A Guide to Climate Violence

Climate violence stems from the collision of extreme atmospheric conditions and acute social realities.

Flooding in downtown Davao City. Photo Credit: Keith Bacongco

‘Humanity is something we still have to humanize.’ — Gabriela Mistral

‘When it rains everything is drenched… but mostly the poor’ — Pedro Lemebel

‘It’s not a coincidence that our land is dying and our women are dying’ — Melina Laboucan-Massimo

‘The rivers have memory’ — Luz Marina Mantilla


What is climate change doing to us? How is it rearranging our world and bearing on its life?

Before we attempt to unpack these questions, it’s worth turning to the topic of humility. Climate change’s petrifying power has a tendency to eclipse all else. Our terror of future possibilities and our desperation to provoke action can often lead us to see climate change in everything, ascribing a wide range of phenomena to it without clearly thinking through the links.

The common retelling of climate change contributes to this confusion. When we hear phrases such as ‘mega-drought’, ‘flash flood’, or ‘superstorm’, we think of bursts of overpowering weather, engulfing helpless societies. Such depictions not only exclude the less striking forms of climate violence, but they also help to hide the multiple roots of disaster that are unrelated to the atmosphere. Ultimately, the impact of extreme weather is determined not just by its own severity, but by the conditions that weather meets on the ground.

By failing to acknowledge the messier role climate change plays, we actually underestimate its real danger, which worsens problems and renders them insoluble, rather than generating them in the first place. So as we work to understand the impacts of climate change, it is worth remembering a simple equation:

Climate violence = extreme climate conditions x social realities

Climate violence is always the result of a collision between acute weather conditions and acute social realities. Poverty, inequality, state neglect, improper planning and abandonment lay the explosives. Extreme weather lights the fuse.

Completing these variables of vulnerability can help us understand that climate change is not a discrete threat. It is the wind that blows upon all the embers that are already there, the salt that pours into our existing wounds.

The word apocalypse originates in the Greek apocalypsis: revelation (i). Disasters reveal us. They peel away pretence, to lay bare the underlying values of society, the previous priorities of politics and the preparedness of institutions. As Didier Cherpitel, a former secretary general of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, noted: ‘In many cases, nature’s contribution to “natural” disasters is simply to expose the effects of deeper, structural causes’ (ii). Through climate violence, the memory of injustice rises to the fore.

To understand this in greater detail, let’s explore the two parts of the equation.

Extreme weather and climate conditions

Monsoons, hurricanes, torrential rains, wildfires, droughts and heat waves are all part of the rhythms of our planet’s meteorology. For millennia, human beings have learnt to prepare themselves for these events: the most overt expressions of nature’s might. But the rise of global temperatures is increasingly affecting the expression of extreme weather.

A drought-afflicted reservoir, Embalse del Porma, Spain. Photo Credit: Oscar F. Hevia.

To understand this relationship, it’s more helpful to think of contribution before causation. Climate change does not create extreme weather, it aggravates it. It heightens its frequency, intensity, seasonality and reach. It boosts chances, it energizes, it strengthens, it loads the dice of probability. It increases the force of disaster. It disturbs seasons and cycles, whose balance we rely on. As atmospheric scientist Katharine Haydoe summarizes, ‘[c]limate change exacerbates the naturally occurring risks we already face today’ (iii).

Let’s sketch out some of these relationships. Climate change means rising temperatures, which accelerate the process of evaporation, removing more water from soils, lakes and rivers. The atmosphere then carries higher levels of moisture: when it rains, it rains harder. When temperatures allow for snow, snowfall is intensified (iv).

Simultaneously, as the atmosphere absorbs more water from a territory, the aridity of the land increases, heightening the risk of drought and increasing the flammability of vegetation. The risk of fires igniting, spreading, and destroying grows. Dried by droughts, our forests become flammable boxes of tinder (v).

Through such processes, cimate change becomes a potent disruptor of weather patterns. Rain becomes more torrential, concentrated and dispersed. Heat waves grow longer, hotter and more regular. The wind speed limits of storms are stretched. Hurricane paths are rerouted. As heat accumulates in the ocean, the temperature of seawater rises, setting the stage for stronger storms which draw on the energy of warm waters. There are also suggestions that climate change is influencing atmospheric circulation, altering jet streams. Storm systems can stall and get stuck, allowing them more time to shed precipitation in concentrated areas. These jammed or blocked storms have prolonged impacts beyond usual storms (vi).

