Vulnerable to Violence
In the fall of 2015, United States Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders received an onslaught of criticism when he attributed the rise of terrorism, and the series of Paris terrorist attacks that had just left 130 dead, to climate change. Immediately following the presidential debate, numerous reputable political pundits, from Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, to Republican Senator and former Chairman of Homeland Security Ron Johnson, voiced their disagreements with Sanders’ claim.
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In fact, soon after the debate ended, Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee was interviewed saying, “I get disappointed when people see momentum around [climate change] and try to attach an unrelated issue to it.” (Henry, 2015) In fact, in December of that same year, Foreign Policy magazine, a political journal revered for its impartiality, published an article titled, “Stop Saying Climate Change Causes War” refuting both Sanders’ claim, and others that sought to connect climate change to the still ongoing devastating Syrian Civil War.
While Sanders’ cause-and-effect relationship may have been exaggerated, the relationship between extreme weather events, temperature anomalies, and violence is neither baseless nor uncorroborated. In fact, over the last half-decade, numerous studies have been released substantiating the linkage between climate change and armed conflict. In a 2017 study produced by the Brookings Institution, author Vesselin Popovski found that “a 1 percent increase in temperature leads to a 4.5 percent increase in civil war in the same year, and a 0.9 percent increase in the following year” (Popovski, 2017).
Just a year later, author Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic discovered that out of the ten countries most frequently mentioned in climate change literature, six of them also hold positions in the list of the world’s most violent countries. (Meyer, 2018) While there is still little evidence to support Sanders’ grandiose claim that climate change triggered the proliferation of terrorism in the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly evident that climate change will not just slightly alter current standards of living. The rise in temperature has inadvertently begun to promote civil unrest and violence in some of the most underdeveloped regions of the world.
In order to theorize possible mitigation and adaptation strategies, it is important to recognize both the ramifications of climate change, and the role that industrialized countries have played in contributing to this global temperature increase. According to author Lynn Hewlett, whose chapter “Learning from Student Protests in Sub-Saharan Africa,” featured in Fees Must Fall, explains simply, “the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas creates carbon dioxide gas… which traps the sun’s heart in the atmosphere and makes the earth warmer” (Lynn Hewlett, 2015).
Although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report of a per-decade temperature increase of 0.2°C may seem negligible, the consequences of climate change are difficult to overlook. (IPCC Working Groups I-III, 2015) Escalating temperatures resulting from greenhouse gas emissions not only deplete natural resources such as arable land, potable water, and breathable air. The abnormal temperature rise over the past half-century has also contributed to rising sea levels, a global biodiversity loss, and more frequent extreme weather events, from prolonged droughts to incessant rainfall. Although there is still some debate surrounding human contribution to climate change, most climate change experts agree that humans are at least partially responsible for the stark temperature rise.
According to a study conducted by Yale University in 2013, over 97% of 12,000 peer-reviewed papers on climate change argue that the temperature increase is indeed at least partially attributable to anthropogenic greenhouse emissions. (Marlon, 2013) More disturbingly, however, is the role that industrialized nations, such as the United States and Germany, rapidly developing countries including India and China, and transnational corporations have all played in producing this environmental catastrophe.
As reported in the 2017 Carbon Majors Database, a peer-reviewed study which compiled and recorded companies with the most greenhouse gas emissions, “over half of global industrial emissions since 1988 can be traced to just 25 corporate and state producers.” (Griffin, 2017)
Despite the influence that industrialized nations and the currently modernizing BRICS countries have had on the current climate system, the brunt of climate variability has thus far fallen largely on African shoulders. Natural resources which were at one point plentiful throughout the continent have diminished greatly over the past half-century, which has led to desertification, widespread crop failure, and even violence.
