Climate Change Brings Forth a Century of Violence
Harald Welzer | Blaetter fuer dt. und internat Politik | May 2008
Until now, no one really seems to realise what kind of threat climate change represents for human beings living together on Earth. In his book "Climate Wars", the social psychologist Harald Welzer therefore warns us against only perceiving climate change as a natural catastrophe and not as a collapse of the social order. In this sense, the social consequences of this development, rather than the drying up of the Lake Chad or the flooding of South Asia, are the catastrophe. The change in living conditions could trigger migration waves and excesses of violence the consequences of which would have a global impact.
When droughts and floods result in the ground of entire areas of land becoming unusable, when lakes evaporate and rivers run dry, when lack of water threatens the lives of millions of people, then violent action becomes an essential strategy for survival. In short: if resources necessary to life decrease, the killing of immediate competitors increases the chances of survival of those left behind. In some cases, the connection between climate and violence is direct, as in the case of the massacres in Sudan. From the west of Sudan, the desert spreads out to the south and surrounds the living space of peasants and shepherds. The fight for land and water cancels out the already weak mechanisms to resolve conflict and leads to uncontrollable spirals of violence. The war in Sudan is the first ever "climate war" that Welzer predicts in the 21st century. In the Western media however, it is still as before interpreted as ethnically inspired. In other cases, the connection between climate and violence is more indirect. This is especially the case with illegal immigration, flows of refugees, armed border conflicts, and terror. Some believe mass migrations will have increased tenfold by the turn of the next century. It is highly possible that Europe and North America will have sealed themselves off further. The downside of this protection of external borders is the permanent tightening of security measures towards the inside, which broadens the state's monopoly on violence and wears away the constitutional state.
Above all, climate change deepens the rift between already uneven standards of living because it affects societies in various regions of the Earth very differently. Cooperation may barely seem to be an attractive option for those who are hit the hardest . To this end, the resource environment must be improved or one should organize for the available resources to be used more efficiently. Yet climate change only takes place slowly and sluggishly which means that measures taken today will only be effective in a few decades' time and that they will hardly play a role in the direct fight for survival. The measures will not yield anything regarding cooperation. In addition, those responsible and those affected are not identical whether in terms of space or time: those who caused climate change and continue to do so are not those who have to (or will have to) deal with its worst consequences. No matter whether climate wars lead to a direct or indirect form of conflict in the 21st century - violence has a big future in this century. That is at least the mainstay of Welzer's thesis.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from "Klimakriege" published here in "Blaetter fuer deutsche und internationale Politik" in Mai 2008.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- D. W. Steinmeier & D. Miliband: Addressing the Emerging Challenges of Climate Change
- J. F. Laurson & G. A. Pieler: Biofuels for Thought
- Nader Elhefnawy: The Future Should be Energy Efficient