Higher temperatures are also driving sea-level rise. First, they melt ice formations across the planet, from glaciers in the Himalayas to ice shelfs in the Antarctic. This melting increases the overall proportion of water held in our oceans. Second, thermal expansion, the process through which heating waters expand, generates another half of global sea-level rise. When we add up these climate-driven sources, together with our increasing extraction of water from aquifers (which transfers water to the sea), we could be facing significant levels of sea-level rise across this century.

Melting polar ice rim, Svalbard, Norway. Photo Credit: United Nations

Overall, the impacts we are observing, and the models they are informing, are suggesting a future of intense atmospheric aggravation.

How can we know that contemporary weather events are affected by climate change? Through a process known as event attribution, scientists calibrate how climate change may have affected the probabilities of a particular incident occurring (vii). Using computer models, researchers simulate how particular climatic events unfold. They then compare them to counterfactual simulations of that event, that explore what may have occurred if for example, human beings had not drastically reconfigured the composition of the atmosphere. Contrasting these scenarios allows researchers to sketch out the influence. Through such analysis, human fingerprints can be found today over many contemporary episodes of extreme weather (viii).

The inequality of exposure

While the climate is being disrupted everywhere, not every ecosystem is equally affected by it. After all, when we talk about a rise in temperature we are referring to a global average. Not every place in the world will see the same temperature rise. Land temperatures are expected to warm significantly faster than the global average, as warming above oceans is tempered by the seas’ absorption of heat. Certain regions, mainly those closest to the poles and tropical latitudes, are inherently more vulnerable to global warming. In the Arctic, when compared with lower latitudes, more of the energy trapped through the greenhouse effect goes into warming than evaporation, as the atmospheric layer is shallower (ix).

Natural disparities in altitude and precipitation also shape the exposure of ecosystems. Around a quarter of all the world’s renewable water falls on Canada every year, while desert environments receive almost none.[x] In Nigeria, annual average rainfall in the northern Sokoto state is 600 millimetres while along the country’s southern coast it is 3,500 millimetres (xi). Different regions, even though proximate, may have entirely different biomes.

Given such differences, geography draws the danger zones of climate violence around dry corridors, deltas, arid regions, low-lying territories, and glacier-fed river basins (xii). The most severe effects will likely be felt across these areas, particularly in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Latin America.

Every region also has its own particular climatic phenomena that present risks. In Mongolia, they are dzuds, intense winter storms; in Morocco and Tunisia, they are siroccos, in the mouth of the River Plate sudestadas. Then there are cyclones in the Bay of Bengal, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, and the canículas (dry spells) of Central America.

Geophysical inequalities also emerge when it comes to sea levels. Today, sea levels are rising globally at an average of 3.4 millimetres a year, a rate which has nearly tripled in the past 30 years (xiii). Just as the earth is not flat, neither is the ocean. In different areas, we see different levels of rise (xiv). The West Pacific experiences rates of sea-level rise three times the global average, as thermal expansion joins changes in wind and ocean currents. In Greenland, sea levels are diminishing, given their proximity to melting ice sheets (xv).

The composition of ecosystems also shapes exposure to climate violence. Built areas are usually far hotter than adjacent rural areas, as their abundant dark and impermeable materials — concrete, steel, asphalt — absorb greater amounts of heat. Cities, from Santos to Skopje are already warming twice as fast as the planet, raising major fears around their possibilities to continue sweltering into the future (xvi).

From a landscape’s topography, to the morphology of its habitats, all these factors feed into the lottery of place. But place is not destiny. It collides with social conditions.

Social conditions

Let’s turn to the other element of the equation. The way an extreme weather event will unfold is determined by the economic, political and infrastructural conditions it meets.

When floods inundate communities, it is not only torrential rains that are relevant. A key part is played by all kinds of other factors: inadequate urban drainage, improper land use, absent planning, the extent of water-absorbent surfaces, the reliability of infrastructure, the enforcement of building codes, the location of toxic-waste sites, the permeability of sewage deposits, the processing of garbage and the social protection available for communities.

