Category Archives: Climate Change

Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It (Review)

Book Review

Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It

Chris Clearfield and Andrȧs Tilcsik

Penguin Press 2018

In my field of global environmental health, one of the great failures of development funding was the drilling of thousands of wells in Bangladesh to reduce water-borne disease, only to belatedly discover that this “solution” introduced a wholly new disaster from arsenic in the groundwater. Thus, as noble-missioned an organization as UNICEF inadvertently perpetrated  “the largest poisoning in history” by not recognizing systematic risk.

This sort of unintended consequence and systematic failure, even by well intentioned actors, is the type of problem that Chris Clearfield and Andrȧs Tilcsik aim to prevent through better system design in their award-winning book, Meltdown: Why Our systems Fail and What We Can Do About It.

The book starts off with a litany of system failures across industries and scales, from airplanes and nuclear power plants, to Starbucks coffee and cooking our Thanksgiving meal. In our modern world, as both systems and problems become more complex and more intertwined (“coupled”), the possibility and scope of disaster grows.

Fortunately for us, the majority of Meltdown is oriented towards solutions that are relevant from our own kitchen all the way to a war room in prevention problems from becoming disasters. Chris and Andrȧs offer specific, actionable advice and tools to improve our systems for reducing disaster.

Meltdown is an excellent book for anyone curious about making lives, communities, and the world more resilient. The stories are relevant, authentic, and engaging, and lead directly to lessons worth trying out in our own organizations and systems. In world that at times can feel like it is replete with disaster Chris and Andrȧs remind us that we can take small steps in any place to improve the robustness of our systems to stop meltdowns of the large and small.

Can Ethiopia be resilient?

In my latest paper, I explore the development of Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy in the period 2011-2014. Ethiopia, currently is under tremendous political pressure and change, which makes the resilience of its economy and society even more important.

Christopher John Paul & Erika Weinthal (2018) The development of Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy 2011–2014: implications for rural adaptation, Climate and Development, DOI: 10.1080/17565529.2018.1442802


Transatlantic Academy White Paper Online: Climate and Development in Ethiopia

Climate Change, Foreign Assistance, and Development: What Future for Ethiopia?

August 16, 2012 Christopher PaulErika WeinthalCourtney Harrison

Alongside the persistent challenges of poverty and rural subsistence, many low-income countries such as Ethiopia face new problems brought by climate change and surging global economic activities. This paper examines the combined impacts of global climate change and the changing nature of donor assistance in Africa on economic development broadly and food security through the example of Ethiopia. What future does Ethiopia face and which, if any, foreign actors will influence it? How drastic will the effects of a changing climate be and what are the prospects for adaptation? Will swift economic development leave the poorest behind? These are questions this report confronts.

Ethiopia is a useful case for understanding an agrarian economy in transition, faced with the threat of a changing climate and strong economic pressures to open up its economy to the global market. Located in the volatile region of the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia has long been a key recipient of foreign aid, but only in the last two decades has the pace of development and economic growth accelerated significantly. A 10 percent GDP growth rate over the previous decade is partially driven by foreign investments in infrastructure, agriculture, and industry. In addition to aid and investment flows from Europe and the United States, Ethiopia is receiving large amounts of investment from China, India, and Saudi Arabia. The fast pace of change and economic growth involving a wide range of actors and within a context of uncertainty over climate change, food security, and demographics may result in social disruptions and environmental impacts that are difficult to monitor and have serious security and human development implications.

In order to promote more equitable and sustainable development, the authors argue that the transatlantic community must engage other donors and investors to promote coordination and transparency. Moreover, they say donors and investors must follow best practices at the appropriate scales and do so with greater transparency. In particular, international efforts must be aligned with local interests, and, thus, special care should be given to the differential impacts across segments of society, particularly for the rural poor. Development and poverty must be acted upon within the context of climate change. In turn, acting at appropriate scales with transparency reinforces good governance and provides the groundwork for cooperation and coordination among actors.