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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: May 2018


from Part V - 1950–2000: Global threats and promises


We conclude with a discussion of two critical issues: global terrorism and global warming. Both of them threaten to harm huge numbers of people, and both have roots far back in the human past. The greatest recent terrorist threat, that of al-Qaeda, derives directly from the imperial domination of the Middle East in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but al-Qaeda's supporters find their inspiration in the founding of Islam in the seventh century. Yet only the globalization of the late twentieth century made al-Qaeda's actions possible.

Global warming is a more subtle, but equally dangerous trend which, if nothing is done to avert it, will bring catastrophe to hundreds of millions of vulnerable people. It is a direct result of global industrialization since the nineteenth century. Scientists have carefully documented the warming of the planet over the past century, but the nations of the world have so far only taken very small steps to address this vital threat to human existence.


On September 11, 2001, members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked four transcontinental airliners taking off from Boston’s Logan airport. They crashed two of them into the two World Trade Center towers in New York City (see Figure 1). The explosion of the gasoline in the airplanes incinerated the twin towers and their occupants. The third plane crashed into the Pentagon. Passengers on the fourth plane, probably intended for the White House, brought it down in a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died in these attacks. The boldness of the al-Qaeda attacks stunned and horrified the world. Never before had so many civilians been killed by a deliberate attack on American soil. President George W. Bush vowed to make a War on Terror the theme of his administration.

Suggested Reading
Laden, Osama bin, Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden (New York: Verso, 2005). This is a complete collection of bin Laden's speeches, video interviews, and writings.
Bowen, Mark, Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World's Highest Mountains (New York: Henry Holt, 2005). Bowen's book is a gripping account combining mountaineering adventure with a description of the science of global change derived from ice cores.
Flannery, Tim F., The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What it Means for Life on Earth (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005). This book is an elegantly written survey of the effects of global warming on human and natural life.
Richards, John F., The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003). Richards describes the global clearance of forests and oceans from 1500 to 1800.
Roy, Olivier, The Failure of Political Islam (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001). Roy's study is a very insightful analysis and history of the rise of political Islamist movements.
Tilly, Charles, “Violence, Terror, and Politics as Usual.” Boston Review, 27 (Summer 2002), 21–24. Tilly's article analyzes terrorism as part of general trends in collective violence over the past century.
Laden, Osama bin, Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (New York: Verso, 2005), pp. 112–13
Oppenheimer, Michael, “Global Warming and the Stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet,” Nature, 393 (May 1998), 325–32.
Victor, David G., The Collapse of the Kyoto Protocol and the Struggle to Slow Global Warming (Princeton University Press, 2001).