[inaudible conversations] >> okay. i think we will get started. so good evening and welcome to politics & prose bookstore. thank you for joining us this evening. this is a nice crowd, and we thank you for being here at politics & prose and by doing so, supporting the bookstore and the events that we put on. and tonight for christian parenti's book, "tropic of chaos." we welcome here for that. so i do welcome you here on behalf of our two owners who are just recently bought the bookstore from barbara meade and carla cohen, so we were excited to have them onboard and all the booksellers here. so, again, a thank you and a welcome. and for those of you new to the store, i will just quickly go over the format tonight, and
that is that christian will talk about the book, read a little bit from it, and then we'll open it up to you for q&a which we look forward to. your input. and the one thing we ask is that if you just get to this microphone in the middle here, it will keep the talk audible. we're recording tonight, so we welcome you c-span audience as well. so when it comes time for q&a, we'll just field them from this microphone, and then afterwards we'll have a book signing up here. and that is how we'll go. usually a good idea to turn off your cell phones, and that will -- in a small space, the ring can kind of resonate. so, but again, welcome and just another thanks for being here. christian parenti, contributing editor at the nation institute, a visiting scholar at the sunni graduate center, here tonight to talk about his new book, "tropic of chaos." he's authored three previous
books including "lockdown america," and christian's books for available for sale at the front of the store this evening. the "tropic of chaos" is battered colonial states girding the planet's mid latitudes largely dependent on agriculture and fishing thus vulnerable to shifts in western patterns. the book is how climate change, droughts and floods and their impact on energy distribution, how they accelerate, how climate change accelerates existing civil and ethnic disputeses in this area. and that some of these conflicts in afghanistan, somalia, brazil, say, are not solely the result of jenin fighting or economic depravation or political disorder, rather, collectively they are made worse by climate
change in what christian calls a catastrophic convergence. his book is divided into four sections, three which deal with each region; africa, asia, latin america. and in examining the current and future impact of climate change in these regions, he has looked at the historical relevance of these places as well, the history of counterinsurgency, say, landownership, fallout from the cold war. and so we are very pleased to have him here at politics & prose to talk about it and happy to have you here participating as well. so please help me welcome to politics & prose christian parenti. [applause] >> um, thanks, thanks to all of you for coming out tonight. um, on a lovely summer evening. um, so -- and thanks for the kind introduction. and as was hinted at in the
introduction, the thesis of this book in a nutshell is that politics -- that climate change doesn't just look like bad weather, it also looks like ethnic violence, religious violence, civil war, banditry, counterinsurgency, xenophobic anti-immigrant policing. and what i try to do is tease out in these different situations the causality, the causal role of climate change. and i never argue that climate change is the sole driving force of violence in any one place. but that it is a contributing factor. and it always works in conjunction with pre-existing crises. the idea of the book came to me when i was reporting on, um, the her win economy in afghanistan -- heroin economy in afghanistan. and the farmers i would ask them why they would grow this illegal crop and running the risk of
that, of getting arrested, having their crops destroyed by the government. and part of the answer that came up again and again in different places over a series of years was, well, poppy is very drought-resistant. and at first i didn't know there was a drought in afghanistan. turns out that afghanistan is suffering the worst drought in living memory which has coincided with the whole nato project of nation building in afghanistan. and poppy uses one-fifth to one-sixth the amount of water that wheat requires. so given this drought, this very severe drought, the worst in living memory, it's really one of the only crops that's economically viable for farmers in afghanistan. so it occurred to me that along with all of the religious reasons one might have for joining the taliban or all the ethnic reasons one might have for joining the taliban, there was an economic motivation as well which was linked to climate change. because in the war there are two positions on poppy.
