Culture & Conversation

Is It Me, or Is It Getting War in Here?

With only 20 years as a non-dictatorship and visits by three major hurricanes in 2008, Haiti has had a heartbreaking struggle in getting on its physical, political, and economic feet. And now an earthquake. One Haitian presidential advisor was quoted in the New York Times: “We are like a country whose capital has been hit by two atomic bombs.” If it were up to Cleo Paskal, this would have merely been a drill.

In her book Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map, Paskal recalls dozens of catastrophic scenarios from our planet’s near and distant past and urges us to prepare for the effects of freakish weather, whether the result of climate change or not, as if it were an enemy attack.

If you’re looking for a debate on global warming, however, you’ll have to look elsewhere. In Paskal’s analysis, climate change is a given. In fact, she often opts for the term “environmental change,” and prefers to look beyond specific theories of the causes of climate change to focus on its effects and implications on the ground.

And according to this geopolitical actuary, the ground is disappearing. Paskal illustrates the urgency for political action in the case of small Pacific atolls and other island nations, whose very borders need to be redefined due to the effects of rising sea levels on their shrinking shorelines. If they disappear, say with one powerful tsunami, what will become of the survivors, and the nations themselves? A far more local example given in the book is of the melting Arctic and the many parties interested in controlling who gets to use the newly available Northwest Passage. Nations have gone to war over just such issues and Paskal suggests that if this is to be avoided, Canada had better get busy brokering some deals and flexing some muscle. The theoretical potentialities that she plays out like a global chess game are terrifying and entertaining all at once.

This experienced journalist shows her academic chops when laying down the historical background of the geo hot spots discussed. She needs little time to make her synopses clear and condensed. And while her sometimes long-winded statistics begin to feel a bit like Harper’s Index, she proves to be a thorough researcher, providing the elements for a clear understanding of the issues.

What the data appear to be telling us is we are more exposed than we think, she says, reminding us that “when Katrina hit the New Orleans region, it was only a category 3 hurricane, in a known hurricane zone.” This was not an entirely unpredictable situation. But this is the new Great Game meets the End of Days, and if we don’t learn how to build structures and cities to suit the future environment, it’s game over.

Cleo Paskal will launch Global Warring tomorrow, Tuesday, January 26, 6:30-8 p.m. at the beautiful Redpath Museum, in the center of the McGill campus.

Joni Dufour is a freelance editor and writer.

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