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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2011
The great writer Walter Benjamin once pointed out (and here I a going to greatly paraphrase) that us modern humans are unique amongst species in our inability as a large group to plan out multiple escape routes; that is to say that us humans can march blindly into certain disaster, whereas any other animal sensing danger would beat a hasty retreat. Mr. Parenti's book is a revelation as it takes a clear eyed glimpse into our undeniable climate crisis; and with that glimpse he illustrates the real threats that crisis represents to both human life and to the democratic ideals that we cherish as American citizens; and finally Parenti maps out at least some possibilities of an exit strategy from this crisis. That these ideas are presented are of utmost importance. Fortunately Mr. Parenti goes beyond just stating abstract notions -- he brings these ideas to life with some generally exciting first hand reporting that takes us from the hardest hit crisis zones of Africa, Afghanistan to our own backyard border zones of Texas and Arizona. In effect he personalizes the overwhelming concepts of global warming by introducing us to the goat herder, the Indian logger, the DEA agent whose lives have been totally turned around by the steady increase in temperature and erratic weather patterns.

Most books about the climate crisis can overwhelm us with negativity and a sort of end-of-days mentality. Mr. Parenti's book is the opposite. It is a book that virtually pulses with a love for democracy and belief in the power of human beings to finally do the right thing. And it is a great read as well. What could be better?
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2011
Last week I bought a new book before my flight to San Francisco, " Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.", by Christian Parenti. Indeed, this book is well written, well researched and is deserving of the 5-stars by two reviewers on Amazon. More to the point though, Parenti presents a history of many regions of the world framed through the climate of the area with an eye on how the climate may change in the near future (the next 50 years). Unfortunately, in areas like Somalia, the near future is today.

Somalia presents a tragic case study of the violence of climate change. As I write this, hundreds of thousands of refugees are fleeing Somalia for Kenya to find relief from intense drought and the resulting famine. The Miami Herald (10 Aug 2011, AP article) printed an Associated Press article reporting the rape of many women refugees once they reached the Kenyan boarder by groups of armed men. "One 30-year-old woman who watched two of her five children die as they trekked through Somalia was raped after reaching what she hoped would be the safety of Kenyan soil." (AP, 09 Aug 2011) According to the report, some of these armed men would order the woman's brother to rape her. If he refused, he or she or both would then be killed. Once these people manage to cross the border, their future does not get much better. Kenya does not have the resources to protect or feed the 400,000 refugees that are already staying in a camp built for 90,000. "Officials here say they are being overwhelmed by the influx of tens of thousands of Somali refugees, and can't stem the attacks. " (AP, 2011)

Parenti's book is certainly an important book for anyone interested in looking at a brief history of how many societies have changed when the climate changes - Somalia, Afghanistan, Brazil, Mexico and others are discussed - especially during a drought. More important is the understanding of the dynamics at play right now, today, during many of our debates in this country: The war in Afghanistan, immigration across our border with Mexico, and our current debt criss.

I highly recommend this book
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62 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on July 8, 2011
This is a must read book for anyone interested in climate change and its impact on humanity. It's also a must read book for everyone else that wants to continue to live in our biosphere. Which is to say, it's a must read for everyone.

The author starts out introducing us to a number of themes he carries forward. Specifically:

1) Climate change causes stressors on planetary civilization and these changes threaten American national security. This is not the author's point of view, but that of our military. Want an example? Consider Afghanistan. Why do they grow poppy? They've been in prolonged drought (a stressor as a result of global warming), and poppy only uses one fifth the water wheat does. The US runs around burning their crops, whereas the Teleban supports the farmers and helps them feed their children. [So are we going to solve the Afghan problem? Use critical thinking and decide for yourself.]

2) Societies can adapt by 'armed lifeboats', whereby they secure their borders against mass migrations, increased internal militarization, and conduct counterinsurgency operations abroad. The author sees this as a malignant adaption to Global Warming and warns us with case after case where this fails. Unfortunately, as the author points out, this is the direction the US is taking.

