Urban Securitisation and Climate Change

Later this week I will be going to London to a workshop hosted by the Crisis Forum as part of their ‘Climate Change and Violence‘ series. The workshop is entitled ‘Securing the State: Domestic Agendas‘ and examines what we can learn from existing security regimes about the way in which governmental authorities may respond to the violence(s) generated by climate change.

I will be talking about what we can learn from the contemporary securitisation of the urban environment. You can find my abstract as well as those of other speakers here. It promises to be a very interesting event.

Although there are many possible themes to investigate regarding climate change and security/violence, I want to explore two in particular:

  1. The way in which urban securitisation tells us a lot about the way in which authorities will react to future violences such as those that result from climate change. The various ways in which cities have become the arena for, or target of, military operations tells us a lot about the way in which governments will respond to future insecurities in/of the urban environment. The restriction of circulation and the hardening of urban infrastructure demonstrate the way in which urban fabric is seen as something to which access must be controlled. This is ominous for an era in which climate change could lead to greater rural-urban migration. Such influxes will likely lead to greater hardening of the urban environment and increased attempts to control access to urban fabric.
  2. The way in which climate change is itself seen as a potential threat to the city. For example, hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans shows how flooding –an often predicated consequence of climate change – poses a grave risk to the city.1 But responses to this perceived threat are problematic insofar as they posit a separateness between ‘the environment’ and ‘the city’. This separation is a long standing one that has its roots in the separation of the rural and urban and the positing of the former as ‘natural’ and the latter as ‘man-made’ Unfortunately, this puts the city and nature in a zero-sum relation in which each is exterior to, and competitive with, the other. This is problematic because it hides an intellectual confusion in which ecology and the city are taken to be conceptually separate. But – as I have written elsewhere – the city is characterised by a complex ecology. Investigating the complex ecologies at play in the city: especially the ecological systems of infrastructural support – will tell us much about how we might begin to pose the problems of the urban millennium in a way which sees climate change not as a threat to be excluded, but as a dynamic integral to the development of the future city.
  1. Social Science readings of Katrina and its impact on New Orleans can be found at the SSRC’s ‘Understanding Katrina’ resource.

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