Syria and Sustainability: Bombs, bullets and bio-diversity, let’s move beyond ‘precision’ warfare and ‘precision’ farming.

In light of current debates on climate change negotiations, but also on warfare in Syria, Terry Marsden wrote an opinion paper on moving beyond a technological ‘fix’.


The current debate about bombing again is really so tiresome. At the same time the Climate talks are starting. The overwhelming evidence shows (for well over a century), that bombing never works and creates far more problems than it resolves. It just creates an elitist movement of memorials; and it generally pleases and satisfies the politicians. But it is old-fashioned ‘fordist’ technology relying upon old -fashioned nation states. We don’t need to rehearse the arguments again here; but I would like to suggest a way of progressing a far better link between war, terror and bio-diversity. In fact reversing the order of these three words would really help. 

“Major uprisings and movements take as their starting point, a clear protection of their own active ecological and place-based resource”

The current governance and political world tends to conveniently separate the intricate relationships between international ‘foreign’ policy and the state of global ecology. These are a convenient set of divisions, because they are really intricately linked. Historically, they have never really been separated. Major uprisings and movements take as their starting point, a clear protection of their own active ecological and place-based resource. How would any of us feel if bombs (remember the’ blitz’) were to be applied and dropping on to our places of livelihood, as we work the land, or shop, and struggle to feed and sustain a household? Think of your reaction; it would be one of defiance and local resistance.

The current UK policy on these issues continues to pro-actively separate the state of international chaos – I can’t find it in my heart to call it ‘policy’ – and its reactions, with the massive challenges of global ecological vulnerability. Its ‘answer’ is a special form of technological ‘fix’; more ‘precision’ bombing and more ‘precision’ farming. We will solve food insecurity by targeting genetically applied crops and eliminating disease against them. We will solve ‘terror’ by targeting the ‘bad apples’. In fact this assumes: dose the problem with an aggressive destroying agent and then expect neither the recipient nor the local ecology to respond or re-adapt! In real terms this co-creates ‘super weeds’ and ‘super terrorism’. Both approaches, suggest that we can define, in ever more impressive geometrical ways, spatially the ‘problem’ and eradicate it: whether its weeds or peasant movements… In reality we know neither strategy will work; why, because the weeds and the peasants are too spatially smart.

“Its ‘answer’ is a special form of technological ‘fix’; more ‘precision’ bombing and more ‘precision’ farming”

They are’ too smart’ for three reasons. First the top-down geo-technologies are actually not that accurate. Second, plants and people self-organise, thankfully, in remarkably innovative and land- based ways, both using their places and actively progressing their futures. Third, it is they and their local networks who are best placed to adjust, innovate and adapt practices which are sustainable. Places cannot be eradicated or re-created by the pressing of a button. You will never farm a piece of land by solely using an app. It’s ecological in the true sense of the word.

To really ‘combat’ this ‘security’ conundrum and its wider climate change and resource depleting problems, we need to explicitly create a political and scientific forum for re-integrating international ‘foreign policy’ and ‘environmental policy’ for all of humanity. Paris is now an interesting location to start this re-integration; more so, indeed, than we thought a few weeks ago…

Prof. Terry MarsdenProf. Terry Marsden
He is a TRANSMANGO researcher and holds the established chair of Environmental Policy and Planning in the School of Planning and Geography at Cardiff University. He is Director of the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff. He is also Dean of the University Graduate College.
Email: MarsdenTK@Cardiff.ac.uk

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