The Secure and the Dispossessed

Issue section: 

Global temperatures “smashed” a 100-year record in March, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. So this book on “how the military and corporations are shaping a climate-changed world” is timely.

It’s made up of a series of working papers developed from a workshop of “climate scientists, security scholars, social and political scientists and activists” in 2011. The editors warn, “This is not a book about how to stop climate change.” Rather it casts “a critical eye on the climate change and international security discourse”, aiming “to inspire resistance by exposing the cracks in the system”. Amen to that.

The best chapter is by US journalist Christian Parenti, taken from his book The Tropic of Chaos. Parenti notes: “Climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis… The current and impending dislocations intersect with the already existing crises of poverty and inequality.” The resulting “catastrophic convergence” and “embrace of militarised adaption” leads Parenti to imagine “a green authoritarianism emerging in rich countries”.

Other chapters examine Pentagon and EU strategies to maintain security in the face of climate change; corporate moves to maintain “resilience” (meaning profits); fantasies of geo-engineered “fixes” for global warming; corporate greenwashing; and the impacts on human rights and refugees, food, water and energy.

The book unpicks the emergence of climate change as a security threat, quoting a military analyst concerned at “being embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years [with] no exit strategy”. Writer Oscar Reyes notes the disparity between corporate claims, such as Walmart’s goal of moving to “100% renewable energy”, and reality — at its current pace, Walmart’s goal would take 300 years. Reyes also details efforts to profit from warming, quoting the Shell Alaska vice-president who described himself as “one of those cheering for an endless summer in Alaska”.

Reyes argues, “The only certain way to prevent a permanent state of emergency is to mobilise a permanent resistance . . . [and] resistance is the best form of resilience on offer.” Yet his suggestions for action stall at “democratising”, “reclaiming” and “transforming” the state, mandating corporations “to seek benefits beyond profits” and suggesting sovereign wealth funds “have the potential to invest in climate friendly transition measures”.

The editors rightly insist that “resistance is crucial”, but the book mostly misses the core problem, capitalism, and the contradictions within it — leading to a woolly set of principles to inform resistance such as “reclaim the state” and “reject dystopian and neo-Malthusian narratives”.

Too much of the book is written in an academic style that obscures understanding. It throws in just about every conceivable point on every issue from migration to military technology which, rather than underscore the argument, produces a confusing density. Worst, the analysis comes up woefully short, providing an experience akin to going round in circles by returning repeatedly to the point that a wider challenge to capitalism is required without proposing how or by whom. I found the experience akin to banging my head on a wall, although the book carries enthusiastic endorsements by Naomi Klein, science writer Fred Pearce, Guardian journalist John Vidal and many others, plus a forward from Susan George, so don’t take my word for it.

George’s intro hits on the book’s central problem. She writes, “Only the state can force capitalism to comply with the laws of survival and only the people can force the state to force the companies to obey.” If you do pick up The Secure and the Dispossessed, read it alongside Lenin’s State and Revolution.