3) Societies can also adapt by learning to live within the limits of the planet earth. [Hey, I CAN use a solar panel to heat hot water instead of producing CO2 or nuclear waste.]

4) Counterinsurgency destroys societies and eventually fails anyway.

Next, the author takes us on a tour of the world, concentrating on regions between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Sections are dedicated to Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Impacts of global warming and resultant counterinsurgency operations are discussed.

Lastly, the author again focuses back on the US. It seems that big-oil has waged a successful campaign to discredit global warming here and this is discussed in detail. Obama has even delayed putting solar collectors back on the White House. [A weak and feckless president who should have never been elected (and I'm a Democrat).]

Finally, the author offers a prescription for moving forward. Many other authors are ready to abandon capitalism entirely (as it got us into this mess), but Christian does not. He feels that capitalism can morph/change into a benevolent la-la being that will suddenly embrace what the yippies and hippies have been saying all along. All that is needed is for a price to be put on Carbon emissions (a Carbon Tax), and the invisible hand of Adam Smith will soothe things out and reduce CO2 emissions to zero.

[You can see I part company with the author on his last point. You really think our national congress, that is bought and paid for by big oil will ever pass a Carbon Tax? If you do, you are one of the most Pollyanna people on earth. Instead, it is up to us, everyone, to think globally but act locally. To paraphrase Kennedy, I should ask not what I can get the congress to do, but what I can do myself to ameliorate global warming. And I can do plenty. I can first read up on the issues (skipping the pablum of the American corporate press). Next, I can think critically. Finally, I can act. I can buy locally grown food so there's less of a carbon footprint. I can install solar panels. I can buy a more fuel efficient car. And so on. HEY, IT'S UP TO US TO SOLVE GLOBAL WARMING - NOT SOMEONE ELSE.]
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46 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2011
Christian Parenti is the son of the astute social-political commentator, Michael Parenti. The book's flashy title got my attention, but having now read the book I confess to being disappointed. I'm a student of global warming and feel it represents the most formidable challenge ever to confront humanity. Parenti, however, has hijacked the issue to set up a Leftist platform for social change. Though the key concepts of mitigation (causes) and adaptation are sound, Parenti trenchantly argues that previous cold war strategy with its counterinsurgency efforts in Third World countries has led to chronic destabilization. Additionally, unbridled corporate capitalism in concert with IMF, World Bank policy and NAFTA neoliberalism (i.e., advocacy of free trade and deregulation) have converged with climate change to create and exacerbate a spectacle of poverty, starvation, and mass flight. To adapt, Northern Hemisphere nations need not only to abandon carbon based fuels, but redistribute their wealth, deescalate their violence, and avoid "climate fascism" with its politics "based on exclusion, segregation, and repression." At times, his over-riding message gets thrown to the curb with its incessant attacks on neo-liberal economics. (Is the book about the climate crisis or an attack on neo-liberalism?)

To his credit, Parenti does provide a mind-boggling depiction of South Hemisphere nations and their dismal future. Like most environmentalists, however, he leaves a gaping hole in excluding the exponential population growth that plays a central role in environmental degradation and, while admitting to the corruption of many local regimes, treats them as symptomatic rather than causative.

One sided (where are the counterarguments?) in its employment of culled sources, repetitive, and saturated with incendiary rhetoric, the book kindles resistance. We are not going to solve the climate crisis by confrontational polemic. Books such as these only heighten the stereotypical view of the opposition that many caring environmentalists are simply closet Marxists. Parenti's cause is right, but he uses a blow torch rather than reasoned argument. The trick in persuasion is to get the other guy to listen, i.e, to show it's in his interest to listen. Less pathos! More logos!