nato and the afghan government oppose it and attack it, frequently more often than not just in rhetoric because there's so much corruption that people can buy their way out of the eradication programs, but that doesn't mean that eradication isn't onerous for the farmer or a threat. and the other side, the taliban, defend the farmers' right to grow poppy. so in be -- in facing this drought and adopting to it through poppy, that is the side of the conflict that will defend the farmers' right to grow the one crop that's economically viable given the environmental crisis they face. people get confused about the taliban and poppy. um, they support poppy production when they were in power except for one year, the taliban, due to international pressure and also a sort of glut in the opium supplies. and for one year right before 9/11 they, in fact, eradicated
poppy. but they supported it historically, and they support it now. so with that in mind, i set out to try and find other examples of how this worked. and what happened again and again was it seemed to me that the, that climate change works through these pre-existing crises as i mentioned in different combinations in different places. those crises are fundamentally the military legacy of the cold war and the economic damage of radical free market economic policies that have been pushed by the world bank and imf upon the global south over the last 20 years. so the legacy of the cold war and neoliberal economic restructuring, you could say. the legacy of the cold war, in a nutshell, in much of the global south which was the site of the very hot proxy wars within the cold war is an oversupply of cheap weapons, a social fabric that has been ripped to pieces
by attacking civilian populations who have been dislocated from their original places and reconstituted, urbanized and networks of men trained in smuggling, assassinations, small arms tactics. these are either former gorillas or -- guerrilla as or former police and military or the former paramilitary set up by governments. and once the cold war was over, the detry us the of the cold war did not go away with it. there were still bands of armed men moving directions in one direction -- drugs in one direction. and the result is continuedinsurgency without a new cause or a real cause or just crime waves built upon this infrastructure. you see that in central america where the, um, the murder rate in places like el salvador,
nicaragua, guatemala and honduras frequently rivals the death toll of many years during the civil war. but there's no cause, there are no clear sides in a war, there's just this military hardware and leftover military training and society traumatized by war and all of this killing going on. so that's one legacy that has preset the stage in the global south for crisis. the other legacy of neoliberal economic restructuring, what is that? it's, essentially, a program of removing the state from economic activity. and it's important to remember that from the 1930s, really from the end -- particularly from the end of world war ii until the 1970s the prevailing ideas in development economics in the west about how to develop capitalist economies in the global south held that there should be a robust and important role for the state. there should be planning, there should be public investment and that the state was an important component of developing
capitalism. the ideas that are implemented by the bretton woods institutions, the world bank and the imf shift radically in the late '70s and early '80s and the idea is after that point that the state should be removed. so as the debt crisis occurs in the global south which, um, i could get into that in the q&a if you want, what caused that, the lifeline loans are extended to many economies in the global south that are trying to service these enormous debts that they have incurred. sometimes in the process of actually developing and industrializing their economies, and sometimes just borrowing cheap pet troll dollars -- petrol dollars and pocketing it. regardless, you have to privatize state assets, privatize airlines, utilities, the courts, deregulate, open your markets, no longer protect
your domestic industries or your farmers, withdraw state -- cut state spending on education and health care and infrastructure for the poor. and allow an upward redistribution of wealth, the idea being that the market solves problems, the state is a problem in and of itself, it should be removed. the effect of this is that many societies in the global south that have suffered this see rising inequality and rising poverty, increased poverty. but just as important as increased poverty is inequality. because sociologists know that it's not just depravation that causes instability, but relative depravation, and that instability could be religious or just criminal, but this idea of relative depravation is crucial for understanding how instability occurs, because people take violent and disruptive action either at at a personal level or collectively, politically more often than not
not just in response to their absolute suffering, but in response to their relationship to what could be, what was, what should be, what others have. so increased inequality in a society is very destabilizing. so these are the pre-existing crises in the global south into which now comes extreme drought punctuated by flooding, the key weather systems falling out of whack, the monsoons arriving too heavily, too early or not at all, the intertropical convergence zone, the weather system that generally regulates the rainy season in the ec what toarl region falling out of whack and climate change thus exacerbates this set of existing crises, and this combination of all three working together i call the catastrophic convergence. and it's important to put climate change in that context
because, as i said, it usually doesn't just look like big floods force people to move. it's, as you'll see from some of these examples, it's a little more subtle than that. so one of the first places i went in researching this was the horn of africa which we now see, you know, there are ten million people threatened with famine. so i was there two years ago, and there was the same drought was in effect. this drought has been going on for years and years. you know, like the better part of a decade. occasionally punctuated by a reasonable rainy season, but more often than not in kenya where i was punctuated by out-of-season flooding which just exacerbates the problem of drought. and interestingly, precipitation patterns in this kenya have been -- the overall level of precipitation over the last 20 years has increased, but the experience on the ground is generally one of drought because the pattern of the rain has
changed, and the rain is coming all at once violently, in floods rather than gently in a bimodal pattern of two rainy seasons that farmers in the kenya have traditionally counted on. so i guess i'll set that kenya part up by reading you some of the first pages of the book so you get a taste of kind of the flavor of the book. it begins with, um, the death of this one man. he lay beneath a flat-topped tree, its lattice work of branches cost a soft mesh of shade upon his body. he wore a silver earring and khaki shorts and lay on his side. the left side of his forehead was gone, blown away by the exit of a bullet. his blood formed a greasy black slick on the desert floor. his sandals, shawl and gun had been stolen. he had been a pastoralist.