When landslides level communities, inadequate construction, poor road engineering, missing oversight and the clearance of erosion buffers such as forests are often to blame.

When droughts pummel communities, what is exposed is also the quality of irrigation schemes, the nature of water consumption, the strength of rural support networks, and the availability of health and veterinary systems.

When lands undergo desertification, the drivers of drying are often found in cultivation practices, grazing patterns and deforestation.

When intensified forest fires raze landscapes, poor land management, inadequate responses, rural abandonment, urban migration and historic fire suppression all play their part.

When heat waves afflict populations, access to water, the intensity of labour, the strength of care networks, and the availability of cooling measures, all come to the fore.

In 2017, two devastating mudslides occurred in two different parts of the globe. On the evening of 1 April torrential rains fell on the Colombian region of Putumayo, swelling the Mocoa, Mulato and Sangoyaco rivers. The expanding body of water burst through the banks, sending a sea of mud, debris and water rushing through the city of Mocoa. Seventeen neighbourhoods were submerged, with that of San Miguel swept away entirely. As families slept, the torrent smashed into houses and bodies. Hundreds of people, including at least 43 children, were killed (xvii).

On 13 and 14 August 2017, torrential rains lashed Freetown in Sierra Leone, collapsing an eastern hillside. Over 1,100 people were killed or rendered missing by the rushing landslide.

Although thousands of kilometres apart, the root causes of both landslides were almost identical. Inadequate urban planning, poverty, deforestation, perilous construction around water basins and failed risk management cemented the conditions. Torrential rains exposed them.

The background of the victims of both landslides also drew parallels. Many of the poorest populations of both Mocoa and Freetown were citizens displaced by civil war, forced by precarity to build their settlements on hills or riverbanks, the areas most vulnerable to debris.

What these two episodes show, along with every other incident of climate violence, is that in the throes of disaster, virtually everything is relevant. Instead of visualizing climate change as a separate threat, we need to put on the glasses of connection, and see how it interacts with the multifaceted features of our societies.

Climate violence and you

The body we are born into, the income of our family, the citizenship we are granted, the livelihood we rely on, the construction materials used in our neighbourhood, the gender divisions we are socialized into, the ethnicity we are ascribed, the friends we can turn to, the size of our savings, and the information we receive: all of these, and many more, are markers of fate, shaping our vulnerability to climate violence.

These distinctions — whether of gender, race, class, nationality, belonging, age, ability or caste — define our relative power within society, the resources we may have access to and the range of our available choices.

Our world is riven by deep imbalances of power, generated by historical injustices of recognition, distribution and exclusion. These imbalances attach great weight to our distinctions. We are not equal, neither in our exposure to climate violence, nor in our capacity to withstand it. Our experiences vary drastically.

Treacherous roads in Jamalpur, following flooding. Photo Credit: Amir Jina

So whenever we hear of climate change, let us think less of abstractions, and more of the intimate questions that outline the possibilities of pain.

Whose homes will resist the strength of calamities? Who knows how to swim? Who can turn on the air conditioning to allay the summer heat? Who can afford winter heating bills? Who has a car? Who can buy a bus ticket to flee an approaching hurricane? When heat waves arrive, who does intensive physical labour outdoors, and who can stay indoors? Who is housed and who is homeless? Who has food reserves? Who lives near a hospital? Who has access to ample clean drinking water? Who is reached by warning systems? Who has access to assistance? Who is overlooked in pre-disaster planning? Who is abandoned during a flood? Who is shut out from post-disaster support? Who loses their third beach home, and who loses their family?

Who sits where in the hierarchy of care? Who is disposable?

Disasters may not discriminate but human societies do. Every storm makes landfall on a landscape riven by disparities of wealth, power and safety. And in this terrain, the law of unequal suffering holds: pain falls mostly on those most vulnerable to it. The impacts of climate change gravitate towards our fault lines. The dispossessed, the forgotten, the left behind, the frail, the malnourished and the marginalized will always pay the highest costs of disaster. Climate violence is, above all, an intensifier of injustice.

