Archive for September, 2013

September, 2013

Professor Heather Widdows

Welcome to the first post of the Saving Humans blog. What Saving Humans aims to do is exactly what it says on the tin – save real human beings and improve the wellbeing and flourishing of actual humans. Clearly as academics we are not going to do this by practical intervention (or at least not in our day jobs), but this does not mean that the work we do does not have practical impact and effect in the real world. The Saving Humans theme is concerned to address the most important global threats to human survival and flourishing, we have identified these as:

  • Health threats, from infectious disease to technological development;
  • Environmental threats, from climate change to natural disasters;
  • Security threats, including, war, conflict and terrorism and its methods and means and consequences.

Lots of people and groups are good at identifying these threats – but solutions are harder. For instance, the World Health Organisation has highlighted the global threat of drug-resistant strains of disease. []. WHO states that, “Modern healthcare depends substantially on antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines to treat conditions that would previously have proved fatal. Today, there is more resistance – and there are fewer new antimicrobial medicines in the pipeline – than ever before.” [] This is not an idle threat but a very real risk and one which is affecting us already. Again to quote WHO:

“We must do everything in our power to preserve these drugs for future generations. Some of the greatest achievements of global health — treating tuberculosis, malaria, HIV, pneumonia, diarrhoea and other killer infectious diseases — are at risk as drug resistance rises. Without effective drugs, we cannot prevent death and disease,” []. A world where these diseases were once again killer diseases is almost too terrible to imagine.

The threats of climate change are no less pressing – as shown clearly by the report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change which came out last week and described the evidence for global warming as unequivocal. [].

Saving Humans comes from the conviction that these problems are not separate but connected, and solutions must also be connected if they are to have any chance of success. For instance, conflict breeds poverty, by destroying land, homes and income sources and creating refugees and migrants, who are not only poor themselves, but also who drain the resources of neighbouring countries. Professor Jackson’s blog this week will highlight the spread of violence from Somalia to Nigeria, demonstrated so gruesomely in Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi last week. Conflict also adds to environmental degradation as the land is ransacked and in turn environmental degradation leads to conflict as migrants look for fertile land and resources become so scarce that people begin to fight over them. Likewise Climate change is not only likely to lead to sea level rises and lack of inhabitable land, but to increased health threats as infectious diseases spread as temperatures rise. Similarly health threats are exacerbated by poverty, as poor people – typically but by no means exclusively in the developing world – lack access to affordable courses of antibiotics, leading to the misuse of antibiotics, and contributing (along with other misuses) to the growth of drug-resistant strains of disease.

The interconnectedness of the global challenges is often ignored, as organisations focus on one threat at the exclusion of others. This of course is inevitable and understandable – a person or an organisation can’t do everything at one – and the size of the challenge can seem overwhelming. By emphasising interconnection we do not mean that separate interventions shouldn’t happen. They should and they must. Interventions on the ground must be targeted and one step at a time. But these separate interventions must always and also consider the combined challenges and the wider implications of their intervention. Most importantly, if we really want to address the threats of health, environment and security, we have to take seriously the globe as the scope within which we act. This is where Saving Humans comes in. While there are Birmingham academics who are already the established experts in their fields – fields contribute to Saving Humans – too often academics work separately in disciplinary silos. If we are really serious about addressing health threats – such as infectious disease, pandemics and the growth of anti-biotic resistance – or security threats – nuclear war and WMDs, terrorism and cyber attacks – or environmental threats – climate chaos and lack of access of scarce resources –  we have to have global and multidisciplinary approaches. Approaches which are single disciplinary or don’t engage with policy and practice just won’t cut it. My own discipline of Global Ethics is perfect for this.

Global ethics is a new and emerging field, but at its heart it is still doing what moral and political philosophy has always done:  attempting to answer Plato’s original philosophical question of ‘how ought we to live?’.  What global ethics does is it tries to answer this question in the context of globalisation – the increasing interdependence of global society economically, socially, culturally and politically. It recognises that there are global dilemmas which require global solutions. Global ethics has three key features:

1. It is multidisciplinary;

2. It links theory to practice;

3. It is global in scope.

All of these characteristics are core to the Saving Humans theme. It is the global scope requirement which recognises the interconnected nature of the challenges and also the need for direct action on specific issues. The global scope of global ethics requires that when any ethical dilemma is considered the needs of all must be recognised even if they cannot all be addressed in this particular action. Much ethics does not do this. For instance, many forms of professional ethics (say medical ethics) are primarily concerned with one a subset of ethics, and much ethics is ‘bounded’. In other words it concerns the relationships of individuals within one community (nation state, region or locality).

In global ethics, this is not good enough. The needs and perspectives of all global actors must count. This doesn’t mean that partial solutions and projects are not part of global ethics – they very much are – but the consequences for all must be considered.   In this way the global frame remains and the aim is that partial and piecemeal measures will gradually contribute to establishing truly global solutions. The global methodology, then, is practical and accepts that impartial and imperfect solutions as steps on the way. Yet, no matter what theory, policy or practice is ultimately recommended the global needs of all are factored into the analysis: the frame for ethical analysis is the globe. Because of this commitment, global ethics is also concerned with all global actors – with the rights, interests and duties of individuals, nations, institutions and associations.  It is only together that the challenges can be addressed.