he had been will killed the day before when a neighboring tribe launched a massive cattle raid. his corpse lay here on the ground exposed to the elements with goats and sheep browsing nearby because they do not believe -- they do not bury people killed in raids. they believe doing so is bad luck, and that it will only invite more attacks, so they leave their dead to decompose where they fall. but these supernatural precautions will not hold the enemy at bay for profound social and climate logical forces drive them forth. why did he die? what forces compelled his murder? he had been about 35 years old, age is usually just estimated. he had three wives, eight children and about 50 head of cattle. he had been an important and powerful man in his community, a wore your in his prime -- warrior in his prime, old enough to have plenty of experience and wisdom but still young and strong enough to fight for days on little food or water, and now he was dead.
we could say tradition killed him, the age-old tradition of stock theft, cattle raiding among the tribes of east africa. or we could say he was murdered by a specific man. or that he was killed by the drought. when the drought gets bad, the raiding picks up. or perhaps he was killed by forces yet larger, forces transcending the specifics of this regional drought, this raid, this geography and these cattle cultures. to my mind, while walking through the desert with the warriors scanning the hills for the war party it seemed clear that his death was caused by the most colossal set of events in human history, the catastrophic convergence of poverty, violence and climate change. this book is an attempt to understand his death and so many others like him through the lens of this catastrophic convergence. so in that case, you know, why did eccru die? well, the drought, obviously.
but why were people fighting so viciously? partly because the government had withdrawn, the kenyan government due to economic restructuring provides very little support for people like eccru or the warriors who came and raided his cattle. there are hardly any programs of drilling new wells, there are no real programs of introducing camels to replace the cattle and goats which are incapable of living in in this environment whereas camels would be more reasonable. there's no real support of any sort. so herders gather around what few wells remain. and why are the raids so violent? partly because there are so many weapons that are so cheap which are the direct result of the collapse of somalia, momentary collapse in uganda, the war in south sudan. and just in a nutshell, i mean, somalia's the main problem. there's no state in somalia, and there hasn't been since january of 1991, and it just hemorrhages
instability and weapons into the entire region. the story of somalia in a nutshell is that there was a socialist coup in somalia and ethiopia. the cubans and russians were trying to build unity between these two governments and supporting both of them, but there were local agendas, and the somali dictator was among many other things and most importantly, a nationalist, and he wanted to reunite the whole somali homeland part of which, if you buy this theory of a greater somalia, lies in ethiopia, the ogden region, a war that's still going on. so he launches a covert war against his erstwhile ally, ethiopia. this covert war spins out of control, becomes a conventional conflict. once he realizes that the cubans are actually helping the ethiopians as well as himself, he switches sides, and the u.s. and saudi arabia and pakistan start supporting him and pour
weapons into somalia while the cubans and the russians pour weapons into ethiopia. the net result is the collapse of somalia. the dictator refuses to let go until his army has disintegrated and somalia collapses and there's no government there. and, you know, neither side, neither side -- neither camp in the cold war thought that that would happen, nor was that the goal of either the ussr or the u.s., right? the cubans were there to create a socialist alliance and, you know, foment revolution to improve people's lives and raise the standard of living. carter supported somalia because he was defending against the threat of socialist dictatorships. best of intentions on both sides. the unintensed consequence was -- unintended consequence was the collapse of a state that has destabilized, probably permanently, destabilized the
whole region. so that's an example of how this climate crisis of drought works through these pre-existing problems. and what you have now in somalia -- in northern kenya is, essentially, a state of war. intercommunal warfare that involves cattle raiding, raiding traffic on the highways, cross-border raids by the military, constant presence by the paramilitary kenyan police who are in there with helicopters fighting these herders back and forth. the official numbers are that over 100 people have already died year, and i think that's probably about half the number because most of these deaths aren't registered. it's a state of war there, an undeclared war, social breakdown. an example of how climate change can create instability in a more industrialized country would be ceerg stand. not a country we think a lot about in the u.s., not necessarily important to the u.s. economy or u.s. politics.
very important place if you live there. and people might remember that in the spring of 2010, kyrgyzstan made news when the capital went up in flames, and there was this rioting between uzbeks. another government fell, another government came in and called for russian intervention, the russians widely declined. it all subsided, and it just looked like age-old animusties between young uzbek men and going after each other's communities. but really underneath it was another story. kyrgyzstan is a country that gets 90% of its electricity from hydroelectric dams, particularly one really large soviet-built hydroelectric dam. the same drought that has been punishing afghanistan for ten years caused the water levels in this dam, i think i'm probably mispronouncing that closely enough, to drop to the lowest level ever.
