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Top Stories of 2011

By Evan O'Neil | December 6, 2011

CREDIT: Ben Matthews (CC).

With high-emitting countries lining up to see who can kick the can further down the road at the climate conference in Durban, South Africa, it's no surprise that Adam Trexler's analysis of climate change novels was our most popular article this year. The stories we tell about global warming point to some of the fundamental difficulties we have in articulating a just and sustainable future. "The limits of the genre are starting to bump up against the limits of our political imaginations," writes Trexler. [HINT: These books also make great holiday gifts for your favorite editor.]

Few scholars understand the crushing logic of global poverty better than Thomas Pogge. In this long-form interview with Keane Bhatt, Pogge lays out the case for why rich nations have a responsibility to design global institutions and rules that don't result in deprivation and human rights deficits. He also explains his Health Impact Fund for incentivizing research into pharmaceutical innovations that have social benefit.

Canada's reputation was severely smudged this year by attempts to brand its tar sands as "ethical oil." Meanwhile the industry push to build another pipeline to the United States was thwarted by the three great isms of our time: NIMBYism, activism, and cronyism. I explored the strategic and environmental dynamics of the U.S.-Canada energy relationship in a two-part series: "There's No Such Thing As Ethical Oil" and "Don't Build Keystone XL: The Pipeline to Nowhere."

Susan Aaronson and Ian Higham looked at how corporate executives can build global opportunities by advancing human rights in "Better Safe Than Sorry." They cite the example of Vodafone's complicity during the Egyptian revolution as an example of what can happen to companies that are unprepared with a human rights policy. Also notable in this vein was Evgeny Morozov's discussion of "The Net Delusion" on how social media and other communications tools can backfire against activists.

"Any economic model that does not properly address inequality will eventually face a crisis of legitimacy," writes economist Nouriel Roubini in "The Instability of Inequality," his analysis of the driving force behind the global protests this year. Adding tactical and historical analysis to the year of upheaval was Mehmet Dosemeci in "Occupation: Rediscovering Democracy in Revolution."

"For more ethically oriented consumption to really take hold, the consumer needs to become a knowledgeable participant, not a reader of labels," write Timothy Devinney, Pat Auger, and Giana M. Eckhardt in " Value vs. Values: The Myth of the Ethical Consumer." Their research characterizes ethical products as still basically a niche market and nascent purchasing skill.

Two top articles this year treated the perennial issues of malnutrition, famine, aid, and agriculture. Jim Harkness of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy looks at the effect of financial instability on food prices and asks "Is Famine the New Norm?" Laurance Allen reports on social entrepreneur Steve Collins entering the ready-to-use therapeutic food market in "Valid Solutions for Malnutrition."

As part of our Ethics Matter series, Devin Stewart interviewed economist Bill Easterly on his research into aid accountability and effectiveness. The conversation was wide-ranging, but the emergent theme centered around the idea that top-down planning has its blind spots and that innovation often percolates up from individual rights and freedoms.

The tension between individual and collective responsibility is a constant source of angst for environmentalists, which is why we asked Bill McKibben, David Biello, Josh Lasky, Mat McDermott, Christopher Mims, Paul Steely White, and Eric Zencey to contribute to a "Sustainability Forum on What Individuals Can Do." Their answers ranged from practical to political, to metaphysical and catastrophist, but the theme was clear: To take care of our world we must take charge of ourselves.

Finally, we are pleased to note that several episodes of Julia Kennedy's Just Business series on the role of business in society made the list of top resources this year. Susan Davis discusses how Bangladesh has become a "Silicon Valley of Social Innovation." Roo Rogers presents his strategy for developing businesses based on "Collaborative Consumption." And mobile health pioneer David Aylward explains how communications technologies are helping to deliver health services in "Health Gets Mobile."

Thank you again for your dedicated readership. We look forward to the next five years.

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Read More: Agriculture, Aid, Business, Charity, Communication, Development, Energy, Environment, Ethics, Food, Health, Human Rights, Poverty, Sustainability, Technology, Global

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