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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Global Warming Spurs Genocide in Darfur

Global warming has many consequences. We know that it will create crises and, where there's a crisis, there's often conflict. As resources become scarcer, people begin to fight over them. Wars over food and water will be fought, often under the pretext of other claims. No one will admit to going to war to steal water or food, anymore than the Bush administration will admit the war in Iraq is all about oil.

Given this, I should be less surprised to see an op-ed from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon explaining that climate change is the driving force behind the genocide in Darfur.

He opens his piece with some good news, that 'Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir accepted a plan to deploy, at long last, a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.' It's certainly a step in the right direction. Secretary Ban then explains the situation in Sudan.

Sudanese refugee
Two decades ago, the rains in southern Sudan began to fail. According to U.N. statistics, average precipitation has declined some 40 percent since the early 1980s. Scientists at first considered this to be an unfortunate quirk of nature. But subsequent investigation found that it coincided with a rise in temperatures of the Indian Ocean, disrupting seasonal monsoons. This suggests that the drying of sub-Saharan Africa derives, to some degree, from man-made global warming.

It is no accident that the violence in Darfur erupted during the drought. Until then, Arab nomadic herders had lived amicably with settled farmers. A recent Atlantic Monthly article by Stephan Faris describes how black farmers would welcome herders as they crisscrossed the land, grazing their camels and sharing wells. But once the rains stopped, farmers fenced their land for fear it would be ruined by the passing herds. For the first time in memory, there was no longer enough food and water for all. Fighting broke out. By 2003, it evolved into the full-fledged tragedy we witness today.

As I said, wars over resources will have other pretexts -- in this case, racism and the fact that people in Darfur supported rebels. It's not much of an excuse, but Sudan's been able to claim that the Janjaweed operate on their own. However, everyone knows that they've been supported by the government.

See, you can look at a drought two different ways, either there's not enough water or there's too many people. If you can't do anything about the water, it's pretty easy to do something about the people. You just find the people at the bottom of the societal ladder and get rid of them. Genocide has a way of thinning out excess population.

It's not hard to come up with a reason to commit genocide. The reasons for the genocide committed in Kosovo can be traced back to a battle the serbians lost in the 1300s. Hate has a long, long memory. If you need something to spur people to support ethnic cleansing, you'll be able to find it. Any historic insult or humiliation will do. And, if the people are already in crisis, then it's just that much easier.

If climate change continues unchecked, the entire world will be in crisis. Darfur won't be an oddity, it'll be the norm. As resources become scarce, people will begin to think in terms of who 'deserves' what. Those who took the wrong side in the middle ages, who sold out to colonial powers, who practice that heathen religion, or who fought that civil war long, long ago won't deserve food and water as much as the true citizens. They'll be portrayed as taking food from the mouths of children. The monsters who brought the drought and famine will be erased. The thieves will see their victims as thieves and their genocide as justice.

We tend to see ourselves as outside of nature. We believe we aren't animals and that 'the environment' means that place we visit on the weekends. We make up classifications like 'wild' and 'civilized' as if we can create two different worlds. People think environmentalism is about squirrels, not cities or nations.

But we aren't outside of our environment and the changes in the eco-system affect us in ways that may not be readily apparent. Humans are the political animal and the effects of climate change will have political ramifications. War is just a sort of shortcut politics -- where reason and persuasion takes time, force is immediate.

This is the future we face if we don't get a handle on this. Darfur as the world. Desperate people do desperate things and desperate things usually aren't all that pleasant.


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