and that caused the government to start rationing power. once they started rationing power, industry had to lay people off. once unemployment goes up, consumer demand goes down, and there's further increase in unemployment. then on top of this drought and this power rationing comes a brutally cold winter in central asia. and in kyrgyzstan cattle herds are just freezing to death and dying in the fields, pipes are bursting in apartments, pensioners are freezing to death, there's further power rationing just as there's an increase in power demand. they shut down schools in most public institutions for two months. very serious crisis. ultimately, it results in more poverty, more anger, more unemployment and an increase in this population of unemployed young men who spend their time in casinos drinking and getting into trouble. then the government decides that they're going to reengage with a
previously stalled-out privatization program, and they're going to privatize the utility company. so to make the asset more attractive, they double the tariffs that people pay for power with a promise to double it again. and at that point people hit the street and are protesting about the standard of living and the economic crisis. due to this population of angry, frequently drunken young men, those protests have all been to this ethnic violence and animosity. so you see that beneath this ethnic violence is an economic crisis, and beneath that economic crisis is a climb that logical crisis, the drought and the freak winter. just a caveat. climate scientists are very clear about not blaming any one weather event on climate change, and i do that in my book. i don't say that any one of
these events is definitively caused by climate change. but what is clear is that there's a pattern that climate scientists have predicted for 20 years which is that as, from burning fossil fuels as co2 concentrations in the atmosphere increase, more heat is trapped from the sun, the temperature goes up, and there is an increase in climate logical chaos. that has been predicted, and that is coming to fruition. now, this storm or that storm, this tornado, you can't blame that level of specificity on climate change, but this pattern is unfolding, and it has been predicted for a long time, and it's coming to pass. another case study in the book is i india which is important in and of itself because it's such a crucial economy for the world
and for the region. and india has had a guerrilla insurgency since 1969. it began in the district of daughter squealing which is named for the tea or vice versa in west bengal. and for many decades this collection of maoist parties moan for the village where they started was contained largely in west bengal. but in the last 10-15 years they have advanced down the eastern coast of india along the eastern plateau. and you can look at maps, and it's very clear that at the same time what's happening is a drought has been extending down the eastern coast, and district by district where there is drought you later find this tribe showing up. and then the response of the
state is counterinsurgency and more violence. and the way that the tribe feed off of drought sort of passes through the cotton economy frequently, or at least where i did my research. and the situation there is that, again, economic liberalization which in india has actually been associated with high rates of growth though in latin america economic liberalization was associated with low rates of growth, but it has also been associated with increased inequality and absolute immiss ration of many of the countryside. so in the this area in india the farmers can no longer fall back on the sort of semisocialist supports that were the hallmark of congress' rule and development policy throughout much of the post-war era. since 1991 india has been withdrawing those supports. so now farmers have to borrow money on the private market from
money lenders. the environmental crisis is such that the money lenders don't even want the land as collateral, they'll only take crops as collateral. the only crop they'll advance money for is a crop that can't be eaten or stolen by the farmers in case of a crisis, so the only crop they will advance money for is cotton, increasingly gmo cotton. so the farmers borrow money to plant cotton. the more farmers are in debt, the more cotton is being planted, the more cotton is being planted, the lower the prices, the harder it is to get out of debt, the more they have to borrow money, etc., etc. and the drought, of course, is one of the key factors that makes the cotton crop fail or not come in sufficiently to pay off the debts. and people eventually leave the land, thousands have committed suicide in very, like, grimly
poetic way of drinking the actual pesticides used for the cotton. i think there's 2,000 people who have been documented committing suicide to escape their debts this way. across india it's possibly up to 200,000 people have done this. but other farmers commit themselves to committing political homicide, and they join the tribe who comes along into this crisis and say we have an explanation for this, we have a different social model we're going to offer you. you know, down with these companies that are selling you these gmo crops, let's pick up the gun, let's, you know, kill these money lenders, let's go after the government, let's have a revolution. and you get this increase in violence, and the state responds with classic counterinsurgency; targeted assassinations, detention, torture, um, and very problematically establishing private paramilitary forces to work in parallel with their police, paramilitary police units called the greyhounds.
