Tropic of Chaos
By Christian Parenti. Nation Books, 293 pp, hardcover
Scholarly New York–based journalist Christian Parenti reports from the frontlines, showing how the effects of global warming—notably droughts—are destabilizing the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the band between the tropic of Cancer and tropic of Capricorn. The central message is that climate change, in combination with neoliberal economics, is killing millions by fuelling civil wars, ethnic and religious strife, and large-scale criminal behaviour.
Because a poppy plantation requires one-sixth as much water as a wheat farm, opium production has proliferated in Afghanistan. Because irregular monsoons have caused farmers to starve in India, there’s a growing Maoist rebellion in that country. Because water precious to Pakistan first flows through the Indian state of Kashmir, there are repeated acts of violence by Pakistani militants to claim the region as their own. And because a changing climate has undermined fishing and agriculture in Mexico, vast numbers of people are migrating north, only to find themselves in a bloody drug war near the fortified U.S. border.
Parenti explains why the West invariably responds to these crises by promoting counterinsurgency measures. They offer nothing to those caught in the crossfire of climate change and free-market economic policies. In Parenti’s view, this doctrine of counterinsurgency will not stem the chaos.
This book can be a little dense. At times, Parenti lectures readers rather than bringing forward voices of people he interviewed during his travels. Unlike Australian scientist Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet, Tropic of Chaos does not provide much hope that climate change can be addressed. Meanwhile, Parenti’s descriptions of mass migration are far bleaker than those offered in Globe and Mail columnist Doug Saunders’s Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World.
There’s much to admire in Tropic of Chaos, notably the breadth of Parenti’s research and how he ties it into a coherent, big-picture view of the world. The book also offers timely insights into the origins of this month’s famine in East Africa.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.