In his article, “’Who Wins from “Climate Apartheid?’ African Climate Justice Narratives about the Paris COP 21” author Patrick Bond points out that inland Africa is uniquely susceptible to climate change, which is projected to warm 6-7°C by the end of the century, more than two degrees greater than the anticipated greater world average. (Bond, 2016) Author Christian Parenti offers similar statistics to illustrate African susceptibility to climate change. As a member of the Maasai people living in Kenya explains, “In the 1970s, we started having droughts every seven years… Now they are coming almost every year, right across the country.” (Parenti C. , Chapter 4, 2011)
Yet, as Patrick Bond and others argue, nascent African countries are vulnerable to the effects climate change not because of their location, but rather because of the lack of the infrastructure and resources that allow countries to face constantly changing environmental conditions. These issues are only intensified in Africa by pervasive government corruption and political instability. For example, although farming is the main source of employment for greater than 60% of the continent’s inhabitants, African malnourishment has worsened with each passing year. (The World Bank, 2018) African farmers simply lack the funds to acquire high-yielding techniques, and are not provided with adequate infrastructure systems to produce sustainable quantities of food in unfavorable climates.
Furthermore, African countries eager to cement their places in the global economy often impose pro-investment policies that prioritize multinational commercial agriculture over small-scale subsistence farming. As the example above illustrates, many African countries exemplify what author Christian Parenti calls “Catastrophic Convergence:” a phenomenon where political, economic, and environmental disasters collide, compound, and amplify one another’s effects. (Parenti C. , 2011) In these “conflict systems,” climate change generates violence in many forms, such as intrastate conflict between competing tribes, looting and piracy of Transnational Corporations, and mass demonstrations protesting environmentally destructive African governments.
The long-term rise in global temperature, coupled with the recent preponderance of extreme weather events, has induced a natural resource deprivation across the globe. In fact, Parenti estimates that by the end of the century, the proportion of land in severe drought will expand from 3% to 30%. (Parenti C. , 2011) Therefore, ownership, allocation, and management of these increasingly scarce resources has become an issue of the utmost importance for countries and tribes across the globe.
In vulnerable African states that lack basic infrastructural needs, however, this competition over access to remaining natural resources has erupted into armed conflict. In his 2011 book titled, Topics of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, author Christian Parenti explains how climate change can induce violence by illuminating the current strife between the Turkana and the Pokot, two competing groups living in Kenya’s Pastoralist Corridor.
For tribes living in the Pastoralist Corridor, a mountainous and arid region in Western Kenya, cattle are the economic and cultural center of life. Yet, without water and adequate grazing land, Parenti writes, “the Turkana would disappear. “they would die or migrate to cities and their culture would exist only in the memories of deracinated urban slum dwellers.” (Parenti C. , 2011)
Due to the area’s regular droughts and flash floods, coupled with deficient adaptation policies imposed by the Kenyan government, pastoralist groups are left no choice but to raid their neighbors and engage in violent behavior just to ensure their own future livelihoods. While it is difficult to estimate how many men have fallen in the Pastoralist corridor fighting over limiting resources, Parenti’s interviews of Kenyan pastoralists highlight the pervasiveness of climate-induced violence in these already tumultuous African states.
Former Kenyan pastoralist Lucas Airong lost both his father and friends when he was a young boy by way of the Kenyan cattle wars. Although Ariong is now a local NGO leader, and is far removed from the Pastoralist Corridor, he still owns “about 50 cows… all kept under the watchful eyes of armed men, his sons, and hired hands.” (Parenti C. , 2011)
Since the Kenyan government has proven incapable of providing sufficient watering holes and adequate irrigation systems, local tribes such as the Turkana and Pokot are left no other choice but to engage in violent behavior.
The diminishing supply of natural resources has the ability to spark both small-scale tribal clashes, such as in the Pastoralist Corridor, and large-scale civil wars, as illustrated by the most recent humanitarian crisis currently unfolding between the Christian anti-balaka rebels and the Muslim former Séléka rebels in the Central African Republic. Although no current CAR casualty report exists, the Associated Press reported in December of 2014, just seven months after the armed conflict began, that at least 5,186 fatalities were caused by the strife between the anti-balaka and the ex-Séléka factions. (The Associated Press, 2014) While religious differences and the desire for political control were undoubtedly factors in instigating this conflict, former CAR Minister of Environment and Ecology and current CAR liaison for the World Resource Institute Paul Doko is one of many who attribute the ongoing Central African Republic civil war to resource scarcity.
