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Climate Change and Violence workshop series 2008 - 2012
Crisis Forum is convening a series of seven workshops which will be held in diverse university, and or other institutional venues throughout the country, running though academic years 2008 to 2010. These, subject to numbers, will be open to anybody with an interest, whether academics, independent researchers, from NGOs, think-tanks, or other institutional organisations, including government and corporations. Presentations are invited for each workshop.
The purpose is to develop a full and holistic analysis of relationships between accelerating anthropogenic climate change and its political, military, social, and more broadly human, including public health, consequences. A dialogue between very different perspectives will be central to its development. Out of it will emerge an independent report which will be accessible not only to policy makers but to the wider public. The report will be made available on the web via a dedicated website. Underlying this purpose might be read the simple notion of ‘forewarned is forearmed’. But more exactly, our aims are:
Why these workshops, why now?
Crisis Forum was created in late 2002 as a focus for academics and independent researchers who are seeking to analyse the nature of crisis we now find ourselves in - from whatever perspective - and with a view to seeking lateral but holistic remedies. It exists as an independent network open to anyone, from all academic disciplines and none. It is unattached to any institutional body, and hence, does not have stakeholders or vested interests per se. It is however, dependent on outside funding to enable events such as these.
Crisis Forum is not about anthropogenic climate change per se. It simply identifies this phenomenon as both indicative of contemporary society’s dysfunction and discontents as well as an amplifier and accelerator to already existing conflicts and tensions in today’s world. That said, we consider the scientific evidence on climate change to be now so alarming as to present us with the potentiality of terminus for our species. The Climate Change and Violence project was initiated in 2004, with this certainly in view but more exactly to consider how human society and societies were likely to respond through violence to the varying knock-on impacts - or what International Alert (‘Climate of Conflict’, 2007) has dubbed ‘the consequences of consequences’ - of acute climate change, albeit in its co-relationship with other stress factors.
Treading water, in part through lack of resource and funding to further the project (see: ‘Climate Change and Violence: A Multidisciplinary and Interdisciplinary Initiative’), Crisis Forum has part-resolved this problem by decentralising an element of the task to pivotal network members throughout the country, who will be responsible for the running of individual workshops. Thus, while each workshop will be dedicated to a particular theme of the overall programme, they will both be linked, one to the other, and build, one upon the other, with support from a coordinating team. The conceptual organisation of workshops is developed below. It remains at this moment provisional and thus open to ideas, emendation and suggestions.
Argument and Praxis
Scientific evidence has now penetrated its findings into a broader institutional consciousness to the point where all manner of institutions, from the UN downwards, are beginning to recognise a connect between climate change and the potentiality of violence. However, it is significant that they usually do so through some rather conventional wisdoms or mantras.
This is most apparent in an emerging literature on climate change and security. Certainly, this can be interpreted broadly, but implicit in the terminology might be read as a set of imperatives associated with the preservation and, or perpetuation of the contemporary political-economic world order. Fears and anxieties as to the effects of climate change tend to relate to its negative impact on the status quo. ‘Appropriate’ responses from this perspective may have the wellbeing of the commonweal (as of the global commons) at heart, but may as likely to be about bolstering hegemonic interests, or the containment of destabilising factors, such as mass environmental refugee flows. Equally, and more overtly, they may be about maintaining control over domestic and non-domestic sources of fossil fuels, food supplies (food security) or indeed water resources necessary for the sustenance of a first world-led (‘business as usual’) economic system.
Another approach as represented for instance in the recent, eponymous International Alert report is one of climate change and conflict. This is altogether more benign in the sense that it highlights third world populations as those already suffering or most likely in the future to suffer the effects of climate change. It also assumes the phenomenon to be operating in tandem with already existing negative factors, particularly associated with diminishing or degraded water resources, crop failure and consequent flight from the land. The underlying proposition thus, is of the need for ongoing external - including financial and technological - assistance to avoid worsening third world impacts and to enable so-called ‘capacity building’ at national and local levels. Implicit (and hence rarely articulated) in this approach is an anxiety about a ‘realist’ political approach emanating from the ‘international community’ (for which read: West or North) which might lead to abandonment of third world countries, tantamount to ‘triage,’ as the costs of climate stress spiral. The climate change and conflict approach, however, also tends to follow a particular post-colonial trajectory in which it is taken as given that third world/‘developing’ countries will necessarily be the ones which are worst hit by climate change, and that by contrast, where Western or first world polities suffer incremental or extreme climate impacts of their own, they will have the necessary wherewithal to look after themselves, and so be able to fend off the likelihood of either domestic, or wider violence.
