Tag Archives climate crisis

Urban heatwaves and senior citizens: Frugal solutions in The Hague

Urban heatwaves and senior citizens: Frugal solutions in The Hague

As The Netherlands is currently suffering from extreme heat, it is worth reminding ourselves of the effects of the latest heatwave, which took place from 10-16 August, 2020. Worryingly, the ...

On the Racist Humanism of Climate Action

On the Racist Humanism of Climate Action

Mainstream climate change mitigation and adaptation policies are imbued with neocolonial discursive constructions of the “other”. Understanding how such constructions work has important implications for how we think about emancipatory ...

Whose climate security? Or why we should worry about security language in climate action

The climate crisis is becoming an international focal point, and budgets for climate change mitigation and adaptation are getting larger. At the same time, debates on ‘climate security’ involving some of the most powerful actors globally can be discerned.  We need to ask ourselves, our governments, and corporations some difficult and counterintuitive questions: does much-needed action on climate change have harmful environmental and social effects, especially for marginalised groups living in and of water, land and forests?

Questions of environmental and social justice around climate action are not new: we know that climate mitigation and adaptation measures are not benefiting everyone equally[1]. Essentially, this is caused by climate interventions being built on growth imperatives, assigning (monetary) value to nature, and thereby including it in the neoliberal economic system. This approach overlooks the complex relations that humans have with nature, including spiritual and social bonds, and how nature is linked to livelihoods.

Matters get even more complicated when we add ‘climate security’ to the equation. In recent decades this frame has gained ground among some of the most powerful persons and institutions globally, for example the US Defence Force and Shell. The idea they promote is pretty straightforward: climate change causes erratic weather patterns, making areas less inhabitable due to scarcity of resources that in turn leads to conflict and migration. This would lead to instability locally, at the state level or even internationally, and as such poses security threats – to humans, but also to nation-states and even the international order.

But this premise of climate security, which has recently been placed on the agenda of the UN Security Council, is highly contested. From a political ecology perspective, it is regarded as Malthusian in the sense that the political choices related to natural resources are ignored. By asking key questions such as who owns what, who does what, and who gets what, the power dynamics around natural resources are thrown into sharp relief. Researchers and activists argue that there is need to be more concerned with how ‘policies to deal with the effects of climate change’ lead to conflict, rather than the effects of climate change itself.

And this climate security framing could mean that security actors – the military or security corporations – also get involved in formulating those policies. That for example may just lead to the militarisation of hydropower dams and forest management. This has also been observed within nature conservation around poaching, now referred to as ‘green wars’. Several authors have warned these matters need much more attention.

The various understandings of conflict

I became engaged in these topics through my professional position at the Dutch Research Council (NWO). I am working on research programmes funded by some of the larger development donors in northwestern Europe, such as one that was indeed concerned with the impact of climate policies on conflict. This programme sought to enhance an understanding of how climate policies may incite conflicts, such that the knowledge could add to more ‘conflict-sensitive climate action’. Seven research projects were funded that focused on conflicts around water, land and forests that were part of climate policies.

The launch of the programme had brought me to a seminar at the Circle National des Armées in Paris, where military actors that focused on security formed the majority.  And I was asked to engage with the Planetary Security Initiative, launched by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also populated with military and governmental actors and security think tanks who in turn engage with corporations that are seeking stable contexts. These actors tend to see conflicts as (sudden) eruptions of violence that lead to death and injury, and possibly even war.

Throughout the process of implementing the programme, it occurred to me that those actors that I was engaging with had a different understanding of ‘conflict’. The donor representatives were impatient that the research did not seem to contain their idea of what a ‘conflict analysis’ should be and that typically results in a conflict typology to help categorize different conflicts.

The researchers in the programme, however, were speaking of conflicts as elements inherent to society, shaped by dynamics of power – as politics. Conflicts thus are not considered as ‘events’, but rather as a ‘process’ through which conflicting interests occur. According to such an understanding, conflicts are not the domain of the military or security actors, but are rather ‘a clash of interests, values and norms among individuals or groups that leads to antagonism and a struggle for power’.

Militarisation of climate action?

It is evident that these different readings of conflict may have implications for how, and by whom, climate responses are formulated. When considering climate as a security threat, military and security actors could well become part of the formulation of responses to climate change, which would have major implications on the power dynamics around the natural resources involved. It could, for example, lead to militarisation of hydropower dams, wind turbine parks or forest protection.