Poverties, strictures and precarities

To clarify this thought a little, try a simple thought experiment. Think of your home city, town or rural area. Now think of the most common ecological risk your neighbourhood faces: is it flooding? Or landslides? Hurricanes or drought? Is it extremely hot weather or cold weather? Is it air pollution or waste? Once you’ve chosen a risk, try to draw a mental map of your home city: what are the areas most affected by that ecological risk?

Keep that image in the back of your mind, but this time make another map. Trace out the areas of your home area with the highest rates of poverty and deprivation. Do the two maps overlap?

Usually, the maps of climatic mortality mirror the maps of social precarity. To be poor is to be both unprotected and prone to environmental risk. Low-income neighbourhoods are typically those closest to polluting facilities, dump sites and the sources of flooding.

The poorest neighbourhoods are also usually those most deprived of the instruments that allow us to endure extreme weather. Risk-reducing infrastructures — from storm pipes to sanitation, from stable electricity to firm building foundations — are concentrated in the wealthiest neighbourhoods. Informal settlements on the other hand, deprived of state recognition and support, face some of the highest risks.

Wealth allows for greater choices to be made in the face of threats: you can choose where to live, what quality of water to obtain and what burdens you can avoid. In California, increasingly beset by fires, the richest members of society purchase insurance programmes that provide private firefighters to protect their homes (xviii). On the other hand, those with the least resources have the fewest options and footholds for recovery.

While poverty affords neglect, wealth purchases power. In the aftermath of disasters, recovery budgets, reconstruction funds and protective infrastructure are slanted to the rich. In Egyptian coastal cities, such as Dumyat and Ras El-Barr, sea defences have been set up largely to protect tourist resorts, military installations and affluent neighbourhoods (xix).


In our world, patriarchal economic structures, power relations, and entrenched expectations, translate into societies with stark inequalities across genders. Women are more likely to be poor, to be denied rights, to face sexual violence, to be dispossessed of land, to be precluded from secure employment, to work longer hours, to get paid less for equal work, to be responsible for domestic food production, to be illiterate, to lack healthcare, to work closer to pollution, to be excluded from decision-making, to lack access to economic assets, and to bear the burdens of unvalorized care work.

All these strictures are relevant in the context of the climate, which exposes patriarchy’s fatal implications. Disasters are consistently found to be more likely to kill women than men, a disparity that is exacerbated among poorer women. In 1991, when a large-scale cyclone barrelled into Bangladesh, 90 per cent of the 150,000 people killed were women. In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis made landfall on the Ayeyarwady region of Myanmar, killing 130,000 people; over three-fifths of them were female (xx). Some studies even suggest that, in disasters, the likelihood of female mortality is 14 times greater than for men (xxi).

What explains these disparities? Every close detail of distinction and division gains salience (xxii). During evacuation procedures, many women are homebound, tied to caring for children, elderly relatives, animals and valuables (xxiii). As flood waters rise, many women laden with customary heavy clothing are physically restricted from staying afloat (xxiv).

Broader patriarchal injustices are inflamed by disasters, which often expand the burdens of care. Called in to help in the household, young girls are more likely to drop out of schools in the wake of catastrophe.

When climate violence devastates agrarian territories, the livelihoods of women are most at risk. Women, rarely the legally recognized heads of the household, are often disqualified from the direct provision of relief, and restricted from the resources crucial for recovery: credit, insurance, employment, healthcare (xxv).

A farmer tends to crop in the Zambezi Valley. Photo Credit: DFID.

In environments where women are tasked with water collection or wood gathering, climate violence can increase the physical and temporal burdens of women. Intense droughts can mean longer distances trekked to fetch water, getting up earlier to collect water or turning to unsafe water supplies.

Climate violence also augments the density of verbal, physical, sexual and emotional violence. As droughts drain water tanks, many women are no longer able to bathe in privacy (xxvi). In heat waves, many women risk dehydration by refraining from drinking water, in order to minimize outdoor toilet trips where they may experience harassment, refrain from (xxvii).

In Vanuatu, reported domestic violence cases tripled after cyclones Vania and At hit the province of Tafe in 2011 (xxviii). In Fiji, in the wake of Cyclone Winston, rates of gendered violence intensified. Shamina Ali of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre reported: ‘There was a lot of sexual harassment of women. There were some rapes, some reported, a lot not reported… There were also cases of women asking for shelter and men demanding sex in return’ (xxix).

