Should This Not Be A War Against Ourselves?

Professor James Fairhead
Department of Anthropology
University of Sussex

As a coalition builds to escalate war in Syria and neighbours, several of our princes and politicians have been drawn to see this maelstrom as somehow caused by climate change, and so to fight it, we should presumably open a second front on hot air.

We must remember, however, that there is more to ‘climate and security’ than worrying whether people fight more in increasingly bad weather. Policies addressing climate change are driving major transformations in access to global land, forests and water as they create new commodities and markets for carbon, biofuels, biodiversity and ‘climate-secure’ food. And now the emergence of these new ‘climate change commodities’ is reinforcing and attracting the financial grid and its speculators. Perhaps we should more properly ask: how might the advent and expansion of these new commodities and their markets generate or prolong conflicts. ‘Climate conflicts’ become manifest in the new economic and political orders that arise around these markets, driving ‘land grabs’ and ‘green grabs.’ So will the Paris COP be fair? Or will it facilitate nature to become a form of natural capital that can be ever more accumulated by the ‘less-than-one-percent’ in our increasingly unequal world?

The pressing links between climate change and security are to be perceived through these mitigation markets and the resource capture and militarisation associated with them. Moreover, we should worry that current discourses that ‘securitise’ climate change, and apparently ‘depoliticize it’, are actually highly political as they are part and parcel of these markets. Indeed by supporting their development, they thus play a part in bringing about the very insecurities that they purport to address.

Moreover, the new global ‘green’ markets nourished by this discourse remain dependent on resource intensive structures and a military-industrial complex to police them. So climate security, in the tradition of mainstream development, now supports ‘business as usual’. It obfuscates the environmental insecurity and widespread degradation built into this industrial economy. The popular and widespread belief that environmental degradation and climate change directly induces and intensifies conflict, thus risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in a second way by extending and intensifying the existing political and industrial economic relationships dependent on growth imperatives and the subsequent consumption and usurpation of the natural environment.

For more, why not check out:

Alexander Dunlap and James Fairhead (2014) ‘The Militarisation and Marketisation of Nature: An Alternative Lens to ‘Climate-Conflict’’, Geopolitics, 19:4, 937-961, DOI: 10.1080/14650045.2014.964864


James Fairhead, Melissa Leach, and Ian Scones (2012) ‘Green Grabbing: A New Appropriation of Nature?’ The Journal of Peasant Studies 39/2, pp. 237–261.

This post is a response to the CAOS Provocation Climate Change: War Footing or Peaceful Solidarity?. Read the other responses: