McCormack Speaks

June 6, 2018
by saadiaahmad001
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The Missing Voice

by Jack Whitacre, PhD Student in Global Governance and Human Security

Over the course of the last year, our PhD cohort in McCormack School’s Global Governance and Human Security program explored different international organizations from around the world. By studying the canon of global governance and international organizational theory, we acquired new tools for understanding factors that shape the world. Part of this journey involved adopting a more critical approach and questioning claims of international organizations, like the Arctic Council (AC), quantitatively. This reflection sheds light on unique findings that display UMass Boston’s encouragement for interdisciplinary work.

After learning how Arctic indigenous groups bear disproportionate environmental burdens in the High North, I started studying the Arctic Council in greater depth. The Arctic Council was designed in large part to uplift indigenous voices, heritage, culture, livelihood amidst a changing Arctic environment. The following organizations are Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council: Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and the Saami COuncil. The education at UMass Boston helped me ask whether the Arctic Council was truly living up to its environmental and human rights ambitions. First, analyzing digital archives revealed that indigenous considerations have significantly decreased in Senior Arctic Observer (SAO) meeting minutes from 1999 to 2017. Second, state and external organizations were twice as likely to spearhead indigenous projects and debates than the indigenous groups themselves. And third, indigenous issues appeared in only 0.0004375% of content in a typical SAO document. For this reason, it can be argued that indigenous people are more subjects than participants in the AC’s SAO.

By studying one of the most democratic and praised international organizations with a critical lens and expanded tool kit, I found gaps and areas for possible improvement. This research increased my capacity for literature reviews, statistical analyses, and writing. The quantitative story of the Arctic Council, indigenous participants, and missing voices is an important, but untold, history of non-state actors. It represents a vulnerability in the Arctic Council’s mission, and a factor that may shape the future of the forum. To borrow a phrase from the Japanese Ministry, my first year in the Global Governance and Human Security program taught me how to envision a world where people “live healthy, productive lives in harmony with nature.” Hopefully, sharing a snapshot from this journey helps make these aspirations a reality.

December 26, 2017
by McCormack Speaks

Conflict Resolution Professor Publishes Book on Youth Encounter Programs in Israel

sketch of a peace doveRoss conducted more than 100 interviews with former participants and program staff and spent more than 200 hours observing their programming in order to understand the structure and pedagogical approaches of each organization. She also analyzed the impact of the youth meetings in terms of the depth of changes in their belief systems and their continued social change engagement.“Looking at impact in terms of continued engagement in significant in two ways,” writes Ross. “First, it shifts the discussion from an internal focus to one emphasizing externally oriented initiatives. Moreover, looking at impact in terms of social change engagement enables us to see how programs that aim to transform individuals can link to societal-level shifts.”Decades after the Oslo Accords, alienation and distrust has grown between Jews and Palestinians in Israel, and grassroots groups struggle to find funding to continue their important work to shape participants’ national identity, vision of social change, and motivation to continue to work toward the transformation of Israeli society.

Yet Karen Ross’ investigation and findings on how individual transformation can lead to larger-scale societal change provide not only new insights to conflict resolution methodology and practice but also bring renewed hope for the possibility of Jewish-Palestinian partnership. Continue reading.


December 22, 2017
by McCormack Speaks

Mandela’s Chosen Successor: Ramaphosa’s Long Wait to Reignite South Africa’s Promise

by Padraig O’Malley, Moakley Chair of Peace and Reconciliation

Meyer, O'Malley and Ramaphosa (1993)

Roelf Meyer, Padraig O’Malley, and Cyril Ramaphosa, 1993

I met Cyril Ramaphosa on my first visit to South Africa in 1985. Ramaphosa was secretary general of the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), fresh off leading the largest strike in South African history. I met him again in 1990 after I began to document the South African transition from apartheid to democracy, and interviewed him on several occasions.

In 1993, the University of Massachusetts Boston, where I hold the John Joseph Moakley Chair of Peace and Reconciliation at the university’s John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, awarded Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer, both of whom were the lead negotiators on the African National Congress (ANC) and National Party sides in the talks to end apartheid, honorary doctorates at its commencement ceremonies.

In 1997, at my behest, Ramaphosa and Meyer went to Belfast to meet with all the key negotiators in the Northern Ireland peace process. As a result, President Nelson Mandela hosted the Great Indaba (The Great “Gathering”) at Arniston, a secure military base in the Western Cape Province that same year. Negotiators from all parties in Northern Ireland and the principal negotiators from the multiparty talks in South Africa that ended apartheid participated. Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein’s lead negotiator, called it a “turning point.” A year later, the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement was signed. Subsequently, Cyril Ramaphosa was appointed one of the two interim decommissioning commissioners and I advised him on things Northern Irish. Continue Reading →

December 8, 2017
by McCormack Speaks

Renewable Energy: Where Perception and Reality Collide

by Thomas Nee, McCormack Graduate School student

confused man with his hands on his headPeople often believe what they want to believe despite contrary information. “It is remarkable that large groups of people can coalesce around a common belief when few of them individually possess the requisite knowledge to support it.” (Fernbach and Sloman, 2017). I examine here how perception and reality collide regarding climate change not whether it exists but what to do about it.