And that gives us reason to be worried. Experience with militarisation of anti-poaching efforts as part of nature conservation shows that this may lead to the normalisation of violence and has devastating consequences for people living with wildlife. As such, it could become possible for vested interests to dominate, while the interests of marginalised groups living in and of water, land and forests could be sidelined. This blog thus calls on researchers and activists to increase understanding of these matters in the hope and anticipation that collectively we may gain greater understanding of these matters and as such contribute to more environmentally and socially just climate action. Because acting on the climate we must, but not at the cost of marginalised natures and humans


Footnotes

[1] Already in 2012 the term ‘green grabbing’ was coined: appropriation in the name of the environment, including effects of climate interventions. Numerous examples are available, for example on the shift to renewable energies. Windmills, solar panel fields and hydropower dams that were erected have led to land and ocean grabs, with resource users being expelled. In fact, for those energy sources it is not always clear that they are ‘green’ to begin with. Their negative impact on the environment and ecosystems are widely recorded for instance in the  Environmental Justice Atlas. In addition, conservation and regeneration of forests is a common mitigation and adaptation strategy. And it does feel good and tangible to plant or preserve a tree to compensate our consumption-guilt, no? That is essentially the starting point of the UNFCCC’s REDD+ programme. But vast amounts of research document the natural as well as social damage caused by REDD+. It has, for example, led to exclusion of forest dwellers in decisions on how to manage the forest, that are the provision of their livelihoods. They have also often not shared in the benefits that REDD+ projects should bring them. And in some instances areas have actually been deforested, precisely because climate funding has assigned monetary value to the trees and land.

About the author:

Corinne Lamain is a part-time PhD Candidate at ISS, where she studies the interrelations between climate finance mechanisms, climate securities and socio-ecological conflicts in the Eastern Himalayas.

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Covid-19 | Strengthening alliances in a post-Covid world: green recovery as a new opportunity for EU-China climate cooperation?

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As nations turn their attention to fighting the economic crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, green recovery seems to be a good—and perhaps for the first time, possible—option. As climate ...

COVID-19 | Will current travel restrictions help academics change their flying behaviour? by Lara Vincent and Oane Visser

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Resisting environmental and social injustice through commoning

Lize Swartz in conversation with Dr Gustavo García-López, 2019-2021 Prince Claus Chair

Social and environmental injustice are increasing globally as neoliberalism tightens its grip. Crisis upon crisis are hitting especially vulnerable populations, interacting to create precarious and untenable living conditions. These issues become more pressing in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made more visible to the world the environmentally destructive and socially unjust patterns of our societies. The recovery of more equitable and sustainable ways of life based on communality and interconnectedness is needed to address the hypercomplex global crisis generated by globalized neoliberal capitalism, argues Dr Gustavo García-López, current Prince Claus Chair holder at the ISS. Lize Swartz spoke to him about his work and how commoning can transform the world we live in.


The ISS is one of two research institutes hosting Prince Claus Chair holders—researchers who are selected to spend a period of two years at the institute (or at Utrecht University on alternate years) to conduct research aligning to the position’s theme of ‘development and equity’. Dr Gustavo García-López started his tenure as Prince Claus Chair holder at the ISS in September 2019, focusing on ‘sustainable development, equity and environmental justice’, and regularly visits the Institute, where he spends time working on his research and interacting with other researchers.

Having done his PhD on community forestry initiatives under Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom at Indiana University Bloomington, during his tenure at the ISS Dr García-López will continue to focus on commoning initiatives and community-based natural resources governance, in particular initiatives to recover the commons. To this end he is developing two projects. One of them is comparing initiatives in Portugal (Baldios) and in Galicia, Spain (Montes Vecinales) that are attempting to recover a rural commons and sustain rural livelihoods that are in crisis. He will work with organizations to facilitate collaborative learning processes and the co-production of knowledge to find out what is working and how it is working so people can recover their ties to the land, culturally and economically. While these two study areas have many cultural commonalities, they have different political and legal systems, and García-López with other colleagues hopes to look at the type of policy reforms needed to facilitate the recovery of the commons for each of the contexts.

The second project he is currently engaged in is centered in the Caribbean and focuses on the climate crisis, in particular just transitions to a system that is not based on fossil fuel, extraction and private profit, but rather is based on the commons and is more sustainable and equitable. His interest in this area is based on his personal ties to the area, as a Puerto Rican, but also his observations as a political and environmental activist of growing disaster capitalism following the historic damages caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2018.

“[Hurricane Maria] was a moment of dramatic change,” he said. “Many people had to self-organize to survive, so many community kitchens called Centres of Mutual Aid emerged. Those centres also became spaces for discussing how we can change our society. People discussed how resilient they were, but also the economic crisis, the housing crisis in Puerto Rico, the education crisis, or the food crisis.” According to García-López, one of the biggest issues in Puerto Rico is that 85% or 90% of Puerto Rico’s food is imported “because our agriculture was killed historically to give way to industrialization”.

García-López is also involved in JunteGente, an organization started by a group of friends following Hurricane Maria that focuses on building a collective of professors at the Universidad de Puerto Rico (University of Puerto Rico) to intervene in debates on the economic crisis, the debt crisis, etc. and shape the conversation on this, but also to provide a space for encounters among organizations and academics working on issues of energy, health, environmental justice, urban issues, education, and so forth to develop ways to strengthen cross-sector solidarity.

