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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Johan Hari: The Soft-Voiced Authoritarianism of Fareed Zakaria

Indeed, it is here -- in the destabilisation of the planet's climate with greenhouse gases -- that we find the biggest hole in Zakaria's vision. He talks at length about how the new multipolar powers will interact, without seriously considering that -- unless we change course rapidly - this will take place on a planet where the climate is thrown into chaos, and resource-competition becomes ever-more vicious. He isn't a global warming denier; he even notes: "If water sources dry up in the future, tens of millions of people will be forced to start moving." But he offers it a few fleeting paragraphs. He doesn't seem to see that global warming will determine the stage on which this power-play will be acted out. It's as if he thinks the planet's climate and ecosystems can dramatically shift and the consequences on global order will be incidental.

For example, the great rivers of China and India all originate in the Himalayan glaciers. Water falls as snow in winter, and melts off in summer -- becoming the Ganges, the Yellow River, and more. Those glaciers are melting rapidly, and on course to disappear -- endangering the water supply of a billion people. Won't that affect the pacific development of India and China that Zakaria envisions? Won't it make conflict far more likely? Indeed, another throwaway sentence reveals a cavernous hole in his Weltanschaung. He says with a flick of the wrist: "Over the past decade, many predictions about the effect of climate change have proven to be underestimates because global growth has exceeded all projections." But if growth ineluctably causes global warming, doesn't this suggest -- as the environmentalist George Monbiot has suggested -- that an economic model built on perpetual economic growth is untenable? Shouldn't we be trying to develop different models urgently?

The Post-American World is a fascinating book, but not for the reasons its author intended. It is a character-study of a highly intelligent man who believes himself to be rational and humane and impartially sifting the evidence -- but actually pushes a vicious vision antithetical to both democracy and environmental sanity....


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