“What we have been facing in the provinces,” Doko claims, “is a struggle between different militia for control over natural resources such as diamond, timber, ivory and others, rather than willingness to actually change politics.” (Bollen, 2013)
In these remote provinces outside of the capital of Bengui, the feud over the country’s remaining resources has had devastating effects on local communities. Séléka commanders have forcefully removed, and even slaughtered, CAR citizens for control over the country’s “artisan timber exploitation, ivory poaching, and diamond mines.” (Bollen, 2013) Similar to the Pastoralist Corridor, armed conflict over natural resources is facilitated by the country’s weak governance and rampant poverty. In this politically fragile state, access to the country’s remaining natural resources is a critical step in attaining political influence and achieving economic prosperity.
Climate change has also fostered violence between African locals and foreign corporations that exploit African workers and extract African resources. In their article titled, “Globalization, Land Grabbing, and the Present-Day Colonial State in Uganda: Ecolonization and Its Impact,” authors Pádraig Carmody and David Taylor argue that the depletion of natural resources has increased their overall economic, social and political value in the global economy, which in turn has caused “ecolonization,” a phrase coined by the two authors which refers to the “ongoing colonization of different types of natural resources by those states, companies, and consumers that are able to exercise power in the global political economy” (Carmody & Taylor, 2016)
Due to continent’s largely untapped resource market and each country’s eagerness to finally enter the global economy, Africa has become one of the most popular destinations for foreign investment. Yet, this mass influx of foreign governments and transnational corporations (TNCs) has created resentment among many already impoverished and malnourished African communities. In resource-rich countries such as Somalia and Nigeria, locals have responded to the arrival of outside corporations with acts of looting, robbing, and piracy.
In a 2014 journal study titled, “Fisheries, ecosystem justice and piracy: A case study of Somalia,” authors Rashid Sumalia and Mahamudu Bawumia argue that the recent rise in piracy off the coast of Somalia is the result of the destruction of the local fishing industry caused by increased foreign fishing presence, ineffective state governance, and unregulated toxic waste dumping. Foreign trawlers often overfish and, because of weak government enforcement of environmental policies, are allowed to dispose toxic and hazardous waste into Somalian waters. This in turn not only reduces the supply of available fish for Somalian natives, but also threatens the ecosystem’s future availability. (Sumaila & Bawumia, 2014)
Confronted with increasingly barren fisheries, Somalian fishers, unable to overcome corporate technology and capital, are provided no other alternative but to engage in theft and piracy. This ongoing conflict between foreign entities and Somalian locals has made the Somalian coast the most dangerous body of water worldwide, closely trailed by the Niger Delta. (Gaffey, 2016) With a crude oil production capacity of close to 2.5 million barrels a day, Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, and the sixth largest worldwide. Although the Niger Delta accounts for 90% of all Nigerian commercial crude exports, and makes up close to 70% of the government’s total revenue, the region remains one of the most dangerous in the world. (NNPC, 2016)
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While government officials, Nigerian elites, and major Transnational Corporations such as Shell, Mobil, and Chevron all reap the economic benefits of crude oil extraction, the vast majority of Niger Delta inhabitants still live in abject poverty. To make matters worse, crude oil extraction has subsequently led to greater pollution in the river basin, the widespread destruction of subsistence crops, and the expropriation of residential territory. The unequal distribution of oil revenue, the blatant disregard for environmental preservation, and the policies preferential to multinational corporations have all led to the emergence of multiple militant organizations in the Niger Delta. While these militancy groups differ in composition and extremity, they all employ violent tactics to achieve the same goal: a greater control over the country’s limited resources. (Francis & Sardesai, 2008)
Lastly, in recent years, grassroots protests have arisen in several African countries in an attempt to combat environmentally destructive governmental policies. Having been hampered by colonialism for decades, many African governments are now employing “top-down development models” that concentrate on expanding industrial modes of production as a way to cement their place in the global economy. (Leonard & Pelling, 2010) While such policies will certainly help propel national economies in the long term, they tend to relegate certain, already marginalized, African communities.
