Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley
by Stephan Faris
Henry Holt (2009)
Forecast is about historic and present day political, economic and health consequences of extreme climate disruption.
Farr begins by unpacking the Sudan civil war that began in Darfur in 2003. He makes a convincing case that decreased rainfall and desertification led to a bloody land war d between nomadic Arab camel herders and African farmers. He disputes that the conflict arose out of ethnic and religious differences, as the two groups shared the region harmoniously for hundreds of years until the climate changed.
He goes on to discuss studies comparing ice core findings to historical records. They conclude that all major European wars and Chinese dynastic changes followed major climate change.
Arctic Territorial Disputes
At the present time, the melting of Arctic sea ice has led to major border conflicts between countries eager to exploit the region’s vast mineral wealth. Tension is particularly high between Russian and Norway, Canada and Denmark and Canada and the US (over the border between the Yukon and Alaska). The opening of the Northwest Passage* to navigation for the first time in 2007 has led to an ongoing dispute whether these waters are Canadian territory or an international right of way, as claimed by the US.
International Alert predicts that forty-four countries are at risk of conflict (mainly over water rights) due to climate change. At the top of the list are India, Pakistan, China, Iran, Indonesia, Algeria, Nigeria, Somalia, Bolivia, Columbia, Peru and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Emergence of Epidemics
Faris’s section on the health consequences of climate change discusses the major epidemics that have emerged due to warmer, wetter weather patterns. This includes a big increase in malaria in Brazil and Mexico; in hantavirus, West Nile virus and Lyme disease in the US; ebola in Africa and in plague in Kazakhstan and India.
Ice core findings suggest the medieval Black Death (plague) in Europe was also triggered by climate change.
The Effect of Native American Genocide
The most interesting section of the book argues than human beings have been altering the climate, through deforestation, livestock husbandry and population explosions since the agricultural revolution. Climate scientists believe major deforestation in Europe started 7,500-8,000 years ago. Atmospheric carbon concentrations reached a peak during the Roman period and took a big dip (most likely due to depopulation) after Rome collapsed. They began to rise again in 1000 AD. Their sharp decline in 1500 coincided with a Little Ice Age characterized by brutally cold winters.
Faris agrees with William Ruddiman (Plows, Plagues and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate) who believes this steep drop stemmed from the decimation of Native American agricultural settlements (from genocide, smallpox, typhus, cholera and measles, diseases to which they had no immunity) in North and South America. Over two centuries, their population dropped from 50-60 million (one tenth of the global population) to five million. As they disappeared, forests and jungles, particularly in the Amazon, reclaimed the fields they had cleared for cultivation.
*The Northwest Passage is a sea through the Arctic Ocean, along the northern coast of North America via waterways through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It decreases the transit time from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean (compared to the Panama Canal) by four days.