Sadly, one of the easiest predictions to make about global warming is that it will bring further war and turmoil to the Third World. The human race is the most unstable and sensitive part of the biosphere, particularly its economic and political systems. The Third World exists mostly in the tropics, and it is there that both unstable politics and the full force of global warming will combine. Environmental stress is one of the great destroyers of rational discourse, and one of the most powerful triggers of desperate action. We are probably already seeing the effects of global warming on the governments of the tropics.
The first thing to go in the Third World will be peace, both domestic and foreign. Environmental stress will cause governments to abandon any pretense of democracy, or to disintegrate completely. One of the most frightening things about the civil and national wars in Africa is their incomprehensibility to outsiders. But the problem of climate-induced anarchy is not limited to the Third World. Much of Miami, Florida was in a lawless state of looting and rioting for two days in August 1992 after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew. Only the National Guard was able to reestablish rule of law. As temperatures rise world wide, so will irrationality. Nation will rise against nation, not over anything as sophisticated as ideologies or oil, but over water and arable land. Turkey and Syria almost went to war in 1998; the pretext was terrorism, but the real cause was the water of the Euphrates. Somalia was the most ethnically homogenous country in Africa, a continent known for its tribal conflicts, and was thus considered the most stable of African nation states. But by 1990, Somalia, which sits on the edge of the desert, was embroiled in civil war, there was drought, and soon the nation was dying. Somalia was too well armed to be pacified and too chaotic to be conquered. Even in a weakened state, Somalia still managed to bite off the fingers of the hands that tried to feed it. So the world, in a sense, abandoned Somalia. The people of Somalia are starving again but the news networks will not, or cannot, cover the wretchedness there. Hopeless misery makes poor programming. So Somalia starves in a back alley of the global village. Out of sight, out of mind. Is this the model for coverage of future global-warming produced disasters? Will we just avoid looking?
Many chaotic places in the Third World lie on the edges of deserts or near the equator. As the world becomes hotter, the populations of these places, whose resources are almost down to zero, become more desperate and irrational. Disputes that formerly were resolved now often flare into bloodshed. In southern Algeria, where Muslim fanatics engage in pitiless slaughter, the southern regions, the fringes of the Sahara, have become so hot they are uninhabitable. In Rwanda, almost on the equator, where ethnic hatred led to genocide on a scale not seen since the Nazis, one of the problems was high population density. The fact that ground temperatures are rising naturally makes human tempers rise and probably makes overcrowding even more unbearable. In Rwanda, as has happened so many times before in our history, humanitys killer instinct was awakened as people savagely fought to reduce competition for vital resources.
One of the problems that makes any estimate of the real effects of greenhouse warming so difficult is that the global system is so complicated and so much of the greenhouse gas emission and absorption is mediated biologically. As has been discussed, an important and unpredictable part of the biosphere affecting climate is humanity itself. But the rest of the biosphere presents problems also. Because part of climate change is biological, it can display enormous sensitivities and unexpected couplings to other effects. This leads to nasty surprises that global warming and ozone holes are coupled, for example. Ice crystals in the stratosphere are the sites of catalysis for ozone destruction. More thunderstorms in the Polar Regions owing to global warming increase the ice crystal supply in the stratosphere.
Copyright 2000 Dr. John Brandenburg and Monica Rix Paxson. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher - The Crossing Press.
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