This summer I'll be competing as one half of the Edinburgh University Debates Union (EUDU) A team at the European Universities Debating Championships (EUDC) in Tallinn. Aside from having to learn to differentiate between two extremely similar initialisms, I'll also be spending a lot of time reading up on current affairs and various strands of political/social/cultural thought in order to try and be a little bit less ignorant about the world when it comes time to argue about things in front of strangers.
I often get asked by novice debaters what they ought to read or listen to or watch in order to Know Things About the World. Rather than answer ad hoc each time and share the occasional link on Facebook (whilst trying to tread the thin line between being helpful and spamming my friends' news feeds), I'm going to have a go at writing short blog posts which link to the things I'm reading and give a brief explanation of them and their importance.
Here's the first one.
Today I am reading:
- Anushka Asthana and Fiona Harvey on the implications of the Lobbying Act for NGOs in the run-up to the British General Election. They explain the way that the Lobbying Act, which restricts what non-governmental organisations can say in the year before a general election, has prevented charities from being able to bring important issues into the spotlight. Environmental charities are particularly upset, and you may have noticed that the environment has been something of a non-issue in this debate, in spite of Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement whilst it has been ongoing.
- Elizabeth Currid-Halkett on the changing spending patterns of the upper middle classes. She delves into a little social theory (primarily Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class), looking at the shift in "conspicuous consumption" from spending on material goods as a sign of status towards "intangibles" like health and education. It could be argued that this oughtn't necessarily to count as a change in the nature of conspicuous consumption and instead should be regarded as its diminution, but it's a good read regardless.
- CFR's backgrounder on US-Saudi relations. Newly updated to take account of changes since Trump became President, this article explains the (on face unlikely) alliance between the two countries with antithetical worldviews from its beginning. It looks at relations over oil, defence, and counterterrorism, as well as the large amount of investment from each nation tied up in the other.
- Damian Carrington on the drop in prices of renewable energy and its effects. He explains that in spite of a decreased level of investment over the past year and subsidies that pale in comparison to those given to fossil fuels, renewable energy capacity has boomed due to decreasing costs. This is heartening news in the wake of the US' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, which could have major geopolitical effects with respect to China's positioning as a leader in renewables, potentially pushing it closer to Europe.
- Vox on why China is building islands in the South China Sea. This is a video, not an article, but it's probably one of the most comprehensible explanations of China's motivations behind its militarisation and colonisation of the SCS. A lot of it comes down to the oil and gas reserves under the sea, but the primary motivator is the 30% of the world's trade that goes through the route, and the control it would grant China to be able to control that trade.