The loss and recovery of rural livelihoods

The loss of rural livelihoods due to the commercialization of agriculture and rapid, ongoing urbanization, reduced government support for peasant farming, the privatization of land, as well as ecological problems all contribute to what García-López refers to as a rural crisis. In Spain and Portugal, as in many other parts of the world, however, communities are resisting the crisis by attempting to recover the rural commons through various initiatives.

For his PhD, García-López studied community forest management initiatives in Mexico, where similar initiatives were taking place. “Community-based natural resource management is globally recognized as one strategy to integrate proverty reduction, inequality and sustainable livelihood agendas,” García-López says. In Mexico, communities had their own forest enterprises—small, cooperative businesses operating at the community level—that controlled the land and sold timber as an income. But beyond that, forests were recognized as being complex ecosystems with multiple benefits that can be derived from them. Allowing communities to control the land and financially benefit from forests ensured that they were protected by the communities dependent on them. But, García-López highlights, forests are also protected because the value of conserving them—their tangible and intangible benefits beyond source of income are recognized by communities. “There is a conservation mentality in some of the communities.” In Oaxaca, for example, communities created their own community conservation areas, where forests were conserved for other reasons as well: “It’s also an identitarian issue—they are also proud that they have this beautiful forest that they conserve.”

While communities in the Global South are focused strongly on conservation, García-López notes that the Global North is seeing the reversal of trends related to natural resources overexploitation and deforestation. “Centuries ago, the idea of private property owernship did not even exist. In Europe, common lands were given to peasants to enjoy… there was a global shift, and now especially after 2009, after Elinor Ostrom received the Nobel Prize for Economics for the study of the commons… the global discussion started to change, and nowadays in urban cities you see a lot of initiatives to recover urban commons—to recover urban gardens, or housing as a commons, a cooperative—as a reaction to the expansion of private property.” Reconceptualizing natural resource use would change how we think about our relationships and with nature: “Everything that you do to a commons happens to everybody.”

The notion of a commons also can be applied to understand our human interconnectedness globally, remarks García-López. “Everything we do in life is affecting others and is benefiting others in positive and negative ways because of our interconnections. And I think climate change demonstrates that the whole planet is a commons. Anything you do is going to affect the whole world. Climate change changed everything because it shows that everything is interconnected… so we should manage it collectively.”

One of the big problems we have today is the equality issue associated with private property, class and power, where a few people have too much and many are excluded, says García-López. “The commons invites us to think about redistribution, about equality, about the problem of democratic governance—how we make decisions collectively instead of privately. It has a great potential while always recognizing that there will always be challenges. Politics has to remain self-reflective and critical and we have to keep in mind who is excluded.”

Besides this tendency to exclude that has to be kept in check, he mentions an additional, ideological challenge. “Our mindsets, our imaginaries have been so distorted by the idea of private property or self-interest, ownership… if you look at other cosmovisions or ontologies they recognize that precisely because of interconnectedness, ownership doesn’t make so much sense, but it’s difficult to get out of it when you’ve spent your whole life in that system… self-interest is a reality. Ostrom showed us that you could have self-interest, but that you could transcend it by recognizing that acting together would be in everybody’s interest.”

García-López remarks that we’re currently a short-term society, which impedes the ability to envision sustainable futures. Individualism is a major challenge to transformations to collectivity, he says. “It’s hard to do it when you’re overexploited in your work and you don’t have time to do things, because the style of our society is the compartementalization of life. To do things collectively becomes harder when your everyday patterns are individual. That’s why these discussions are linked to discussions about rethinking work—how we do everything. Some commons scholars talk about social reproduction needs that we require for basics of life.”

What García-López stressed throughout the conversation is that academics should be engaged in collective efforts and commoning initiatives that can start within academe as an effort to collectivize and share knowledge and co-create knowledge, reaching out beyond academia to engage with commoning initiatives that are visible in urban and rural contexts around us. While García-López’s research focuses on studying commoning initiatives—the recovery and reimagination of way of life in which things are communal, shared—anyone can create commoning initiatives in their own neighbourhoods or work space to help shape a new society based on degrowth and post-development.


Watch Gustavo García-López in a recorded webinar by JunteGente with the topic “How can we build a counter-hegemonic, supportive and ecological political power from below that challenges the lethal virus of the colony?”


About the authors:

Gustavo Garcia-LopezGustavo García-López is an engaged scholar-activist with a transdisciplinary training, building on institutional analysis, environmental policy and planning, and political ecology approaches. His research and practice centers on grassroots collective commoning initiatives that advance transformations towards socially-just and sustainable worlds. He is currently Assistant Researcher at the Center for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, and Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Planning, University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras (on leave). He is co-founding member of the editorial collective of the Undisciplined Environments blog, and of the JunteGente collective, a space of encounters between organizations fighting for a more socially-just, ecological and decolonized Puerto Rico.  

Lize SwartzLize Swartz is a PhD researcher at the ISS focusing on water user interactions with sustainability-climate crises in the water sector, in particular the role of water scarcity politics on crisis responses and adaptation processes. She is also the editor of the ISS Blog Bliss.

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