The politics of climate change

By Alan Hustak on February 11, 2010

Global Warring:  How Environmental, Economic and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map, by Cleo Paskal,  Key Porter Books,  288 pp. $32.95.

Everyone in the non-stop debate on climate change has an opinion, but how much consideration has been given to the potential  seismic shift  in international diplomacy  that can be attributed  to  global warming?  What happens to nation states, to the realignment of political boundaries, and to shifting corporate interests as we become even more dependent on fossil fuels, and as forests disappear, farmland is exhausted and sources of fresh water evaporate?   This month, Veteran Quebec journalist  cleo.jpgCleo Paskal  raises the ante in the debate with  her book, Global Warring, which makes the  powerful argument that the map of the world as we know it  is about to be redrawn as resource rich countries try to protect their natural sources of energy  and others  aggressively  try to secure new ones.    “As pressure is put on food, water supplies and national boundaries, famine and war may become more frequent,”  she writes,  “This instability may make populations more tolerant of autocratic governments, especially nationalist capitalist one...China and Russia already have a head start on this model.”
 Clearly intrigued by the what she calls “the new global ordering,”  Paskal says the collapse of the UN’s climate change summit in Copenhagen, is evidence of the dynamics of shifting geopolitics. She finds that disconcerting.  “Copenhagen certainly wasn’t about climate science. From the western point of view it was about the establishment of climate markets, about ways of setting up mechanisms to create financial instruments around carbon trading systems and other climate related financial issues.  From the Chinese and the Indian point of view it was geopolitics.”  As she wrote  for UPI Asia,  following the conference,  “It is not uncommon for international meetings to devolve into finger pointing, but normally the signs are evident well in advance, and political leaders stay far away. In Copenhagen, however, the leaders were there, flailing for all to see.”
That, she says, is increasingly problematic for Canada which is caught up in melting polar caps, thawing perma frost and the politics of continental  water  resources.   “It’s not just that our  environment is changing, our reaction to that change will determine how bad the situation will be.  A lot of problems we have with water, for example,  are management problems.  There’s   a lot of waste. We don’t have a Las Vegas in the middle of a desert sucking up water that is not renewable.  We shouldn’t be flushing our toilets with drinking water.  Another question we have to address  is what happens to the St. Lawrence Seaway when water levels in the Great Lakes are reduced. Big ships won’t be able to get into the Seaway, the salt water front in the St. Lawrence River could move, and with more mild winters, we may have to prepare for more ice storms.”
All of this will have an impact on Canada’s future  relationship with the United States.
“The prevailing view in the U.S. is that Canada is a military marshmallow,” she writes, “and threats to our Arctic security are real....The United States wants its allies not only loyal, but also subservient, and in the case of the North West Passage, it was made clear as early as 1970 that because Canada is an ally, it is supposed to fall in line quickly and completely.”  Paskal argues that the U.S. position makes it difficult for us to defend the Arctic on our own,  and as a result  Canada has been toying with unconventional options in the north, including a multi-million dollar deal to open a shipping route through the Arctic between Murmansk and Churchill, Manitoba.
While Paskal agrees that many aspects of climate change are uncertain, she says no one can ignore that weather patterns are changing and storm patterns are rising.
“For the purposes of dealing with the impact of climate change,  it doesn’t matter what Al Gore or David Suzuki tell us.  The cause doesn’t matter.  Most people are skeptical about the root cause.  But we shouldn’t care about the cause.  The impact is observable.  The Co2 debate has become so emotional, that the energy security component has become lost. We have to deal with it.”
The daughter of a Montreal Star science editor, Paskal was raised in the Laurentians  by her mother and her stepfather,  obtained her degree in history from McGill in 1990, co-founded a satirical magazine, The Red Herring, worked as an actress, became a radio journalist,  and won an Emmy for a televisions series on the Cirque du Soliel.  She wrote travel pieces for the National Post, and today, is an associate fellow of a London think tank, Chatham House, teaches at two universities in India, and is a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy. 
“When I was a kid, I wanted to be a detective,’ she said in an interview over lunch at Alexandre.  “I wanted to understand how things work.  Becoming  a journalist gave me a privileged position.  You can ask anybody anything.”
While working on a BBC radio series about the world’s smallest countries she found herself in the Republic of Kiribti, which is made up of 32 atolls and one coral island in the central Pacific   “These islands are not really physically stable places, they are very fragile, reefs, rising sea levels, lagoons.  These aren’t isolated islands, these are chess pieces,” she said. “ And what happens when they start to disappear, when their people have to be relocated,  what happens to their identity, to their  resources?  Do their waters become international?  What happens politically when these things happen?  Like a detective, I wanted to find out. They say Geography makes history, but now it appears that environmental change is reshaping geography. I wanted to look at what happens to the geo-strategic potential of a country when it disappears or when its borders are affected by environmental disaster.”


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