Fall 2022: Introduction to Resource Conflict and Slow Violence

Ellie Rubinger

Chapter 3, “Resource Conflict and Slow Violence” of Dr. Shannon O’Lear’s Environmental Geopolitics focuses on resource conflict, slow violence, and securitization as different processes of a human-environment interaction. These are two very different terms, but slow violence is something that reveals the underbelly of what resource conflict is. Resource conflict is a very broad and ambiguous term that cannot be defined with one specific approach.  Resource conflict may seem very straightforward in its terminology, but it is a very complex and ambiguous term. The chapter introduces the concept of slow violence to bring a clearer understanding to instances where there is some kind of conflict over some kind of resource.

Dr. O’Lear comes up with a perspective of resource conflict, but not a set definition. O’Lear describes it as, “the environment is a security concern in terms of ensuring a state’s access to needed or strategic resources either through military means or through trade with allies” (p. 65). Depending on who is defining what resource conflict is, they will define it in a different way creating complications pinning its true nature. It is, however, something that can be peeled away for people to see how slow violence and securitization can occur. The label of resource conflict does not help to understand how the resource is connected to a particular tension. There is not a clear definition, but taking things in context can reveal connections of slow violence and securitization.

Securitization is a term that comes into play with resource conflict, and a resource, whatever it may be, is something that wants to be in possession of a person or group for their benefit to reach a specific goal. For example, securitizing land to mine metal. Political agenda over a resource and prioritizing something over anything else. Determining what is of value is what determines what is being securitized.

A focus on slow violence is a way to decode resource conflict and to see what it obscures. Resource conflict is a broad and non-specific label, but focusing on how slow violence emerges in different situations reveals details and perspectives that might be overlooked with a limiting focus on resource conflict. O’Lear describes slow violence as, “a form of danger and destruction that unfolds more slowly over time” that “operates at spatial and temporal scales that do not grab headlines” (p. 93).  Injustices happen for certain groups of people may occur slowly over time and this harm can go unmentioned and unattended. A focus on slow violence can highlight a lack of off violent processes and how different communities or land  is affected. Who is being harmed and how it impacts them is a key point in this process.

The podcasts in Chapter 3 discusses the processes of slow violence and securitization. In some, both, but they all bring up different human-environment relationships that have similarities of these key concepts. Many discuss the slow violence of indigenous tribes and others discuss certain materials or land being securitized. All take these relationships and consider them from a geopolitical perspective and give insight into environmental or human injustices that their specific claims do not include.

Analyzing the Environmental and Social Factors of the Saudi Arabian Project “The Line” by Nidia Lazos

This podcast describes “The Line”, a proposed urban development of the living city “NEOM” in Saudi Arabia that will house 9 million people that will utilize renewable energy with a zero-carbon emission system of operation, displaying the process of slow violence against the Indigenous tribes in this specific spatiality. The Saudi Arabian government plans on securing renewable resources and land for their production and in this story, reveals the slow violence of the Huwaitat tribe from their government. The claim about this podcast describes how the Line “will run entirely on renewable energy and there will be no roads, cars, or emissions.” The claim does not include how the environment will suffer as a result of this standing city or the effects of the construction process. Indigenous peoples and their land can be a casualty of this construction due to its determined spatial focus, the Saudi Arabian desert that houses the Huwaitat tribe. The dismay of the Indigenous peoples regarding their land showcases an aspect of  slow violence of this plan. As mentioned in the podcast, the Huwaitat tribe members were “forcefully evicted from their homes and harassed until they left.”

The Saudi Arabian government sees the land as a blank slate for their enterprise without consideration of effects it will have on the environment and Indigenous people there. The wealthy people and “progressives” want to move forward and see no risks, while the Indigenous and aquatic ecosystems will be the ones without benefits.  The “Line” in Saudi Arabia is a giant project that demands extensive resources, time, and land. It brings up a conflict of the land being taken from the Huwaitat tribe, as they are victims of this endeavor.

