The climate crisis increases the likelihood of war and war exacerbates the suffering of millions of people in the Global South.
British academic Professor Jem Bendell concluded “climate-induced societal collapse is now inevitable in the near term”. His position may seem extreme, but Australia’s apocalyptic New Year fires show the crisis is already here.
While more attention has been focused on the physical aspects of a warming planet, Bendell writes about the social impacts: “The evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease and war.”
If humanity is to get through this impending catastrophe, it needs to confront the implications of all of these. However, it is the last one — war — that is my focus.
Intercept reporter Murtaza Hussain put it like this: “In the era of climate crisis, the relationship between environmental destruction and the destruction of human life … has become perhaps the central issue of our time.”
While there is no academic consensus on whether climate change is a cause of war, most, including military thinkers, agree that the climate crisis is a “threat multiplier”.
Existing tensions can make an outbreak of violence more likely: one example is Lake Chad in Central Africa where violence has increased as the lake has diminished due to long-term drought.
The unprecedented scale of Australia’s drought, fires and floods shows how quickly agriculture is affected. But in poor countries, scarcities of basic necessities — food and water — is destabilising. Crop failures mean famine.
When people cannot sustain themselves in one location, they move to another. Humans have done this as long as we have been able to walk.
The long war in Syria has given rise to a refugee crisis in Europe. But refugees from war are only one part of the picture. Add to this refugees from famine and those forced to move as their homes are being inundated or their land becomes unproductive. Climate migration is happening and the numbers on the move could rise to millions.
As poor nations feel the full brunt of a climate crisis created by the rich countries, the gap between rich and poor is also widening. Migrants from poor, impacted areas will be drawn to places with resources.
How are the rich nations responding? They are closing their borders in an effort to prevent people in search of security from arriving: US President Donald Trump is erecting a wall along the Mexican border and in Australia, there is a bipartisan consensus to lock asylum seekers up.
The violence is already happening, but it could also become worse.
The West’s xenophobia could become self-fulfilling: war between nations might result.
Today’s inequality is the consequence of four centuries of colonialism, underpinned by military might. Poverty in most of the world is perpetuated by a capitalist system of exploitation that, ultimately, relies on militarism. If poor countries challenge that power, military conflicts become more likely.
The West’s political and military leaders are not blind to the impacts of climate change. They fear rising instability and see profit-making opportunities. A recent report from the US Army War College recommends sending more military to the Arctic to exploit its natural resources.
A hardening of authorities’ control over internal opposition is also evident, as the US government’s response to Standing Rock and the Queensland government’s new anti-climate protest laws show.
The US is also increasing its military spending overseas and here, with more US marines based in Darwin. Here the government wants to boost the quantity and availability of weapons.
Fighting the social impact of climate change with weapons is an option for rich governments. The uncontrollable aspects of the climate emergency will bring untold suffering to millions of people: a military response will amplify this disaster beyond imagination.
The climate movement needs to adopt the call for peace. There will be no future, sustainable or otherwise, unless we resist authorities’ willingness to go to war. There is no sustainability without peace and no peace without sustainability.
[Nick Deane is an activist with the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) and is the convener of the Marrickville Peace Group.]