The poverties inflicted by climate violence collide with existing precarities and norms. Rising rates of slavery, trafficking and child marriage follow extreme weather (xxx). In the Sundarbans, many young women from devastated flooded communities have been forced to move into cities, often to enter the most precarious economic sectors (xxxi).

LGBTQI populations experience similarly oppressive strictures following disaster. Although unrelated to atmospheric conditions, the devastating December 2004 tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean offers insightful precedent. In wake of the devastating waves, Indian Aravanis faced systematic exclusion from relief, food provision, shelter and even death records (xxxii). Accounts by Aravanis who were able to gain access to emergency shelters tell of sexual and physical harassment and abuse, including ‘corrective rape’ (xxxiii). Invisible before and after the tsunami, the majority of Aravanis were turned away from and left to fend for themselves.

Gendered roles also affect men in contexts of climate violence. Debt burdens, expectations of financial responsibility and climatic shocks combine to cause disproportionate rates of male farmer suicide (xxxiv). In the vortex of disaster, the expectation of masculine heroism also increases mortality rates.. When heat waves afflict certain societies, men are more likely to be tasked with physical labour outside and left more vulnerable to extreme heat (xxxv).

The elderly, the paralysed, the physically challenged, those with compromised immune systems, and the young, also face particular vulnerabilities (xxxvi). Impoverished health systems, the isolation of the elderly and the social exclusion of those deemed ‘disabled’ are major risk factors for climate violence.


When Cyclone Nargis buffeted Myanmar in May 2008, many people with physical disabilities were abandoned in the rush to escape encroaching tides (xxxvii). Nearly half of Hurricane Katrina’s fatalities were people over the age of 75, with over two-thirds of the fatal victims being over the age of 60 (xxxviii). During the European heatwave of 2003, the highest rates of mortality were seen amongst isolated elderly people (xxxix).

Evacuation procedures and early-warning systems are rarely attuned to the needs of those with physical or auditory limitations. Power outages caused by disasters can spell death for those in hospitals, nursing homes or reliant on electric life-support systems. As roads are blocked and health centres are shut, those dependent on regular supplies of medication and those in need of operations or medical attention face particular challenges.

The type of medication we take can also expose us. Diuretics for high blood pressure can cause dehydration, whereas certain antipsychotic drugs can contribute to preventing sweating. Studies of France’s 2003 heatwave have hypothesized that many were killed by the side-effects of such drugs (xl).

The bodies of the very young are also more vulnerable to the ravages of climate violence, given their vulnerability to extreme heat, early malnourishment and vector-borne illnesses (xli). Nearly 90 per cent of the disease burden linked to climate change affects children younger than five (xlii).


The imbalances of power that unevenly distribute climate risks can also be found across lines of race, clan, caste, heritage, nationality and ethnicity. In Vietnam, ethnic minorities like the Tay, Thai and Hmong peoples are disproportionately vulnerable to the ravages of disaster (xliii). In Somalia, when devastating famines struck in 1992 and 2011, the majority of victims came from the minority Rahanweyn and Bantu clans (xliv).

In India, Dalit and Adivasi communities have faced significant discrimination in the provision of disaster relief (xlv). Rural lower-caste communities are also disproportionately vulnerable to climate-fuelled agrarian crises, having limited property access and inequitable loan arrangements. Around 70 per cent of Dalits are landless farmers. The majority of farmer suicides in regions such as Tamil Nadu correspond to low-caste farmers (xlvi).

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Photo Credit: Gilbert Mercier

In Iran, minority Arab and Azeri populations face disproportionate environmental risks. The Khuzestan region, populated predominantly by Arab populations, is one of the planet’s most polluted areas, suffocated by chronic episodes of haze. Droughts and poorly planned hydrological projects have desiccated marshes and fields, leaving them fertile for dust storms. The region is surrounded by petrochemical factories, whose pollutants add to the noxious air.

Across Europe, Roma communities are unduly vulnerable to flooding, forced by historical oppression and exclusion into the zones of environmental risk. City councils have frequently tried to relocate Roma residents to floodplain settlements. In the Macedonian municipality of Kumanovo, Roma communities were gradually corralled into building homes on heavily polluted and flood-prone land. In January 2003, flooding swept away the homes of 406 families (xlvii).

