My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I also blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
I am a sucker for a good science fiction movie, especially one that casts a vision for what life on earth will be like in the near future. While there are positive portrayals of the future, the genre is rife with visions of a dystopian future brought about by sudden climate change – whether the future is hot or cold, violence is inevitably one of the ways in which humans respond to the loss of habitat and security.
While the movies are fantasy, the harsh reality in the real world is that changes to climate lead to unrest, uncertainty, and inevitably violence.
In 2007, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon referred to the conflict in Sudan as the world’s first climate change conflict due, in part, to the drought caused by a changing pattern of rainfall. He obviously had not read Geofffrey Parker’s sobering Global Crisis: War, Climate Change & Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (YUP, 2013).
The last time the world experienced significant climate change was during the cooling of the seventeenth century. As Parker notes, the century was marked by a cooling that led to the “Little Ice Age” – a cooling of a few degrees that led to catastrophic drought, famine, and horrific wars. The violence was global, with millions of deaths in Europe, America, Asia, and Africa. Climate change was not the only factor in the violence, but nonetheless it was an important one. As Parker writes, the “fatal synergy that developed between natural and human factors created a demographic, social, economic and political catastrophe that lasted for two generations, and convinced contemporaries that they faced unprecedented hardships.”
I am not an expert on the science and debates surrounding contemporary climate change, so I will stick with what I am certain. What I know for sure is that if the climate is changing today (for whatever reason), then violence will inevitably soon follow.
Climate change may lead to new opportunities, for example resources previously inaccessible such as oil and natural gas in the arctic. Those opportunities, however, will lead to competition between nations as they rush to stake a claim over the resources. And the more powerful the protagonists – eg. Russia vs US for arctic gas – the greater the danger of a catastrophic war.
Climate change also leads to new shortages, for example resources previously accessible such as water in dry regions. Those shortages, however, will lead to competition between nations as they rush to stake a claim over ever-diminishing resources. And the more powerful the protagonists – eg. Pakistan vs India for water – the greater the danger of a catastrophic war.
The ramifications of climate change are far-reaching. It leads to crop failures, which leads to famine, which leads to the breakdown of civil order.
Climate change leads to mass migrations of people, civil unrest, and the breakdown of the social order, all actions that are always accompanied by violence.
Even the fear or perception of climate change leads to people taking drastic measures to stop it, such as eco-terrorists using violence to save the world.
Ultimately climate change will lead to the poor suffering the most at the hands of violent forces. As an article in The Economist states: “Academics may squabble about the specific causes of past conflicts, and develop complex models to forecast future ones. But there is consensus that tensions, and so the potential for bloodshed, will be heightened by climate change. And conflict, in turn, makes it harder to prepare for or respond to climate change. How to save for a rainy (or dry) day if men with guns keep stealing your savings or burning down your grain stores? Saleh Isaka, a Chadian village elder, remembers when his people used to graze thousands of animals on land where the Dar es Salaam camp now stands. Three years ago, Boko Haram attacked. They were armed with automatic weapons and they stole away all the animals, as well as women and children. ‘Now we are suffering. It’s hotter than before… Everything is dead,’ Mr Isaka says, gesturing into the bone-dry distance.”
In conclusion, this blog series is about “possible futures” and violence. Sadly, unlike most Hollywood movies, life does not always immediately have a happy ending. Christians have the hope of a new heaven and earth at some time in the future, but until that happens the world could become a very harsh and violent place to live because of climate change.
The call for action is clear. In the sober words of Pope Francis in his Laudato si': On Care for Our Common Home (2015): “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now. We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.”
 Here are possible books to consider reading on the subject: https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2015/06/select-books-on-religion-and-climate-change/
 A quick primer on the subject of a link between climate change and violence: https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/does-climate-change-cause-conflict
(This is blog post #10 in the series entitled “Christians, War, and Violence: Reflections on Possible Futures.”)