In this section, we will look into the podcasts of three students to help us better understand the concepts of Climate Change & Security presented in chapter 4 of Dr. O’Lear’s Environmental Geopolitics (2018). The podcasts examine discourses and narratives on climate change and security and what purposes they serve. As always, these discourses are examined by the three questions of Environmental Geopolitics (2018, 6-9):
- How are the role and meaning of the environment defined and specified?
- What is humans’ role or agency in these situations?
- What attention is paid to different spatial dimensions of human-environment relationships?
Beyond the three questions, the main point that we must ask in this section is: how has climate change become a security issue? And in turn, what is being secured and for whom? Through these podcasts we can see how large corporations and other power holders pose climate change as a looming threat to human systems and well-being. By illustrating the environment this way, they are able to use this “threat” as justification for security measures. This selective portrayal serves to stabilize a particular spatial agenda in favor of the interests of those who create the narrative. This can lead to unstable problem-solving approaches that focus on singular problems and may have counterproductive consequences in other areas. It can also shift public knowledge, opinion and action away from holistic problem-solving approaches and truly sustainable practices.
By presenting environmental features as a risk to human systems, the companies examined in these podcasts are able to center their narrative around the idea that the environment itself is a risk to human life. This incorrectly divides man-made and natural processes as separate actors and makes it difficult to see the intertwining actions of humans and environmental systems. Through this, large actors are able to separate themselves from their role in environmental degradation by selectively presenting information that they are doing something for “the good of humanity.” This position in reality is often one of self interest, and not genuine concern for environmental features.
When looking closer, we may see that these power-holders fear that environmental degradation will be a threat to their comfortable and profitable business practices. This is why they shift the narrative to appear that they are doing something “good” for the planet and the people, so that they may hide behind this screen and avoid changing their ways. In the environmental community we call this “Greenwashing.” Economic growth and stability for these companies is paramount, supported by the economic value they place on natural resources as opposed to the intrinsic value of healthy environmental systems and mutually beneficial human-environment relationships. Capitalizing on fear generated by the narrative of “climate catastrophe,” these companies seem to only adopt “green” practices to appease and continue to profit off their consumer base. All this and more considered shows why these companies must secure themselves socially, economically and environmentally.
Jake Johnson’s podcast “Would You Like Paper or Plastic?” discusses Kroger’s in-store recycling program where customers may return their plastic bags and other single-use plastics to be recycled. Kroger claims that these items are recycled primarily into composite decking. They paint this program in a positive light as the decking is made from used items and that the process helps to reduce the amount of waste in landfills. However, Jake argues that the company’s main concern is how climate change could affect their businesses, supply chains, profits and so on.
Here we can see that Kroger is using the narrative of environmental threat or degradation to position themselves in a way that they are looking out for and protecting the environment. Kroger can then use this narrative to justify means of securitization, giving way to even more harmful practices away from our focus. However, Jake argues that this recycling program may only be in place to serve the company’s personal interests that have little to do with environmental well-being.
Jake highlights that the recycling program is counterproductive, pointing out the high levels of emissions involved in the process, manufacturing costs, and pollution from transportation. Jake also notes that the actual process of recycling the materials is “limited and in reality, it’s either put into landfills or incinerated.” He says that Kroger “did not think into a more real cost of these processes,” that they did not care to consider the long-term effects, or they had a lack of information to make more truly sustainable decisions. He explains this by discussing the interconnections and complexities of our supply chains. Because of the company’s lack of acknowledgement and accountability, he says that Kroger has a narrow view of the environment—only concerning their own business practices—and fails to look at the big picture of environmental damage, only to perpetuate the bigger issues for short-term profit as opposed to long-term improvement.
In Bella Koscal’s podcast, we learn about the king of all things: Amazon. According to Bella, part of Amazon’s Climate Pledge is to replace 100 thousand combustion-powered delivery vehicles with electric power in order to reach their goal of net-zero emissions by 2040. Sounds great! Right? Right?? Sure, but maybe not as great as we would hope. Bella argues that Amazon’s real goal seems to be to secure the global economy from risks presented by climate change. She quotes an advertisement by Amazon saying, “we were all about electric cars, renewable energy, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. And they were all crucial, but on their own, they would never be enough.”
In her discussion of the role and meaning of the environment, she highlights that a common view of the environment—especially by large corporations—is that it is hyper-commodifiable and profitable when put to use, and therefore is in need of securitization for its inherent value to the global economy. She uses this idea to note that the environment tends to be positioned as an uncontrollable looming threat to human systems. This idea separates the environment from human actions or control, and in turn can justify its securitization. This is harmful in that by separating humans from nature, it can help us deny our part in environmental damage.
By separating themselves, Bella argues, Amazon fails to recognize the role ecosystems do have on the global economy. In the long run, she claims that these small changes that are “economically comfortable” for the company won’t be enough, and they will eventually have no choice but to “act outside of their comfort because of weak buying power of consumers or supply chain issues.” Highlighting her idea that “the goal of natural climate solutions as implemented by Amazon, is not to mitigate the climate crisis, but rather as an attempt to get the environment to mitigate economic discomfort.”
Wow! This points out the harm in companies claiming their environmental patronage. By taking small, comfortable steps in sustainability, companies put a band-aid on environmental problems, leaving room for them to worsen and possibly put us into a worse situation than before.
Jessica Saunders podcast “The Monster of a Market” discusses the selling point, or claim of “organic, fair trade and charitable” menstrual products by their parent companies – P&G, Johnson & Johnson, Tampax, etc.- as a tactic of security. She argues that companies use these “good for you and the environment” labels to appear as though they are doing right by the environment and their consumers. She says the companies use these labels to maintain a positive facade in securing and growing the market’s already incredibly strong standing in the world economy and our lives. Being a massive market that most people with a uterus participate in and rely on, it can be tempting to abuse.
The misleading use of these “good and better” labels by menstrual product companies is only the tip of the iceberg in their game of security. Jessica argues that the market has already solidified itself in the world economy, our governments, its place in our ecosystems, and our lives. She discusses how the market became the monster it is today mainly by asserting itself in our systems and society. Referring to the historical, religious and societal oppression of women (and all menstrual product users,) the market flourishes on the opportunity to profit by oppressing and exploiting its consumers. Therefore, by rooting justification in deeply rooted societal norms, the market can maintain its grip on power.
She concludes that once these companies have established themselves in a position of power and goodness, they are able to shift the narrative to further their benefit. Through the use of the label of “good for you and the environment products,” those in power are able to shift the focus away from their faults and onto individuals. She notes that “it allows those in power of this market to encourage “us”- the average consumer- to be better consumers and to do our part in doing better for ourselves and the environment.” Not only does this distract us from much bigger issues, but it gives us a false sense of hope and guilt in the part we as individuals play in environmental issues. Even moreso, the narratives peptuated by this system allows them to separate themselves from the issues and continue their harmful practices away from our focus.
O’Lear, Shannon. 2018. Environmental Geopolitics. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.