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Climate change and terrorism, threatening nexus

By Entre Comillas
3

by Flavia Poy Barrio

“The choices we make now will shape the future of not just countries but the world at large. We should intensify our cooperation in confronting global challenges like Terrorism, Cyber Security, and Climate Change”
Narendra Modi

Since the last few decades, concern over the acceleration of climate change has been one of the essential issues on international agendas, as have new technologies or persistent threats such as armed conflicts and terrorism. Such is its relevance, that this week the twenty-seventh United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP27) is being held in Egypt. And likewise, these challenges are evidenced by the speeches of the most respected leaders, such as Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India since 2014, who, by the way, has not attended this emblematic international summit.

Now, for the case of this article, perhaps it is not at all common to ask what climate change could have to do with terrorism, both are warning lights for academics, environmentalists, political representatives, and activists, among many other agents of our societies. Although there is enough evidence among the direct consequences of climate change, mainly understood as security issues, such as greater famines, diseases, floods or droughts, the question of the relationship between terrorism has been echoing a lot, especially since the declarations of Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama on the year 2015. These two figures, to mention a few well-known ones, argued that climate change, radicalization, and terrorism are connected by complex causal relationships, but there is little or very little scholarly examination of the politics of these claims.

For this article, I consider that relating the radicalization of any aspect does not positively affect the analysis, since there is a risk of making erroneous mental schemes that lead to the typical game of ‘us against them’ and this is usually related to other forms of violence and underlying socioeconomic and political factors that would not apply to this occasion. Moreover, the concept of terrorism is equally a fickle concept and there is not even an international consensus on exactly what it means.

Derived from the above, and returning to the intention of trying to expose how, rather than a causal relationship between climate change and terrorism, it is a connection with complex security and a series of feedbacks and variables that are systemic, let us see how this occurs in reality:
– First, one can fall back on Democratic politician Sanders’ original explanation, climate change effects such as heat waves could exacerbate food and water insecurities, worsen livelihood security, and create political conditions (for unemployment and conflict) that facilitate the recruitment and operations of terrorist groups.
– Secondly, the most relevant academic articles that exist on this subject, such as DeLanda’s (2006) on assemblages and social complexity, explain that these relationships between climate change-terrorism-radicalization are a kind of «assembly of climate terrorism». That is a heterogeneous range of interacting geopolitical components (for example, climatic factors, migration, think tanks and academic publications, and discourse of ‘climate security’).
– Third, it is valuable to see how terrorism has typically been related to environmental factors through the concepts of ‘eco-‘ and ‘environmental terrorism’. For researcher Chalecki (2001), environmental terrorism constitutes ‘the illegal use of force against environmental resources in situ to deprive populations of their benefits and/or destroy other properties’. Potentially dangerous attributes of environmental terrorism include dislocation (environmental resources cross borders, making security mobilizations difficult) and negative economic implications (terrorist attacks can disrupt economic activities, in example, on transportation networks).

Continuing with this last point, we are, therefore, not only in a critical discussion but dealing with a topic with a multiplicity of technicalities. On the one hand, ‘resource-as- target’ terrorism (when ecosystems are the focus of the attack) is not the same as ‘resource-as-tool’ terrorism (environmental resources are co-opted as tools of violence). Thus, the environment becomes a tool or target of political violence, with the aspiration of arousing fear in the population. On the other hand, there is a wide range of terms that are related to this theme of «terrorism» such as eco-terrorism or eco-fascism, a topic that may eventually be analyzed but that does not have much to do with the reflection on this occasion.

In contrast, we could rethink ourselves again: what is expected of this connection between two of the most imminent threats in the world?


To try to recap, firstly, climate change does have a lot to do with other social and political phenomena such as nationalism. From a socio-scientific analysis, the basic components of the race and the nation are based on accepting that the nation is surrounded by «natural» borders within which a unique «native» population resides that requires defense against the depredations of the «species invaders» from abroad.
This is stated by Jordan Bardella, head of the list of European candidates for Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (National Group, formerly the National Front) during the 2019 European Parliament elections when he mentions that “Borders are the greatest ally of the environment; it is through them that we will save the planet.”

On the other hand, the global migration phenomenon is also increasingly articulated as a matter of urgent environmental concern, since it is argued that immigration increases capitalist consumption and, therefore, the likehood of missing environmental targets on climate change.
In addition to the above, there are other trends such as climate security discourses tending to peak at significant geopolitical moments, and the most direct evidence is the relevance of the issues established at COP27. In other words, we are currently in one of those moments, with an imminent nuclear threat, a global rise in temperature, an increase in the number of people suffering from different types of vulnerability, water scarcity, the consequent resurgence of a search for climate security, the appearance of tensions from old conflicts such as North Korea and South Korea, and also the permanence and consolidation of power of extremist groups such as Boko Haram that continues to affect the Chad basin, in Africa, especially to local communities and their access to resources, which also confirms the reflection of this article.

For the moment, it remains to be very attentive to this first COP in Africa since 2016, as it is the most important event on the planet on global warming and its effects and on new ways of approaching security in the regions most affected by this climatic phenomenon. Who will be the next relevant actors? What new threats will rethink “the most powerful nations”? What new forms of terrorism will be analyzed as climate risks increase? We must continue with these questions, and keep in mind that our ecological debt will impede the development of many peoples, especially those historically vulnerable.

REFERENCES:

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Cash, Jorge Andrés (2019, January). «Ecoterrorism and the Paradox of Total Madness». [«El ecoterrorismo y la paradoja de la locura total»]. El Mostrador (Chile) https://www.elmostrador.c /noticias/opinion/2019/01/16/el-ecoterrorismo-y-la-paradoja-de-la-locura-total/


Chalecki, E. L. (2001). A new vigilance: identifying and reducing the risks of
environmental terrorism. Global Environmental Politics, 2(1), 46-64. https://pacinst.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2013/02/environmental_terrorism_final.pdf

DeLanda, M. (2006).A new philosophy of society: Assemblage theory and social complexity. Continuum, London (2006).

Lederer, M. E. (202, 9th December). UN: climate change aggravates conflicts and terrorism. [ONU: cambio climático agrava los conflictos y el terrorismo.] The San Diego Union-Tribune. https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/en-espanol/noticias/story/2021-12-09/onu-cambioclimatico-agrava-los-conflictos-y-el-terrorismo


Macklin, G. (2022). The Extreme Right, Climate Change and Terrorism. Terrorism and Political Violence, 1-18. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09546553.2022.2069928

Renard, P, R. (2008) Heated terror: Exploration of the possible impacts of climate change on the causes and the targets of terrorism. Les Cahiers du RMES, 5 (1) (2008), pp. 15-53


Telford, A. (2020). A climate terrorism assemblage? Exploring the politics of climate change-terrorism-radicalisation relations. Political geography, 79,102150. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0962629819300095#bib5

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