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Transition Universities conference, Winchester,
February 2011

Climate Change and Violence workshop series 2008 - 2012
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Climate Change and Humanity, November 2004
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Workshop 5:
Friday 18th March 2011
York St John University
Dr. Laura Potts
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Workshop 5: Human Consequences: Human Welfare 

Most current discourse on potentialities for climate change and violence concentrate on the problem writ-large, that is, how climate change is likely to be treated as a domestic security or external defence issue, or in terms of broader international relations. One might argue, however, that this is simply the tip of the iceberg with little attention to date paid to the impact of accelerating climate change on the ability of human beings individually and collectively to sustain ‘normative’ behaviour. This workshop thus, seeks to probe in outline the enormous range of social, cultural, medical and psychological ramifications involved. For instance, if societies are not properly cognisant of what are the real dangers of abrupt climate change events, or, are alternatively in denial about them, how are they likely to respond to their actuality? Some of what might be explored here could be isolated to a question of how does an atomised social organism respond to the lights or water being turned off for weeks on end, or to homes and premises being repeatedly flooded?  But this workshop also seeks to pose wider questions of a more cumulative nature. What for instance, are the likely psychological consequences of stochastic weather, the breakdown of seasons, or the collapse, or complete extinction of a known and recognised flora and fauna on the human psyche?  Is this likely to lead to forms of trauma or even psychic collapse?  Historic evidence might suggest that the latter can lead to the inability of human populations to sustain and reproduce themselves.  In which case are denatured urban populations less likely to suffer the most serious effects?  Alternatively, at what point, or alternatively what factors, might shift internalised violence – that is against oneself – to externalised violence against family members, to gender assaults, or between groups of human beings?  There are a number of other factors which need consideration here. One is food scarcity. Rising costs of basic staples, especially bread, have been the historic cause of collective bouts of fear and panic sometimes leading to major social disturbances including riot and insurrection. How a contemporary consumer society unused to rationing let alone acute scarcity might react to such circumstances, is largely uncharted territory.  Equally, at this stage we need to know not only more about the likely spread of pathogens as a result of climate change, their possible impact on normative, advanced society public health services but also about likely public responses - not least under the impact of media amplification - to either the cumulative or epidemic spread of disease. This then perhaps of all these workshops is the one where we seek to return, so to speak to ground zero: to the human condition, and to a consideration of how human social organisms are best capable of remaining resilient, maintaining collective solidarity, looking after weaker members, including possibly large number of refugee outsiders in conditions of adversity, or even catastrophe.

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