Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence

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From Africa to Asia and Latin America, the era of climate wars has begun. Extreme weather is breeding banditry, humanitarian crisis, and state failure.

In Tropic of Chaos, investigative journalist Christian Parenti travels along the front lines of this gathering catastrophe—the belt of economically and politically battered postcolonial nations and war zones girding the planet's midlatitudes. Here he finds failed states amid climatic disasters. But he also reveals the unsettling ...

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From Africa to Asia and Latin America, the era of climate wars has begun. Extreme weather is breeding banditry, humanitarian crisis, and state failure.

In Tropic of Chaos, investigative journalist Christian Parenti travels along the front lines of this gathering catastrophe—the belt of economically and politically battered postcolonial nations and war zones girding the planet's midlatitudes. Here he finds failed states amid climatic disasters. But he also reveals the unsettling presence of Western military forces and explains how they see an opportunity in the crisis to prepare for open-ended global counterinsurgency.

Parenti argues that this incipient "climate fascism"—a political hardening of wealthy states— is bound to fail. The struggling states of the developing world cannot be allowed to collapse, as they will take other nations down as well. Instead, we must work to meet the challenge of climate-driven violence with a very different set of sustainable economic and development policies.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this scathing study, Parenti (Lockdown America) argues that climate change is already wreaking havoc on the planet in the form of devastating droughts and other weather aberrations that create a shortage of arable land and resources. In the developing world, these challenges intersect with the ongoing crises of poverty and violence to create what Parenti terms a "catastrophic convergence." Arguing that coming environmental shifts will "act as a radical accelerant," he describes how cold war militarism and neoliberal economics have eroded community fabric and public services in such disparate places as the arid savannahs of Kenya, the mountains of Afghanistan, the favelas of Brazil, the jungles of Colombia, and the deserts of northern Mexico, opening the door for "socially disruptive forms of adaptation," like brutality, genocide, and corruption. As the developing world sinks deeper into crisis, the developed world takes the "armed lifeboat" approach, consolidating wealth and firepower while ignoring the rising tide of need among the planet's most vulnerable citizens. Parenti's careful reporting and grasp of politics and economics support the book's urgent message—that impending global chaos is all but assured unless the developed world finds the political will to imagine a better future. (July)
Kirkus Reviews

An investigative journalist's tough analysis of how some of the world's most vulnerable states—those with a history of economic and political disasters—are confronting the new crisis of climate change.

The Nation contributing editor Parenti (Lockdown America, 2008, etc.) focuses on the region of the planet that lies between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. He expects nations in this area to face a catastrophic convergence of poverty, violence and climate change—hence the label "Tropic of Chaos." The danger he foresees is that the reaction of the United States and other developed countries to this disaster may be to become "armed lifeboats" with militarized borders and aggressive anti-immigration policies. In Parenti's view, the militarism of the Cold War and America's economic policies of privatization and deregulation are to blame for pushing many developing countries into political and economic instability. The social effects of climate change in a given country can be neither understood nor planned for, he writes, without knowledge of the country's history. To remedy this, he offers a grim account of the history of several countries in the Tropic of Chaos, including failed and semi-failed states in Africa, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Brazil and Mexico, making specific connections between economic history, political violence and climate. Water, he argues, has long been a key driver of conflict, and with climate change bringing extreme weather with droughts and flooding, it will become an even greater issue. The chapter on South America leads directly to his discussion of immigration to the United States, where immigrants are met with "the calumny, hatred, and ideological spittle of rightwing demagogues" like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. In the final chapter, Parenti offers his ideas for how the United States might respond otherwise.

A dark look at a looming world crisis in which the United States comes off as one of the worst villains.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568587295
  • Publisher: Nation Books
  • Publication date: 9/4/2012
  • Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 471,450
  • Product dimensions: 8.10 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Christian Parenti is a contributing editor at the Nation. The author of Lockdown America, The Soft Cage, and The Freedom, he has written for Fortune, Mother Jones, Conde Nast Traveler, Playboy, the New York Times, and the London Review of Books, among others. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Table of Contents

Part I Last Call for Illusions

1 Who Killed Ekaru Loruman? 3

2 Military Soothsayers 13

3 War for a Small Planet: Adaptation As Counterinsurgency 21

Part II Africa

4 Geopolitics of a Cattle Raid 39

5 Monsoons and Tipping Points 55

6 The Rise and Fall of East African States 67

7 Somali Apocalypse 79

8 Theorizing Failed States 87

Part III Asia

9 Drugs, Drought, and Jihad: Environmental History of the Afghanistan War 97

10 Kyrgyzstan's Little Climate War 113

11 India and Pakistan: Glaciers, Rivers, and Unfinished Business 123

12 India's Drought Rebels 133

Part IV Latin America

13 Rio's Agony: From Extreme Weather to "Planet of Slums" 157

14 Golgotha Mexicana: Climate Refugees, Free Trade, and the War Next Door 179

15 American Walls and Demagogues 207

16 Implications and Possibilities 225

Acknowledgments 243

Notes 245

Index 283

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 2, 2012

    Life (and, perhaps, human life in particular) tends to exploit e

    Life (and, perhaps, human life in particular) tends to exploit environmental resources right up to and even beyond the carrying capacity of that environment. The consequence of overshooting that carrying-capacity limit is natural selection; survival of the fittest, if you will. Populations are trimmed only to return and again step over that barrier. Plus, carrying capacities expand and contract and populations must respond or face extinction.
    Among humans tooth and claw has often, but not always been supplanted by cultural evolutionary safeguards and buffers. That cultural evolution is reflected in the formation of coercive governments and the rule of law. The weak have been protected from the strong; communities have planned for the future based on events of the past; and, humans have created an artistic, literary and scientific heritage that transcends (but does not necessarily replace) nature.
    When natural ecosystems near or exceed the limits of carrying capacity the causes are often evident and the consequences readily predictable. Not necessarily so with the human race. In order to fully understand historical context it is necessary to de-convolute cultural from environmental influences.
    In Tropic of Chaos, Christian Parenti provides dozens of examples of political and economic chaos which, he claims, are somehow linked to global climate change. In a series of excellent vignettes he details, most often from first-hand field experience, horror stories mostly concentrated between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer.; drought in Kenya; the failed state Somalia; poppies and drought in Afghanistan; drought in Kyrgyzstan; the politics of water, glaciers and extreme weather in Kashmir; drought, cotton & moneylenders in southern India; drought in Northeast Brazil slums of Rio; and, links between drought, NAFTA and the drug wars of northern Mexico.
    The strength of the links between political and economic collapse in the tropics, that he most often presents as self-evident, are not always convincing and often superficial. The author provides extensive notes and, within the limited context of the text (tropical conflict) the scholarship is thorough. But, there is nothing new in the "solutions" that he offers at the end of the book.
    Some left-insider, politically-motivated terminology (with frequent barbs aimed at the IMF & WB) heavily used by the author in Tropic of Chaos may be unfamiliar and need definition; e.g., neo-liberalism may mean something other than what he intends to the U.S. public (for that matter just what is the "crisis of neo-liberalism"?)
    Tropic of Chaos is, admittedly, not a book about the science of climate change - it's a political-science text. However, even a social-science book could have provided a better link between climate change and political and economic order. One thing the author does get right - "The climate crisis is not a technical problem, nor even an economic problem; it is, fundamentally, a political problem."
    Richard R. Pardi, Environmental Science, William Paterson University

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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