Sample quotation: "The political economy of the world is unfair, and immigration is an increasingly challenging social issue that requires new policy--that is to say, climate adaptation based on social justice" (p. 215) "[and]. . .a formal agenda of economic redistribution on an international scale" (p. 226).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2014
As an avid reader of sustainability/environmental literature -- with my own discipline expertise in eco-history -- I felt this was among the very best books on the climate crisis I have ever encountered anywhere. Parenti's perspective is chilling, but convincing. The reporting is genuinely courageous, skilled, dispassionate, detailed, revelatory, and deeply frightening. Parenti's ability to weave a compelling human story (and detect convincing patterns) from the confusing "chaos" of global events and data sets is an intellectual tour de force of the first order. Given its focus on military and global security repercussions, there's even some hope that those still (somewhat) skeptical of climate change would find Parenti's rigorous, non-sentimental world-view more convincing than other competing books on the topic. That said, his analysis does offer realistic yet hopeful opportunities to the doomed "armed life-boat" strategies we are currently locked into.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2013
Given the limited time in one's life and endeavors, Christian Parenti has been able to deliver a realistic and holistic outlook towards climate change and geopolitical risk which is a must read for everyone, especially Economists, Political Risk Analysts and those who claim to be intellectuals. His book clearly outlines that what works in reality and what does not, especially how our economic system of growth basically excludes the facet of environment and how that leads to the instigation of violence in other parts of the whole who themselves have been victims of imperialism.
I seriously doubt if Mr. Parenti would be able to outdo himself after this classic and immortal masterpiece.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2015
Christian Parenti paints a bleak picture of the future and, what’s worse, is he backs it up with exhaustive and irrefutable research.

In his book, Tropic of Chaos - Climate Change and the new Geography of Violence, the author cites war, after famine, after natural disaster to point out that even today climate change is a contributing factor, if not the major one, in most human catastrophes around the globe.

And it will only get worse.

Parenti details how colonialism destroyed the natural order in many countries. When the colonizing powers left or were forced out it created a power vacuum. This vacuum was filled by corrupt leaders who were supported by one side or the other during the Cold War. Following the collapse of the Eastern block these kelptocracies became pawns of the neoliberalism bail out in the form World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans.

Crippled by debt, further hardships were placed on the populations, which has lead to civil unrest.

Add to that drought and famine and you have the perfect storm, or as Parenti has coined it, “a catastrophic convergence” of poverty, violence and climate change without any ability to mitigate the misery and suffering.

Current estimates suggest there will be between 25 million to 1 billion environmental refugees by 2050, people from the world’s urbanized coastlines and agricultural economies that have been displaced by increased storms, droughts, flooding, proliferation of pathogens and rising sea levels.

The Tropic of Chaos includes forty-six countries, home to 2.7 billion people, in which climate change interacting with economic, social and political problems will create a high risk of violent conflict.

In the face of rising migration the borders between the healthy, less impacted countries with functioning economies and these failing states are becoming hardened and militarized, or, as Parenti puts it, these governments are adopting the “politics of the armed lifeboat”, responding to climate change by arming, excluding, forgetting, repressing, policing and killing

But if climate change is allowed to destroy whole economies and nations, no amount of walls, guns, barbed wire, armed and aerial drones or permanently deployed mercenaries will be able to save one half of the planet from the other.

Parenti's solution to deal with this threat to the world as we know it is to say we need to transform humanity’s relationship to itself, transform social relations among people and develop new ways of containing, avoiding, and deescalating the violence that climate change fuels.

How likely is that?

Pogo was right, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 23, 2014
The book being reviewed is "Tropic of Chaos" and the author is Christian Parenti. I learned about the book watching the Chris Hayes evening news show on MSNBC. The news-worthy item was that the U.S. Armed Forces had just declared that global climate change was a major factor in their assessment of trouble spots. The author was brought on the show as a recognized expert to discuss the topic with Chris Hayes. As I continued to watch the program, the book magically materialized on my Ipad within a few minutes. What an age we live in!

Until I opened this book, I was under the impression that global climate change was years off into the future. It would only be a problem for my adult children and my grandchildren. Yes, storms, tornadoes, and hurricanes have seemed more severe in recent years, but did that prove any definite trends? I didn't realize that regions of the world are already experiencing the effects of major change and that their populations are already suffering from it. I was shocked to learn the devastation was already happening. The human cost of climate change is breakdown of government, mass migrations of desperate populations, civil strife and violence.

