Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Poverty and Climate Change: on my reading list

Ever since Al Gore and Bono spoke together, I’ve been thinking more about how global climate change and extreme poverty are inextricably linked. I’ve been very adamant about my belief that we can end extreme poverty in our lifetime. Yet, more and more, I’ve been wondering if that has to be a qualified statement…that it’s true IF we don’t enter an era of destructive climate change. Whether or not global warming is a human-made event is really irrelevant if it comes to pass. Questions in my mind revolve around what sort of policies will be necessary to deal with climate refugees and the effects of widespread drought. I think I need to know more. Two books are on my reading list to educate myself more about this stuff. I’ll put a little about them, leaning heavily on Amazon.com reviews since I haven’t read them.

The first book is “Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet” by Jeffrey Sachs. If it’s anything like “The End of Poverty” it will probably be a pretty tough read, but an important one. Sachs is an optimistic economist tackling some of the most depressing problems of our time. The nice part is that he offers solutions. This book focuses on heading off global warming and environmental destruction, stabilizing the world’s population, ending extreme poverty and breaking political logjams that hinder global cooperation on these issues. In tonight’s Daily Show interview, I liked how he spoke of these issues as problems we share with the whole planet, even our “enemies.” He says that Darfur is mainly a conflict over water and that we have no hope of bringing peace to that area unless we address the water issue as well as bringing in military.

The second book is “The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations” by Brian Fagan. He writes about a period of history (800-1300) characterized as a medieval warming period. It brought great disasters for some parts of the world, which he says caused the collapse of the Mayan civilization and played a part in the Mongol incursions into Europe. Fagan notes how times of intense, sustained global warming can have particularly dire consequences. For example, by 2025, an estimated 2.8 billion of us will live in areas with increasingly scarce water resources. If that’s true, to me, that sounds like many more people will be considering going to war for water.

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