When the history of the early 21st century is written it will likely tell of a single day as the fateful turning point. 9/11 will be recorded as the point when the ‘war on terror’ was launched in earnest, unleashing untold havoc across the world. With its vacuously intoxicating allure the war on terror has torn resources from other pressing issues globally and for the last 15 years the ‘war on terror’ has absorbed so much of our attention that little else has managed to squeeze itself on to the agenda. Military budgets have ballooned and the bombing of foreign countries has become common practice in disregard to international law.
It is partly because of the graphic and visceral violence that walks hand in hand with extremism that our attention has been absorbed so completely by the present horrors which we afflict upon ourselves. As a species we seem to lack the capacity to perceive a threat that is not imminent. Climate change is one of these threats. It is a threat to humanity which is being underplayed due to the very nature of modern day terrorism.
Without a doubt extremism, religious in particular, is one of humanity’s great problems. It is nothing new however, as for many centuries religious followers have slaughtered followers of other religions and internecine sectarian conflict has claimed the lives of countless innocent individuals. From long before our religious conflicts civilisations were fighting over which God should reign supreme, the Sun or the Moon?
Today we see only one religious extremism. This would lead an uninitiated observer to believe that other religions are completely devoid of extremism. However, this is not the case as according to one study only 2% of ‘terrorism’ related incidents in Europe can be attributed to Islamist extremists. The same study suggests that American fears over the extent of homegrown terrorism are completely exaggerated as other groups, such as extreme leftists and Jewish fundamentalists, commit far more ‘terror’ attacks than Muslims. If you were to believe the narrative of Islamist terrorism which is espoused by the Western media this figure would be utterly shocking. However, it is simply the case. Islamic terrorism is of course real, however, its frequency and its threat, to Westerners anyway, is completely overstated.
Due to this one sided narrative that sows division and hatred the ‘war on terror’ will likely rumble on far into the future. As the climate continues to change the chasms of division which have been bombed and blasted ever deeper will only widen and the threat of terrorism may well increase. Driven by socio-economic conditions and sharpened by political and religious strife, extremism will find fertile ground for growth amongst populations who will begin to see their current way of life eroding before them. Conditions will become much more difficult for millions across the world as resources become spread ever thinner and the fight for daily existence becomes increasingly more difficult. To fight the extremism of the future we must fight climate change now in order to lessen the potential negative impacts and prepare ourselves for the outcomes already locked into place.
To link climate change to political activity is hardly controversial. In its annual Quadrennial Report of 2014 the US government acknowledged the threat of environmental change to global political stability. The report stated that ‘the pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world,”. It will perhaps place the greatest strain upon those weakest governments already torn by division, creating a potentially volatile situation. The report continues; “these effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.’ The UK has also stressed that its next military review, scheduled to be released this year before the Paris climate summit, will include the dangers of climate change. Previous Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey stressed that ‘extreme climate change impacts in other parts of the world – from food and water shortages – to the mass migration of people fleeing the worst effects – these are our problem too.’
The political instability and possible terrorist activity of the future may be directly related to the influence that our changing climate has upon the land, the weather and the availability of key resources. Although the link between climate change and future insecurity is being acknowledged there is little action being taken to alter our present course. The current politics of division amongst commentators seeks only to perpetuate a cycle of violence and warfare that is currently wrenching regions apart. For instance the method of response against IS, a terrorist pseudo-state whose origins cannot be distanced from past Western interventions, has been inadequate and has created a scenario where there will only be more fuel added to the flames of war. The age old method of dropping bombs onto a warzone in the name of peace is unlikely to work this time round either.
There is a solid case to be made that in order that terrorism and extremism is fought convincingly and with conviction, which does not necessary involve the use of military force, the view must shift from one of short term reactionary actions to long term strategic planning. This reappraisal of the ‘war’ strategy must encapsulate environmental pressures and their potential influence upon political friction. Currently this debate is clearly being had amongst government officials and others but the financing is still overwhelming balanced towards the short-term actions which achieve little but the continuation of the cycle of violence while efforts to tackle climate change remain weak at best. Reuters has reported that despite acknowledging the threat of climate change to security the US military still uses 400,000 barrels of oil per day, in peacetime, compared to a peak of 800,000 during the Iraq war. Although events such as the much lauded US-Chinese carbon deal mark significant steps forward there continues to be regression in energy policy which will threaten to nullify the little progress being made.
By continuing on our unsustainable route forward states across the world may be in danger of contributing to future instability. Weak efforts against the worst possible outcomes of climate change may sharpen divides between political, religious and cultural groups as resources and available land come under pressure. Until this threat is imminent it seems there will be little effort to combat it. Politician’s capability to ensure long-term planning runs only to the point of the next election. But they are not the only guilty party as our own eyes are also continually fixed upon the present and we remain blissfully unaware of the great storm clouds gathering on the horizon which may pose much greater threats for us all.