Climate Change: War Footing or Peaceful Solidarity?

In recent years, prominent voices in the public sphere have drawn an analogy between climate change and warfare. This has led, for example, to calls for massive, coordinated interventions akin to the Manhattan Project[i] – the Second World War era project which led to the development of the first nuclear weapons – or drawing on British wartime propaganda calling for a ‘war footing’[ii] among the general public to deal with climate change. While not all of those drawing this analogy have explicitly claimed that a Hobbesian ‘Leviathan’ approach is necessary to force cooperative action, the link between State power and climate change was clearly articulated by US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who recently promised supporters that, if elected, she would “make America the clean energy superpower of the 21st century”[iii].

The increasing trend to militarise environmental and common pool resource problems has also been criticised from multiple corners[iv]. Some environmental and indigenous rights activists see top down government intervention as an aggressive imposition of the will of those most responsible for climate change upon the lives of those least responsible[v], while conservative voices (at least those who admit the science behind climate change), voice skepticism regarding the efficacy of governmental or inter-governmental institutions to broker and administer a truly global effort. Looking beyond climate change specifically, the militarisation of conservation has been shown to have perverse human rights implications, and in some cases may even cause more ecological harm than good[vi].

On the one hand, the application of military analogies in policy making carries its own risks, misconstruing and simplifying the nature of the problem[vii]. On the other hand, the scale of the problem is such that any real solutions leading to the mitigation of carbon emissions, as well as adaptation to the changes already under way, cut across such a broad array of facets and domains of human affairs[viii] that dealing with them individually may be impossible. As much as the decentralisation of decision-making may appeal in procedural terms, it can be difficult to imagine disconnected, individual initiatives ever leading to a common solution. Further, one could provocatively argue that the exclusion of governance favours ‘the market’ as an inevitable mechanism for resource allocation decision-making.

Authors are invited to engage with the question: Does the challenge of climate change warrant a war footing? If so, who is the enemy?

Read the responses:



[i] Oreskes (2013) ’We Need a New Manhattan Project to Deal With Climate Change’, The New York Times, November 14, 2013, (
[ii] Delay (2014), ‘Why is there no Manhattan Project to tackle climate change?’, The Guardian, March 11, 2014, (
[v] Griffiths, T (2009) , ‘Seeing ‘REDD’? Forests, climate change mitigation and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities’, Forest People’s Programme. Online:
[vi] Brockinton, D. (2002), Fortress Conservation: The Preservation of the Mkomazi Game Reserve, Tanzania, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
[vii] Ostrom, E. (1990), Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[viii] Hulme, M. (2009), Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.