Sunni bloc re-alignment in way which will be exciting and unexpected in the U.S.

THE YEAR AHEAD

The Georgetown Strategy Group has a bold vision for 2019. Specifically, the firm seeks to aggressively position for market share at the corner of capital and technology. Further, the firm’s agility and speed will allow it to effectively capitalize on the three macro political-economic trends ahead. This vision will begin by expanding into power and water technologies adaptable for complex crises in the first quarter of 2019. This strategic alignment coupled with Souktel’s corporate capabilities will position both firms to drive transformative impact in frontier markets throughout 2019.

CONCLUSION

The future favors the bold. The Georgetown Strategy Group seeks create a legacy that positively shapes and influences the future for generations. 2018 was just the start.

Sincerely,

R. David Harden

***Originally published on Medium by R. David Harden.***

BRIEF COMMENTARY: El Salvador, Elliot Abrams, and Rep. Omar

BRIEF COMMENTARY: The House Foreign Affairs Committee Looked Like an Episode of Reality TV, Yesterday.

Unsurprisingly, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is, again, in hot water. Yesterday, in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Omar attempted to take down Elliot Abrams. For those unfamiliar with Elliot Abrams, he is universally viewed as a neoconservative, foreign policy icon. Although, he was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal, he has impressive credentials and serves as a Fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations which is notoriously difficult to obtain.

El Salvador was a particular focal point in the back-and-forth between the freshman congresswoman and the veteran foreign policy icon. While Rep. Omar’s line of questioning attempted to emphasize the failures of U.S. diplomacy, our team at Counter Current wanted to examine the biodiversity, climate, and geography. Has there been any improvement in the El Salvador’s environment since it became a ‘more free’ country?

Biodiversity, Climate, and Geography

El Salvador lacks a robust environmental policy to protect the biodiversity of its species. However, in 1997 and in 1999, the government established the ‘Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources’ and passed legislation that can most accurately be described as “general environmental framework law”. The path forward has precedent, but conservation efforts need vast improvement — from carbon tax regulation to wildlife efforts.

In terms of climate, El Salvador is exposed to a massive array of natural disasters because of its geography. Located near two Teutonic plates and given El Salvador’s proximity to the equator, the country is immensely susceptible to both cataclysmic weather events, volcanic activity, and earthquakes. The randomness of a flood destroying 80% of crops, like in 2001, makes El Salvador’s ability to act in an environmentally conscience manner more challenging. Further, the high poverty rates coupled with unfortunate geographical position of the country, ultimately, inhibits a sustainability focus as the country cannot move past Kuznet’s curve.

Why Germany Should Abandon Coal

On January 31st, Germany’s Coal Commission debuted its recommendations to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2038. The plan, derided by some as "dumb" is hardly that. This plan is not perfect, but it confronts two important challenges: healthcare cost containment and greenhouse gas reduction.

Without equivocation, coal is harmful to society.  Between coal dust inhaled by miners that causes lung cancer to air pollutants released from coal-burning facilities, the economic calculus is clearly negative.  Containing healthcare costs requires a market-based solution and it starts with either capturing the negative consequences of an economic action or prohibitive legislation or both.

For example, Canada has employed a successful revenue-neutral carbon tax since 2008 in British Columbia.  The revenue-neutral carbon tax shifted the taxation burden from ‘desirables’ such as taxing income or sales to ‘undesirables’ such as greenhouse gas emissions.  Further, the policy was shown to have a negligible effect on economic growth and led to a 15% reduction on provincial emissions. Simply put, if Germany does not move forward with the precedent established by Energiewende (Ammendment to the EEG) and the Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz (EEG or German Renewable Energy Act), the society will absorb the cost through increased healthcare taxes or less healthy citizens.  

Germany’s plan to address climate change, a critical threat to the environment, starts with the reduction of fossil fuel emissions.  It is universally well-known that climate change is linked, inextricably, to fossil fuel consumption. Emissions release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, increase carbon dioxide levels, trap heat, and raise temperatures.  

