A thoroughly well founded, detailed research document detailing the consequences for the world of impending climate change.
Written by an academic it is not an easy read but then it is not intended to be in either style or content. Nevertheless I found it compelling and though at times I felt I did not want to learn more, I could not stop reading it. The subject matter and conclusions are logically presented and make uncomfortable, bleak and chilling reading. This book has changed the way that I will approach the future, confirming vague unformed notions that I already held. Few do that.
For me, it highlights the futility of individual actions. It demonstrates a clear, urgent need for concerted effort by all governments and a greater, more public understanding of what, unavoidably now, is going to happen to the world and its occupants in the not too distant future. Hence my title for the review.
If you read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy straight after this gloomy tome you'd be forgiven for digging a big hole in the ground and hiding there for the rest of your life, such is the grey picture it paints of our future. Whilst "The Road" is a fictional account of impending social meltdown, this book details how we are heading there. And it does it convincingly. Car sharing and recycling rubbish make us feel like we are doing our bit for the planet, but in the face of mass industrial poisoning that's all it does. This book doesn't pull any punches and offers clear examples from the past of how easily we embrace violence when confronted with the real or - more often than not imagined - threat to our survival. Harald Welzer demonstrates clearly how our dwindling resources are already paving the way for a bleak and bloody future and how quickly we are running towards it. Read it and pass it on. Preferably to a politician.
on 27 September 2012
This book isn't an easy read, partly due to it being an academic tome, but also because it's really rather worrying subject matter. There is a lot of logic and truth in its pages, with not much hope of us avoiding these things happening. A sad taste of things to come, but a really rewarding and eye opening read.
on 23 September 2012
This is a very intelligent assessment of the climate change problem issue and a good solid analysis of where it is going to take us globally in the next couple of decades.
It has to be said the book is more of a 'serious' political and socio-economic analysis of climate change and its societal consequences than the rather sensationalist title suggests; there is little in the way of specifics with regard to the shape and detail of future flash points, but it's no worse for that and if it's potential, militaristic' scenarios you are interested in, a good companion to this book would actually be Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats.
However this book is more broadbrush and comes up with some excellent, if startling conclusions. For example, climate change will, as we currently understand it, ironically not have too much of an adverse effect on the advanced countries of The North. The brunt of climate change catastrophes will, inevitably, be felt by the already poor societies in the world. At the end of this book, as a pampered westerner, you cannot fail but feel very uneasy at the injustice of this; we effectively rape the South, then sit back as it gets kicked in the teeth again by climate change. Perhaps it's not really God who's looking after us after all, but good old satan.
That doesn't mean of course we won't have huge problems to deal with ourselves in this new, climate ravaged century; there are going to huge migrations of people and, as we are already seeing, growing levels of inequality in our own societies which may well develop into our own internal problems of civil unrest and the imposition of Police States- so there's far from any reason to feel safe and cosy just yet. This book charts those pressure points as the North and South of the planet build up more and more friction between themselves, and it makes at times for a chilling but very thought provoking read.
The book describes how the fight for basic resources to live caused by climate change will create many future deaths and have a terrible cost in war. This maybe true and probably will happen but not as it did in the past. The author talks of the genocides of Empire in Africa. As he is a German author he picks the German example but he could have picked the British and the Boers, Zulus and Mau-Mau, the US and the Native Americans, the Belgians in the Congo. So the list goes on.
Welzer provides an excellent analysis of the impacts of climate change on society and the political landscape. This is a much more direct view of what Norbert Elias called our inertia to do something. This is a much more direct view than Giddens (who calls the inertia the Giddens paradox with his usual modesty). Like Giddens, Welzer identifies that climate change is something that spans generations and so those responsible will not be the ones who have to solve the crisis. This leads to problems of identifying solutions and actually acknowledging that there is a problem. Giddens is slow and ponderous here the threat is much more real and the immediacy. We will all lose and this is a wake-up call. Even the protected western world that can adapt will lose in terms of freedoms and sense of security. We are already losing freedoms because of the threat of terrorists and this will just be exacerbated.
The current climate crisis has made us return to the more negative side of human aspirations, we are becoming more insular and insecure - there are actions we can take and things we can do, we can be more generous and embracing as humans. If the world had statesmen then I would feel more positive but with the current state of world politics I do not see there is anyone with the ability or credibility to make anything happen and so we are sleep-walking into disaster, pretending it is not there.
It should be on the reading list for any course on sociology and politics of climate change as it provides probably the most realistic, if most depressing view of what the future holds.
on 30 July 2012
The principle behind this book is that during the 21st century more and more wars will take place due to climate change, and this is already happening (eg. Darfur). As a topic in itself, this is a very interesting read, studying the impact of population migration due to climate change and the resultant social impact on both the migrating population and the population which receives the influx. The book covers the split between the differences between the populations causing climate change and the populations which are forced to migrate as a result, and there are suggestions of what needs to be done to avoid the seemingly inevitable outcome.
The book is easy to follow, and the evidence provided for the claims appears reasonable as far as I was concerned. From that perspective I enjoyed this book and feel I understand the subject matter better. However, although I understand the relevance of social action and social history for this book, I was put off by the continuous reference to the Holocaust. I could see the relevance from the perspective of a population in some way choosing to ignore what was going on around them but it was too central a theme - personally I don't see how the question of whether Hitler had died earlier or whether a mass migration project had taken place has much relevance in a book about climate change.
The book is quite Germany-centric, which is understandable given the author is German and the book was originally written in German. I felt it was very well translated although I was a little surprised (more lack of knowledge on my part than a criticism) that there are quite so many groups and organisations in Germany studying this subject matter.
