Ignore the world’s warming and pay a heavy price

My following book review appears in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

An investigative journalist finds altered weather patterns are already having a significant impact.

We are constantly bombarded with evidence of apocalyptic climate change – uncontrollable weather patterns that will irreversibly destroy sustainable life on planet Earth. Deniers argue such warnings are exaggerated.

The Republican US presidential candidate, Rick Perry, recently said scientists were manipulating data ”so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects”.

News Limited’s Andrew Bolt, writing from his office in Melbourne, equally claims that a religious-type fundamentalism exists around global warming and we should simply remain relaxed and comfortable about occasional changes in climate.

Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, by a leading American investigative journalist, Christian Parenti, visits many nations around the world and documents hard evidence of deepening social, economic and political unrest due to reduced amounts of rainwater.

Parenti defines the Tropic of Chaos as a ”belt of economically and politically battered post-colonial states girding the planet’s mid latitudes ”¦ The societies in this band are heavily dependent on agriculture and fishing, thus very vulnerable to shifts in weather patterns”.

Add to the toxic mix decades of Western-imposed neo-liberal policies dressed up as ”economic restructuring” and ”we find clustered [in these areas] most of the failed and semi-failed states of the developing world”.

A 2008 Swedish government study concluded 46 countries and 2.7 billion people were susceptible to these ”perfect storm” conditions.

We are thus far largely insulated in the West from these profound shifts but this illusion of calm won’t last long; the Pentagon is already planning for immigration pressures, conflict in Africa surrounding food security and humanitarian emergencies. In classic disaster-capitalism style, private companies are joining in a ”matrix of parasitic interests” to both fuel and arm the wars being fought while investing in methods to monitor, imprison and document the stated problems and people. Parenti correctly calls this ”militarised management of civilisation’s violent disintegration”.

Take Pakistan. Following the devastating floods both last year and more recently as well as a combination of an Islamist insurgency, a crime wave and religious intolerance have fused with climate-change disaster. As Parenti recently told the radio program Democracy Now! after returning from the nuclear-armed nation: ”I was surprised to see a lot of people who had been displaced by the floods were refusing to leave the refugee camps that they were in now, because they didn’t want to go to landlords ”¦ These peasants would say, ‘We’d rather stay in these aid camps’, even as they cut off aid. They were protesting for the right to stay. The cops would attack them because they didn’t want to go back to the countryside, where they would fall into debt to these landlords who have private prisons and treat them really as, you know, bonded servants. And this is an example of how climate change ”¦ exacerbates pre-existing problems.”

Climate change turbocharges issues that already exist in under-privileged states and creates new ones that poor governments have few resources to tackle.

Parenti concludes by wondering, as Marx and Engels would surely do today, if ”capitalism may be ultimately incapable of accommodating itself to the limits of the natural world”. But the anaemic debate in most of the West, such as whether to implement a largely symbolic carbon tax with little likelihood of reducing emissions to the necessary level, is revealed as insufficient.

Transforming the energy economy and challenging anthropogenic climate change is achievable, Parenti hopes, as long as Western governments alter their living habits. For example, the US government is the country’s largest greenhouse-gas emitter and could make shifts to more efficient services, vehicles and energy with little cost difference.

Activists have a responsibility not to use extreme language – comparing climate-change denial to Holocaust denial is inarguably unhelpful – but equally a responsibility, as Parenti does brilliantly, to reveal the realities of our broken planet and ways to fix it.


Christian Parenti

Nation, 304pp, $29.95

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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