Event Report: Climate Violence

Climate Violence, History and Resistance (exploring a bigger picture) workshop. Saturday 21st January. Hosted by Southern Voices who are running a series of five workshops, of which this was the first.

The first thing to mention is the demographic which was remarkably unusual for a climate change event. Out of 24 attendees only eight were white and 15 were male (the Crèche room may have helped with the gender balance).

The speaker was Kooj Chuhan (Creative & Cultural Producer, Researcher, Filmmaker/ Digital Artist and Co-Director of Virtual Migrants). The talk was very late starting, lasted over an hour, and was of the “Sage on The Stage” type. This meant there was very little time left for group discussion or feedback.

Despite asking whether some people wanted an introduction to the subject (a few nods) and saying anyone could chip in during the talk, Mr. Chuhan did the vast majority of the talking. He began with a couple of recent events (disaster in Mozambique, last year’s floods in Thailand), and a lengthy ‘introduction’ to climate change with graphs and pie charts (= death by PowerPoint). There was then a request from a member of the audience to hear where everyone was from. One of the organisers suggested we do it at the first break (incidentally the results were: India, UK, Sudan x 10, Uganda, Egypt, Zambia, Jamaica, Poland, Chile and Australia).

We then got onto the topics which had been advertised: race displacement, a critique of the Western framework, immigration and Diasporas. This part came at the issue of climate change from a unique perspective, but unfortunately whilst the analysis was refreshingly radical in content, the points could (and should) have been made in a fraction of the time.

There were some interesting stats e.g. server farms overtook the aviation industry last year for amounts of emissions (Google has 300,000 server farms in Oregon alone! [UPDATE – see comment beneath this post for correction]), along with some good quotes e.g. Dr Atik Rahman on the situation in Bangladesh: If the global citizenry and global nation states fail to take action it will be “climate genocide”.

Hurricane Katrina was used to show how racism and poverty interplay with climate-related disaster. After posing the question to audience of whether climate change is a cause, a process or a symptom, there followed an interesting and lively discussion on; consumer society, economic growth, colonialism, exploitation, marginalisation, power, racism, models of so-called development.

Then the speaker continued about the dangers of the dominance of the climate science perspective in narratives on. Science, he argued, has become the focus for all discussion, which has lead to it being talked about purely in terms of numbers, which is a diversion from real issues underneath it.

There were some statements made from the front that you don’t often hear outside of radical left-wing circles:

  • “capitalism is unsustainable in a number of fundamental ways”
  • “we need to re-think violence as predominantly enacted by corporations, governments and political processes” (with a nod to Slavoj Zižek)
  • “the U.S. deciding to keep emitting is a violent act”

Along with a blunt assessment of some of the solutions currently on the table:

  • “techno fixes have been discredited”
  • “carbon trading is corrupt and lucrative, avoids any of the issues and makes them worse”

Some of the possible consequences of climate change were then listed: unstable climate conditions, sea level rises, desertification, conflict and displacement, resource wars, ecosystems and wildlife degradation, effects on agriculture and water scarcity.

Eventually we got on to the small group discussion and we were given a comparison of the Anchorage Declaration vs. the outcome of the Durban COP17 climate negotiations as a possible topic for discussion. A friend of mine remarked afterwards “it was nice to be the only white person at the table for once”. Almost out of time, Dr. Chucan then spoke some more, before a few minutes of questions and feedback from the audience.

The event made some important and thought-provoking points, and could have played host to exactly the sort of conversations that need to be happening right now. Unfortunately in this regard, it was a badly missed opportunity. Let’s hope their next event seeks to rectify this.

