Tropic of Chaos Book Discussion

Publication Date



Journalist and author Christian Parenti predicts the consequences of climate change will go beyond extreme weather to include increased regional and global conflict.

“You can already see the ways in which climate change is creating violence,” he explained during a discussion of his new book "Tropic of Chaos" at World Learning’s Washington, DC office November 14. The event was streamed live through World Learning’s website.

The event also served as a tribute to Wangari Mathaai, the Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and World Learning Trustee Emerita who passed away in September at age 71. Mathaai advocated for social change through environmental preservation with her grassroots organization the Green Belt Movement.

Parenti said he was honored to be part of the tribute and explained that he saw the effects of Mathaai’s work while researching his book in Kenya. He said because of her efforts, Kenyan people have great concern and awareness of environmental issues, but they still face enormous challenges from climate change and related conflicts. "Tropic of Chaos" begins with an account of the murder of a Kenyan pastoralist during a cattle raid. While cattle raids are a long-standing tradition in the country, Parenti found they were becoming increasingly violent. Climate change was significant a factor as it altered weather patterns resulting in severe droughts in the region. “People are literally fighting over the few remaining watering holes,” he said. However, he argued that climate change arrived in the global south on “a stage preset for crisis,” as a result of the legacy of Cold War militarism, which spread weapons and violence through the developing world. In addition, the effects of neo-liberal economic restructuring have left governments unable to develop economic plans and contributed to increasing socioeconomic inequality. In East Africa, the Cold War left Somalia a failed state, brimming with modern weapons. Parenti said since the fall of the Somali government in 1991, those arms have been “hemorrhaging” into neighboring countries, like Kenya. This has led to more violent confrontations during cattle raids. In addition, the Kenyan government has shut down many support programs for farmers and pastoralists, leaving them with only the weapons to fall back on when times are difficult. He said this has created “something like a state of war in northwest Kenya.” He added that the conflict often spreads beyond the Kenyan border as clashes spill into neighboring Uganda, which retaliates by sending paramilitary troops after the pastoralists. “The situation is spinning out of control,” Parenti said. He offered examples from a number of other developing countries including Afghanistan, India, and Kyrgyzstan, which have faced similar conflicts as a result of what he calls a “catastrophic convergence.” Parenti also emphasized that this convergence will present its own challenges for the global north. In the United States, he said the greatest effects have been related to immigration policies, such as the militarization of the US-Mexico border, and armed responses to conflicts in the developing world, which the Pentagon realizes will only increase in the coming years. Parenti ended his lecture on a hopeful note, by providing some of his recommendations to the US government for dealing with climate change. These included enforcing the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and using alternative energy technology for government buildings and vehicles. Parenti said both of these strategies would help to create markets for the green technology sector, which would be more useful than any government subsidies. During his discussion with the audience, the author expanded on some of his earlier points and answered questions about the progress he’s seen in combating climate change over the years. “I think there’s a pretty steep learning curve,” he said when asked about developing countries’ responses to climate change, noting that places like China and India have only begun taking steps to combat these issues in the past few years. Parenti added that China has been a case of extremes. It experiences severe consequences because of pollution and is now attempting to remedy the situation. “The Chinese have taken renewable energy quite seriously,” he said.


Environmental Indicators and Impact Assessment

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