September, 2013

Bloggers of the Week

Welcome to the Saving Humans blog! Watch out for our daily posts from Birmingham academics reflecting on topics as varied as global access to reproductive rights, the Kindertransport movement, conflict and co-operation, climate change, cancer research, development, deforestation and the Nobel Peace Prize.

In addition to the blog we will also be providing links to useful resources relating to our posts.

To mark the first week our theme leaders, Professor Paul Jackson, Professor Nicholas Wheeler and Professor Heather Widdows will share their thoughts. Here’s more information about our bloggers of the week:


  • Professor Paul Jackson

Professor of African Politics, Director of the International Development Department

Paul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. A core area of interest is decentralisation and governance and it was his extensive experience in Sierra Leone immediately following the war that led him into the area of conflict analysis and security sector reform. He is currently Director of the GFN-SSR which engages him in wide ranging policy discussion with donor agencies engaged in these activities, including various European Governments, the EU, the UN and the World Bank as well as the UK Government.

In addition Paul was also Head of the School of Government and Society till July 2010 where he managed five academic departments and some 200 staff across political science and international studies, local government studies, sociology, Russian and European studies and international development.

Paul also works in several overseas locations including Rwanda, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Butan, India and China amongst others, and is an experienced aid evaluator as well as governance and conflict analyst.

  • Professor Heather Widdows

John Ferguson Professor of Global Ethics, Head of Research for Philosophy, Theology and Religion

Heather Widdows is a well-known international researcher and in 2005 she was awarded a visiting fellowship at Harvard University, where she worked on issues of moral neo-colonialism. She has led a number of funded projects on issues of property in the body; reproductive rights; human tissue; war on terror and ownership and governance of the genome.

Heather serves as a member of the UK Biobank Ethics and Governance Council) and is also on the REF Philosophy Sub-Panel. She is Head of Research for the School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion.

She has published widely in these fields including two books in these areas Global Ethics: An Introduction (Acumen 2011); The Connected Self: The Ethics and Governance of the Genetic Individual (Cambridge University Press, 2013) as well as edited collections on Global Social Justice, with Nicola Smith, (Routledge, 2011), The Governance of Genetic information, with Caroline Mullen (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and Women’s Reproductive Rights with Itziar Alkorta Idiakez and Aitziber Emaldi Cirión (Palgrave, 2006). She has also published numbers articles in bioethics and global ethics.

  • Professor Nicholas Wheeler

Professor of International Relations and Director of the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation, and Security at the University of Birmingham

Nicholas J. Wheeler’s publications include (with Mlada Bukovansky, Ian Clark, Robyn Eckersley, Christian Reus-Smit, and Richard Price), Special Responsibilities: Global Problems and American Power (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2012); (with Ken Booth) The Security Dilemma: Fear, Cooperation, and Trust in World Politics (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); (edited with Jean-Marc Coicaud) National Interest Versus Solidarity: Particular and Univeral Ethics in International Life (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2008); (with Ian Clark) The British Origins of Nuclear Strategy 1945-55 (Oxford: Oxford University Press).  He is the author of Saving Strangers: Humanitarian Intervention in International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) and is currently writing a book provisionally entitled Trusting Enemies.  This is a key output of a 3-year ESRC/AHRC Fellowship on ‘The Challenges to Trust-Building in Nuclear Worlds (awarded under RCUK’s ‘Global Uncertainties: Security For All in a Changing World’ programme.  He is co-editor with Professor Christian Reus-Smit of the prestigious Cambridge Series in International Relations. Professor Wheeler is also principal investigator (with Professor David H. Dunn and Professor Stefan Wolff) on an ESRC project to investigate “The Political Effects of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles on Conflict and Cooperation Within and Between States”.

September, 2013

New blog: coming soon!

To mark the launch of the IAS Saving Humans theme we will begin a daily blog from Monday 30 September. Over 30 weeks Birmingham academics will reflect on topics as varied as global access to reproductive rights, the Kindertransport movement, conflict and co-operation, climate change, cancer research, development, deforestation and the Nobel Peace Prize.

Saving Humans Blog Weekly Schedule: 

30 September     Paul Jackson, Nicholas Wheeler and                                   Heather Widdows

7 October            Benjamin Thomas White

14 October          Rita Floyd

21 October          Rosa Freedman

28 October          Corey Ross and Frank Uekotter

4 November        Arri Coomarasamy and Amie Wilson

11 November     Jonathan Fisher and Heather Marquette

18 November     Rose Whyman and Isabel Wollaston

25 November     Matthew Hilton

2 December        Sheelagh McGuiness

9 December        Heather Buckingham


13 January ’14    Heather Widdows

20 January          Zoe Schnepp

27 January          Karen Rowlingson

3 February          Jussi Suikkanen

10 February        Sean Coyle

17 February        Luis Cabrera

24 February        Jonna Nyman

3 March               Jagbir Jhutti-Johal

10 March             Jeremy Williams

17 March             Jonathan Reinarz

24 March             Lisa Bortolotti and Ema Sullivan-Bissett 

31 March             Rob Mackenzie


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