In China, the hukou (household registration) system enshrines deep disadvantages for those registered in rural areas, who are less likely to access education, economic opportunities, subsidized housing, healthcare and welfare. These factors skew exposures and vulnerabilities to pollution and wider ecological precarity (xlviii).

The simple location of our birth also does much to shape our predispositions to climate change and the available support. Compare the budget of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency ($15,500 million) with that of India’s equivalent authority ($100 million) (xlix).Or consider that the average disaster relief afforded to direct victims in the US of Hurricane Sandy ($8,608) was dozens of times the average annual wage in many other countries (l).

Ultimately, the multiple prices of poverty explain why the poorest 50 countries in the world face just 11 per cent of all environmental hazards, but over half of all associated fatalities. The richest states encounter 15 per cent of hazards but suffer fewer than 2 per cent of deaths (li).

A story we can’t tell

Although we may separate distinctions for the sake of clarity, in reality they are indivisible. All forms of injustice overlap and interact to generate unique experiences of injustice (lii). As Naila Kabeer writes: ‘While gender is never absent, it is never present in pure form. It is always interwoven with other social inequalities, such as class and race, and has to be analysed through a holistic framework…’ (liii).

What climate violence leaves behind is not a set of rules, but a sea of stories.


On the evening of 24 November 2012, as hundreds of workers sat behind sewing machines fulfilling orders from transnational companies, a fire broke out inside Dhaka’s Tazreen garment factory. The building was a death trap: outdoor exits were missing, iron grilles barred many windows and the adjacent road was not wide enough for firefighters to get through. Guards and managers reportedly told employees to ignore the false alarm and return to work.

The flames ripped through the building, smoke choking lungs. For workers on the upper floors, the only way out was through the windows. Guided by mobile-phone lights in the darkness, they made their way through the fumes and jumped, some to their deaths.

That night 124 people were killed. Over a hundred others sustained life-altering injuries from jumping. Many relatives were unable to identify their loved ones among the charred bodies: 53 bodies were laid to rest unclaimed.

The majority of the victims of the Tazreen crime were young women who had migrated to Dhaka, hoping to earn a living in the country’s largest export industry. In research conducted after the disaster, anthropologist Mahmadul Sumon came across a startling statistic: a large number of those who died were from a small district in northern Bangladesh notable for its water stress and depleted harvests (liv).


To distil pain, we categorize. We homogenize. We count. We turn to the mathematics: digits that hold the dead, the wounded, the houses destroyed, the damages incurred.

These reductive numbers allow us to hold what we cannot: the heart-splintering volume of loss wrought by climate violence. The intimacy, the visceral imagery, the unforgettable emotional maps, of disaster.

The broken sleeps, the rotting crops, the suffocating heat, the stained liturgies, the endless scrubbing of mould. The soaked birth certificates and land titles, stained with seawater. The flooded ashes, the full morgues, the bodies unclaimed, buried without a name. The public prayers, the waterlogged pharmacies, the stuttering ventilators, the postponed operations, the endless afterlife of disaster.

The saline lands, the unrecognizable territory, the scarred earth, the brackish water, the untenable house. The resignation of uncertainty, the sadness, felt in the body, in the breath, in the words. The debt payments, the squandered savings. The slow violence of malnutrition, the shattering of prospects, the confusion of loss, the traumas we can’t conceive (lv).


Privilege represents our shelter from the effects of a particular injustice, our distance from a deprivation (lvi). Unless we are attentive to our distance, we can grossly misread the urgency of an issue, confusing our own perception of risk with that borne by another.

As we work to understand the future of climate change and what kind of response we should configure, let us root our urgency as best as we can in the realities of those most vulnerable to the rigours of atmospheric pain.

Let us also expand the scope of our focus beyond what we consider to be ‘environmental’.As we have seen, everything about a society is relevant in the face of climate violence: its readiness, its wealth, its cohesion, its levels of equality, its political responsiveness and its treatment of its most vulnerable groups.

