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Wars over immaterialities

#WR2050 1 / May 2020

Author: Ignasi Torrent, CHIP researcher

Over the last three decades, propagating narratives of resource scarcity, exhaustibility and finitude have penetrated deep into people’s mindset. From the rapid decrease of water reserves to the significant reduction of biodiversity, overexploited agricultural soil, the failure of macro-engineering environmental projects such as the Arctic Seed Bank and the increasing accumulation of orbital technological waste drifting within the atmosphere, current ecological events point to a bleak near future. On top of this blatant and undeniable reality, which has been painfully soaking through our daily lives specially since the beginning of the twentieth-first century, the efforts of societal actors like governments, international organisations, international NGOs, local civil society actors as well as the private sector have sparked off a sense of urgency for which the human is deemed responsible. Nowadays, inaction to tackle environmental menaces seems an uncomfortable and reprovable position.

Unhesitatingly buying into this self-made discourse, state policies are increasingly determined by these redemptive admonitions, particularly in the area of security. More specifically, these pressing and somewhat frightening narratives are transforming conflict dynamics across the world. Wars are increasingly breaking out over fears triggered by suppositions, speculations and predictions that surpass the human sphere, as for instance the current deadly struggle in Central Asia over the presumably forthcoming exhaustion of watery resources. Armed conflicts waged over resources are old as war itself. However, wars stirred by the assumption that a certain ecological event is going to occur in an indeterminate future is something undoubtedly distinct. In other words, the anthropogenic material underpinnings that for centuries have fuelled violent struggles, including political ideologies, land disputes and natural resources competition, amongst others, are strikingly rendered dispensable. Thus, the world is attending the emergence of conflicts rooted in an immaterial rationale inasmuch as it is situated in the future. Much to the regret of many and regardless of astonishing scientific achievements, the future is still out of reach for the human intellectual conquest.

Although at the time of writing the ecological by-product of human progress can be summarised in approximately 500.000 annual deaths from environment-related wars, 10M annual pollution-related deaths and 30M internally displaced people, the suffering is unambiguously segmented on a geographical and socioeconomic basis. Those undergoing the most dreadful situations are the poorest communities of the poorest countries. Wealthy and middle-income nations are provided with enough resources to mitigate the implications of nowadays ecological challenges or even make them go unnoticed by their populations. In addition to this, the machine-led operationalisation of wars on the ground, which has exponentially grown over the last two decades, has also lessened the human perception on the costs of war, which feels more and more distant. This lack of tangible and dire humanitarian consequences for a large portion of world population is gradually prompting a wide and unfathomable sense of carelessness for earthly troubles. In other words, bombarded with horrifying but at the same time inappreciable stories, humans give the impression of developing immunity to the all-encompassing and totalising discourse of a foreseeable doomsday.