Climate Change in an Unjust World
ENVIRONMENT, 29 Nov 2021
23 Nov 2021 – It is a great pleasure to participate once again in this annual Congress on Agricultural and Food Ethics. The fact that it coincides with the UN COP-26 Summit on CC taking place is especially appropriate for at least two reasons:
- It recognizes the degree to which ethical limits pertaining to agriculture and all aspects of food security are being tested by the worsening of the climate change crisis.
- Looking ahead it becomes apparent that conflict patterns and the source of the majority of migrants will arise from global warming impacting on agriculture and food security in ways that call attention to the unjustness of the world on many levels, including geoeconomics, ecological, political, with the ethical lines most crudely drawn to display the boundaries between the Global North and the Global South.
My topic is somewhat broader than the explicit focus of the Congress as it does not directly consider the agricultural and food dimensions of an unjust world. Yet if the specificity of the victimization of societies and peoples in the Global South are analyzed it will be quickly appreciated that the nature of their vulnerability to climate change reflects above all the relevance of agriculture and food security. There is little doubt that these more vulnerable countries, whose challenges have been aggravated by neoliberal globalization, gross inequalities, elite corruption, the paucity of resources, exploitative foreign investments, as well as the vagaries of climate.
Such practices as large-scale land-grabbing by foreign companies to enable the development of industrial agriculture often disrupting communities inhabited by people dependent on traditional farming and agricultural become among those hardest hit by CC and least able to cope with it. These conditions of deprivation, which characteristically exhibit the cumulative impacts of various forms of injustice, including the greening of Europe at the ecological expense of Africa. In effect, the dynamics of climate change, including adjustments made to lessen or postpone its impacts—‘buying time’—have the effects of reproducing and accentuating the myriad injustices of the global system of international order.
A root reality of injustice experience in the way global warming points to data that shows that the 1% of the world population is currently subject to barely livable climate conditions, This figure is expected to increase in the future reaching an incredible anticipated 19% by 2070. What should disturb us is that literally all of the affected countries are situated in the Global South, mainly Africa and large portions of Northern South America and Central America. It is estimated that these extreme conditions of livelihood will alone produce more than a billion climate refugees; in addition, even the rich countries of the Gulf may face severe crises in coming decades if the fossil fuel phase out is implemented in the Global North as seems increasingly likely.
This core of CC adaptation is almost certain to take no more than minimal account of the inequities of the preoccupation in the North with reducing carbon emissions as rapidly as possible, which will entail its own more local adjustment calamities, and would lead these governments to give much attention by way of funding to the effect of softening the human impacts of such dislocations. It seems evident as never before in human history that it has become an urgent and practical necessity to find win/win solutions to CC challenges.
This will not be easy as Western capitalism and geopolitics has ascended the ladders of wealth and power by relentlessly pursuing win/lose logics. It may be time to appreciate and learn from Chinese mastery of a win/win approach to foreign policy as exemplified by their Road and Belt Project and their ascent from a poor and weak nation to a challenger for the top position. Of course, the challenges of development are not the same as those of CC but the reliance on soft power as a prime policy mechanism is highly relevant both ecologically and ethically.
Climate change in the world we know operates as what policy analysts call ‘threat multipliers.’ For instance, Syria suffered from poverty, discontent, and ethnic/religious tensions before 2011, but when climate change seemed responsible for drought in the North, undermining agriculture as a way of life, it internally displaced Syrians in the North, aggravating tensions elsewhere in the country. This Syrian crisis was further aggravated by a Chinese food shortage at the time that led China to make large purchases on world markets driving food prices much higher. This produced a tipping point in Syria where long simmering tensions turned to massive violence at a time of regional upheaval known as the Arab Spring.
The resulting decade long civil strife caused more than 494 & 606k deaths, and more that 6.7 million internally displaced and 5.1 refugees (3.8m in Turkey, 670k Germany). It also exported extremes of chauvinistic or anti-migrant nationalism throughout the Global North, especially in Europe. Gross injustices were intensified for the direct victims of the Syrian strife that illuminate patterns of victimization on a global scale. The tragedies experienced by Syrians forced to leave their homeland in search of livelihoods and even subsistence to support themselves and families encountered hostility wherever they went, and were treated as disposable human beings.
There is some moderately good news: Quincy Institute—rethinking national security to overcome grip on policy of political class holding onto obsolete paradigm of ‘political realism’ what Anatol Lieven in an important article calls the anachronistic influence of ‘residual elites’ [“This is not a failure of the Biden administration alone. Rather, it stems from deeply embedded cultures, traditions, and interests within the U.S. establishment as a whole.
The USA today is suffering from an acute case of “residual elites” — elites that came into being in one historical context and to meet one set of historical challenges, and are by nature unfit to deal with a new historical era and a new set of national tasks.”] that are out of touch with threats to national security; in the U.S. seems more enlightened about CC than the foreign policy establishment, elevating the dangers of CC high above those being caused by the deepening geopolitical rivalry with China. Will the leaders listen? Will the public, especially the awakening youth, exert enough pressure to make the political class cut themselves off from the militarist mind-set and traditional special interests.
Increased recognition that the cost of not offsetting the damage being caused by CC with substantial financial assistance will cause local conflict, material shortages, and generate streams of climate migrants desperate to escape the devastation and loss of livelihood due to rising sea levels, extreme weather events, industrial agriculture that lead to massive human displacements as well as mutually beneficial interdependence of natural habitats and human wellbeing.
Only a transnational ethos of human solidarity based on the genuine search for win/win solutions can hope to respond effectively to the magnitude and diversity of the growing CC challenge. Only a transition to such an ethos alter the world trend of retreating into nationalist enclaves of protectionism that intensified the political and psychological fragmentation of the world.
A midway position between the functionally necessary and the ethically desirable meta-nationalist perspective would be what is being called ‘responsible statecraft’ by the richer, more powerful countries—an acknowledgement of their rising national self-interest in maximizing CC adaptation and mitigation efforts at their source. For this to work it requires a sufficient consensus in the Global North to apportion assessments for assisting countries in need, mainly in the Global South, while encouraging responsible internal statecraft in the recipient countries.
Altering the present mismatch between gravity and proximate causes of harm and mobilizing effective responses; importance of civil society activism and local initiative, also procedures for responsibility, accountability, and enlightened self-interest, precautionary principle; overcoming short-termism; reciprocity present due migrants, source of food supply, overall stability, promotion of basic human rights.
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 60 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to two three-year terms as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and associated with the local campus of the University of California, and for several years chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is On Nuclear Weapons, Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament (2019).
Tags: Climate Change, Corruption, Environment, Global warming, Migrants, Migration, Refugees, Right to Food
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