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The reality of catastrophic climate change

Ian Beeching

November 23, 2011

Tropic of Chaos By Christian Parenti

Reviewed by Ian Beeching

Imagine living in a community where bodies turn up in your back yard and a drink of water can land a bullet in your head. This is the story of Ekaru Loruman, a pastoralist in Kenya and one of thousands of victims of climate violence.

In Tropic of Chaos, Christian Parenti takes us on a vividly illustrated journey around the world showing the catastrophic convergence of climate change fuelling the violence and war of the 21st century.

This brilliantly researched book takes us from tribal raiding in Africa fuelled by Cold War arms proliferation and changing weather patterns, to the walls of fear and reaction at home that meet the increasing numbers of climate refugees.

Through first-hand experience, Parenti brings together the legacy of colonialism, neoliberalism, climate change and imperialist wars.

Parenti’s book starts with a bleak look at the reality of the science behind climate change and the absurdity of its deniers. Even if we stop every green house gas emission today, climate change will still happen. The issue then becomes one of adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Parenti brings to light the slew of government reports discussing the social and military challenges of climate change. These reports paint a future where countries that can afford to do so build “fortresses” around themselves as the rest of the world starves and where “warfare defines human life.” Parenti shows us how planning for war can in fact lead to it.


But there is hope! The final chapter brings us to the challenges facing the movement for climate justice. Drawing on the inspirational struggle in Bolivia where poor predominantly indigenous farmers and workers overthrew hundreds of years of racism and exploitation throwing out a government bent on privatizing Bolivia’s water and replacing it with one that puts its peoples needs first.

The severity of climate change has led Parenti to focus on reforming capitalism. Although he believes capitalism does not have a solution for the environmental crisis, it may be possible for capitalism to overcome the specific challenge of climate change. Western governments already have the resources and technology needed to slow and adapt to climate change, but greed gets in the way.

My only critique of the book is that Parenti mistakes the fight for an alternative to capitalism as exclusive to fighting for reforms within it. Socialists around the world have thrown themselves into the struggle for climate justice. Yes reforms are essential but, until we have a system that puts humans relationship with our environment first, there will always be an Ekaru Loruman.

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