Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and Violence
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Editor's Note: The following is excerpted with permission from Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, by Christian Parenti. Available from Nation Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2011.
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.
-- T. S. ELIOT, The Waste Land
Ekaru Loruman lay beneath a flat-topped acacia tree, its latticework of branches casting a soft mesh of shade upon his body. He wore a silver earring and khaki shorts and lay on his side with his arm twisted awkwardly beneath him. The left side of Ekaru's forehead was gone, blown away by the exit of a bullet. His blood formed a greasy, black slick on the desert floor. His sandals, shawl, and gun had been stolen.
Ekaru had been a pastoralist from the Turkana tribe, who live in northwest Kenya, on the arid savannas of the Rift Valley. He had been killed the day before when a neighboring tribe, the Pokot, launched a massive cattle raid. Ekaru's corpse lay here on the ground, exposed to the elements with goats and sheep browsing nearby, because the Turkana do not bury people killed in raids. They believe doing so is bad luck, that it will only invite more attacks. So they leave their dead to decompose where they fall. But these supernatural precautions will not hold the enemy at bay, for profound social and climatological forces drive them forth.
The group of Turkana I was visiting had been pushed south by severe drought and were now grazing their herds at the edge of their traditional range, very close to their enemies, the Pokot. In the pastoralist corridor of East Africa, a basic pattern is clear: during times of drought, water and grazing become scarce, the herds fall ill, and many cattle die. To replenish stocks, young men raid their neighbors. The onset of anthropogenic climate change means Kenya is seeing rising temperatures and more frequent drought. Yet, overall it is actually receiving greater amounts of precipitation. The problem is, the rain now arrives erratically, in sudden violent bursts, all at once rather than gradually over a season. This means eroding floods, followed by drought. The clockwork rains, upon which Kenyan agriculture and society depends, are increasingly out of sync.
Climate War Forensics
Why did Ekaru Loruman die? What forces compelled his murder? Ekaru, who had been about thirty-five years old -- age among the Turkana is usually just estimated -- had three wives, eight children, and about fifty head of cattle. He had been an important and powerful man in his community: a warrior in his prime, old enough to have plenty of experience and wisdom but still young and strong enough to run and fight for days on little food or water. And now he was dead.
We could say tradition killed Ekaru, the age-old tradition of "stock theft," cattle raiding among the Nilotic tribes of East Africa. Or we could say he was murdered by a specific man, a Pokot from the Karasuk. Or that Ekaru was killed by the drought. When the drought gets bad, the raiding picks up.
Or perhaps Ekaru was killed by forces yet larger, forces transcending the specifics of this regional drought, this raid, this geography, and the Nilotic cattle cultures. To my mind, while walking through the desert among the Turkana warriors scanning the Karasuk hills for the Pokot war party, it seemed clear that Ekaru's death was caused by the most colossal set of events in human history: the catastrophic convergence of poverty, violence, and climate change. This book is an attempt to understand the death of Ekaru Loruman, and so many others like him, through the lens of this catastrophic convergence.