Friday, October 28, 2011

Climate change and the new geography of violence

One of the unpleasant effects of climate change is its tendency to incite further conflict where such already exist and in some cases war is already looming. Sociologist and writer Christian Parenti is blaming "pathologies of neoliberalism" and Cold War leftovers that converge with climate change effects for inciting further conflict where it already lingers. Already by now large parts of the political landscape are out of the target group of Parenti's message but he supports his assertion by way of his good storytelling based on personal experiences and interviews - and he finishes with an almost pro-capitalism conclusion.

Chapter 2 is pretty much a summary of some of the military reports I have linked to in Ecowar posts tagged 'military' plus a few other. Chapter 3 is a brief history of the US military which at first seems a bit thorough for a climate change book but actually shows how it has been on a long journey from conventional "European" warfare to guerrilla warfare inspired by North American Indian tribes and Ernesto "Che" Guevara. And ends up with a grim forecast (p. 36) of "the essence of militarized adaption to climate chaos: dirty war forever." In part, global counter-insurgency is an adaption to climate change that most of us wouldn't agree to if given the choice.

Part 2 is about Africa and describe how the Cold War proxy-wars have left unresolved conflicts now to converge with climate change effects, mostly via Parenti's own experiences visiting the areas. Most notably the stories from northern Kenyan herders who increasingly arm themselves to defend and raid cattle as droughts kill off livestock. Chapter 7 details the Cold War prequel to the current desert anarchy in Somalia. Chapter 8, the last of part 2, is a brilliant description of what a failed state is exactly.

Urban herd
I traveled in Kenya January/February 2011. This photo is from the suburbs of Kisumu. I enjoyed the view over the Rift Valley and Lake Victoria. It is a bit chilling to read Parenti's stories from Kenya - in fact the book begins and ends with the corpse of a cattle herder left to rot under a tree and the questions of and answers to who killed him. All of the brutal incidents and trends in drought and plunder play out some kilometers away down the great valley.

Part 3 is about Asia and observes how in Afghanistan "the poppy economy and its armed defense are local adaption mechanisms" (wheat use six times more water than poppy which is worth 50 times the price). Chapter 10 is a rare insight to the conflicts in Kyrgyzstan - a lot more interesting than it may sound! Parenti then moves on to the India-Pakistan conflict of declining river flows, provoking dams, mass-murderous droughts, devastating floods, cross border state terrorism, suicide by pesticide Monsanto farmers and Maoist guerrillas. Very complex and under-reported in Western media yet clearly fueled by climate change.

Part 4 is about Latin America and the US. On page 181 Parenti's main message is summed up:
"catastrophic convergence: policies that create poverty and violence are now colliding with the new realities of climate change, and together these three forces are creating socially destructive forms of adaption."
Brazil and Mexico receive treatment in each their own chapters. Not just the always shockingly brutal gang violence is described, so too are more positive examples of coping: an example of organic agriculture and Keynesian economics. The efforts by Bolivia are hailed before the US is described in less than praising terms.

However, although being very critical of neoliberalism and in favor of state run initiatives to halt pollution and force clean technologies forward, Parenti is distancing himself from radical approaches involving revolutionary changes to the economy and society as we know it. First of all for a simple reason: There is no time. We need to start solving the climate problem now, thus we need to start doing it with tools known to work within the capitalist system. And it can be done, Parenti argues, because we have both the technology and the money. Fossil energies probably only have a lead right now because it has been so heavily subsidized for decades. And if there is money now for blowing up bubbles (housing, food etc) to create poverty as prices go up, unemployment and riots as the bubbles burst then, surely, that money could be redirected towards sustainable development.

Christian Parenti's Tropic of Chaos is a great book. Concise, well written and fair in reasoning. It isn't exhaustive as many conflicts from around the world are left untold of. It isn't academic as it assumes basic understanding of the climate, the economy and world affairs and simply move on with its stories from there while it doesn't dig into recent scientific results either. At times, perhaps, it's a bit too much a book of stories as Parenti shares many details of the converging issues. It is brave as it is critical of both the far-right media environment as well as of Bill "350" McKibben. Tropic of Chaos is the third book about how (not if) climate change is causing increased conflict I have read. If you want to read only one book about climate change and war this book should probably be it. (Alternatives are the more imaginative and dystopic Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer reviewed here December 2010 and the scientifically precise and short Climate Conflict by Jeffrey Mazo reviewed here April 2011.)

Further reading/viewing for you right now: Large parts of the book can be read at Google Books. Also, Christian Parenti has given interviews on the book and its topics...