Further, the failure to shift away from an archaic and inefficient energy source is speculated to lead to dire results.  In a U.N. report, higher temperatures are predicted to cause life-threatening heat waves, water shortages, coastal flooding, and mass migration. Germany is well-equipped to rely more in renewable energy resources. In 2018, 40% of Germany’s electricity mix came from renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower. Coal-fired plants release more greenhouse gases per unit of energy than any other energy source, according to Green America, an energy advocacy group whose mission is to harness economic power to create a “socially just and environmentally sustainable society”.

Over the next 20 years, members of the Coal Commission, private sector, and other government officials will be able to curtail dependence on coal.  Chancellor Merkel would be wise to adopt the commission’s recommendations.

This article was co-written by Matthew Minor and Ryan Harden.

China's Belt and Road Initiative

China Unveiled Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Five Years Ago.

Since then, countries hailed it as a transformative tool for soft power. Many compared the BRI to the Marshall Plan and welcomed the new idea believing it would expand markets and stabilize the region. Despite the profound potential to promote connectivity and increase commerce, the associated risks are severe and the catastrophic implications -- as it relates to climate change -- threaten the ecosystem of our entire planet.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a project of enormous scale and reach. Considered a gargantuan development project, the purpose of the BRI is to improve China’s trade and transport links to the rest of the world through large-scale infrastructure projects. Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the $150 billion a year spending project in 2013 in an attempt to create a 21st-century version of the famed Silk Road. This also includes the estimated $900 billion of loans that China underwrote in 71 countries.

However, the Initiative relies heavily on coal. This emphasis is especially worrying. CoalSwarm, an environmental NGO, estimated Chinese firms are involved in the construction, ownership, or financing of at least 16 percent of all coal-fired power stations under development outside China. By the end of 2016, China was involved in 240 coal-fired power projects in 25 of the 65 countries collaborating with China on BRI projects.

“Chinese banks’ and companies’ investments in coal abroad are a cause of major concern because of their potential to lock in more climate warming emissions in our carbon-constrained world,” said Huang Wei, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia. “It is a complicated web of involvement, but ultimately all investments in coal, the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, are bad for everyone involved — recipient country, China and the planet as a whole,” Huang told CNBC.

Eco-friendly policies at home, however, do not necessarily translate to green policies abroad.

In 2012, the year the Chinese Communist Party elected Xi Jinping its leader, the party listed “ecological civilization” as one of the five goals in the country's overall development plan at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. In 2016, President Xi called for the Belt and Road to be “green, healthy, intelligent and peaceful.” In a 2018 speech, President Xi urged policymakers at the National Congress of the Communist Party to promote eco-friendly policies that ensure “harmony between human and nature.” Xi continued to promote policies that ensure “green, low-carbon and circular development,” “promote afforestation,” “strengthen wetland conservation and restoration,” and “stop and punish all activities that damage the environment” — in short, “to build an ecological civilization that will benefit generations to come.”

China’s coal consumption prevents achieving goals set in the Paris Agreement because of the Belt and Road Initiative.

In the Paris Agreement, 195 countries agreed to limit the increase in global temperatures by modifying the way firms conduct business. The standout phrase is moving temperatures from pre-industrial levels to below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. The energy think tank, Climate Tracker, confirmed statements made by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Both estimated at least 59% of coal power worldwide must be retired by 2030 to limit a worldwide temperature rise to 1.5°C. By achieving a temperature rise of only 1.5°C instead of 2.0°C, some of the greatest consequences are curbed.

While it is well-known that fossil fuels are the biggest single contributor to the global rise of carbon emissions, it would be inspiring to witness global actors like China to elevate green practices to a higher level and decrease reliance on the coal industry. To China’s credit, they are taking steps to promote green energy. In 2014 alone, China added 20 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity, 11 GW of solar and 22 GW of hydro-power capacity. The next year, reforms to the electricity market removed coal’s guaranteed hours. Further, grid operators were encouraged to give priority to renewable energy over coal. These reforms were welcomed by climate advocates, but China’s promotion of coal in BRI projects threaten to undo the global community’s efforts to combat climate change.

China may be promoting “ecological civilization” at home, but it must address the urgent climate consequences of its expansionary agenda. Now.