The Barnes & Noble Review
How did the weather cause the NATO bombing of Kosovo? Let's go back to the early 1990s.
Strained by an already harsh climate, Somalia was hit by drought, failed crops, and widespread famine in 1992. Within a year, the extreme food crisis brought about a political crisis, with civil war and gang feuds further decimating the food supply. So, partly to protect its own interests in the region and partly to help the masses of starving people who were being further victimized by the political chaos in the country, the U.S. sent in troops. The public relations disaster that hit when U.S. soldiers were killed and abused by armed Somalis showed the Clinton administration that it was bad politics to use U.S. soldiers to police domestic African problems.
A year later, well-known to Western governments, Rwanda's ethnic Hutus set out to murder every last ethnic Tutsi in the country. As 900,000 bodies piled up, the West did nothing to intervene. As a genocide was carried out, the world stood by. Again there was an outcry against Western policy.
So in 1999, with claims of ethnic cleansing coming out of Kosovo, the U.S. and NATO felt they had to act. Clearly the Balkan war has more complicated, deep-seeded causes, but the Western policy that brought in NATO bombers is partly rooted in the Somali famine.
Weather-wise, most of us care about nothing more than the forecast for the next few days. Brian Fagan is not like most of us. In Floods, Famines, adn Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilizations , Fagan looks at yesterday's weather to explain some of history'smajorevents.
He takes us back to ancient Egypt, where drought, low Nile flooding, and famine destroyed the central authority of the pharoahs and carried that civilization from the Old Kingdom to the Middle Kingdom, a shift that saw great changes in technology, religion, and government. In contrast was the more stable Islamic empire in Egypt of the tenth century C.E., in which a drought that killed one quarter of the population scarcely disrupted religious authority. In a land so rich with history and so dependent on the beneficence of the Nile, the weather was a prime mover of history.
The El Niño of 1997-98 brought the weather report from the back page of the newspaper to the front page. Floods, Famines, and Emperors expands on the newsworthiness of the weather in a six-millennia survey of how the wind, the rain, and the sun have moved civilizations forward.
Fagan (anthropology, UC-Santa Barbara) shows that short-term climate shifts have been a major force in history. He describes how El Ni<~n>o was first identified and the progress scientists have made in defining its role in global weather, and tells how droughts and floods have affected ancient civilizations in Egypt, India, Peru, the American Southwest, Central America, and Europe. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Fagan describes the mechanisms and effects of El Ninos, La Ninas and other far-raching meteorological events and then discusses how several societies have coped with them.
Fagan (Time Detectives) draws on his archaeology background to intriguingly explore the correlation between unusual climatic shifts and unusual historical events. El Niño is a blooming of warm Pacific water, pushing eastward along the tropics, bucking the northeast trade winds. For years it was thought to be a localized anomaly particular to the northern Peruvian coast. Now it is appreciated as a colossal climatic happening that interacts with other climatic systems as part of a global weather machine. Fagan traces El Niño from its first reckonings to the large-scale weather predictions made today when satellites detect its upwelling appearance. He then goes on to speculate on how El Niño's hell spawn-catastrophic extended drought and biblical storms-may have contributed to the demise of ancient civilizations. Drawing examples from pharaonic Egypt, early Mesopotamia, the Anasazi of North America, the Moche world of northern Peru, and the flamboyant classic Mayans, Fagan describes how these peoples responded to the curveballs (50-year droughts that robbed their artful irrigation works of water, rain that washed away their guano, currents that stole their anchovies) thrown at them by El Niño. Some moved; some muddled through, diminished; some had the flexibility to find ways to make the land more productive; others collapsed, their already stressed environment caving in before the climatic assault that additionally undermined the peoples' faith in their divinities and in the omnipotence of their rulers. Lastly, Fagan points to El Niño's savagings today of people who are the least equipped to face it: the delta dwellers in their ramshackle huts,the farmers and others at the mercy of landowners and political bosses who thrive on the manipulation of relief aid.