Instead of traveling to exotic locations for pleasure, author Stephan Faris
spends a great deal of his time visiting developing nations to cover topics
which are not pretty. In Forecast he examines global climate change in
countries where much of the citizenry already lives on the edge of subsistence
and where the effects of climate change are already tangible.
Faris introduces some thought-provoking ideas about the ramifications of climate change. For example, in a discussion about the strife in Darfur, he maintains that while many people view the plight as racially motivated, the distinction between Arabs and Africans is primarily one of lifestyle: herders and farmers who battle over what little productive land is available. Before the area's devastating drought, a grid system of grazing land alternating with crop land permitted both groups to coexist relatively peacefully. Up until recently the prevailing theory behind the area's waning rainfall had been that the local population had destroyed its own land through deforestation and overgrazing. Now, however, climatologists have discovered that changing oceanic temperatures and irregular African monsoons have most likely caused the drought, not local populations.
Faris predicts that global warming might create some strange bedfellows, too. Usually considered the domain of liberals, in Great Britain the environment is fast becoming an important focus for the small and intolerant British National Party's anti-immigrant agenda*. Richard Barnbrook, a top BNP activist, maintains that the settling of non-white immigrants from countries with troubled land into British neighborhoods increases construction and destroys green space. In short, Faris notes, "By talking about floodplains and water shortages, Barnbrook was replacing the politically unpalatableif openly statedfear of foreigners with a more acceptable empathy for the environment."
Armed with a master's in journalism from Columbia University and a CV citing his coverage of issues in the Middle East, China and Africa for many prestigious publications, Faris demonstrates incredibly sound reporting. But sometimes the writing is almost too calmly controlled for a subject this cataclysmic. In his epilogue the author states, "In a sense, this book is an exercise in optimism," and "The consequences of global warming described in this book may be alarming, but they're not meant to be alarmist." The lack of passion contrasts with the numbing possible scenarios, such as the potential of tens of millions of refugees entering India, Burma, China, and Pakistan if Bangladesh were to experience large-scale flooding.
Further, he often describes sources in a perfunctory manner that offers readers no glimpse into the humanity involved in this looming crisis. "Tom wore a gray short-sleeved shirt. He had a thick torso and moved slowly while he cooked. Sue had reddish hair and sharp, fine features. She wore a white blouse with wine-colored dots." But that just might be his point: the mere thought of potential impact of climate change is scary enough without needing to add any personal elements.
*The British National Party (BNP) is a far-right, whites only, political party that gained 0.7% of the popular vote in the 2005 election and has no seats in the British parliament. It has one seat on the Greater London Assembly and perhaps 50-60 seats in parish and community councils throughout Britain.
This review was originally published in January 2009, and has been updated for the September 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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