From Foreign Policy in Focus / Interview with Christian Parenti:
"The military runs scenarios of what the future will bring. What they see is not so much an increase in conventional warfare between states as an increase in humanitarian crisis, civil war, banditry, religious wars, state breakdown. And they realize that the armed forces will be called on to respond with various forms of low-intensity conflict: counter-insurgency, direct intervention, humanitarian intervention, shoring-up allied states, as well as increased training and advisory roles in these conflicts. [... In international negotiations] The United States has played a non-productive role, a destructive role. It has not taken the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations seriously, and as a result they have broken down. We are the largest economy in the world, and until recently we were the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world before China overtook us. The world looks to the United States for leadership but U.S. actions, especially at Copenhagen, were really depressing. [...] What will change the U.S. position? Protest, clearly. There has to be a movement that forces the Obama administration to do this. The Obama administration is proving itself to be very right-wing on many issues, including this one."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Biofuel demand and CO2 quotas drive violent land grabs in Honduras

To the country whose history coined the term "banana republic" land grabs is not a new phenomenon. The European Union funding it by buying carbon credits and biofuel from the perpetrators is, however.

In the case of Honduras, the global rush for production of biofuel and access to carbon credits is making it profitable for national and international business to maintain the unequal distribution of land between Honduras' poor and the elite. It also makes it possible for international institutions, corporations and donors to support domestic land grabbing or the
status quo of unequal land ownership where serious human rights abuses occur. To this date, there is no global human rights mechanism incorporated in the global carbon market that can prevent countries from buying carbon credits from CDM-projects in developing countries, which include land grabbing tactics or land issues where human rights are violated.
- "Stolen Land, Stolen Future", p. 4

The Bajo Aguan valley on the north coast is a hot spot for not just land disputes but drug trafficking and crime in general. The elite owns most of the land which is increasingly used for production of internationally subsidized biofuels and other export crops. During year 2011 about 40 people were killed in conflicts between security forces and landless peasants. October 2011 about 45 people were killed in a clash between poor squatting peasants and authorities.

"There are worrying signs that the Honduran government is moving 1200 police officers and military personnel into the area [...] That has previously been a source of conflict."
- Toni Sandell, human rights worker with Aprodev, a coalition of Christian NGO's

The Green group in the European Parliament demand of Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard that the EU stop buying carbon credits via the CDM project from the Honduran palm plantations.

Sources: Stolen Land, Stolen Future (1.26 MB PDF), Inside Costa Rica / Honduras: Nearly 44 People Killed in Aguan, EurActive / Carbon credits tarnished by human rights 'disgrace'.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Obama intervenes in Ugandan oil trouble zone

Oil have been found in the underground below Lake Albert on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Western companies are working with the Ugandan government to get development under way but a myriad of issues seem to delay the project: Criminal and rebel activity is up and rising, Ugandan democracy is struggling for control with the shady closed door negotiations and now US troops enter the picture. Al Jazeera summed up the situation in less than two minutes, October 14th:

Recipe for an oil war

Heritage Oil and Tullow Oil are guessing the 2.5 billion barrel or larger field is the largest onshore field found in sub-saharan Africa in more than two decades. Production of 150,000 barrels of oil per day by 2015 place Uganda among top 50 oil producing nations is planned. The latter company, Irish Tullow Oil, is now accused of having bribed three Ugandan ministers with 100 million USD in July 2010 in return for concessions. The ministers resigned October 2011. Tullow denies allegations, maintain an anti-bribe image and have funded a lake rescue station which they claim have already saved the lives of more than 70 local fishermen. Also in the deal are French Total and Chinese Cnooc. Those corporations are expected to claim 2/3 of the 3-4 billion USD hoped to be made annually.

A leaked US embassy cable (Wikileaks, #08KAMPALA393) reveals Uganda have been asking for help stepping up security in and around the oil rich area. John Morley of Tullow Oil is quoted for saying that as oil activity on Lake Albert increase a security presence would be vital. The cable mention "several clashes on Lake Albert between oil companies and entities from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) demonstrate that oil production has increased local tensions and exacerbated cross-border hostilities". In 2007 a British drilling platform worker was killed by Congolese soldiers who claimed the barge had strayed into Congolese waters. Although the Ugandan and Congolese governments are talking and are in agreement concerning the precise geography of the border the armed forces on the Congolese side of the border are not always government-related.

An intervention overdue?

