Convergence of environmentalism and antimilitarism. Metabolism, geopolitics and anti-cooperation

David Llistar i Bosch
Globalisation Debt Observatory. Lecturer in Political Ecology, UNESCO Sustainability Chair, Polytechnic University of Catalonia.
David Llistar i Bosch

David Llistar i Bosch

Pacifist and antimilitarist movements have often considered environmentalism to be a social movement with different priorities to their own. They are seen as parallel struggles, but ones that are separate and essentially different. Opposing military aggression by a State or sustaining the dictatorship of another country by the sale of arms and granting illegal loans has nothing to do with the fight to achieve a more sustainable energy pattern or model for food and agriculture inside the aggressor country. A domestic policy of consumption and production and foreign security policy are two unconnected things. If not, why has the antimilitarist and pacifist movement yet to embrace the ideas of contraction (socially sustainable biophysics)?

In reality, there are shared roots between the origins of violent conflicts and environmental conflicts, which have not been sufficiently exploited by the two social movements. They have not even been identified. A society's metabolism determines much of its geopolitics, and in particular, the violence it sends outwards as well as inwards. In other words, every society, depending on how it is organised internally, it is obliged to ensure a certain supply of materials (minerals, food, fabrics, consumable manufactured goods, etc.), energy (petrol, coal, gas, uranium and processed minerals that involve energy in their production) and to ensure that the commodities it exports reach their destination safely. They also shed various types of waste - including greenhouse gases - in a process in which they relocate their environmental liabilities to other states, as is the case in the European Union, in industries such as the production of cellulose, biofuels, mineral mining, etc.; or by means of the destruction of common assets such as the atmosphere in the oceans.

This year, the EU is importing over half the energy that it needs, and estimates suggest that this external dependency will increase to 70% in 20301. In Catalonia, where there are no significant reserves of uranium, gas or petrol, dependence on sources of primary energy is almost 100% (93% in 2006, according to the Catalan Institute of Energy). In other key areas such as food, industrial production of meat and milk in the EU depends on livestock farming that uses transgenic soya protein as food, from what Syngenta calls the United Republic of Soya (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and eastern Bolivia), and the USA.

The countries of the North and the international consumer class scattered across the planet do not only require a guaranteed supply of raw materials, but also the cheap labour force, the appropriate security measures to keep migrations and other undesired flows under control (drugs, weapons, organised crime, diseases, terrorism, etc) and to see their wealth grow in overall terms. They must be sure that neither the means of international trade nor their investments in other countries are threatened. In the face of strong competition between countries and central business networks, they justify their right to "extend" their control all over the world, beyond their own frontiers, before their neighbour does so. It is a type of capitalist centrifugal force which is the same as the one responsible for many of the armed and environmental conflicts.

However, these great geopolitical objectives vary widely according to circumstances, and sometimes force the government to resort to timely but systematic 'military solutions.' This is not only the case with those in pursuit of the "national interest" (which is often the interests of specific corporate groups) in the form of the objectives mentioned above, but also when a group holding power considers its position in relative terms to be under threat.

In conclusion, wars, the manufacture and trade in arms, and other purely geopolitical actions that have been focused on by the movement for a culture of peace (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Niger, Somalia, etc.), as well as apparently internal repression such as the Bagua revolts against the industrialisation of the Amazon in Peru, the pro-mining repression by the government in Ecuador, the petrol-based repression by the Nigerian government in the Niger delta, and repression in Algeria against a supposedly radical Islamism, are directly linked to the social metabolism of a particular state or organised group of people, which is a concept created by the economic and political ecology2. The same is true of the creation of an environmental debt and environmental anti-cooperation condemned by the environmental justice movement and environmentalism in general. It is not only a question of distributive environmental conflicts which may be violent, or the possible convergence between the rejection of nuclear technologies due to both the danger of pollution and the ultimate war that they implied, a warning which was given by the German eco-pacifist movement of the 1970s and 1980s (Fdez-Buey,  2004)3. It is an essential systemic relationship that must be highlighted and confronted before it is too late. It also means that the precepts of the culture of peace must become part of environmentalism, and environmental precepts must become part of pacifism and antimilitarism. The issue goes far beyond what could be a tactical alliance between social movements for global justice.

The difficulty in recognising these highly important systemic relationships is often the result of not looking closely enough, and fragmenting reality. For this reason, it is necessary to work using a liberating, pacifist and environmental epistemology, helped by the example of the creation of new bridge concepts that help to raise the profile of our relations. We need "rearguard theories," in the words of Boaventura da Sousa Santos, which cover the backs of the social movements that are highlighting and condemning unacceptable human processes. These have led to bridge concepts such as "environmental debt," "contraction," "military and environmental anti-cooperation," ...4", "ecofeminism," and the "culture of peace." As for the close relationship between the reproduction of environmental conflicts and the reproduction of violence, we have a major task ahead of us in terms of creating deep or systemic ecopacifism, which seeks biophysical contraction as a means to peace.

1. European Commission Green Paper (2006). A European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy. Available in English at (last accessed 2 September 2010). (back)
2. See the works by Georgescu-Roegen, N., 1996; Fischer-Kowalski, M. and Hüttler, W., 1999, which consider the concept based on theory; or how it is applied to Spanish society Carpintero, O. El metabolismo de la economía española. Madrid: César Marique Foundation; or The energy aspect in Catalonia in Ramos, J. (coord), 2007. Anàlisi del metabolisme energètic de l'economia catalana.. CAD. Barcelona. (back)
3. Fernández Buey, F. (2004), Los movimientos sociales alternativos: una balance, available at, (accessed 16/9/2010) (back)
4. "Military anti-cooperation " is the North-South interference which involves the use of violence, the threat to use it or to accentuate it. It also includes the supply of all types of resources used in violence in the South, even when the conflict does not appear to involve actors in the North. See Llistar, D. (2009). Anticooperación. Interferencias Norte Sur. Los problemas del Sur no se resuelven con más ayuda internacional. Barcelona: Icària editorial. Also at (back)