Mark Haworth

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About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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5 Responses to Event Report: Climate Violence

  1. koojchuhan says:

    As the speaker at this event, I welcome this article so many thanks for covering it and for being critical. You are totally right on the timing – started WAY too late and my presentation was too long, discussion time was squeezed badly. First time I have done this presentation (finished prepping it just an hour before the event…) so I’ll review this for next time.
    However, as I personally knew about half of the audience I had an idea of what would be worthwhile for them, and although powerpoints for saturated people like yourself may well be ghastly, in a situation where a lot if information is being conveyed it is better to have some visual aid rather than none, and with a subject as abstract as this for most people such an aid is vital and the simplest to prepare in a short time (though indeed not necessarily the best). In addition, you fail to also understand the well documented importance given to such visual aids when delivering presentations for people whose mother tongue is not English.
    Also, the feedback I and others received at the end was generally positive; one person wanted to volunteer with Virtual Migrants; another wanted me to do an interview for a local Sudanese radio show; another talked to me about organising a sustainable energy project in villages back home; another asked if it would be possible to do a film showing about Wangari Maathai at one of their upcoming community events. I don’t normally get this level of interest after my talks. Its a shame you somehow missed this, but then somebody from your background was not really my target audience.
    Also please remove the Doctor (“Dr”) from my name, which was never placed on any material or publicity anywhere, As a cultural activist, I am puzzled as to why I am suddenly referred to as “Dr Kooj Chuhan”. And Google does NOT have 300,000 server farms in Oregon, they have ONE server farm there with many thousands of servers in it, the exact number of which I simply gave a few ideas in the order of (unless you happen to know for sure it is 300,000?).

  2. Pingback: Southern Voices » Review: CLIMATE VIOLENCE, HISTORY AND RESISTANCE Workshop

  3. Jaya Graves says:

    I’ll start from a point of agreement – the workshop stated late. Smacked wrist for Southern Voices.
    A point of lesser agreement – the length of presentations: this may have been longer than normal in a Northern ‘activists’ workshop. But this was not meant to be exactly that kind of workshop. The presenter was trying to steer a line between too much information and too little. Some of the material would have been better as a handout. I, for instance, would have liked to have had the two world graphs that looked at emissions in my hand.
    Points of little or no agreement – Mark comments that certain views are seldom heard outside ‘radical left-wing’ circles. For example:
    • “capitalism is unsustainable in a number of fundamental ways”
    • “we need to re-think violence as predominantly enacted by corporations, governments and political processes” (with a nod to Slavoj Zižek)
    • “the U.S. deciding to keep emitting is a violent act”
    This is an alarming and an indication of how narrow the views and engagement of ‘leftwing’ radicals can be. SV has been involved in such discussions for 20 years They have been present even within Southern governments. For example:
    • in the 1970’s Southern countries were challenging the notion of ‘debt’ as most countries had paid it several times over.
    • ‘Let the polluter pay’, was not just a ‘grassroots’ campaign.
    • In 1990 SV was asking ‘Who’s in debt to whom?’
    • During the Jubilee 2000 Debt campaign SV’s concern was that one of the outcomes of this campaign was that it established the notion of Southern debt in the minds of Northern campaigners/supporters.
    • When the DATA (Debt, Aid, Trade) report came out we suggested that ‘Aid’ should be seen as ‘debt repayment’ to the South for centuries of Northern pillaging.
    • During Oxfam’s ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign we suggested that a better slogan would be ‘Make wealth history’. This would have to virtue of suggesting that the North should turn the spotlight on its own actions, begin to reflect on the notion of ‘redistribution’ (oh dear) and examine the problem in a way that would mean it would have to look at the poverty on it’s own doorstep.
    Other observations have been common parlance in SV for a long time: – capitalism is unsustainable: the violence of corporations, (no nod to Sisek needed), techno-fixes, carbon trading… we have been feeling the impact of all this for a long time. We are concerned that carbon trading will attract Southern governments as a financial quick-fix. Meaning has been high-jacked by the Northern power structure and is not questioned by Southerners enough. For example – what is corruption when the whole international financial and trading system is so skewed. This is not to deny blatant corruption but to not be blind to the subtle and vicious manipulation of power that also kills.
    More audience participation could have been invited when exploring recent disasters, for instance. The audience may have had their own incidents to relate. We could have had more reflection from the floor on the consequences of climate change. People are aware of consequences even if they don’t follow the science.