Several militias fight in the area and in just recent months thousands have had to fled their homes, hundreds have been kidnapped. Adding to the Congolese militias the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels as well as the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony add to the insecurity. FDLR is a Hutu group whose two top leaders are held in France and Germany on charges of crimes against humanity yet whose troops raped at least 154 civilians from July 30 to August 3, 2010, in the town of Luvungi. LRA is the Ugandan theocratic militia of self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Kony, who claims to be acting on orders from spirits sent by God, and whose ranks have been inflated by an estimated 66,000 children abducted for soldiering. October 2005 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants on Kony and four other leading members of LRA; the 33 charges include murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement and pillaging.

Recently, the Ugandan presiden spent US$780 million on six Russian jet fighters. A decision that raises eyebrows in a country with a GDP of less than 500USD per capita.
"We don’t live in an enemy-free neighbourhood. So, don’t look at the purchase in terms of cost. The Great Lakes region is one of the most unsafe regions."
- Ugandan presiden Yoweri Museveni

Since 2008 the US have donated more than 40 million USD on supporting the Local counter-militia efforts. And now 100 Green Berets have been sent as military advisers for the governments of the region. They are receiving a warm welcome.

"For 20 years, the government of Uganda has been pleading with our American and European friends to help in the LRA problem, because these are international terrorists. We wanted our friends to help in providing technical support — such as intelligence — because they have the best."
- Uganda's acting foreign minister Henry Okello Oryem

"Any support to tackle the LRA is a good move [...] South Sudan is already working with Uganda's army in operations against the LRA, and we will be pleased to work with anyone who can help us combat the threat [...] We have large communities whose lives are ruined by these rebels, so the sooner we can end this once and for all will be something we will look forward to."
- South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer

"The Central African Republic today more than needs external assistance like that of United States [...] Many hundreds of our people have been killed, others kidnapped or displaced, their homes ransacked, destroyed, their possessions looted. It is unbearable."
- CAR Deputy defence minister Jean-Francis Bozize

Thus, the link between the US troops and the oil is still a "conspiracy theory". Obama and the US is simply making friends while helping the world get rid of monsters. Human Rights Watch has advocated for intervention for years.

Yet at home knee-jerk reactions are dominated by right-wing isolationism/grudges and left-wing anti-war sentiments.

The enemy within

A recent report, "Oil Extraction and the Potential for Domestic Instability in Uganda", warns about other dangers than cross-border guerrilla warfare: the possible side-effects of a sudden large scale resource industry entering a developing economy. President Museveni, who first seems to have orchestrated the addition of a third presidential term to the constitution then won a low turnout election disputed by international observers, is already speaking of "his" oil.

"If Museveni gains access to substantial oil revenue, the combination of considerable oil funds and strong presidential powers could increase the ability of his government to remain in power indefinitely. [...] Increases in corrupt behavior would essentially require secrecy in government dealings. A reduction in government transparency in oil and tax revenue management would then incentivize Museveni’s government to become increasingly autocratic in its relationship with the public and political opponents, as has so often been the pattern in other oil producing states."

Also, susceptibility to the Dutch Disease should be considered:

"If the government does not reinvest revenues into public works to soften the blow of economic change, domestic instability may ensue [...] The poor and disaffected youths are the most likely to turn to violence in order to redress socio-political grievances. A young, growing, and increasingly urban population indicates the potential for civil strife in Uganda. The added stress of urban migration associated with oil production may only exacerbate the dynamics behind civil strife. [...] If Museveni’s government makes its decisions public and is held accountable, it is more likely to choose anti-corruption policies that are favorable to the public interest."

The report estimate the risk of civil war in Uganda as 1.96% if the new found resource wealth is handled wisely, 14.05% if not. Dutch Disease effects could be both mitigated and worsened by the fact that multiple industries are likely to boom: in 2010 firms from Russia, China, India, Australia and South Africa started operating in Uganda after finds of copper, iron ore, cobalt, tin, gold and platinum.

"We must be Africa’s Norway. We must manage our oil resources in the stellar manner in which Botswana has managed its wealth from diamonds."
- Bank of Uganda Governor, Emmanuel Mutebile

We haven't heard much from the hopeful Iraqi politicians who once voiced similar intentions with their oil. However, it does seem Obama is at least trying to do better than his predecessor(s). And if a US president can't even go to war against someone as evil as Joseph Kony he truly can do nothing at all - yet, who knows if the Tea Party will side with Kony and his lunatic army?

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Sources include: The Independent (Uganda) / Oil could cause war, Capital News (Kenya) / Uganda welcomes US troops to hunt rebel leaders, Sunday Monitor (Uganda) / Here is what is at stake with Uganda’s oil, The Atlantic / Why Is Obama Sending Troops Against the Lord's Resistance Army?, / Uganda: Scramble for Minerals Begins.

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