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.