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Transition Universities conference, Winchester,
February 2011

Climate Change and Violence workshop series 2008 - 2012
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Climate Change and Humanity, November 2004
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Workshop 6:

Friday 25 November 2011

West Downs Centre, Winchester University
Mark Levene
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Workshop 6: Securing the System: Geo-political Implications for the Present World Order 

The relationship between climate change and security appears now to be accepted as a matter of high- state and international concern. But how should we understand what this means for the potentialities of inter-state conflict?  Is Clausewitzian war plausible in an age of acute climate change? Do all states have the same internationalist interest in the avoidance of conflict as the scissors effects of acute climate crisis, on the one hand, peak oil on the other, impact on their priorities.  Our penultimate workshop starts out from the necessity of interrogating the organisation of normative contemporary society, more particularly the bounded nation-state as it operates with an international system of such states and  - as its corollary -  what is often (possibly erroneously) referred to as international community/society.  A key question this workshop thus seeks to ask is which of this these will be the dominating factor in the age of accelerating climate change.  If the latter, we might expect to be looking to the UN operating under its UNFCC mandate and through appropriate international treaty arrangements to bring about universal, binding limits on GHG emissions.  If the former, management (or conscious repudiation of management) of the climate change emergency is most likely to come through the most powerful players on the international stage G8,  G8 + 5  or through new constellations very possibly arrayed against each other as opposing blocs and alliances.  Not only thus do we pose in this workshop a growing and destabilising disparity between universal human imperatives (‘society’)  and ‘realist’ formulas of raison d’etat (‘system’) but the return to centre-stage of the underlying social Darwinian aspects of system: not so much survival of the fittest but of the fastest.  One has to further ask: where are these tensions most likely to be played out?  Is an ice-free Arctic the new obvious arena in which a scramble for oil will be key?  And will this itself be fuelled by food scarcity consequent in significant part on the agricultural pressures associated with the shift to biofuels.  This workshop thus will seek to consider the amplifying effects of climate change on an already fissile and fragile post-Cold War global order. And it will not shrink from considering where breakdown is most likely to occur. Should we be looking to historic points of tension: the Middle East, India-Pakistan, China-Taiwan. How is the climate-stress effect likely to impact on these pressure points?  Can we alternatively look to new intra-state zones of violence, such as Central Asia or Central Africa emerging through resource scrambles, regardless of, or in spite of climate change? Or actually are we avoiding the main zones of violence which may emerge as a result of relationships between demographics, food and environment, which might, for instance, take us as much to the once rich, now radically depleted off-shore fisheries of West Africa or south-east Asia, as to the Arctic?  Finally, if the picture is, as is being proposed, this bleak, what are the factors which can rein in both global and local communities from going over the edge?

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