Since you co-edited this book, The Secure and the Defowned, What has changed since 2015, when the study of militarisation of climate changes was done?
The trends we identified in our book about promoting military and security solutions for the climate crisis have unfortunately become more established over the past seven years. 2021 NATO made climate change preparations one its key priorities.President Biden is trying to integrate military perspectives on Climate Change into all areas. The EU is also well on its way towards full-scale militarization, in particular after the war on Ukraine. On the surface, the military taking climate change seriously sounds like a positive thing, but when you look deeper at their strategies it’s clear that it is mainly about strengthening military power rather than stopping worsening climate change.
Spending by the richest countries on the military and other coercive force These numbers have dramatically increasedThe last ten years have seen a decline in climate finance for developing countries, even as the wealthiest countries failed to fulfill their pledges to help them cope with climate change. TNI recently released a report. The Global Climate WallAccording to a study, the top countries spend twice as much on immigration enforcement and borders as they do on climate finance. It can be worse: The US spends 11x as much on immigration enforcement and borders.
The securitisation of the climate crisis is a wasteful use of resources that does not address its root causes and will only make it worse. Rather it ends up turning its victims into ‘threats’ that must be dealt with militarily. It is an unrational and inhumane way to address the climate crisis.
Positively, more people are aware of the dangers of militarizing the climate crisis. At the UN climate talks held in Glasgow, COP26 was discussed. A major coalition of peace and environment organisationsTo oppose militarisation, we came together and demanded that military emissions be reduced. The global movement to demand justice for climate change continues its growth in size and impact.
2. Despite academic research proving no such link, military strategies for climate change emphasize the potential violence and conflicts that could result from climate change. These narratives are good for who? Are these narratives a way to introduce militarism in our imaginations?
The belief that climate change will lead to conflict is hegemonic. It is a narrative that is clearly strongly promoted by both military planners and the arms industry who by nature of their political and economic power have made it feel like ‘common sense’. NATO’s strategy in 2021 for example says that climate change will ‘exacerbate state fragility, fuel conflicts, and lead to displacement, migration, and human mobility, creating conditions that can be exploited by state and non-state actors that threaten or challenge the Alliance’.
But, as you can see from the evidence, there is very little. The IPCC’s recent WGII report for example, which represents the best current consensus of the scientific community, says “Compared to other socioeconomic factors the influence of climate on conflict is assessed as relatively weak (High level of confidence)’.
This is not to say that climate isn’t a factor, but that what ultimately matters is the structures of society and government and how they respond to climate impacts. Moreover, the IPCC goes on to say that the real drivers of conflict are ‘patterns of intersecting socio-economic development, unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance (high confidence)’. Of course these patterns are inherent in our current unjust global economy, which powerful interests have little interest in fundamentally changing, so it is perhaps no surprise that the richest countries’ governments prefer to focus their attention on responding to rather than tackling the underlying causes of the climate crisis.
3. While scarcity is often presented as a given and a growing privatization and securization of access to water and food, the idea of scarcity is also accepted. Is there a connection here?
The concepts of security and scarcity are closely related. All security narratives, including those about conflict, are based on scarcity. The narrative states that climate change will lead to scarcity, which will then cause conflict that will require a security response. It reinforces and supports the military and security sector.
The focus on scarcity also tends to strengthen a win-lose proposition, where we need to compete and fight for the same scarce resources, rather than think through how to ensure everyone’s right to basic human needs is fulfilled. It strengthens the position of corporations who argue that the solution is to increase production and profits – Food, for example, to intensify industrial agriculture as well as to invest in technofixes such as ‘climate smart agriculture’. Again, the assumptions elide bigger structural questions, such as who faces scarcity and who doesn’t, what systems exacerbate that scarcity and what alternatives could be found. For example, we know that there is enough food for everyone in the world. However, maldistribution can lead to obesity in certain countries and famine elsewhere. Sometimes, both of these phenomena can occur in the same country. We also know that around a third of food goes unaccounted for due to industrialized farming, supermarkets, globalised supply chains and other practices.
We should not look for solutions from corporatised industrial agriculture. This has caused the climate crisis (industrial foods systems are estimated to account for between 21% to 37% of global emissions) and created huge inequality in access to food and land. Instead, we should be focusing on land reform, food sovereignty and international collaboration to create solutions.
