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 978-1-84946-186-3 (2012) [Research Book Chapter]
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
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.
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