World War C: David Forbes on war and climate change

Normally, my capacity as (an admittedly erstwhile) contributor to WorldChanging Canada means that I must remain optimistic about our planet’s future. And mostly, I like thinking that way, because it means thinking about innovation and creation rather than destruction. It’s easy to think about destroying something; it’s much harder to actually consider building something from the ground up. It means learning about what’s going on in the world — what people want and need, what’s possible, and what’s around the corner. This is why I like writing science fiction, too. It connects me to the world in a way that academia doesn’t. Or, as a friend — a professional translator of Heidegger — once told me: “You’re engaged with the future. All I study is the past.”

However, optimism has to be informed if it is worth anything. This often means thinking of the worst possible outcome, so as to avoid it. Enter David Forbes’ entry on World War C, a term I coined (thank you very much) when he asked Twitter whether a war over climate change could ever happen. More specifically, he asked: Would a country go to war to halt climate change? Under what circumstances would they be justified?

Without dipping my toe into the steaming, sulfurous pit that is just war theory, I shall say that “just war” is like “casual sex” — there is no such thing. But David has a point: at what point do we start sanctioning nations for their carbon usage? Do sanctions even work? And how would we even begin enlisting soldiers for such an effort? Armed conflict depends heavily on Othering, but in consumption, humanity is united. Moreover, enlistment numbers jump after direct attacks or significant losses, but the gradual decimation of the planet is a quiet gaiacide, one that’s frequently hushed up in favour of other concerns. As Hitler might say, who remembers the tree frogs? Where is the climate equivalent of Pearl Harbor or 9/11? Would we have to wait that long? Does it take a bombing or an assassination before national infrastructures can be mobilized?

I would certainly hope not. But there are other factors to consider. Warmaking is not a terribly green enterprise. There are terrific amounts of waste, and huge amounts of energy expenditure on manufacturing, transport, and embedding an armed force. Even automated weaponry sucks up power — those batteries are built from something, and they drain from somewhere, and they require disposal. And the servers used to pilot predators, well, they draw from coal-fired plants just like you and I do. If you’re going to go to war over green policy, it probably means things are bad enough that you’ll have to do it in a green manner. Which really means not doing it all.

Peak oil may prove the inverse Singularity, here. Rather than explosion of technologies for a variety of applications, we’d be looking at a gradual slow-down of the current global economy in favour of local ones. Granted, this wouldn’t stop war. Every major power on this earth has a history pockmarked with clan feuds. But we also couldn’t reach other countries as easily to enforce carbon rules. We simply couldn’t get there (and they couldn’t reach us) efficiently, without jet fuel. So, in short, our future might look a bit like this:

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