Such marginalization and ensuing protest is most apparent in Kenya, and in the Darfur region of western Sudan. In her publication titled, ‘‘’It’s More Than Planting Trees, It’s Planting Ideas’: Ecofeminist Praxis in the Green Belt Movement,” author Kathleen Hunt points to the Green Belt Movement, a nationwide environmental campaign in Kenya, to illustrate the role that African citizens frequently play in protesting environmental and political oppression.
The Green Belt Movement (GBM) was established by Kenyan environmental activist Wangari Maathai as a means to protest the country’s latest model of economic development, which relies heavily on trading the country’s already limited unsustainable resources, like timber, charcoal, and coffee. Hunt explains that such policies, which are not unique to Kenya alone but characterize much of the African continent, favor “national trade of raw materials over local community economies.” (Hunt, 2014) According to Hunt, Kenya’s keenness to enter the world market has both exacerbated local food insecurity and caused “deforestation, soil erosion, sedimentation… [and] migratory shifts, as men moved in search for work in the white settlers’ plantation.” (Hunt, 2014) While these policies have indisputably afflicted the nation’s population as a whole, the Green Belt Movement has primarily focused on ensuring the rights of Kenyan women, who have traditionally been in charge of “managing the family’s land, food production, gathering water and fuelwood.” (Hunt, 2014)
Established in 1977, the Green Belt Movement hasn’t only combatted environmental degradation through public demonstrations, however. Rather, the movement places an equally large focus on empowering Kenyan villages, from teaching locals how to properly plant trees to hosting community-wide engagement seminars. Despite the organization’s holistic and empowering approach, the movement has indeed encountered a considerable amount of violence throughout its history. Once the Green Belt Movement adopted a pro-democracy message to its platform, the Kenyan government began to use state force in order to stop the dissemination of their message.
This was most apparent in 1992 when GBM forces joined fellow pro-democratic group, Release Political Prisoners (RPP), to protest the unjust torturing and indefinite holding of political detainees. While the demonstration was originally planned as a three-day sit-in on Uhuru Park, the two allied groups immediately encountered police violence. Fighting off the police’s tear gas and batons, many GBM and RPP members remained in the park for over eleven months. (Hunt, 2014)
Although the violence encountered at Uhuru Park was an anomaly for the Green Belt Movement, more frequent displays of violence stemming from environmentally destructive national policies can be found in the Darfur region of Sudan. With an almost entirely Arab population and government, Sudan Arab semi-nomadic pastoralists and non-Arab sedentary farmers have long shared the region’s natural resources.
Yet, over the past half-century tensions have heightened as climate unpredictability has forced the two groups to compete over shrinking grazing land and evaporating watering holes. The current day humanitarian crisis, however, began in April of 2003, when a rebel group comprised of non-Arab members attacked El Fashir airport in North Darkur. (Sikainga, 2009) This attack was the culmination of numerous non-Arab demonstrations advocating for better resource distribution and greater political representation in the Sudanese government. In response to this attack, president Omar al-Bashir acted swiftly, employing numerous autonomous militias to suppress non-Arab rebel groups.
One ethnically Arab group, known as the Janjaweed, employed particularly heinous tactics to combat their non-Arab counterparts, including torture, arson, looting, and mass killings, deemed by many as “ethnic genocide.” (Human Rights Watch, Africa Division, 2004-2005) While the Darfur region has historically been volatile, this particular resource-related conflict, which pit marginalized sedentary farmers against the predominantly Muslim Sundanese government and its hired militias, has been deemed one of the worst humanitarian crises in the last century, killing more than 300,000 citizens and displacing more than 2 million (Taylor, 2005)
If the immediate ramifications of climate change, such as desertification, droughts and food insecurity weren’t enough already to compel state actors to institute environmentally friendly policies, the examples listed above, from Kenya’s Pastoralist Corridor to Sudan’s Darfur, hopefully serve to illustrate the true gravity of unabated greenhouse gas emissions.
Currently one-sixth of the world’s population is starving, and with global temperatures expected to rise anywhere from 4-6°C by the end of the century, one can only assume the consequences of climate change will intensify in the near future. (Holt-Giménez) In order to reduce malnutrition, maintain our current levels of biodiversity, and stop resource related conflicts altogether, major polluters and African countries must agree to sweeping and stringent reforms.
