March 04, 2010

Book Review: Global Warring

In a post-Snowpocalyptic world, climate change scientists have found themselves defending their work against climate change skeptics who are using the historic winter weather that left much of the East Coast blanketed with record-breaking snow fall to denounce the evidence that supports climate change (most notably, a warming planet). Some have wondered how climate change experts can explain how a world experiencing climate change – more often using the inaccurate term “global warming” – could also be experiencing a historic winter snow fall, such as Washington’s Snowtorious B.I.G. But while the debates unfolded, I used the nearly week long closing of the federal government, several feet of snow and the tree that barricaded me and my four roommates in our small basement apartment as an opportunity to read a book I had been given shortly after arriving in Washington, DC in early January; the cleverly titled Global Warring by Cleo Paskal

What is interesting is that Paskal’s book offers a counter to the many climate change skeptics’ claims that I had been hearing. And much to the chagrin of those wishing to use DC’s historic snowdrifts as their soapbox to disprove climate change, Paskal explains that:

Roughly, the increase in global temperature means the air can hold more moisture. . . sucking the land dry, creating droughts. It also means that when it does rain, the clouds can release larger quantities of water, potentially creating snowstorms. . . the overall effect is a likely increase in unpredictable precipitation and extreme events.

Despite the title, Paskal manages not to be an alarmist, avoiding calls for cold war-era bunkers and duck and cover drills. For Paskal, there is no real concern that life as we know it will cease to exist, but rather that life the way we know and understand it could cease to exist. Paskal asserts that the world as a whole has but on choice in the matter: to proactively adapt to these climactic changes or be forced to do so, when it could already be too late. To illustrate her point, Paskal blends tales of riding an ATV across the Canadian tundra, the already doomed future of a colossal water canal project in China, repeated mistakes from lessons that should have been learned after Hurricane Katrina and destructive monsoons in India.

What makes this book unique and such a solid reading of natural security-related issues is the security and political scope Paskal uses to explore the consequences of a changing climate. For example, a melting Arctic could open the Northwest Passage, which could also open up new Asian markets to the European Union, in addition to exposing a sparsely populated Great White North to real security concerns for North America. Such concerns have already been voiced by Canada, and tensions have increased somewhat with America’s claim that the passage is an international waterway, creating a small political schism between us and our North American neighbor. Going further, Paskal explains that Canada has even contemplated an Asian partnership (namely with China and Russia), to build security cooperation moderating access to the Arctic that could threaten American interests in the High North.

In all, Paskal’s narrative portrays her as less interested in those skeptics who criticize the claims of anthropogenic climate change, stating quite clearly that climate change is indeed happening and that while the causes are politicized, that is of little concern to her. What concerns her more is the ability of human beings to be good Darwinian creatures and to adapt, both themselves and their political, social and economic structures, to their changing environment. Because while humans may be able to survive climate change, global economics, alliances and stable states that constitute the international system may be unable to weather the storm.

Photo: Front cover image courtesy of Macmillan Publishing.