Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic and Political Crises will Redraw the World Map, Cleo Paskal; Key Porter Books, Pp 288, $ 32.95 (HB)
ONE of the saddest facts of contemporary political life is the apparent reluctance shown by industrialised-developed-countries towards environmental change and what damage such a change can cause to countries. That reluctance was most noticeable at Copenhagen. Even the United States which saw immense damage done to it by Nurricane Katrina which struck the Gulf coast in the summer of 2005 seems impervious of the need to undertake some precious measures…what happened to New Orleans is unbelievable. The hurricane itself did not do much damage. It is what followed subsequently that was frightful. The levees broke, water poured into the city drowning entire neighbourhoods and escape routes.
Various levels of government were paralysed, the military was over-stretched and communication lines broken down. Large-scale looting took place and the Louisiana Governor was compelled to give “Shoot to Kill” orders to save the city from descending into anarchy. The cost to the United States, because of the damage wrought by Katrina, has been reckoned to be over $ 100 billion. The State lost an estimated 138,379 acres of land. Does this have a message to the United States and to the world? Yes, it has, says Cleo Paskal, author of this remarkable book, one of the best and most engrossing available on the subject. Over again, throughout the highly revelatory pages of this well-researched work we realise what damage environmental changes can wreak on the economics of various nations and the political crises that follow. We ignore the warnings issued in this book at our peril. The damages caused by environmental changes are not limited to any one country, region or continent. They are universal.
In 2006 climate changes wrecked crops in Australia, Ukraine Argentina, Canada and the United States, driving wheat prices to a 10-year high. In the summer of 2005, a drought in Spain and Portugal caused an estimated loss of $ one million, including half of the cereal crop in central and southern Spain. And in Australia there has been increasing desertification. Anything can happen if water level of sea rises.
The author gives instances of damage done to countries like India and China, that should serve as a timely warning. In India the failure of the 2002 monsoon devastated agriculture and knocked over three per cent of India’s GDP. Should there be a rise of sea-level (as is feared) of one meter (three ft), 19 per cent of Mumbai can be submerged, affect 40 per cent of the Chennai population and Gujarat and West Bengal could lose most of the land. China is in bad shape with more than 50 per cent of its rivers already graded too dangerous for any sort of human use, including washing clothes! All these and other allied subjects like the after-effects to geopolitics of every region are described in such convincing detail as to raise doubts about the future of our globe. According to a UN project report, in a hundred years, even without a Glacier collapse, Bangladesh could lose thousands of square kilometers of coastline, displacing millions of people. China is in trouble.
It is this that forms the crux of the author’s work. She ruthlessly identifies problems that could start conflicts both internal and international. She is very critical of those countries which feign ignorance of what’s going on. The decrease in ice-cover allows the Arctic Ocean waves and storm serges to batter the shore harder and longer, eating away the fragile coastline. In Alaska erosion has meant that -just to give one example-the US government had to relocate several waterfront villages farther inland at an estimated cost of around $ 100 million per village! Or take the Himalayas. The Himalayan water supply is facing the twin threats of glacial melt and changing precipitation patterns. In 2002, according to official sources 22 per cent of Indians faced “absolute water scarcity”. If glaciers start melting beyond acceptable limits one can well understand the fate of those who depend upon its waters. A time may come when environmental changes may bring about such damage in a given country that it may look for space elsewhere, causing unpredictable conflicts. It is frightening to realise if just 15 per cent of Greenland’s ice sheet melts, that would be enough to put much of Florida ( in the United States), Bangladesh, the Nile delta and the Netherlands, to name just a few low-lying regions, under water. Where will the people living there go for survival? Will, for instance India accept the Bangladeshi survivors-refugees in a way-and give them space to live within its territories without rousing communal tensions?
There are so many such issues that nobody really seem willing to face, probably out of sheer fright. The author says that one Indian strategist, on being told that China is talking about damning and diverting one of the major rivers that waters India, remarked: “China will spend four billion dollars building that dam and we will spent four hundred thousand dollars blowing it up”. Sound very ominous. The book is entitled Global Warring that tells it all. The future of the globe is anybody’s guess, but Cleo Paskal’s guess is based not on hearsay but on facts that are unchallengeable. The title could just as well be Global Warning. The point is that if global warnings are not taken into consideration and adequately met, it might result in global warring . It is a sobering thought.