Although mitigation strategies, which seek to drastically cut the production of greenhouse gasses through the implementation of green energy and the disengagement from the industrialized economy, are preferred by environmental activists worldwide, they have proven to be ineffective thus far, as Annex I countries, rapidly developing BRIC countries, and African central governments all refuse to make economic concessions in the name of environmental preservation. (Jacobs, 2018)
This was best illustrated at the 2011 Copenhagen Conference of the Parties (COP), an annual meeting between all member nations of the UNFCCC. The only agreement crafted at the conference, in which the United States, Brazil, South Africa, India, and China all decided to take “inadequate and voluntary emission cuts,” was conducted behind closed doors. (Bond, 2016) The industrialized world’s stubborn refusal to include African countries in the decision-making process has been a recurring theme in nearly all environmental negotiations.
The Paris Agreement of 2015, for example, did not even mention “climate debt” payment for vulnerable countries, even though many African countries are already owed reparations for the damage levied by local climates. (Bond, 2016) While occidental countries should be reprimanded for their unwillingness to take environmental action, it is important to note that African governments are also partially to blame for perpetuating climate change. Primarily concerned with enhancing the national economy, African governments have repeatedly favored large-scale corporations over local industries. This partiality manifests itself most clearly in the coastal city of Durban, South Africa.
Although the Durban population has expressed its vehement disapproval through frequent demonstrations and protests, the South African government has continued to invest in foreign industries nevertheless. As authors Llewellyn Leonard and Mark Pelling write, “state and industry interests [in Durban, South Africa] have continued to invest in projects that harm the local environment and human health” (Leonard & Pelling, 2010)
This widespread government reluctance to reduce carbon emissions has rendered most proposed mitigation solutions, like La Via Campesina’s global food sovereignty movement, unfeasible. In his report titled “Seven Reasons Why the World Banks Plan for Agriculture Will Not Help Small Farmers,” author Eric Holt-Giménez explains how promoting global food sovereignty could help ameliorate food insecurity and resource deprivation facing African nations today.
Providing citizens with the right to “determine [their own] food and agriculture policies” will not only keep local malnutrition from worsening, Holt-Giménez argues, but will also hinder transnational corporations from inflating commodity prices to unreasonable levels. (Holt-Giménez, Williams, & Hachmyer, 2015) Although an effective policy in theory, global food sovereignty hinges on rural and urban communities agreeing to directly exchange products and policymakers deciding to cut out transnational corporations from the food supply chain.
This course of action seems unlikely in Africa’s current economic climate, however. Challenging the TNC dominated neoliberal market will not only take decades to achieve, but will also severely impede on long-term national growth.
Even though mitigation strategies such as reducing CO2 emissions and excluding transnational corporations from the global food supply chain are unlikely to be effective, climate-change induced conflict will decrease nonetheless if African communities are well adapted to fluctuating environmental conditions. Ensuring African resilience begins with the implementation of Climate-Smart Agriculture and increased infrastructural support from NGOs and already developed nations. Rather than just simply advocating for emissions reductions, Climate-Smart Agriculture promotes resilience among African communities by providing farmers with new technology and agricultural techniques, such as “mulching, intercropping, conservation agriculture, crop rotation…” (The World Bank, 2013).
While Climate-Smart Agriculture will certainly help attenuate the problems plaguing Africa today, infrastructural improvement is also required to curtail resource related conflict. In fact, when asked how to solve tribal violence in the Pastoralist Corridor, Lucas Airong responded with, “more wells. We need boreholes… the issue is drought” (Parenti C. , 2011).
Although both of these solutions require a collective and concerted effort on behalf of developed countries, they are more moderate than the mitigation plans rejected in the past. Even though these policies are mere strawman solutions and do not address the root cause of climate change, adaptation strategies are undeniably the best way to guarantee that the world’s most vulnerable nations are at least prepared to combat the consequences of climate change.
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- The World Bank. (2013). Policy brief : opportunities and challenges for climate-smart agriculture in Africa. Washington D.C.: The World Bank.
- The World Bank. (2018). Women, Agriculture and Work in Africa. Washington D.C.: The World Bank.
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