Both of these approaches may be valid in their own terms, but in so doing overtly or otherwise, put their emphasis on a section of endangered humanity, rather than the whole. They also share elements in common in their basis premises which, at the very least, are open to an exchange of views. For instance, there is no clear empirical evidence to confirm that first world communities will be more capable of coping with climate catastrophe than others simply because they are richer, more powerful, or with the military and other instruments of power to throw their weight around on the global stage. At a domestic level, indeed, a process of denaturing which in turn has increasingly distanced these societies from ephemeral let alone sustained adversity may actually prove them to be particularly fragile, or indeed brittle, in the face of an intensifying climate emergency. Paradoxically, the security paradigm may have its own developing, technologically-informed answers to these challenges in terms of top-down structures to quell, contain, or control ‘disturbances’ at home or abroad. But that in itself begs questions about not only the production but further reproduction of violence.
By providing climate change and violence as the appropriate parameters for these workshops, we seek to open up the debate as to what more broadly is at stake. Political, including geo-strategic and economic issues are clearly key but then so, in terms of consequences for human populations, are social, epidemiological, and psychological factors. Take a very low-level, even parochial example. Peter Davis, a researcher working at the Centre for Thermal Comfort at the University of Putra, Malaysia, has proposed that repeated heat surges lead to between half and two-thirds of people in urban tropical settings suffering headaches, while a third may also become angry, sick, or both. If one were to factor in other observed, climate-stress related changes such as the increased virulence of pathogenically-transmitted diseases or indeed entirely new insect-borne variants, one might begin to find grounds for positing that a climate-stressed social organism is also one which is much more likely to behave unpredictably.
Take another social example with more obvious political ramifications. Repeated or persistent flooding, whether in Bangladesh, Mozambique, or the UK, while it might entail initial cooperation and solidarity within communities, where it shifts into actual displacements of some communities upon others is likely to result in increased social tensions. Where there are ethnic cleavages or migrant populations involved, latent hostilities could also come to the fore. This may be a case of bringing attention to the elephant in the room but it is particularly relevant here for any discussion in which the supposed rational calculus or instrumentality of violence is cross-examined for other, including projective or phobic tendencies. Such tendencies can operate at the geo-political as well as local level which might in turn pose further consideration of how states, including states with large WMD arsenals, might behave under conditions of extreme crisis.
This is not to suggest that state policy-making in the face of expected emergency conditions is not open to empirical observation and analysis. On the contrary, following the direction initially developed in key essays in Cromwell and Levene eds. Surviving Climate Change (Crisis Forum - Pluto Press 2007), one of the urgent aims of these workshops is to put under the spotlight and further interrogate the underlying ‘normative’ premises upon which state, including state-corporate and state-military planning for climate crisis is derived, constructed and implemented.
The series does so without offering preconditions. It does however, offer the following Crisis Forum proposition: that the ultimate purpose for considering the potentialities for violence in an age of extreme climate change is to provide an understanding of their likely aetiology, morphology, and trajectories in order that human beings - operating within their respective communal, social and occupational habitus, structures and networks - may themselves be enabled, as the critical agents in their own non-violent struggle for safety, sustainability and survival.
To this end, we propose that these workshops cannot be the preserve or monopoly of any one disciplinary or interest group. Earth scientists, military analysts and international relations scholars and advisers, for instance, provide obvious examples of expertise which can offer informed opinion, with regard to particular aspects of this project. But we equally look to political geographers, medical anthropologists, environmental historians, students of religion and social psychology as we do to a much broader range of campaigners, researchers and practitioners from diverse institutional, or independent, backgrounds and perspectives.
Participants and Audience
Workshops are open to anybody; up to whatever limit on numbers is necessary for each venue. We envisage a normal maximum of 60 to 70 per workshop. There will be a number of discretionary places available (Details to follow). Some of the presentations will be by specific invitation. But we also invite position papers for one or more specific workshops, a brief abstract of no more than 250 words to be sent to the workshops coordinator Marianne McKiggan. Deadlines for submission are offered with details of each workshop below. We will be selecting from these with a view to facilitating wider discussion, dialogue and debate of the theme/s of each workshop, though they are also free to relate or interconnect to prior or succeeding workshops, or that of the project overall. The aim is to build up a composite picture of the subject across a global landscape and with a view to as broad and holistic an overview as is currently conceivable. With this in view we assume that all presentations will have a strong, open-ended element of ‘work in progress’ about them.
We envisage each day-long workshop to have no more than 6 to 8 presentations-cum-position papers in total, with each presentation lasting no more than 20 minutes.
Invitations to participate will be made to a wide range of bodies, emanating outwards from our own Crisis Forum network to like-minded groupings, academics, independent researchers, as well as a range of governmental and institutional, advisory and planning bodies, think-tanks, NGOs, corporate business and charitable foundations.
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