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Climate Change and Paradoxical Harm


White, R, Climate Change and Paradoxical Harm, Criminological and Legal Consequences of Climate Change, Hart Publishing Ltd, S Farrall, T Ahmed and D French (ed), United Kingdom, pp. 63-77. ISBN 9781849461863 (2012) [Research Book Chapter]

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Copyright 2012 Hart Pub.

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Climate change and global warming pose a number of important questions for humanity. Not the least of these are problems relating to security and the management of social confliCt. For example, there is a range of existing and potential social conflicts surrounding global warming, 1 including conflicts over environmental resources such as water and food; conflicts linked to the climate-induced migration of peoples; conflicts over differential exploitation of resources (particularly evident in bio-piracy in relation to indigenous people); and conflicts over transference of harm in the form of, for example, cross-border pollution. All of these are in some way linked to global changes in climate.

As governments and communities search for solutions to the underlying issues of climate change, and adopt measures to mitigate and adapt to the consequences of global warming, other problems will inevitably emerge. Indeed, the aim of this chapter is to illustrate how certain responses to climate-related issues generate their own sort of negative feedback loop, resulting in further degradation of environments and additional threats to basic human rights. In their own way, the pressures associated with these emergent harms will add to the social conflicts already associated with climate change.

The chapter explores how particular solutions to the problems associated with climate change are, in turn, generating new forms of social and environmental harm. Paradoxical harm is harm that arises out of an apparent contradiction (for instance, we have to pollute certain parts of the planet in order to save it from other types of pollution). Specific examples of paradoxical harm include the adoption of compact fluorescent light globes to save energy (but which contain toxic mercury), promotion of nuclear energy (but which involves disposal of nuclear waste), and carbon emission storage (that penetrates and despoils the subterranean depths of land and sea). Such harm is paradoxical precisely because the harm stems from the pursuit of sectional social interests that inevitably fashion responses to, rather than resolution of, the key contradictions of the present age (namely, preservation of the capitalist growth economy in contrast to transformation toward sustainable ecology).

Paradoxical harm is not the same as unintended consequences. In many instances the (new) harms are known, and the acts leading to the generation of the harms is intentional. The harm is paradoxical in the sense that while seemingly contradictory (we generate harms as a means to forestall other harms), it is perfectly logical from the point of view of the imperatives of the system as a whole. Economic and social interventions that sustain the status quo (in favour of hegemonic nation-states and the leading transnational corporations, and that include maintaining the viability of 'dirty' industries) are favoured over those that might tackle the key drivers of climate change and that could diminish the burgeoning threats to ecological sustainability worldwide. Universal human interests are thus superseded by pursuit of specific sectional interests, to the detriment of alP While this happens by design, there is no grand plan. It is an outcome of a global system of production and consumption that is fundamentally premised upon private profit and narrow self-interest. The triumph of neo-liberalism is simultaneously the death knell of collective well-being. This, too, is the lynch pin of contemporary class struggles occurring around the globe.

The problem of global warming is complex and entails many different factors and elements. It involves stratospheric ozone depletion, and deforestation, through to air pollution associated with urban life and certain forms of agricultural production.3 So, too, responding to climate change and global warming entails many different types of human intervention. The specific concern of this chapter is to investigate government and business responses to climate change in order to assess how these are related to new or extended harms against humans, nonhuman animals and specific environments. The chapter discusses two broad areas in which paradoxical harm is evident: food production and energy production. As illustrated below, the policies and practices adopted to address these issues, while giving the appearance of responding to climate change, nevertheless deliver highly problematic answers to global warming.

Item Details

Item Type:Research Book Chapter
Research Division:Earth Sciences
Research Group:Climate change science
Research Field:Climate change processes
Objective Division:Law, Politics and Community Services
Objective Group:Community services
Objective Field:Community services not elsewhere classified
UTAS Author:White, R (Professor Rob White)
ID Code:77774
Year Published:2012
Deposited By:Sociology and Social Work
Deposited On:2012-05-28
Last Modified:2017-12-14

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