The Case of the Fallen Trees: Forestry Enterprises on Indigenous Land by Sierra S Ashenfelter

The next podcast discusses forestry enterprises in Mexico whose practices put Indigenous people and the land at risk. These logging practices demonstrate a form of slow violence affecting Indigenous people that inhabit the land. The claim from this forestry foundation says that “[they] can improve the quality of life in Mexico through their programs, projects, and partnerships that increase tree cover.” This work is an attempt to establish forestry enterprises in Mexico (CONAFOR), and the claim presents itself as wholly positive for locals and the environment.

The claim says it will increase tree cover, but Sierra is able to note how that is the opposite in this case. Job security for locals is a benefit but does not outweigh the destruction of land and losses seen by Indigenous peoples. Logging is beneficial for the Mexican government and Mexican allies as they gain finances and logging materials. These advantages for the Mexican government reveals the resource they need securitized and their comfortability with destroying the land despite the environmental and human repercussions displaying slow violence of the land and its people. This podcast exposes the long-standing strain between the government and its people because of its previous oppression. The logging process for the Mexican government’s benefit will severely impact the land and people. It reflects the omnipotence of the government in comparison to the Indigenous people from years of conflict to current day logging issues.

Darkness in the Periodic Table by Alexi Sommerville

In this podcast, Sommerville discusses how rare earth minerals are important for renewable energy and are therefore being securitized. The overarching theme of this podcast is the security of rare earth elements internationally. This mining reveals the harmful process of international governments securitizing these elements at the expense of people and environments in the areas being mined. The U.S. Government claims, “Now is the time for decisive, comprehensive action by the Biden-Harris administration … to support sustainable production and conservation of strategic and critical materials.” This claim calls for the President and the Department of Defense to contract mining companies to mine more rare earth metals domestically in order to generate a reliable or secure supply domestically.

This podcast describes how securing a supply of rare earth metals happens within a broader global context of weapon development. Sommerville identifies the underlying message of the claim, which is how the security of rare earth metals is more important than preserving the environment and how that claim glosses over the human-environmental impacts. A key theme demonstrated in this podcast is the United States securing rare earth metals for reliability purposes and asserting power over countries like China. This mining is done without regard to environmental impacts or the future sustainability of continuously digging for rare earth metals.

Nuclear Power and the Navajo by Ellie Rubinger

The final podcast in this section describes the relationship between the rise of nuclear securitization in the U.S. and its effect on the Navajo people in the American Southwest. It ties together the themes of securitization of land and energy as well as slow violence, affecting Indigenous populations. This podcast focuses on a government claim that states, “In part, the resolution of the present crisis in the world, depends on the relative success of the free world, as contrasted with the totalitarian world, in building a quality of life that is good for all its people and I believe atomic energy can play a major role in this great enterprise.” The claim is a follow-up to Eisenhower’s call for nuclear security but does not consider the damage to the environment and Navajo people. This story covers how the demand for nuclearism in the U.S. lead to detrimental effects on the people and environments in the American Southwest. Rubinger describes how energy and the land from which energy supplies were mined were secured in the interest of promoting the U.S. efforts in the Nuclear Arms Race. In this process, Navajo people and their environments were commodified and valued for how it will benefit the government.

This podcast exposes the uneven power dynamics that perpetuates internal racism of the government toward Indigenous people. Rubinger examines the claim that nuclearism is good for the U.S. military and for the “free world” which doesn’t include the environment and its people. Because of this focus, severe environmental and human repercussions have happened for Navajo people including increased cancer rates and destroyed ecosystems. After mining ceased, thousands of mines were left abandoned and so were the Navajo people. President Eisenhower’s call for uranium-based nuclear power was a detriment for the Navajo people and their lands. This demonstration of slow violence is still being endured.

O’Lear, Shannon. 2018. Environmental Geopolitics. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.


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