4. Despite the warm words of the world’s leaders, their response still follows the pattern of inaction or even actions that worsen the climate crisis? Why is it that we are not taking action on the scale needed? Are governments afraid of unpopular measures or corporations too powerful?
It’s a huge challenge for progressive forces as we face two hegemonic and interlinked ideas – first that the market is the best system for allocating resources and second that security is the best response to the inequities caused by the subsequent unjust allocation of resources.
However, the calls to systemic change are increasing louder, both from the scientific community and some business and political leaders. At COP26, the climate movement was more solidly in support of both justice and systemic change than before, led by the likes of Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate whose school strikes are now calling to ‘uproot the system’ that creates climate change.
However, the public awareness and concern are not sufficient to challenge the deeply entrenched economic power and political power of corporations as well as the military. There is a theory that there is a tipping point, which suggests that proposals that are supported by 25% or more will be accepted.It can lead to widespread changes in the lives of large swathes of the population. They also note that campaigns that are close to this often feel that they have failed, even though they are on the edge of major change that is impossible to predict. This, I believe, is a very real possibility today. However, I believe it is necessary for social movements not to lose sight of building up long-lasting popular power mechanisms.
5. There is a debate about the term ‘security’. Some argue to broaden the concept to include notions of ‘human security’; others propose to leave the term behind and use other concepts such as climate justice? You are where you want to be in this debate.
This is a subject that I have contradictory and mixed feelings about. I admire and respect those who work for this. Human security or other concepts that are similar to ecological securityThey are based on a different set of values than military doctrines or national security frameworks. I have sympathy with their argument that progressive forces should not cede the word ‘security’ to the military and should rather question what really provides security – healthcare or weapons for example? However, I feel that the military and national security apparatus will have a greater influence on the policy development and discussion than any other security types. What I see is the national security apparatus using the breadth and vagueness of the term ‘security’ to their advantage to win public acceptance for their climate security work and to avoid scrutiny of their proposals. Security is a matter of course. In the end, I oppose the term because it is too common. I am more in favour of social movements using different terms such as ‘safety’ or ‘justice’, always focused on how any policies affect those most impacted by climate change.
7. COVID-19 has resulted in measures that are either nationalist or primarily benefit corporations. This could also be the framework for most responses to climate change. How can we change the course of events to be more ecocentric and solidarity-based?
COVID-19 proved on one hand the importance of public responses that are based on solidarity and communal safety in addressing a crisis, such as a pandemic. On the other hand, it allowed for nationalistic responses and corporate profiteering, as well as normalisation of emergency security precautions that will have repercussions over the years. 170 countries declared emergencies in the wake of the pandemic, and this has facilitated new waves of police repression, increased and unaccountable surveillance including of people’s bodies and health. Not surprisingly this has impacted marginalised people the most – street vendors, refugees, racialised minorities – as well as protestors.
Climate change, like COVID-19 is a global phenomenon that transcends borders. These crises do not require nationalist solutions, as we are finding out with the emergence of new variants in less-vaccinated countries. To find just solutions that last, we need to work together, prioritise the public interest, and show global solidarity. To get there, you must show how these policies benefit everyone and model solidarity in the communities where we live. Then, push cities, regions, and states to adopt them to build climate and health justice from the bottom.
8. The invasion of Ukraine and sanctions on Russian gas have shown Europe’s dependence energetically. They also led to rapid increases in the rearmament of large powers. What do you see as the short-term and long-term implications of this war?
I fear it’s going to have as significant impacts long-term as 9/11 did. The war suggests that we are about to enter a new world with inter-imperialist disputes whose impact will ripple around the globe. While I hope that it will encourage a shift towards renewable energy, I fear it will instead drive a new wave in the drilling of oil and gas to achieve self-sufficiency. It will drive a new wave in military spending at a time when we need it. I also fear it will cause a period of bellicosity, when we need to find solutions to climate change.
The political balance will determine the meaning and significance of this moment. If we mobilize to show that fossil fuel economy has created the conditions for conflict, and that we need to create a new environmentally focused peace economic, then this terrible moment could be turned into something positive.