Muckraker: Grist on Politics

The cover of the new climate change travelogue from journalist Stephan Faris makes it pretty clear his news will be grim. On the front cover of Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley ($25, Henry Holt and Company), a lifeless desert floor extends to an ominous red glow on the horizon. It could be a stretch of former Sudanese farmland swallowed by the Sahara’s southward creep. Or it could be somewhere in southeastern Australia, where an extended drought has decimated a once-thriving rice-growing region. But the spirit of impending doom is tough to miss.

Forecast‘s goal isn’t to prove climate change’s existence (Faris isn’t a scientist), or propose solutions (there’s none of that). Instead, it catalogues how the effects of climate change aren’t waiting 50 years down the road, they’re underway already. Rising temperatures are extending the reach of malaria and other tropical diseases. Polar bears, of course, face a melting habitat. Winemakers can offer an expanding variety of low-priced offerings as more areas become warm enough for growing grapes. (Not quite everything is dismal.) In a reprisal of his April 2007 Atlantic story, Faris argues that the conflict in Darfur is essentially fueled by drought, putting Arab herders and African farmers in competition over the remaining arable land.

Faris, a correspondent for Time and Fortune, is consistent in detailing how the poor will get the short end of every change. Take, for example, two low-lying coastal countries — the Netherlands and Bangladesh. Both will face similar problems as sea levels rise, but they’ll have vastly different resources for adapting:

The Dutch are preparing for rising sea levels with houses that can float through a flood. Canadian, Russian, and Scandinavian farmers could even benefit from wetter, milder winters. The result is likely to be a further widening of global disparity, an increase in immigration pressures in border regions…and political reverberations across the developed world as politicians and the public struggle over the proper place for the less fortunate.

Kinda takes the fun out of the cheap, new wines. Even for those readers convinced long ago of the need to act on climate change, Forecast does a pretty good job showing how Al Gore’s computer models have already begun playing out.