What are we waiting for? Violence and climate change in our brave new world.

Finally, in the Sunday New York Times, a report giving empirical evidence of what we already knew intuitively, that climate change leads to violence, and that it’s going to get worse as the planet continues to warm.

For a couple of years now I’ve had a haunting premonition that violence is going to come even to the comfortable, beautiful corner of the world where I live.

We saw how fast tempers flared when Hurricane Sandy created gas shortages down in the New York metropolitan area.

What happens when our industrial food supply starts to fail, given the inevitable and already-occurring wildfires, droughts, tornados and floods?

When people get hungry, survival-of-the-fittest kicks in, and it will take serious riot police to keep order when the supermarkets run out of food.

The authors of the new report say that their findings “are particularly important for what they imply about the future. Many global climate models project global temperature increases of at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) over the next half-century. Our results imply that if nothing changes, this rise in temperature could amplify the rate of group conflicts like civil wars by an astonishing 50 percent in many parts of the world — a frightening possibility for a planet already awash in conflict.”

Frightening indeed. What to do with this new knowledge?

The authors urge political leaders to “call for new and creative policy reforms designed to tackle the challenge of adapting to the sorts of climate conditions that breed conflict — for instance, through the development of more drought- and heat-resistant agricultural technologies.”

I hardly think that the answer lies in agricultural engineering.

In the time we have left before chaos sets in we should be re-localizing agriculture, setting up distributed energy networks and re-learning the old arts of drying, salting, canning and cold storing agricultural products.

Indian Line CSA, one of the first in the nation

Indian Line CSA, one of the first in the nation

We should also be disarming our civilian population and focusing on creating strong community networks of mutual support.

For all our cleverness, humans are just primitive beasts when our bellies are empty—primitive beasts armed, at least in Fortress America, with deadly assault weapons.

The nightmares of the Congo, Somalia and Sudan, not to mention Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, could easily start up here too, when food is scarce and sectarian violence begins to flare.

The truth is that we can’t rely on national and international leaders to undertake meaningful “policy reforms”—not when they are being held hostage by Big Carbon, Big Ag, Big Chemical/Pharma and Big Finance.

Delusional these corporate giants may be, but they will be going down with the ship holding fast to their belief in the value of limitless human economic growth, stable climate be damned.

We who believe that another world is possible need to hold fast to our own belief that the world won’t end when those giant glass towers in financial districts worldwide go down.

We can build that new world—not through technology and arms, but through community and collaboration.  Bottom-up, not top-down.

It’s true: we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  And given the impending climate crisis, there’s no point in waiting anymore.

Harvesting at Indian Line Farm, Berkshire County MA

Harvesting at Indian Line Farm, Berkshire County MA

Leave a comment


  1. Jennifer, Have you read Christian Parenti’s book “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence”? I found it terrifying, but my colleague convinced me to use it as one of the reads for the climate course we co-teach. I was convinced students wouldn’t like it, but I was completely off-base. They loved the way the author layered the impact of an environmental change on top of social and political issues they could wrap their minds around (opposed, I guess to the details of the science). It generated amazing class discussions.

    You are so right in that we should be doing community development, and finding ways to support each other through collaboration and new ideas to become more resilient.

  2. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

     /  August 31, 2013

    So glad for this recommendation, Diane, I am planning a course for next semester and Parenti’s book sounds perfect for it. Still working out the course title, but the subtitle will be something like “Explorations in Gender, Society & Environment.” Our young people need to be thinking these issues through, and I believe gender is an important missing piece of most environmental analyses.

  3. Michael A. Lewis, Ph.D.

     /  August 31, 2013

    Meta-analysis is not empirical evidence. Empirical evidence is observation based data, not a statistical study of primary research carefully selected to support the conclusion of a casual connection among extreme weather events and social violence.

    Weather is not climate. Extreme weather is not extreme climate.

    The conclusions of this article are not warranted by the data and the methodology of the study.

  4. Jennifer, this book doesn’t deal with gender per se. Last year at the U.N. climate meetings, the phrase “gender-smart policies” was used extensively. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, who had been the South African president for COP 17 developed a book “Women Adapt to Climate Change”. I don’t know if it is readily available, but it would be perfect for your course (and it is filled with beautiful photographs).

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  August 31, 2013

      Although books that “don’t deal with gender per se” are often in fact notable for the ABSENCE of a gendered analysis, ie, a default male point of view–

  5. Carole Spearn McCauley

     /  September 2, 2013

    Hello, Jennifer, from Carole Spearin McCauley in New Hampshire. Still happy to read your blog posts and am moved by them. Good wishes.

  6. Jennifer, i have to say their predictions of increasing violence remind of the world Earth Girl was born into. I will have to read this report.
    As always, your ideas for what we should be doing NOW are reasonable and do-able if enough of us have the will. Our political leaders will not be the ones who make these changes. In my opinion, it will definitely be from the ground up and it is starting now,
    Keep on writing.
    I am going to re-blog this tomorrow.

  7. Diane, thanks for mentioning the Tropic of Chaos. I am going to get it right away.

  8. Reblogged this on What a Heart Can Hold – visit my website at http://www.icallmyselfearthgirl.com and commented:
    Climate change and the prediction of increasing violence are certainly not good news. My concern about both is one of the reasons I wrote, I Call Myself Earth Girl . But here, at the end of this blog is the GOOD NEWS.
    We can build that new world—not through technology and arms, but through community and collaboration. Bottom-up, not top-down.

    It’s true: we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. And given the impending climate crisis, there’s no point in waiting anymore.


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