War Vernacular and the Many Faces of Climate Change

Printed on the walls of the Montreal Botanical Garden’s biodiversity center is E. O. Wilson’s statement: “Man is defined not by what he creates, but what he chooses to destroy.”

The quote stands alongside a vending machine of shark fins and hundreds of small plastics suspended on strings from the ceiling. The exhibit on humanity’s impact on the environment is sobering.

Expectedly, climate change news tends to lean on the pessimistic side of things. There is no shortage of updates on worsening high-impact extreme weather events, or species being driven near extirpation from their habitats. When rallying cries to resist these changes fill the air, another pattern emerges: war vernacular.

To “combat” climate change. To “fight” climate change. To “resist” climate change. Climate change as a process is antagonized as a villainous force aiming to destroy humanity. The glaring irony of this concept is the self-inflicted nature of humanity’s enemy. Accelerated global warming is largely by the hand of human activity, and now the repercussions are being felt. We have a tendency to address climate change as something happening to us, against us, but in reality its proliferation is a result of our own activity. In this supposed “war,” it is less humanity against climate change but more appropriately humanity against humanity.

The impacts of climate change are increasingly being regarded beyond the sphere of natural ecosystems. These impacts are no longer limited to habitat destruction and extreme weather events, but include all the associated consequences. Some deliberate that resource tensions lead to increased economic and political instability and encourage local conflict. Some are preparing militaries in response to climate change as a threat to national security. From the collapse of fisheries to the drying up of sacred lakes to the felling of ash trees at the hands of the emerald ash borer, the tragic consequences of climate change creep into every nook and cranny of the globe. The interdependency of human activity with natural systems means that every blow to the environment is, in turn, harmful to us. At this point in this rapidly developing climate change battle, each action that does not support the restoration of the natural system is an attack on humanity’s own side.

Environmental degradation is not an isolated occurrence. The very fabric of society is woven from our usage of biophysical cycles that are perpetually occurring. We connect ourselves to the objects around us, and create industries and livelihoods from how they can be used. Disruptions in this equilibrium can upheave our industries in the manner that tsunami waves travel across oceans: unseen, gargantuan, with unimaginable and at times unpredictable repercussions. To advocate for climate change resolution is to dedicate oneself to equity. It is to understand that the impacts of environmental degradation are not limited to any group, to any entity, to any ecosystem, to any country, to any corner of the world. 

E. O. Wilson recognizes the oft-overlooked factor in the dialogue of human interaction with the environment: there is not just restore and destroy, there is also cohabitation. The absence of cohabitation, of acceptance, is destruction. To create this understanding is to emphasize the sense of place in our surroundings. Nonetheless, value must be placed in humanity’s ability to create. It cannot be better said than in the words of Brian Eno: “To make something is to express a belief in how things belong together.” Climate change is a test of our own resilience, an opportunity to demonstrate that despite all odds, this common threat to the planet is a force that can unite us instead of divide us. Climate change resiliency is a matter of recognizing that our everyday actions as individuals and as a collective represent our belief in how we belong together with the world. It is recognizing that our loss in this war will be dictated by whether or not we choose to lose.

By Earth Restoration Service Blog Writer Hashveenah Manoharan

An  installations at the Montreal Botanical Garden biodiversity center

An  installations at the Montreal Botanical Garden biodiversity center