this use of private paramilitaries is lahrly taken off -- particularly taking off in the north where this aukes auxiliary to the state forces has been, has somewhat developed autonomously and is nurtured by the state. which is very dangerous because the theory in the counterinsurgency is that, you know, the government can control these guys. but really what the history of doing that in counterinsurgency shows is that what the government is doing unintentionally is setting up future war lords. i mean, these people are criminals, and they are not really under the control of the government. and when the war's all wrapped up, it's very hard to get them to put down their guns and go back inside. and you see that in, um, particularly in colombia where the paramilitaries there were established to help government forces and then eventually become a force unto themselves that are beyond anyone's control and very crucial to the drug
trade there. so climate change mixed with bad economic policy triggers rebellion which then triggers further violence from the state. um, so the argument that i'm making is that, essentially, in the global south climate change creates state failure, revolution, rebellion, banditry, mass migration. in the global north it doesn't create that. that's not what the drought in texas is going to do. there's not going to be highway banditry as a result of that. but i think the way that climate change is encouraging violence in rich economies of the global north is by giving a new impetus to the incipient police states that are developing in a lot of economies. so there is now a further justification for border militarization. one more argument behind
anti-immigrant policing and a new emergency which is environmental to justify sacrificing our civil rights so that the police can round up foreigners and get rid of them. and this is very much part of the discourse down in arizona, places like that. people in phoenix, for example, they understand the situation in environmental terms. i mean, phoenix is a city that lives on borrowed time. it lives on borrowed water, and there are elements in the xenophobic right who explicitly articulate their desire to militarize the border further and round up immigrants in terms of the ethics of the lifeboat, sort of ethics of an armed lifeboat. there's an environmental crisis, there's a climatelogical emergency and your response has to be to repress and exclude foreigners. um, so that's not necessarily as violent or dramatic as social breakdown in the global south, but it's a form of violence.
i mean, we have 700 of the 2,000 miles on the border are locked down with metal and cement fencing, with surveillance cameras, motion sensors, the whole border's regularly policed by the u.s. military and national guard, the border patrol has the largest, um, nonmilitary air force in the world, they operate with military hardware. on any given night there are about 30,000 undocumented migrants in a largely-privatized immigrant detention system. they have no real rights because they haven't committed crimes, they've just entered the country illegally, and most of them are going to be deported without facing trial or anything. so there's, you know, very little participation from lawyers. so we have, you know, the kind of kernels of what one could imagine could become a very authoritarian, very brutal domestic response to a climate
emergency. the other way that we can see climate change provoking forms of violence within and from the global north is in the planning of the pentagon and the armed services who, to their credit, take the science of climate change very seriously. unlike a lot of people in the political class and within the u.s. government, the pentagon realizes that the intergovernmental panel on climate change, the u.n.'s main clearinghouse for climate science, isn't a joke. and if anything, it's very conservative in its findings. and they have produced scenarios for the future which generally don't see a massive increase in conventional warfare between states over resources, but more often than not predict an increase of civil conflict; mass migration, state breakdown, religious warfare, ethnic violence, rebellions, counterinsurgency, and they
realize that armed services are going to be called upon to respond increasingly over the coming decades to this. and so at the heart of that response is sort of an open-ended program of low intensity conflict, counterinsurgency on a global scale. which fundamentally, i think, won't work. and actually they, the military planners, generally agree. i mean, they generally say, you know, we can keep the lid on -- we can keep a lid on a planet in crisis for just so long. but if there isn't radical reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, then all bets are off. because, just a little science caveat for those of you who maybe don't follow this as closely, there have been some key and very disturbing findings in if climate science in if just the last 20 years -- in just the last 20 years. one that climates -- the main -- in the mid 1990s there was an important event in climate science which was the final extraction of ice core samples
from the greenhouse ice sheet where they were able to, essentially, as you would read with the tree rings, they had a year by year record of, basically, 10,000 years of the climate. they saw that definitively co, the concentrations in the atmosphere before the industrial revolution had been stable around 280 parts per million. they then started going up with the industrial revolution. they're now at 390 parts per million. scientists believe that after 350 part per million you enter a danger zone where there can be positive feedback loops that essentially make climate change self-propelling. so, um, a primary example of this would be the melting of the perm a frost in the arctic underneath of which is a massive store of methane, 20 times more powerful than co2. if perm a frost meltses and all that methane comes out, that will accelerate climate change radically, accelerate global
