For years, the Pentagon has been saying that climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to American security of all. Back in 2004, a report commissioned by Pentagon defense adviser Andrew Marshall, the man behind the restructuring of the US military under Donald Rumsfeld, predicted that “abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies.” The report went on to declare that the threat to global stability posed by climate change was indeed greater than that of terrorism.
Ironically, while climate change denial seems to be a communal oath among right wing politicians, folks in the military that they so staunchly support are busy preparing for it, both strategically and tactically. Retired Rear Admiral Dennis McGinn has called climate change a threat multiplier.
Most of the coverage of the subject has focused on natural forces, not military ones as a threat to our continued existence. Should we be concerned about this? Will the Pentagon’s prediction come true?
According to Christian Parenti, the author of the newly released book Tropic of Chaos, it already has. Parenti says that climate change is causing violence around the world right now, particularly in the global South. The book “looks at the intersection of the legacy of cold war militarism, free market economic restructuring and the onset of anthropogenic climate change” and traces how these factors, with particular emphasis on the latter as a kind of socio-economic last straw, create the conditions for increased civil war, religious war, banditry and increased violence. He suggests the best way to deal with this violence is to mitigate the exacerbating condition.
The book opens with the death of a Kenyan tribesman named Ekaru Loruman who is killed in a cattle raid in the midst of a severe drought. Cattle raids are not unusual among the Turkana people, in fact they have been going on for generations. But Parenti sees deeper forces at work.
…perhaps Ekaru was killed by forces yet larger, forces transcending the specifics of this regional drought, this raid, this geography, and the Nilotic cattle cultures. To my mind, while walking through the desert among the Turkana warriors scanning the Karasuk hills for the Pokot war party, it seemed clear that Ekaru’s death was caused by the most colossal set of events in human history: the catastrophic convergence of poverty, violence, and climate change. This book is an attempt to understand the death of Ekaru Loruman, and so many others like him, through the lens of this catastrophic convergence.
This line of reasoning reminds me of the correlation between the increase in severe storm activity and warmer ocean temperatures. While it is impossible to blame any given storm on the changing climate and the anthropogenic activity responsible for it, the trend is clear: deadly storms are on the increase, as are floods and droughts and other extreme weather events.
Likewise, it might be difficult to pin the blame for the death of Ekaru Loruman specifically on climate change, though this doesn’t stop Parenti from suggesting it. It was clearly a significant contributing factor, as it was in countless other examples, which can be tallied, in a statistical sense, to support Parenti’s assertion.
Drought, floods, food shortages, refugees have all put enormous stress on situations that in many cases were already stressed with the result that the breaking point has or will soon be reached.
Parenti writes in TomDispatch, “Get used to it. Food, weather, upheaval, and war. Those are likely to be in the headlines not only for decades to come, but tied together in all sorts of complicated and unsettling ways. Extreme weather and increasingly severe droughts, whether in Texas, China, or Somalia; crops burned to a frizzle or obliterated in some other fashion; starving people desperately on the move; incipient resource wars; and a world in which the basics of everyday life are increasingly beyond the buying power of tens of millions, if not billions of the poor — that’s a recipe for our future. Unfortunately, it’s also increasingly the present, as grain crops fail in various global breadbaskets and food prices soar.”
The book goes on to discuss the militaristic response that many major powers including our own have taken, such as securing their borders or counter-insurgency operations, which he argues are doomed to fail. Instead, says Parenti, we should focus our efforts on learning to live within the limits of the planet. Sounds like something I might have said myself a time or two.
[Image Credit: Children and Armed Conflict: Flickr Creative Commons]
RP Siegel is the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Like airplanes, we all leave behind a vapor trail. And though we can easily see others’, we rarely see our own.
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