The author discusses region by region of the world and presents a solidly academic analysis of each zone. The northeast section of Africa is discussed at length. Drought and flash floods have added to the breakdown of civilization, which was already underway there. His analysis of the dynamics between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan helped me to see the problems of that area in a new light . The disputed region of the Kashmir, actually controlled by India is the source for the water essential to Pakistan's agricultural society. Changing weather patterns add to the preexisting problem of India's diverting of rivers. In Afghanistan, poppies are the sole profitable crop able to grow on the diminishing water. The U.S. policy is to destroy these poppy crops. Brazil has climate change problems that I never imagined. Finally, one of the reasons the U.S. has problems of immigrants crossing our border is due to droughts occurring in southern Mexico and Central America. Combined with the erosion of government due to the drug cartel, Mexico has serious problems.

Most of the world recognizes the seriousness of global climate change and want to combat it. Ironically, the country, which should be leading the fight is its biggest obstacle to progress. We are talking about the United States. The powerful oil and coal industries have mounted a campaign of disinformation and propaganda. Many politicians have been bought and paid for by their lobbyists. It isn't even possible to properly incentivize clean energy. If temperatures rise much higher, huge stores of methane hydrate in the northern zones will release great quantities of methane into the atmosphere. Methane is 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide to global warming. We seem to be on a disastrous path.

The information in this book is depressing to say the least. I hesitate to recommend it because of that. However, if you want the facts at your fingertips, this book will provide you with them.

Ralph D. Hermansen, November 23, 2014
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on December 6, 2013
This is an important book for showing the real-world complex connections and interactions between political, social, economic and environmental elements that are contributing to and resulting from climate change. It is a message to modern society – wake up – catastrophic convergence of environmental, economic, social and political breakdown in the world’s poorest and conflicted countries is happening. While we’ve been sleeping our governments have begun to deploy a response that if fully realised will see us living in police state conditions and violently repressing immigrants and climate refugees. All the while as a result of our myopic inaction, we will be suffering the extreme climate volatility that will characterise planetary decline if atmospheric temperatures continue to rise unabated.

Parenti illuminates the catastrophic convergence that is resulting from climate change and violence in failed and fragile states in the so-called “Tropic of Chaos” – the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America geographically located between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer. The countries that Parenti describes have extremely high poverty incidence. They are societies in which tradition and culture have been deeply ruptured, and which experience massive movements of population from rural to urban areas and trans-national labour migration, attributed by Parenti to the impacts of climate change that are already beginning to bite. The concomitant violence has its roots in the legacy anomie of colonialism, post-colonial militarisation and resulting accessibility of weaponry, the gross corruption of kleptocratic regimes, and the immiserating failure of neo-liberal economic re-structuring policies fostered by the IMF and the World Bank since the 1970s.

Parenti signals alarm about the devastating effects of climate change in countries that lack the stability, resources and state legitimacy to respond. He cautions the likely increase in global refugee populations – from estimated current levels to some 250 million to one billion people by 2050. Parenti critiques the emerging response to this convergence in the US, Europe and other developed economies that is characterised by counter-insurgency, militarism, and hardening of policy responses to the converging crisis. Tropic of Chaos concludes with an assertion that both the technology and financial resources to prevent catastrophic environmental destruction do exist already. What is lacking according to Parenti is political will in the dominant economies and a relegitimisation of the state’s role in the economy that could direct investment and government purchasing into clean and green technology.

Parenti deploys theoretical references in his critique and extensively cites climate data throughout Tropic of Chaos. He uses individual stories to give a sense of personal realism to a catastrophic global crisis. The accounts of small wars, cold war, insurgencies, counter-insurgencies and resource and drug violence are greatly detailed and to some extent divert the reader from the main idea expounded in the book, which is that the fall-out from climate change in the poorest, most populous and most fragile states will have massive population movement implications that the rest of the world has not yet realised and is in danger of responding to badly. This is the spectre of a police state in which personal freedoms are severely restricted and violent repression of immigrants is commonplace.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2013
Addressing less climate change per se than the human response to climate change, Parenti takes on the really important issue, and does so in a clear eyed and beautifully written manner. Must reading for all citizens of the planet.
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