Saturday, April 25, 2015

Injustice and conflict in the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is accelerating towards an eco-social tipping point beyond which lies either recovery or civilizational collapse. Environmental and other forms of injustice are no longer local, and no longer restricted to ethnic and religious minorities, together with the economically vulnerable. Though modern and future injustice still particularly affects these groups, the descendants of people who today lead comfortable, reasonably secure lives as part of the global middle class (or second “claste”) are vulnerable to a constellation of cascading, interlinked, and potentially catastrophic phenomena, unfolding during this century.

The attacks on the US on September 11, 2001 are, so far, the most prominent events in a “War on Terror” which today appears endless. This “War” is related not only to the increasing proximity of planetary boundaries but to global policies which either ignore or deny the significance of their closeness. In turn, recognition of these issues is slowed by numerous social factors, including multi-scalar inequality, high population growth in low-income settings (further prolonging, or even deepening poverty traps and inequality) and a pervasive lack of sufficient “biosensitivity”. In particular, too many economists naively believe that different forms of capital are more or less fully substitutable.

Ongoing, piecemeal disintegration of the high quality, quasi-global civilization that once appeared in reach (long promised by adherents of eco-socially juvenile policies) towards an “enclave” world that in some ways mimics the Dark Ages should not be dismissed as an absurd future, given recent trends including of conflict. The war in Syria is arguably related to a drying climate, worsened by poor governance. It has in turn fuelled a spreading Islamist insurgency, powered not only by the policies of nominally Christian governments but by a steady inflow of international youth, motivated by what seems to many of them to be hypocrisy. (Missiles fired from a drone over Pakistan controlled by an operatorin Colorado can also be interpreted as acts of terror.)

Debates over the fine details of pathways to conflict have distracted policy makers (and many academics) from recognition of their major underlying eco-social drivers, including of “terrorism”. Some social factors are recognized, but environmental and ecological drivers (other than, partly, oil) are not; and the interconnections and feedbacks even less so. This leads to piecemeal, ultimately fruitless attempts to suppress terrorism rather than to promote the factors which will instead lead to its pacification. Recognition of such factors is urgently required if we are to avoid collapse.

This abstract was rejected in April 2015 by the Canberra Conference on Earth System Governance. Not sure why - was my language too frank? Nonetheless,  senior politicians (eg Senator John Kerry) are increasingly recognising links between drought and conflict.  We also recently published a paper called Climate change, conflict and health in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.