Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Parenti on Climate Change and War: Threat Multipliers

Christian Parenti's interview on Democracy Now is a fantastic examination of the nexus of climate and society, in particular, the multifarious causal links between climate change and violent conflict. I recommend reading the entire interview as well as reading his book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.

Parenti doesn't say that "climate change causes war." Instead, he looks at how states have already been weakened and destabilized by social conditions, e.g. IMF policies forcing "structural adjustments" that include the abandonment of small farmers, political collapse that leads to tribal conflict and a flood of small weapons, and then how climate change amplifies social breakdown and the proliferation of violent conflict. From the interview:

"The Pentagon, particularly around 2007, was putting out these reports and think tanks around them, realizing they were going to be called upon to respond to this problem. To their credit the armed services take climate change seriously, which is more than you can say for, say the GOP leadership in the House. And what they see again and again is not so much a future of interstate conflict, but of irregular warfare within states, social breakdown, increased banditry, mass migration. They realize they’re going to be called upon to respond to these low intensity conflicts and these civil wars, so front and center in their program of response is counterinsurgency.

This goes by different names — small wars, low-intensity conflict, counter insurgency. This is as part of the War on Terror become very important to U.S. foreign policy and I’m critical of that one, because I don’t think it will work. I don’t think it’s moral. But also, counterinsurgency, if you look at its record, what it does to societies is very damaging. Because the object is the population rather than territory, it leaves societies fragmented and vulnerable."


These themes echo the historical study of collapse that I have been reading in Joseph Tainter's The Collapse of Complex Civilizations.

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