    One aspect I would have liked to see included was less ‘scientific’ view of the earth. Many Southern cultures, indigenous and womens’ group here will express a spiritual/value-based relationship to the earth and the approach to its care. ‘Stewardship’ of the planet stems from this. So ‘earth juriprudence’ and the earth rights movement, takes its cue from the indigenous peoples’ relationship with the earth. This means care for all things and in all our actions including not only how we approach the climate issue but also each other. So let’s be gentle and engaging and more inclusive and expansive in our interactions. Let try and learn and support each other and take our concerns for the planet and it’s people wherever we engage.

    • Thank you for taking the time to reply in such detail Jaya.

      I too will start from a point of agreement – “radical left” circles will by and large blame capitalists/corporations, but are blind to the many many ways the West dominates, controls, subverts the rest of the world. For the radical left, by and large, the working class in the industrialised world is somehow not complicit! I think it’s because they need there to be a pure and innocent “historical actor” who will bring about fundamental change. Having been an aid worker, and having seen how the South gets misrepresented/silenced etc, I (like to think that I) don’t have these particular illusions.

      I suspect we will have to agree to disagree on the length of the talk. After my request that we do introductions, Mr Choohan said he was only going to talk another 15 minutes before the break. The break did not come for another 40 minutes…
      And given the format, I feel the word “workshop” was a nisnomer.

      The things you mention – people being able to talk about recent disasters, discussion of stewardship, perhaps some eco-feminist perspectives (obvious cases would be Vandana Shiva and Wangari Matthai, the Chipko women etc)
      would have been very VERY welcome. If Southern Voices does a workshop (or lecture!) around that, I for one would be delighted to publicise it far and wide.

      I hope we can continue this conversation – either here in the comments box or via email – mcmonthly@gmail.com

      Manchester (well, the world) desperately needs a coming together of diverse perspectives for learning (and I would say, without mock humility, that the developed world folks are smarter on the science (perhaps) but woefully ignorant of what is actually already happening in the most of the world) and also DOING. Beyond signing declarations, we should be looking at how we build coalitions that sustain pressure for real action here in the city where we find ourselves.

      Yours sincerely

      Marc Hudson
      co-editor Manchester Climate Monthly

  4. Mark Haworth says:

    Kooj, Jaya and Marc thanks for all the comments: it’s nice to know that people have read the event report and critically engaged with what I said. Having re-read my report, on reflection I think I was overly critical. The event was indeed “worthwhile” for me, the content of the presentation was mostly excellent, and I should have acknowledged this more in the write-up. I am not surprised you received positive feedback afterwards, although there was still a lot of room for improvement.

    My frustrations were partly down to my expectations of the event, which was advertised as both a “workshop” and a “presentation”. I looked up the definition of “workshop”, and found: ‘An educational seminar or series of meetings emphasizing interaction and exchange of information among a usually small number of participants.’ I feel that the interaction part could have been emphasized more, or maybe it was always intended to primarily be a “presentation” (although I think this would have been a mistake).

    Kooj- I think you misunderstood my comment about PowerPoint, it can be a great aid to presenting information and in fact I often use it myself when presenting on climate change. My point was that on this occasion you fell into common trap of misusing it (specifically I would say there were too many slides, and many of them had FAR too much text on).

    I also knew some of the audience personally, and those who I have spoken to were also frustrated for similar reasons as me. Maybe they weren’t the “target audience” either though (another thing that could have perhaps been clearer on the publicity).

    You are right to correct the factual mistakes, which I can only put down to inexperience (which I admit is no excuse).

    Jaya- thanks for pulling me up on the phrase “statements made from the front that you don’t often hear outside of radical left-wing circles”. It should have said “that I don’t often hear…”, but you are of course correct that in fact discussion about these issues has been going on for decades, and that what I said is “an indication of how narrow the views and engagement of ‘leftwing’ radicals can be”. Fair point.

    I hope this discussion will help us to be constantly critical of ourselves to improve what we do and how we do it, and I’m inclined to agree that we should “try and learn and support each other and take our concerns for the planet and it’s people wherever we engage” and that the most urgent task for us (right here right now) is to “be looking at how we build coalitions that sustain pressure for real action here in the city where we find ourselves”.

    I look forward to seeing you all again at future Southern Voices events and continuing these discussions in person soon.

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