Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review of Global Warring by Tom Spencer in EurActiv

Tom Spencer, the former President of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights and Defence Policy, and current Executive Director of the European Centre for Public Affairs, just wrote a feature on Europe that includes a review of Global Warring. An excerpt:

Europe's foreign policy elites might like to pick up Cleo Paskal's 'Global Warring: How Environmental Economic and Political Crises will redraw the world map'. Cleo is a Canadian academic and journalist, based at Chatham House in London, married to a Dane, who spends a substantial time each year in India. She writes with the power of a journalist underpinned by the research habits of an academic.
She has for years contributed learned articles on how rising sea levels may change international borders with major implications. Her latest book arrives with the clarity and importance of the crack of doom. Her first message, that I would want every European policymaker to understand, undercuts the comfortable belief that disasters caused by environmental change happen to poor people, in poor countries far away and that our main involvement is to offer gracious aid to the under-privileged.
She shows conclusively that the reality for the developed world is closer to Katrina on steroids. Our obsession with short-term profit and technological complexity means that we are going to be there in the front line when the yoghurt hits the fan. Katrina was a man-made disaster brought about by the corruption of the relationship between the US Army Corps of Engineers and Congress ever keen to create pork-barrel employment projects, regardless of their environmental consequences.
She points out that the great heat wave of 2003 killed 30,000 people in Europe. Many of the oil and natural gas pipelines on which Europe depends run across Russian permafrost which is melting. We persist in building long-term infrastructure without regard to climate change. The French now regularly have to turn off their nuclear power stations in hot weather for lack of cooling water.
Europe is only beginning to come to terms with the amount of infrastructure re-design that will be necessary to keep its civilisation habitable. In essence her message is that climate change, as a sub-set of environmental change, has the whole of humanity wrapped in its coils.
She is equally good on the real implications for the developing world. Forced environmental migration is going to be a South-South problem, not one that can be realistically framed in terms of the West's historic responsibility. If forty million Bangladeshis flee from cataclysmic flooding in their homeland, they are going to be a problem for India and Burma. There is no way that Europe, America or Japan are going to accept that number of refugees. The same logic applies to environmental migration from Africa or the Middle East.
Cleo and I agree on the significance of climate change and the military, particularly in the context of the melting of the Himalayan glaciers which could end up with the loss of glacial summer melt water in the great rivers of Asia simultaneously destabilising Pakistan, India and China. Some issues are so big that nobody wants to talk about them.

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