Global Warming, the New Colonialism?


(cross-posted to Jack & Jill Politics)

A troubling set of Western-initiated forces are aligning to further destabilize Africa.

That Cold War mentality which saw the rich nations of the world treat Africa as a playground and dumping ground is in full effect. Foreign debt is crushing already-struggling economies. A thirst for oil is exacerbating the gap between rich and poor and driving societies further away from freedom. The so-called "War on Terror" has made Africa suddenly interesting to the U.S. military. But the biggest force may be global warming.

According to a report in Time magazine, global warming may be "drowning Africa."

"This weather is what climatologists predicted, and it is happening even faster than expected," says Grace Akumu, executive director of the Kenya-based Climate Change Network. "We are overwhelmed." The immediate consequences of climate change in Africa? Countries will experience either torrential floods or severe drought during a season. Akumu says that the unpredictable climate will threaten the food supply in Africa and potentially eliminate key crops. Africans are expected to face a severe lack of food and drinkable water by the end of the century.

Not all of Africa's problems can be blamed on the West, but a whole lot can. Global warming is undoubtedly caused by Western industrialized society and its rampant consumerism, but the effects are disproportionately felt by the world's non-industrialized and poor nations. Adding further insult is the fact that these nations don't have the resources (financial, technological or otherwise) to combat the effects of global warming in the same way Western societies can.

Push come to shove, the U.S. will probably erect sea walls and pursue other measures to limit social and economic damage from rising sea levels, etc. Most African nations cannot afford such an expense. The Time article continues:

Africa is particularly vulnerable because it has a low institutional capacity to combat the changing weather. As a result, says Ugandan climate change specialist James Magezi-Akiiki, "in Africa, adaptation to climate change is more important than mitigation." In response to the floods devouring Uganda, Magezi-Akiiki says that the government will now consider the effects of global warming, such as increased rainfall, in its planning of future infrastructure projects.

Ironically, Africa produces far less carbon than other continents, leading some scientists to blame industrialized countries for Africa's climate plight. Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni announced at an African Union summit this year that developed countries were "committing aggression" against Africa by causing global warming.

The irony is extra spicy in this case. As our Western societies max out on resources such as energy, we could learn a thing or two from our "third world" brothers and sisters about how to live more in a more sustainable fashion, but we're too busy exploiting them to see such a possibility. As Africa becomes less stable, we will extend an offer of help, but it will come with major strings attached. We'll probably repeat the mistakes we made in Latin America all over again, propping up unjust regimes to get ours and get out.

We should all be paying a lot more attention to energy, climate and food issues. I recommend checking out the blog for the African American Environmentalist Association which just posted about an upcoming CBC Foundation event on environmental justice.