warming in a way that civilization can't deal with. right now the main cause of global warming is our mission, so we can deal with that. it's not nature throwing out greenhouse gases, it's us producing greenhouse gases, so we can control that. but that might not last -- that might not be the case for that much longer. the other thing they discovered was that the climate system doesn't change gradually necessarily, that it actually can change quite suddenly. and this had been sort of a fringe position in the 1980s, the idea that climate regimes like the beginning and end of ice ages maybe didn't take hundreds of years to stop and start but actually happened in a matter of decades, that sea level rises went up and down actually quite radically within a few decades. and through the exact record provided by the ice core samples, they saw that, in fact, there have been these radical, quick switches in climate regimes. so the belief now is that the causes of climate change build
up, and the effect lag and then kick in all at once. a helpful way to think about it maybe is the way earthquake work, right? i mean, these two plates are pressing against each other. the pressure, the cause of the earthquake builds and builds and builds and builds, but there's no earthquake. and then the effect of the pressure, the movement of the plates, kicks in all at once as an earthquake. so the climate system may, in fact, work like that which means it's, you know, very, very important that we reduce emissions. so we have to both adapt to the amount of climate change we're locked in for, and adaptation is both technical and social. i mean, it involves building seawalls to protect cities, coming up with new technologies for farming in extreme climates, but it also means reshaping social relations so that that technology can be adapted by people and used effectively. and all of that adaptation is predicated on radical mitigation, that we have to really reduce carbon emissions
by 80% over the next 20, 30 years starting now if we're to avoid these dangerous tipping points. and to their credit, the military generally ends their reports with saying that. i know we're -- i don't want to go on too long with the talk, but i'll just give you some suggestions so as to not leave you on a complete downer of a note. the, you know, despite -- there's a lot that could be done, um, by this country which is probably the most important country in dealing with this because we're the biggest economy and, you know, we can move policy at a global level. even despite the crazy situation that obtains here in this town where the republican party doesn't believe in the science, where it's very nearly impossible to get any kind of reasonable legislation passed, the first two years of the obama administration saw millions of dollars wasted pursuing
legislation that if it had passed would have been scientifically inadequate but didn't pass anyway. but there's actually a lot that could happen today. the epa, for example, has the obligation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. this is the result of green groups suing, begin anything the 1990s -- beginning in the 1990s after the clinton administration signs the kyoto protocol and the senate won't ratify it, people start saying, wait a minute, we already have enabling legislation to cut carbon emissions. the clean air act stipulates if emissions are dangerous to human health, then the epa has to regulate those emissions. so after ten years of legal struggle, the supreme court said, yes, that's right, the epa has an obligation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions like co2. they are harmful to human health. bush ignored it. and now the obama administration's beginning to issue rules based on that rule,
based on that fact. and so far the rules have been very tepid and weak. there are about 30 more rules, 17 o 0 specific policy things. it gets very detailed in terms of things like what types of gases in which places, the age of a smokestack, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. but this is something that's happening. now, if epa were really robust and brave in implementing these rules, it would essentially impose a carbon tax. it would say you're free to burn coal, but if your smokestacks are dirty, you're going to pay these fines. and those fines would, essentially, force the closing of these plants, or it would raise the price of the power produced by them. that would help mean clean energy more cost competitive and would help drive private investment towards the clean tech sector. another thing that could happen right now today without lining up any republican votes or getting any more money or any subsidies or anything would be to use government purchasing
power to jump-start clean technology. the state and federal governments in the united states constitute more than one-third of the u.s. gdp. the federal government has the largest fleet of vehicles in the country, it has the largest fleet of buildings in the country, it's a largest single energy consumer in the country. and it's going to buy vehicles, and it's going to buy electricity for its buildings regardless of whatever. so it might as well use that money that it is going to spend in a way that helps build alternatives. it should buy clean power, buy electric vehicles, retrofit its buildings to reduce their consumption, maybe when possible make buildings into net contributors of energy to the grid. that would be good in and of itself. it would reduce the carbon footprint of the federal government, but it would have important knock-on effects because it would create economies of scale for the clean tech sector which is currently stuck. it doesn't have markets, it can't buy its supplies in bulk and, therefore, cheap enough. and if federal government
provided a market through its consumption, many of these clean tech firms would be able to compete directly with the dirty tech alternatives to close, and they would close the price gap between, you know, gasoline cars and electric cars, power from coal and power from windmills. and once that price gap is closed, then a lot of the private sector will begin adopting clean technology and clean energy for simply economic reasons. so that's something that can happen right now without having to deal with the insanity that is so much of politics in d.c. and so that, i hope, is hopeful. and on that note, i will, um, take your questions. [applause] should i call on people, or -- >> that's okay. i'm going to have people get to the microphone. we're recording this so -- >> it sounds like a wonderful book, brings together a lot of stuff.