With a title like "Climate Wars", the book was never going to be a laugh a minute read, but right from the beginning of this interesting, but gloomy, read, we are bombarded with an introduction to the history of violence (references to e.g. the Holocaust, Rwanda, Vietnam, Hiroshima) and concepts such as infectious diseases, food crises, breakdown of protection systems, soil degradation, resource shortages, extreme weather, climate refugees....... and the list goes on! And I must admit that I was close to giving in after the first chapters as it was all just a bit much for a recreational read, but I persevered - and was rewarded with a convincing and, I think, important contribution to an issue that we can ill afford to ignore about how climate can and most likely will influence and escalate future global conflicts.
The author stresses several times in the book that war is never monocausal and therefore "there are no "pure" environmental conflicts, only ones in which several different factors are present" but along with faith and class, he sees climate as one of the most explosive factors. He suggests that climate change has inherent risks and that it's not nature, but humans, that will face the consequences. People need access to water, arable land and other resources and will go to extremes to protect or seize it. As these resources run out, the potential for conflict increases.
There are too many sub-arguments about how war is made as well as environmental and geo-political facts to support his ideas to go into more detail in this review, but as mentioned before I think it is an important read and one that is easy - if depressing - to follow, and I would hope that it catches the politicians' attention as well!
on 22 May 2012
Among other things, Polity are quietly publishing book translations that deal with serious subjects for the educated layman to read.
This one, entitled `Climate Wars' is a bit misleading, for the book is about how possible causes of war in the 21st century can arise from the effects of climate change, not wars about climate per se, there's a subtle difference; the book's sub-title `Why people will be killed in the 21st Century' acknowledges this.
Naturally it paints a pretty dim picture; not many of us believe we're heading for happier times later this century, what with the imminent (in cosmological terms) depletion of natural FINITE fuel resources, the advancing despoliation of the Earth itself by man, not to mention our effect on climate change due to the production of greenhouse gases. Some think that if we don't kill ourselves then God/aliens/a supercomputer that comes to rule the earth/a direct hit from a huge asteroid, or some other unknowable force will.
So what will happen when water/food shortages arise as a result of climate change and `climate refugees' from poorer countries go off in search of sustenance from richer nations? Or, how about when civil wars break out in Africa/Asia/South America for the same reasons? Well let's not kid ourselves, with a world population currently set at around seven billion people, our resources are being pretty much stretched to the limit now, never mind as this figure inevitably climbs.
Are these bleak scenarios inevitable? Well, it's not all doom and gloom; Herr Welzer does offer options of how we can save ourselves. But it's going to be a long, hard road that will involve difficult decisions being made - by both the west and the less affluent nations. We're all in it together.
The author is a German social psychologist and has chosen to write in fields both inside and outside his discipline in this book. Read it if you want to find out what I mean by this.
`Climate Wars' is thought provoking and, at times, downright scary in its implications. This intelligent examination is very worthy of YOUR reading time. However, don't read the thing too near to bed-time or you may find it difficult to sleep.
** If I may be permitted a bit of frivolity, I must admit to laughing when I read the following on the book's inner flap: "Harold Welzer shows how climate change and violence go hand in hand" and thought; 'Yep, how many times have I wanted to go and lamp the neighbour because it was chucking it down?' **
This is a brilliant book that details the socio-economic forces that cause wars and the reasons why so many people have a vested interest in allowing them to continue. I found it a rather disturbing read and it certainly shattered a few illusions I held about the notion that nobody wants war and given the chance everyone would rather choose peace. In fact, as Weltzer makes clear, quite a few people want wars and are quite happy for them to continue indefinitely.
It also holds up a mirror to our own values. We may feel that poor countries should be lifted out of poverty and we may salve our consciences by donating to Third World charities but in the final analysis, which of wants to lower our own standard of living to raise theirs? In a resource hungry world, this is a problem we'll have to face in the coming years and it's why wars will probably be inevitable.
The honest answer to the question in the title of this book is, "for the same reasons as they were in the 20th century." I rather get the feeling that this is the view of Harald Welzer but, when he presented his book for publishing, some whiz-kid of the publishing world decided that it needed spicing up. The climate change aspects of this book feel as if they have been tacked on afterwards: of course, it goes without saying, that, if tensions are high in a certain area and then, climate change decimates the living standards of one, or even sides, the result will not be good. This does not mean that changes in temperature, or rainfall, will cause a new World War; indeed, as Mr Welzer is quick to point out, the Western World is likely to come out of climate change rather well. It is the Third World which will suffer, once more.
One may think that, if the main tenet of the book is not proved, then the reading thereof would be a waste of time. In this instance, I would suggest this to be incorrect. I found much to educate myself upon the reasoning of warring factions, and the human mind set in general. I was particularly fascinated by the author's chapter upon the topic of 'shifting baselines'. I will not try to explain same here, but as I read this section, I was struck by that feeling one gets when reading something which one, sort of knew already, but had not formulated into a solid idea
I am not a great reader upon the subject of war and so, perhaps the wiser amongst you will already be more aware of the data concerning American attitudes to civilians in Vietnam: Mr Welzer explains their callous attitude to fellow human beings, and also those of the German people during the Nazi era, in a way which does not excuse, but equally does not simply vilify those whose actions are not acceptable to us. I found that his reasoning provided the best, most understandable, explanation that I have come across. If we do not comprehend, but merely scorn those who do not think in ways that we find acceptable, we leave the door open for such regimes to be re-born. The book would have been worth the read just for this, but I found much more to commend it to me and I now commend it to you.