Thinkpiece Week 2

I was far more engaged this week by the readings, as they address the topic that drove me to take this seminar: Just how doomed are we, and what can everyone do about it? Buxton & Hayes argue against using corporate approaches and military force to work against the increasingly drastic effects of climate change. They instead suggest a “bottom-up” alternative that incorporates social and political movements at every level to combat injustice, thereby eliminating the “security” lens that draws the toxic influence of the military and corporations.

Likewise, Watts outlines the theoretical basis for how “security” has come to be such a hegemonic, all-encompassing term. He further points out that the concept of “political ecology,” which helps tie environmental issues to “security” is itself an evolving, amorphous school of thought. However, he asserts that we are living in a “world of catastrophic events, thresholds of survival, and maladaptation,” and that a nebulous idea of how politics affects the environment which affects conflict (or any other possible order of those) is all we can hope for at this stage as neoliberalism and our planet crumble before our eyes.

More concretely, Parenti offers historical examples of how the military and defense consultants have turned the response to climate change into a “dirty war forever.” From Vietnam to Haiti, the American military has been using its might in the name of assistance or improvement with disastrous results. As global shifts in the environment increasingly link to violent events, the Pentagon and other powerful foreign defense forces are now prepared to fight climate change using established tactics, setting the stage for global militarized adaptation.

In contrast, Maas focuses on how adaptation to or combat against climate change can potentially serve as a unifying factor in peace-building efforts. He cites the example of struggling cooperation in the Caucasus region to argue that “sustainable development is a viable precondition for a durable peace only where interest and necessary commitment from the conflicting parties exists.” In other words, states must be motivated and flexible enough to cooperate in order for efforts to alleviate the effects of climate change to act as catalysts of peace making.

Part of what drew me to these readings was how closely they relate to my experiences abroad. While studying in Geneva, I was fortunate enough to take a course on Political Geography, which also discussed elements of geopolitics, political ecology, and biopolitics. During this course, one lecture was given by a high-profile researcher (whose name escapes me) in the field of conflict in the Caucasus region. His conclusions did not address the issue of peacekeeping through sustainable development as much as Maas’ do– I recall that our lecturer’s research was related to ethnic control of regional resources, and how fights over those resources have exacerbated and deepened ethnic tensions in the Caucasus.

Another element of my experience abroad was an internship in the communication department of the International Organization for Migration, during which I was able to witness tragedies involving the current refugee crises received and reported to the public in real-time. Much of the events I helped the organization report concerned refugees fleeing areas of drought, famine, or economic and political instablitiy brought on at least in part by these factors. Many of those refugees were from North, West, and Central Africa. So when I noticed that Watts uses the Sahel region of West Africa as an example in his chapter, and that Parenti’s book addresses the “tropic of chaos” –the region between the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer – and that Buxton & Hayes use the refugee crisis to underline the severe impact of climate change on international defense strategies, I was called back to my days in the IOM office. Before working there, I knew little about climate refugees, and I am still learning more. But as far as I can tell, it seems (not to be too simplistic or callous) that if there is to be a climate-induced apocalypse, ground zero will be in North or West Africa. I had no idea that I had been such a direct witness.

The apocalypse may in fact be nigh.

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