Monday, November 23, 2015

Climate and Violence

The terrorist attacks on Paris--ostensibly over French participation in the Syrian civil war--so close in time to the upcoming international climate conference in Paris, brought the two subjects together.

While many US Republicans are trying very hard to push the terrorism fear button, in part to drive out any other issue, Senator Bernie Sanders was quick to assert that the climate crisis remains the most dangerous challenge, in part because of its role in ongoing wars, including in Syria.

The latest to be mocked for saying this--but also the latest to inspire stories that make the link--is Prince Charles of the UK, who will speak at the conference in Paris.  Others also have been making this case.

But we don't need to debate the past, or the present, to see the potential for climate-related violence in the future--and the more extreme the climate crisis, the more extreme is the potential violence.

Recently an acknowledged scholar of the Nazi Holocaust argues that the climate crisis could bring about another genocide.  His contention is based on his research into the history of  Germany under Hitler, and the causes of German aggression.  An ideology of superiority and destiny justifying any action was crucial.  But what has been forgotten is the prime motivation: Hitler's conquests to obtain resources, especially natural resources.

The scholar Timothy Snyder put it this way: "[Hitler] led Germany into a war to seize the fertile territory of Ukraine. That’s what the war was actually all about. The western front, which we focus on, was a distraction for Hitler. The main thing was the eastern front, destroying the Soviet Union, seizing Ukraine."

This seems to contradict the way many understand World War II, and Hitler's "inexplicable" turn to Russia after the fall of France, when invading England seemed the next logical step.  But Snyder's view is not 21st century revisionism.  Some observers at the time believed this as well.  Journalist Pierre van Passen also believed Hitler's turn to the Soviet Union was about resources, although he emphasized iron ore.  Others claim that the Holocaust was in part a trial run for the genocide of Slavs, and the conquest of  farmlands of Poland and eastern Europe.

The first climate related (specifically drought-related) genocides may have already happened in Africa.  Extreme climate often destroys resources, with too little water or too much, with the devastation that continues after extreme weather, including disorder and disease.  People will fight over food, and groups--ethnic groups, nations--will fight for access to food and other resources.  To minimize those conflicts and that suffering in the future as well as understanding it and dealing with it appropriately in the present, requires addressing the causes and the effects of the climate crisis.

No comments: