Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Year of Living Dangerously

From November 2004 through October 2005 has been a sobering 12 months - and we're not quite over. Undoubtedly, I will have missed a few.
  • Tsunami
  • Continuing drought throughout Africa
  • The series of hurricanes in the Carribbean, most notably Katrina, Rita and Stan
  • The emerging Avian flu
  • The earthquake in Kashmir
  • Shrinking of Arctic ice cap (though this is a disaster in waiting)
  • World temperature rises by over 1 degree F.
  • Bush's election
  • Continued descent into civil war in Iraq
  • Continued sectarian violence in Afghanistan, along with a resurgence in the opium trade and drug trafficking violence
  • Bombings in London Tube
  • Bombings in Bali
  • Rising levels of terrorism around the world
The first part of the list are mostly natural disasters, though the hurricanes, rising global temperatures and shrinking ice cap are interrelated and appear to be correlated to the increase in greenhouse gases. The latter are all political in nature. The former are more difficult to deal with because of the latter. The amount of world wealth tied up in the "War on Terror" is directly affecting the ability of governments around the world to respond to the massive natural disasters, most obviously the US. The American debt crisis is a shackle upon other nation's ability to respond.

On both fronts - the disasters arising from our ecosphere and those served up by domestic and international politics - we are caught in a willfully self-crippling situation. The earthquake in Kashmir is a clear case in point. That region is one of the most dangerous in the world, as two nuclear powers face off over a piece of land that would probably be best served by belonging to neither. On the Pakistan side of the border, we have a teetering state, a nuclear program selling to the black market (AQ Khan), and a fundamentalist population in partial rebellion against a corrupt and autocratic secular government. Toss in Osama bin Laden wandering around, dispensing large amounts of cash to buy loyalty, and you have a powder keg.

Now, consider the reports that there are tens of thousands dead, approximately one milion homeless and displaced, disaster management incompetance at a level that makes Drownie Brownie look pretty talented by comparison, and the first snows of winter descending. We are talking massive suffering and conditions ripe for a violent reaction against the Islamabad regime. We are talking about bin Laden getting that much closer to possessing not a dirty bomb, but a strategic nuclear device.

Back to the US. Valerie Plame's front company was on the trail of AQ Khan and his attempt to provide nuclear weapons to the highest bidder. Particularly an Islamic high bidder. Pakistan is now in disarray, and we have been hobbled in our spy efforts thanks to George Bush's fanaticism for invading Iraq. The open rat-hole that is Iraq is greedily drinking down billions of dollars of wealth that are not available for rescue, relief, and rebuilding after any of the major disasters. This means more dead, more suffering, and more long term harm to domestic and foreign populations. It also means less ability of the US to influence people in strategic areas of the globe.

The two largest Muslim nations in the world, Indonesia and Pakistan, have bracketed this period with monumental catastrophes. Each is involved in internal struggles against portions of their populations who are increasingly drawn to radical Islam as a route to power against repressive regimes. The initial Bush administration response to each was to offer a pittance (less than $1 million), and had to be slapped to even change their rhetoric, let alone the amount. Indonesia has been more open to direct support by the US military, most notably allowing the USNS Mercy to offer extensive aid in the archipelago. After watching the FUBAR that followed Katrina, the Bush adminsitration may benefit from the soft bigotry of low expectations where Pakistan is concerned.

What's the point? The point is that we are caught in an increasingly self-destructive situation. Earthquakes happen in their own time, as will volcanoes, but climate change is obviously going to be a fact of continued human survival on earth. I don't much care if it is "caused" by human actions or by natural cycles - either way, we are dealing with an dramatically changing environment. If it is natural, we can't stop it. If it is human, it's too late to stop it, though we might ameliorate the worst effects of a half-century ahead if we start now.

As long as our wealth and attention is tied up in a fake contest that is better dealt with through spy rings and stealth operations, we cannot address the issues of climate change which is, in the end, far more dangerous to humanity than a pack of terrorists.

And I haven't even started on the flu.


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