a good thing that the greenhouse gas case got to the supreme court before the current supreme court was constituted. but my question is about china. china is sort of half north and half south. how is it affected by climate change, and how do you think it's responded? >> well, china is suffering severe drought which is, you know, fits the pattern that's linked to climate change. and we all know that china burns coal and is a major polluter. it's recently overtaken the u.s. as the single largest polluter. but there has been progress in recent years in china, and they have embraced clean technology and are taking the lead in wind power in particular and solar and electric car development. and a lot of the reason for that isn't high-minded concern about climate change. a lot of it has to do with the local crisis of air pollution in china which is very intense. i mean, in the u.s. i believe that the air quality index when
it gets above 50, you get a warning. when it gets above 100, children and older people are urged to stay inside, and we're urged not to drive. in beijing they go hundreds, you know, hundreds or more days at a time where the air quality index is over 500, and that same condition exists in other major cities, and china's full of huge cities that have horrendous, unbreathable air. so partly in the response to that crisis, they're trying to close down dirty coal plants and make a shift. and they have a certain advantage which is, you know, that they don't, you know, when the leadership makes a decision, it is implemented. of course, there's the problem of corruption at the provincial level, and so there's a real disconnect between the central government's agenda and what happens at the provinces. >> but are they trying to keep water from countries further down the rivers? the rivers originate in the mountains and go through china, and china can put in big dams so that the water stops in china
and doesn't move down to vietnam and thailand and wherever it goes. >> yes, they are, to some extent. i don't know the specifics about treaties between china and other countries. i mean, most of the rivers that are being dammed and moved are within china, they exit to the sea within china. i mean, that's part of what controlling tibet is about. the same thing is going on with india and pakistan. i mean, one of the key elements in the conflict between india and pakistan -- which expresses itself as terrorism like the bombing in mumbai and pakistani intelligence agencies' support for the taliban in afghanistan -- pakistan using asymmetrical assets to counterrer india. that -- counter india. india sits on the head waters, the glaciers that are the headwaters of the basin from which pakistan gets 90% of its water, and it's one of the driest countries in the world. and as the glaciers melt more
rapidly, india's building dams, and the political wing of lash car eye today i didn't believe by, one of their slogans now is water flows or blood. so sort of a related issue in terms of dams in central asia. >> hi. um, thank you for this book. i think it's a good addition to what we need to hear. my question is could you talk a little about the issue of fear versus education? what i mean by that is we still don't have leadership that's educating, certainly, americans as to what we face in terms of catastrophic climate change, tipping points and so on. we don't have leadership that says if we don't do this by a certain date, it may be too late. so americans in general -- not this room, but in general are
pretty complacent about the danger that we face. so there's been an argument lately among the environmental groups about how much do you inform people of the dangers that are coming versus educate them because you don't want them to be afraid and give up? my point is that while we humans don't deal very well with anticipating crisis, we sort of react afterwards -- katrina, tsunamis, we could use all kinds of examples where we didn't prepare well enough -- this is one we may not get a second chance, is what you're saying. so the question is, how do we deal with the fact that the general public is not being adequately led, and the movement of people in the world is still, while it's growing, is not yet ready to say this is a demand, we've got to do something about it now? >> um, well, first of all, you know, 56 according to a pew poll, at the height of concern about climate change 67% of people thought it was a serious
problem and we had to take action. then the koch brothers get involved, exxonmobil which has been funding climate denial for decades, also funding this stuff and there's this big pushback from the fossil fuel industry after 2007, and the number of people who take this seriously goes down. but it's still at 56% which is a lot. i mean, that's a majority. a lot of policy gets passed without that level of popular support. so, um, i think if there were -- i think one thing that can happen is that education and action can happen simultaneously. so the sear rah club and green piece and the -- green peace and the local organizations in if appalachia have this very successful anti-coal campaign that involves an array of contacts from lobbying to maas mobilization to suing companies to direct action sit-ins on smokestacks and on mountaintops
that are going to be blown up for mining coal. and this has succeeded in closing over 100 coal plant that were scheduled to be built. so if action like that can get more publicity, that is simultaneously addressing the problem and, hopefully, educating people. so, i mean, i think it's important that education happen while addressing the problem directly. and, um, in terms of, i mean, how to educate people about this, i mean, if i had a special set of tactics, i would have written a book about it, but, i mean, i don't really know what to do other than the kinds of things that are being done already. and it is an important problem, but, i mean, i don't have a special kind of angle on how to deal with that. >> i came up with a term which may help. it's a circle, you know, with a stop sign with the letter c3 inside meaning prevent catastrophic climate change.
so anyone is willing to welcome to borrow it. [laughter] >> sounds good. >> hi. yeah, i've been involved in the movement against mountaintop removal mining, and i would encourage other people since it is, coal is still the number one source of greenhouse gases, it is the place closest by this area where coal ec traction or any kind -- extraction or any kind of fossil fuel extraction is going on. it only takes five, six, seven hours to get down there. it's worth checking out just to see firsthand what's going on. yeah, and it has been, you know, just over the last six years, basically since people started doing direct action, basically, when they did the mountain justice summer campaign six years ago which kind of snowballed, encouraged outside people to come in the, mostly young college students, a number of whom stuck around and are establishing relationships with the local communities.
