Bangladesh, Global Warming and Islamic Extremism

Why Cyclone SIDR Should Matter to the U.S. Media

By Dan Shapley

Bangladesh could be ground zero for the geo-strategic fallout from global warming, if some of the nation's best national security minds have it right. And that makes Cyclone Sidr a big glaring warning signal. Shockingly, it's a warning signal that the major U.S. media is ignoring.

Cyclone Sidr is, as I write, churning with Category 4 strength toward Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal, where nine of the world's 13 deadliest hurricanes have struck. The official forecast, which has proven unreliable so far for this storm, predicts a decrease in strength to Category 1 storm before landfall -- still a formidable force.

The critical issues that will determine the destruction and death visited on Bangladesh and/or northeastern India, as our Storm Pundit points out, is the strength of the storm at landfall and the size of the storm surge. (Other than The Daily Green, the only big names in U.S. media to report on the cyclone are Bloomberg and Reuters, according to a Google News search.)

tropical cyclone sidr

The frequency and intensity of hurricanes has not been definitively linked to global warming; there's robust scientific debate on that point. The certainty of sea level rise, however, is undisputed; it's just the degree to which, and speed with which, the waters will rise that is debated.

Even if storms don't get stronger, the storms that do hit Bangladesh -- and any other coastal areas -- will cause greater destruction. Simply, there will be more water, closer to people -- and any storm surge rearing up will go higher and farther, and do more damage.

When it comes to global warming impacts, Bangladesh is often a focal point because it is a nation of 142 million people living in low-lying, flood-prone river deltas -- and because it's a predominantly Muslim nation in a volatile, fast-growing neighborhood. Bangladesh is expected to grow in population by a staggering 100 million people in the coming decades -- the same time frame during which those storms that make landfall will be more destructive.

Two think tanks, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Center for a New American Security, spent a year producing "The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change," which was released just days ago. The title speaks for itself, and Bangladesh figures prominently.

Notably, the report deals with a very immediate time frame: 30 years. In other words, this generation. The overriding point: A child born today will, at age 30, be staring at a very different, and much more dangerous world, thanks to global warming. Further, it considered three scenarios: one that is a near certainty, one likely and one possible. I will only be referencing the scenario considered to be a near certainty, based on the accumulated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"It is a scenario in which people and nations are threatened by massive food and water shortages, devastating natural disasters, and deadly disease outbreaks," the relevant chapter reads. "It is also inevitable."

cyclone sidrImportantly, the report makes clear that security risks will arise "as much (due to) local political, social, and economic factors as by the magnitude of the climate shift itself."

Back to Bangladesh, which according to the report, "will be threatened by devastating floods and other damage from monsoons, melting glaciers, and tropical cyclones that originate in the Bay of Bengal, as well as water contamination and ecosystem destruction caused by rising sea levels. "Doesn’t sound like a place I'd want to live. And the authors assume many Bangladeshis will come to the same conclusion. In short: Refugee crisis.

That explosive population will look for new homes -- "which will foment instability as the resettled population competes for already scarce resources … Others will seek to migrate abroad, creating heightened political tension not only in South Asia, but in Europe and Southeast Asia as well."

India is already building a 2,100-mile, 10-foot tall fence on its border with Bangladesh. The nation was only born 36 years ago, in a violent schism with Pakistan. Since then 14 governments have come to power and lost it, four of them via military coup. (Read: "local political, social and economic factors.")

That instability is a factor in "rising Islamic extremism," according to the report. And global warming, the report concludes, will help stoke that latent extremism and propel it into new territory.

In other words, Cyclone Sidr matters -- not only to the 142 million in its path. Not only to everyone with a conscience and a concern for human life in an unfamiliar part of the world. It should matter to every American, since by now it's abundantly clear that our fortunes have become tied to the fates of nations around the world with extreme Islamic elements.

Global warming could help make Bangladesh into a new ground zero for extremism, and Americans haven't even seen the warning sign flashing. It says Cyclone Sidr.

Source:     14 November 2007
(Published one day before SIDR struck Bangladesh, on 15 November)

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