Unstable Ground looks at the human impact of climate change and its potential to provoke some of the most troubling crimes against humanity – ethnic conflict, war, and genocide. Alex Alvarez provides an essential overview of what science has shown to be true about climate change and examines how our warming world will challenge and stress societies and heighten the risk of mass violence.
Drawing on a number of recent and historic examples, including Darfur, Syria, and the current migration crisis, this book illustrates the thorny intersections of climate change and violence. The author doesn't claim causation but makes a compelling case that changing environmental circumstances can be a critical factor in facilitating violent conflict. As research suggests climate change will continue and accelerate, understanding how it might contribute to violence is essential in understanding how to prevent it.
Chapter 1: Making Sense of Climate Change
Chapter 2: On the Origins of Violent Conflict: War and the Genocidal Impulse
Chapter 3: Linking Climate Change and Conflict
Chapter 4: Water, Violent Conflict, and Genocide
Chapter 5: Forced Displacement and Borders in a Warming World
Chapter 6: Preventing Conflict and Building Resilience
Alex Alvarez is a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northern Arizona University. He was the founding director of the Martin-Springer Institute for Teaching the Holocaust, Tolerance, and Humanitarian Values. He is the author of several books, including Governments, Citizens, and Genocide, Genocidal Crimes, and Native America and the Question of Genocide. He has also served as an editor for the journal Violence and Victims, and he was a founding co-editor of the journal Genocide Studies and Prevention.
"Alvarez, professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northern Arizona University, examines climate change and its effect on conflicts in this thoughtful academic volume. He argues that the pressing issue regarding climate change is the role it plays in 'helping create certain kinds of conflict,' particularly 'communal and ethnic violence, war, and genocide.' Alvarez lays out a few ways in which environmental shifts can affect populations and occasionally lead to famine and war. He cites as an example the record heat waves that struck India and Pakistan in the summer of 2016, which melted pavement and killed over 1,000 people. Alvarez also discusses access to natural resources such as wood, oil, and gas, explaining that they 'allow a state to meet the basic survival needs of its citizens.' Water, Alvarez notes, is often taken for granted in industrialized nations 'where cheap and apparently endless supplies of fresh water are readily available.' He writes of the massive drought that ravaged Syria from 2006–2011 and bears some responsibility for the subsequent conflict there. On the flip side, populations are equally threatened by flooding rivers and rising sea levels. Alvarez's thoughtful and precise work highlights some deeply troubling but underdiscussed aspects of climate change."
– Publishers Weekly
"Beginning with his hometown of Flagstaff, Arizona, Alvarez then moves around the globe to show how the local and global need to be thought of together with regard to climate change, violence, and death. This approach is, essentially, one significant path towards acknowledging the severity and pervasiveness of some of the globe's most vital and pressing issues, as well as one that often blocks the way for many people who see nothing wrong at home and therefore see no tie to the broader global community. The book is an extended exercise for the author to come to terms with some of today's most monumental issues. Alvarez is not making the case for the existence of climate change or humanity's causal relationship to it. These are scientific facts that form the background of the book and need no further explanation or expansion. Instead, the author investigates how humanity will potentially deal with this clear and present danger. An intriguing work that explores an existential crisis without existentialism, for those willing to confront some ugly truths about humanity. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries."
"Unstable Ground provides a guide to understanding the many and varied implications of climate change – including environmental destruction, mass migration, and dissolution of established borders; the need to rethink issues of national security; and the existential question of life on planet Earth – if there is not enough action now to stem the self-inflicted wound. Alvarez's timely book is essential reading for citizens, policy makers, and scholars."
– Roger W. Smith, College of William & Mary
"Alvarez has written one of the first, and most assuredly the best, analyses of the connection between climate change and genocide. As one of the top genocide scholars, he has combined his in-depth knowledge of that subject with the most important and up-to-date research on climate change. Alvarez is not afraid to confront the possible connection between future political violence and the changing environment on our planet. His analysis is a warning that must be heeded by policy makers from both industrialized and less industrialized countries."
– Herbert Hirsch, Virginia Commonwealth University
"Climate change, the critical defining catastrophe of our time, is simultaneously a scientific and a human concern. In this pathbreaking volume, Alvarez has combined a number of approaches to the core issue in order to show just what this will portend for the future – a future in which violence, genocide, and population collapse are entirely likely unless the means can be found to address the slide towards disaster. This is a thought-provoking and terrifying book that nonetheless offers us some measure of hope [...] if only we pay heed to its message."
– Paul R. Bartrop, Florida Gulf Coast University
"In this highly engaging multidisciplinary volume, Alvarez explores the central issue of our time – the causes and far-reaching consequences of human-induced climate change. Drawing on his own deep expertise as a genocide studies scholar, Alvarez takes us on an at times harrowing tour of the role climate change is already playing – and will increasingly play – in producing and shaping violent conflicts, atrocities, and refugee flows around the globe. Of interest to both scholars and informed citizens, Alvarez's book clearly sets out the enormous challenges facing all of us, while offering hope that we can take substantive steps to confront this unprecedented threat to humanity and the planet that is our one and only home."
– Maureen S. Hiebert, University of Calgary
"Many of the major human rights issues of our time, including migration, armed conflict, and access to water, have important links to climate change, as Alex Alvarez shows in this compelling account. He connects many of the dots to explain the origins, at least in part, of the scourge of genocide and crimes against humanity today."
– William A. Schabas, Middlesex University, London
"In the highest tradition of the public intellectual, Alex Alvarez has produced a first-rate research work that is accessible to readers at every level and puts focus on a crucial dimension of human-caused global warming. His compelling analysis is that the dominant form of mass human violence in the twenty-first century will be (and already has been) driven by climate change. His book makes clear that the question facing us now is not whether these pressures will come, but how humanity will face them. This book is an absolute must-read for all policy makers, concerned citizens, and scholars."
– Henry C. Theriault, Worcester State University; founding co-editor of Genocide Studies International