A leading group of genocide scholars has warned that billions of people could die as a result of climate and ecological collapse. A statement published on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) by 24 leading genocide scholars and human rights practitioners posits that over and beyond soaring temperatures, the collapse of sustainable food production and the permanent waterlogging of densely populated regions could lead to the direct death of large swathes of humanity or their displacement to other regions where they would be physically prevented from entry.
The statement sees the onus of this breakdown falling on the poorest and most marginalised elements of the human community, especially in the Global South. It particularly highlights the vulnerability of indigenous peoples, otherwise frontline communities who continue to suffer the effects of fossil fuel and mining extraction. More generally, it links the coronavirus pandemic to an ‘ever increasing human disturbance to an already threadbare ecological balance’ and poses that the main drivers of this disturbance, most particularly powerful national and corporate polluting interests, should be accountable in the same way as others who commit crimes against humanity.
The scholars’ assessment leads them to call for an urgent paradigm shift in their own disciplinary field. Human induced catastrophes inflicted on the natural world, most obviously leading to global warming, also carry with them a vastly increased potential for pandemics as well as mass atrocity on a previously unforeseen scale. Even so, causation of these threats lies in a historical record in which ecocide and genocide are closely interlinked. Understanding these interconnections as well as acting with responsibility demands a major rethink of curricula and research priorities in the genocide field, an intensified scholars’ debate but also a more everyday focus on how scholars might be active proponents for a sustainable, non-violent future.
Taner Akçam, Armenian Genocide scholar and holder of the Robert Aram, Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marian Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies, told the Mirror-Spectator as background that he had been asking his colleagues at every occasion for around a year to put the “paradigm shift” on the agenda of their field. Mark Leven, who devoted his entire life to this subject and started a similar initiative in 2005, immediately agreed to this suggestion in a Zoom meeting and then took the lead to write the following statement.
Genocide Studies and the Climate Emergency: A Statement from Fellow Scholars
Genocide scholarship is underpinned by an implicit revulsion at the suffering, violence and degradation perpetrated by human beings against other human beings. Those of us who work in the field may deploy different methodologies, standpoints and frames of reference by which we seek to understand both the causes and consequences of mass violence as inflicted on whole groups of people across historical time. Implicitly, where not explicitly, we are impelled in what we do by a desire to live in a world where genocide and all such crimes against humanity have been consigned to the past.