If we acknowledge these variables, the upshot is that when we talk about tackling climate change, we mean two fundamental things: tackling the root causes and tackling the deficiencies that makes us vulnerable to its impacts. Just as we must combat the separation of humanity from nature, we must combat the separation of climate change from the deprivations it deepens.

Climate change is a problem of colossal size, because it is a problem that multiplies. We need to retrace our maps along the lines of the new magnitude. The solution is not just a reduction of emissions — it is rather a reduction of injustices. Every gradient of warming we fail to slow needs to be compensated by an equal reduction in deprivation.


These few words are an edited excerpt from The Memory We Could Be: Overcoming Fear to Create Our Ecological Future, published in September 2018 by New Internationalist Books and New Society Publishers. More information can be found here.


i. Junot Díaz, ‘Apocalypse: What disasters reveal’, Boston Review, 1 May 2011.

ii. Cited in Stephen Jackson, ‘Un/natural disasters, here and there’, Understanding Katrina: Perspectives from the social sciences, 2005.

iii. Cited in Eric Holthaus, ‘Harvey and Irma aren’t natural disasters — they’re climate change disasters’, Grist, 11 Sep 2017.

iv. Joseph Romm, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford University Press, 2016, p 51.

v. See: Virginia H Dale et al., ‘Climate change and forest disturbances’, BioScience, Vol 51, No 9, 2001; Nicola Jones, ‘Stark Evidence: A Warmer World Is Sparking More and Bigger Wildfires’, Yale Environment 360, 2 Oct 2017.

vi. Ibid, pp 49, 62.

vii. Roz Pidcock, ‘In-depth: the scientific challenge of extreme weather attribution’, Carbon Brief, 11 Mar 2016.

viii. Michael E Mann et al, ‘Influence of anthropogenic climate change on planetary wave resonance and extreme weather events’, Scientific Reports, Vol 7, 2017.

ix. Romm, op cit, p 60.

x. Frank R Rijsberman, ‘Every Last Drop’, Boston Review, 1 Sep 2008.

xi. Linus Unah, ‘Briefing: Nigerian farmers can’t fight desertification alone’, Irin News, 14 Nov 2017.

xii. Ken De Souva et al, ‘Vulnerability to climate change in three hot spots in Africa and Asia’, Regional Environmental Change, Vol 15, No 5, Jun 2015; Richard SJ Tol, ‘The Economic Impacts of Climate Change’, Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Vol 12, No 1, 2018.

xiii. Chris Mooney, ‘Scientists say the pace of sea level rise has nearly tripled since 1990’, Washington Post, 22 May 2017; the 3.4mm figure is based on the latest NASA figures.

xiv. The IPCC calls this sea-level change.

xv. William Colgan et al, ‘The mind-bending physics of Scandinavian sea-level change’, Science Nordic, 3 Jan 2018.

xvi. Brian Kahn, ‘This Is How Climate Change Will Shift the World’s Cities’, Climate Central, 5 Jul 2017.

xvii. Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik, ‘The Mocoa massacre: anatomy of a tragedy foretold’, The World at 1°C, 4 Apr 2017;

xviii. Leslie Scism, ‘As Wildfires Raged, Insurers Sent in Private Firefighters to Protect Homes of the Wealthy’, Wall Street Journal, 5 Nov 2017.

xix. Mika Minio-Paluello, ‘Interviewing Mahienour: revolution and climate change’, Platform, 22 Jul 2014.

xx. World Health Organization, ‘Gender, Climate Change and Health’, 2014.

xxi. Brigitte Leoni, ‘UNISDR head calls for more women in disaster risk reduction’, UNISDR, 8 Mar 2016.

xxii. Elain Enarson, ‘Women and Girls Last?: Averting the Second Post-Katrina Disaster’, Understanding Katrina: Perspectives from the Social Sciences, 11 Jun 2006.

xxiii. Margaret Alston, Women and climate change in Bangladesh. Routledge, 2015.

xxiv. Chaman Pincha, Indian Ocean Tsunami through The Gender Lens, Oxfam America & NANBAN Trust, 2008.

xxv. Nathaniel E Urama, Eric C Eboh & Anthony Onyekuru, ‘Impact of extreme climate events on poverty in Nigeria’, Climate and Development, 2017.

