Thinkpiece Week 2

The questions that traverse this week’s reading are: who is causing climate change and who is affected by it? Ultimately, this exposes the question not only of which areas of our international and national political and economic systems need to be reformed so as to curtail the possibly violent outcome of environmental change, but also that of whose responsibility it is to do so. Buxton & Hayes suggest that the main actors in the creation and even the promotion of climate-driven conflicts are corporations and nation-states, citing some surprising and daunting facts about empty promises made by these actors to “go green”. From this arises the uncomfortable question of who profits from environmental insecurity. The power vacuum now occupied by military and corporate actors in the fight against environmental change must then be filled by… whom? Civil society? International organisations? National governments? I find this interesting as ecological campaigns over the last few years have mainly aimed at raising awareness and instilling a sense of individual responsibility towards the environment, rather than proposing multilateral solutions that involve state actors, civil society and corporations.

Political ecology, as explained by Watts, theorizes environmental conflict through the lens of marxist political economy: the present situation of inequality of natural resources and technology is a direct result of the integration of previously colonized regions into a global capitalist economy, marginalizing the peasant class and leading to social disintegration. I largely agree with this, although it is unclear what solutions political ecologists then propose as a concrete alternative.

Parenti focuses on the shift in types of conflict in recent decades away from traditional war and towards guerrilla warfare as, he argues, resource scarcity, refugees, and natural/man-made catastrophes drive states to engage in total warfare in which entire populations are framed as “the enemy”. He warns that this type of warfare will become or perhaps already is the norm due to environmental change. I find this interesting in that his point of view – that this is slowly becoming the norm – seems to me to effectively sidestep the historical realities of colonization and the types of conflicts that it involved. In fact, I would argue that it could already be considered a historical norm in many parts of the world, including the US (I refer here to the long tradition of militias engaged in fighting and/or extinguishing Native American nations).

This colonial inheritance pertains not only to modes of conflict generated in the Global South, but also in the Global North. A long history of colonialism and imperialism has left a powerful sense in Northern politics of what constitutes a morally acceptable motive for conflict: a right to land, a right to resources, and a right to security. It is important to note that these fundamental rights constitute some of the foundations of democratic thought, and although the spectrum of subjects of these rights is currently ever-expanding (now including women, minorities, etc. at least to some extent), we persistently conceptualize international politics in terms of “Us and Them”.

In this sense, the most alarming possible outcome of framing environmental issues as security issues is that each nation-state will begin land- and resource-grabbing, as many commentators have remarked is already happening in Africa for example by Chinese national companies, which will only exacerbate the problem and render dialogue impossible.

In contrast, Maas et al. argue that environmental security can act as a powerful catalyst for peace-building in countries torn apart by nationalist conflict, such as the South Caucasus. They do however foresee the possibility that the involvement of third parties could lead to an escalation of the conflict and/or resistance to international peace-building efforts.

If I were to write a paper based on these themes, I would focus on a particular region to identify the intersection of cultural practices and attitudes towards the environment, social and colonial history, the dominant political ideology, economic system, international relations and prevalent environmental risks to assess the possible role of environmental talks in peace-building efforts as well as proposing strategies.

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