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The Indian Tuesday November 11 2025
WEATHER REPLACES WAR AS THE GREAT EQUALISER
In the first decade of this century it was common in the Europe and North America to speculate, discuss and even debate, in a fairly ineffectual manner, how climate change would have its most severe impact on the poorer parts of the world rather than the developed world. The commentariat wasted innumerable trees musing how their consumerist over-indulgence would play havoc on the economies of vulnerable societies trying to pull themselves out of poverty.
Now as Europe and North America face famine and ecological disaster on a catastrophic scale, neither continent is equipped to deal with the ensuing social upheaval.
The arrogant, almost imperial logic that led the largely white societies of the West to conclude that billions of people who have spent centuries coping with flood and famine with very little, if any, social infrastructure would be more vulnerable to climate change than societies accustomed to having their every whim met explains why what was known as the Developed World is on the verge of complete social and economic collapse.
What was going through the minds of Western commentators and opinion-makers in 2006, say, when they publicly stated that countries with basic government institutions and millions of people who had never had any access to clean water, healthcare and were living in uninsured shacks would bear the brunt of nature’s upheaval? As always the millions in the developing regions rebuilt their shacks as the Westerner haggled with his insurance company- now bankrupt despite accepting all his premiums- to take responsibility, as it blames him for driving that big polluting car that its records show it also insured. He wants to know why the government didn’t do anything, even though the most half-hearted environmental legislation was resisted by popular campaigns instigated by the media. The same victims who were once seduced by the needless products promoted by celebrities and demanded the civil liberty to squander their money on them, now demand action and answers.
Climate change has exposed the frailties of the West’s economic system more brutally than any recession. The actual financial cost of rebuilding almost every kind of social facility has eclipsed even the most pessimistic estimates. This has been aggravated by the refusal of large segments of the population, both public and private sector, to accept the necessary social and economic corrections.
The economic circumstances have become as grim as the environmental chaos because the Western citizen is only now realising what globalisation means. Since the industrial revolution the West has been at the forefront of the global economy, whereas this was once a see-saw they controlled as the developed world dangled its legs helplessly in the air it is now a fairly level apparatus that has brought a degree of equality and power to what were once lesser nations. Only now, in the grip of an escalating crisis, has the West understood that globalisation means we catch up with them, and the largely untapped potential of our markets allow us to control the see-saw.
Although most Western countries, Britain and America are the obvious exceptions, experienced mass displacement of people in the last century, then a smaller proportion of that population had any substantial material possessions and very little access to credit, so the financial implications where relatively minor in economies which were then rarely, if ever, exposed to free market forces.
Now the Western economies are shackled with massive national and consumer debts in a time of huge rebuilding and relocating costs. The bail-out of banks and insurance companies as fierce public spending cuts are implanted is causing widespread unrest. Britain experienced two weeks of rioting when the National Health Service was abandoned just as the country suffered malaria and typhoid outbreaks.
Rather than climate change crippling the developing world it has, along with an extraordinary combination of economic factors, given them a profound economic and cultural advantage. Even though Asian and Arab funds had to come to the aid of Western banks in the credit crisis of 2007, Western policymakers didn’t seem understand, or didn’t want their electorate to understand, that power had shifted so completely to the East that the West would have little or no control over the pricing and supplying of essential commodities.
The successful lobbying of the car industry, for example, to dilute virtually all mandatory emissions and fuel economy standards left the developed completely exposed to to the whims of the market. The urban 4x4 craze led to massive inefficiency but more importantly can now be seen to be a major contributor to inflation, by needlessly increasing imports as oil prices soared. Many Asian commentators are puzzled why Western governments took no action to halt extravagance and excess despite their endless advice to developing nations on economic prudence.
The economic superiority of the West has been its Achilles heel. Just as the mobile phone brought telephony to the developing world without huge infrastructures costs, climate change has given the developing nations the impetus to build infrastructures that can least attempt to be more durable. In the Western boom years little or no money was spent on updating already antiquated urban infrastructure so in the vast majority of cases it cannot be adapted for current needs and is simply too expensive to replace, hence many Western cities are facing abandonment.
The irony is that Western governments spent decades trying to persuade, and often force, Third World governments to adopt competitive Western ways and now that they, the former masters, have discovered Capitalism and climate change have no affiliation to language, colour or creed.