Meltdown 2: Violence Already Happening

The Meltdown Essays are devoted to exploring a regrettable yet realistic prediction: that if the vested commercial and political interests (who profit from the status quo) continue to actively derail measures to tackle carbon emissions, they will create a vacuum into which violence will emerge as a tool of climate advocates within the next 25 years.

In this, the second Essay of the series, I seek to demonstrate that unfortunately, violence (of many types) is already part of the climate change dynamic. 

“Climate change is global-scale violence against places and species, as well as against human beings.” – Rebecca Solnit 

A few months back I stumbled across an article entitled Climate Change is Violence by the talented and widely published Rebecca Solnit and the article I link to above is the one that appeared on The Leap Blog (a similar version appeared in The Guardian). The article gave me a whole new understanding of the language surrounding “violence” and “climate change” and where responsibility for much of it lies.

Rebecca explains that when the term violence is commonly used, “we almost always talk about violence from below, not above”. Murder, stabbings, rioting. The violence carried out by the disenfranchised, the hopeless, the poor, the desperate, the powerless. However Rebecca shows us that in the context of climate change we need to consider all violence, not “just the hands-on violence of the less powerful.” There is another more insidious violence we need to consider, violence from above.

Rebecca asserts that the decision making of carbon barons is unleashing violence from above which is “industrial scale and systemic” (although it is rarely portrayed as such in the media). Their ongoing and unrepentant decision making in relation to fossil fuel extraction has horrific consequences on the poor and vulnerable through climate change by unleashing a chain reaction of destruction. She argues that these carbon barons are as culpable as the owners of cheaply built sweatshops that collapse and the manufacturers who knowingly sell unsafe machinery or poisonous products. They all can “kill more people than any hands-on mass murderer ever did” without any manual labour on their part.

Rebecca points at the Arab Spring as an example of how the decisions made by the elites materialize as violence and death on the ground. Former US Vice President Al Gore stated that climate change played a large part in escalating the causes of conflict that led to the Syrian War. I.e. the severe drought (lasting several years), led to crop failure, a rise in wheat prices / famine, displacement of population and ensuing social unrest and eventually civil war. While Gore’s comments (echoed by Obama and Prince Charles) brought criticism from some quarters, there’s little doubt that tensions are exacerbated in a world of dwindling natural resources and increasing population when combined with rising temperatures and changing weather patterns.

And it’s not just the less developed nations at risk of violence. Consider Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005: while no one can say it was directly caused by climate change, the fact that murder was one of it’s unfortunate side-effects shouldn’t be lost upon us. Hurricane Katrina proved that our cities, towns and streets are, to paraphrase A.H. Lewis (1906), only three meals away from anarchy. Your entire way of life is threatened by the coming chaos. And all because of the pursuit of profit.

The list of philosophers and thinkers to articulate the madness of the dominant culture is vast and Derrick Jensen (himself a philosopher and environmentalist) includes a review of some such writers and their publications on his own webpage.  The world of fiction has also provided us with many clear critiques of what “civilisation” is.  “The Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad published in 1899 was one such masterpiece to lay bare the evil at work in expansionist culture. Ward Churchill in his book, Pacifism as Pathology (published in 1998) makes the point that the violent “spirit of Hannibal Lecter is thus at the core of an expansionist European ‘civilization’ which has reached out to engulf the planet.”

The focal point of all the above is that violence is neither new, nor is it relenting. This violence is knowingly being fermented by those who are prioritizing profits over the protection of the planet. It’s both sinister and indirect but it is violence nonetheless. And at present these “elites” (who I will identify in more detail in further blogs) operate without compunction or fear of reprimand.

In Meltdown 3: Responsibility, I look at how the overwhelming responsibility for action (or inaction) lies in the hands of the commercial and political interests who obstruct meaningful progress to mitigate climate change in full knowledge of the consequences. Follow the drop down menu on “Meltdown Essays” above to find the next essay in the series. Until then keep smiling.

For more on my background and other writing press here.

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