and, of course, you know, it's not having the kind of large, dramatic effect that we'd like, but it is going somewhere. but i guess i'd like to ask a couple provocative questions. one is, you know, if you really look at what's going on in terms of the more, the more we have to go after more extreme methods of getting all these different fuels whether it's oil or tar, sand in the canada, mountaintop removing, on down the line because all of these are sources where the rate we're using them up are getting scarce so we have to accelerate and intensify the use, the extraction methods. and seems that the lock that corporations have on the political system and there doesn't seem to be any way to really shake that loose, so the way i look at it is kind of everything, it's all possible solutions that we propose are
equally utopian is how i put it right now whether it's, you know, revolution, whether it's reform. it's all, basically, the field's open. so cowe need -- do we need to actually think just at the theoretical level about, like, deindustrialization, that perhaps, like, continuing this industrial revolution which seems to have such dire results -- >> well, there's, there is an element on the left, environmental left that almost embraces climate change as a solution to the other problems that are associated with it of overconsumption and inequality and welcome it as a method of deindustrialization and imagine that after the collapse there will be a more just society. i don't subscribe to that -- >> i didn't talk about collapse, i said deindustrialization -- >> you didn't talk about -- >> practical deindustrialization. >> but i don't think that, i mean, i think -- i think
decarbonization is hard enough, right? so that's the first thing that has to happen. and the, if we manage to decarbonize our economy, we have not solved the environmental problem, right? i mean, there are so many other associated environmental problems. but the time frame on climate change what with us being at 390 parts per million when the tipping points very well may be at 350 means we have to deal with carbon emissions immediately in this society with these institutions. and if we don't, i think we run the risk of a catastrophic collapse down the line. um, but to continue with what i was saying, you know, to those who embrace the crisis, there's a type of catastrophism in certain elements of the left. i mean, i think that is, unfortunately, misguided. i don't think that if this society collapses due to environmental crisis, that what
will follow it will be conducive to any kind of progressive social change. and i say that because i've been to places where there has been state collapse, and there is zero space in failed states for women's rights, for collective, um, mobilization by poor people. when there's no rule of law, it's rule of the gun, and progressive politics goes out the window. so i think, um, that a realistic but most difficult, i mean, difficult enough task is decarbonization. in terms of, you know, deindustrialization, that's a whole set of other questions that, you know, may have to be addressed. but we don't, we don't even yet have -- we're not even sure we have the time to deal with that yet if we don't deal with the climate crisis first. >> i think what we'll do is take two more from the mic, and can then we'll wrap up. >> okay. >> hi. i'm from the state of -- [inaudible] that you mentioned. i'm kind of interested to know
how long you were in india and whether you got a chance to talk to any state officials regarding their line of thinking about climate change and whether there is any hope moving forward. >> i, i spent about six weeks in india, and my impression, i didn't talk to people who were dealing specifically with, like, climate mitigation. i talked to climate scientists, i talked to state officials about the insurgency and kind of development strategies at a more local level. um, my impression is that the political class in india has only recently begun to take this seriously in part because there's so many other pressing issues that they're dealing with. but that some of them are now taking this seriously and getting up to speed on the science and starting to think about how to deal with this and participating in the
international discussions through the u.n., fccc about coming up with a successor agreement to kyoto. but what i was told was that the political class, until very recently, was, you know, thought this was a rich person's problem. the environment is for people in the west to think about, and we've got this crisis of poverty, and we need to develop, and that's the issue. but now they're seeing that the whole agenda of development might be scuttled by climate change, and so some of them are taking it seriously increasingly. >> wrap up with you. >> i've got a question. why is it that scientists involved with global warming don't seem to be accepting the fact that nothing really is going to be done until one of these tipping points is reached? so what they should be concentrating on exactly what that tipping point will be, when it will occur and what we can do when it finally happens. and the second question is, i had another one, from your
travels. when did you -- where would you anticipate that a mass migration based on, because of starvation triggered by global warming, where do you think that's most likely to occur? >> >> well, to take your questions in reverse order, we're already seeing a mass migration out of somalia into kenya which is linked to the drought, and, i mean, it's already happening. there are people migrating from the countryside throughout mexico into the cities and then north and in brazil people are migrating from the countryside to cities, that's the first chain of migration is usually not out of one's country, but from the countryside to a city. bangladesh, obviously, very paymently is threatened by sea -- very famously is threatened by sea level rises, and already people from bangladesh are going into india. india has militarized the border with bangladesh, and that's going to be a site of crucial conflict around migration caused by climate change because you have a muslim population on one
side, a hindu-dominated multicultural society in india, and particularly a hindu right that really does not like muslim migrants. so that's a site of potential conflict. in terms of why climate scientists aren't making more of tipping points, i think they are arguing that tipping points are crucial, and that's why they're arguing for radical mitigation -- >> but they did, they're talking about doing things now, but they're not really looking at when they will occur. in other words, planning now -- >> for how to adapt, you mean? >> >> no, planning now for a world after one of these tipping points are reached. except, in fact, nothing's going to be done until something big happens, and they'll look back 20 years from now and say, gee, we should have been planning for this. >> well, take james hanson, for example. in his latest