People trust experts. But what happens when experts contradict long-held beliefs?  “(S)witch off the radio, change channels, only like the Facebook pages that give you the kind of news you prefer. You can construct a pillow fort of the information that’s comfortable.” (Beck, 2017). Listen to trusted authorities who share your opinions and suppress the rest. False beliefs are often a social phenomenon.

Many people believe that “renewable” energy of any type is preferable to burning fossil fuels. Hydroelectric power is a proven form of renewable energy but it is not “free.” It costs money, manpower, and resources to develop a plant. Any carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted is greatly outweighed by the plant’s lifetime output. This may not be the case with all renewable systems. Continue Reading →

November 27, 2017
by McCormack Speaks

Connecting Consumerism and Deforestation

by William Flagg, McCormack Graduate School student

deforestation Why have some of our goods become so disposable and so cheap? A bit of research on this would undoubtedly take us beyond the websites of the retail chains that provide our cheap and disposable dressers, nightstands, and bookshelves, and connect us to a  wealth of literature on a topic that is a bit heavier than retail — deforestation. We might learn that some products at retail chain stores that we depend on for our cheap furniture in the developed world were driving vast amounts of deforestation in places like Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  We would also learn that some other consumer items that have become a part of our everyday lives—like vegetable oils, soy, and beef– have similar impacts on forests.  Of course, this is something we do not think about when stepping into our local big box store to buy that cheap dresser or discounted entertainment center. But the impact of millions of people making these same purchases over time has certainly been felt in the forests that harbor the basic components of these materials.  These are only a couple of examples of the impacts of demand for consumer commodities in the global North that drive deforestation in the global South.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, “some 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year– equivalent to 48 football fields every minute.” [1] Much of this deforestation takes place in tropical rainforests in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.  Ahost of products in stores in the developed world have their origins in tropical rainforests, threatening these forested areas, and the rich variety of plant and animal species living in them. These forests are too important to lose, and provide a plethora of life- sustaining benefits to humans. According to the Rainforest Alliance, rainforests help stabilize global climate patterns; act as a natural filter for bodies of water that run through them, like the Amazon River; provide habitat for 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity; are home to 25% of all modern medicines (and make up 70% of medicines that cure cancer!); and, play a huge role in the fight against climate change, as forests suck up vast amount of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and store them [2].  Furthermore, regarding this latter point, forests add to climate change when they are cut down. It is estimated that deforestation is currently responsible for 20% of global carbon emissions.  Put simply, deforestation remains one of the most important crises of our time, with a host of direct implications in the fight against climate change, biodiversity loss, and social and economic justice.  What is less clear, however, is what continues to drive deforestation worldwide, and how do we stop it?

This problem might seem too big for any one of us to shape — and, in many ways it is. But that does not mean that our personal choices cannot have a positive impact. Every time we step into a store to buy groceries, furniture, coffee, and a whole host of other everyday items, we are connected to long and convoluted supply chains of materials harvested or mined from somewhere else; processed somewhere else; manufactured somewhere else; and, shipped from somewhere else. In many cases, these aforementioned steps all take place in different locations. In short, our purchases have a direct impact on the environment, and the people who live in those environments, in many places across the globe.

So the next time we make our way out to the grocery store, consider using our purchasing power to buy items not connected to deforestation in the developing world. One easy way to do this is to look for labels on products that certify that the product was sourced in a sustainable way. For example, for palm oil (which might be found in as much as half of all supermarket products!)[3], look for the patented Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) label pictured below. Another example is the Rainforest Alliance seal which certifies that products have been grown and harvested in an environmentally and socially conscious way. Roundatbale on Sustainable Pail Oil and Rainforest Alliance seals of approvalOf course, it’s important to remember that by simply buying products that are certified sustainable we are not going to eradicate deforestation– this issue is too large and complex to be tackled by consumerism.  But, our purchasing decisions do have consequential impacts on the world’s forests, and buying sustainable products is one way we can contribute to a healthier planet.


[1] Rainforest Alliance.  “9 Rainforest Facts Everyone Should Know.”

[2] World Wildlife Fund.  “Overview.”

[3] Rainforest Rescue.  “Palm oil– deforestation for everyday products.”


William Flagg, studies international relations at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.

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