xxvi. Amantha Perera, ‘As water vanishes in Sri Lanka, baths — and snakes — present new risks’, Reuters, 15 Sep 2017.

xxvii.Laurie Goering, ‘Silent killer: Sweltering planet braces for deadly heat shocks’, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 19 Sep 2017.

xxviii.CARE, ‘Rapid Gender Analysis: Cyclone Pam, Vanuatu’, 7 April 2015, p 8.

xxix. Sonia Narang, ‘Climate Change Drives Domestic Violence In Fiji’, Huffington Post, 1 Jun 2017.

xxx. Justine Calma, ‘Climate change has created a new generation of sex-trafficking victims’, Quartz, 2 May 2017; Gethin Chamberlain, ‘Why climate change is creating a new generation of child brides’, Guardian, 26 Nov 2017.

xxxi. Manon Verchot, Indrani Basu & Joanna Plucinska, ‘Between The Dark Seas And Living Hell’, Huffington Post, 1 Jul 2016.

xxxii. Aravani is a term used in Tamil Nadu for hijra, ‘third-gender’. Lori M Hunter & Emmanuel David, ‘Displacement, climate change and gender’, Migration and climate change, 2011, pp 306–330.

xxxiii. Chaman Pincha, op cit.

xxxiv. World Health Organization, ‘Gender, Climate Change and Health’, 2014.

xxxv. Ibid.

xxxvi. Gregor Wolbring, ‘A culture of neglect: Climate discourse and disabled people’, M/C Journal, Vol 12, No 4, 2009.

xxxvii. See: GPDD & World Bank, ‘The Impact of Climate Change on People with Disabilities’, 8 Jul 2009, nin.tl/Disability

xxxviii. Airton Bostein, Valéria Vanda Azevedo de Lima & Angela Maria Abreu de Barros, ‘The vulnerability of the elderly in disasters’, Ambiente & Sociedade, Vol 17, No 2, 2014.

xxxix. Ibid.

xl. C Stöllberger, W Lutz & Josef Finsterer, ‘Heat-related side-effects of neurological and non-neurological medication may increase heatwave fatalities’, European Journal of Neurology, Vol 16, No 7, 2009.

xli. UNICEF, ‘Climate Change and Children’, Dec 2007, nin.tl/Children

xlii. Council on Environmental Health, ‘Global Climate Change and Children’s Health’, Pediatrics, Vol 136, No 5, 2015.

xliii. Jason von Meding & Hang Thai TM, ‘In Vietnam poverty and poor development, not just floods, kill the most marginalised’, The Conversation, 29 Aug 2017.

xliv. Daniel Maxwell et al., ‘Facing Famine: Somali Experiences in the Famine of 2011’, Feinstein International Center, October 2015, p 14.

xlv. Human Rights Watch, ‘Hidden Apartheid: Caste Discrimination Against India’s “Untouchables”’, 2007.

xlvi. Rina Chandran, ‘Heat and drought drive south India’s farmers from fields to cities’, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 20 Sep 2017.

xlvii. Tamara Steger (ed), Making the Case for Environmental Justice in Central and Eastern Europe, CEPL, HEAL & Coalition for Environmental Justice, 2007, p 31.

xlviii. Ethan D Schoolman and Chunbo Ma, ‘Migration, class and environmental inequality’, Ecological Economics, Vol 75, 2012.

xlix. Aditi Roy Ghatak, ‘India’s floods expose poor countries’ total vulnerability to climate change’, Climate Home, 1 Sep 2017.

l. Eric Holdeman, ‘Disaster Payouts — What the Numbers Show’, Emergency Management, 7 Sep 2017.

li. Robert RM Verchick, Facing Catastrophe: Environmental Action for a Post-Katrina World, Harvard University Press, pp 111–112.

lii. This reading follows Kimberly Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality.

liii. Naila Kabeer, Reversed Realities, Verso, 1994, p 65.

liv. Extracted from Daniel Macmillen Voskoboynik, ‘The legal limbo of climate refugees’, New Internationalist, 14 Nov 2016.

lv. Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, 2011.

lvi. This is inspired in part by Remi Eddo-Lodge’s framing of white privilege as an ‘absence of the consequences of racism’; Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race, Bloomsbury, 2018.