picture by Pete Linforth on Pixabay
Climate change is potentially the greatest threat and challenge of our time and already now, we are witnessing its consequences. Weather abnormalities are becoming more extreme and results of climate change lead to migration, as people flee from uninhabitable areas. All of this is only going to get worse if nothing changes.
If I asked you about the causes of climate change, you might think: ‘industrialisation, globalisation, mass consumption etc.’ and that wouldn’t be wrong. However, climate change goes further back in history than the industrial revolution: the first measurable impact that humanity had on the planet occurred in colonialism. When colonists enslaved African people and forcibly moved them to the American continents, when the “settlers” committed genocides against American indigenous peoples and when they slaughtered masses of buffalos, this already had a measurable impact on earth before the industrial revolution.
As you can see, anthropogenic (human-made) climate change did not just start in the 19th century. The foundations for it were already built by colonialism, as the occupation of different continents provided the basis for globalism and the international industrial revolution. Since climate change is connected to colonialism, it is an incredibly difficult topic, hence in today’s post I am only going to focus on a small fraction of it: I am going to discuss the concepts of risk and risk societies, as well as eco-cosmopolitanism and the ways in which the British band Enter Shikari depicts these issues in their music. With that out of the way, I’m going to talk about the basics before starting today’s analysis.
1. Risk, Risk Society & Eco-Cosmopolitanism
The concepts that I’m going to address today are based on Sylvia Mayer’s ‘World Risk Society’ from 2016, which is definitely an interesting read if you are interested in the topic.
Beck defines risk as ‘a productive force that “represents the perceptual and cognitive schema in accordance with which a society mobilizes itself when it is confronted with openness, uncertainties and obstructions of a self-created future” (Mayer 497 citing Beck). In other words, the term risk can be used to describe a motivational power and the way in which society reacts to uncertainty about its self-imposed future.
Risk is framed culturally, as we talk about it. For instance, at the beginning of this post, I focused on the immediacy of climate change and its destructive potential. Based on this, perception of risk, as well as its assessment can vary in different cultures, as they may perceive risk differently. For instance, if a state is not impacted by climate change as much as another one, people of that state might not perceive it as too much of a problem. As a result, populists like Trump can argue in favour of fracking and downplay climate change, while this is more difficult in states like Australia, which are literally on fire. (This is not a joke and neither is it supposed to downplay climate change in any way, it’s just the reality we live in, unfortunately)
In the next paragraph, I’m going to explain risk society based on this definition.
A risk society is a society that fails to assess and respond to a risk adequately:
The risk society, he [Beck] argues, “designates a developmental phase of modern society in which the social, political, economic and individual risks increasingly tend to escape the institutions for monitoring and protection in industrial society” (Mayer 497 citing Beck).
As for the relation of risk and climate change: anthropogenic climate change is a risk and modern societies fail to address it appropriately. Trump dropped out of the Paris agreement and many other countries postponed the goals they were supposed to reach until 2030 to a later point. Meanwhile, deforestation and fracking continue, despite the urgent need for change.
That should illustrate why this topic is important: climate change is real and it has a measurable impact, so we need to be active and put pressure on incumbents to promote change. Additionally, we all should do whatever we can to mitigate climate change, for instance by going vegan, as it is the most sustainable diet, or by making other adjustments to everyday life, such as different forms of activism. The governments are failing in tackling this issue, so everyone should do what they can to try and make a difference. As you can tell from movements like Fridays for Future, individual actions matter as Greta Thunberg started a global movement when she was still underaged. Even global movements start on a local, individual basis, so change begins with ourselves and our own actions.
This leads us to the next concept, eco-cosmopolitanism. Not everyone is affected by climate change in the same way and not everyone has the same options to counteract it. This is where this theory comes in.
Eco-cosmopolitanism is an attempt at considering the plurality of the impacts of climate change, of cultural discourses and of knowledges about it (Mayer 499-500 citing Heise). This approach acknowledges and respects the plurality of existences and non-human existences while recognising eurocentrism and anthroprocentrism of discourse about this topic (Mayer 500). People are affected by climate change to varying extents and so are different species. Heise criticises the focus of climate change debates on humankind and Europe, as this colonial approach to the topic shuts out the aforementioned nuances of climate change. In summary, eco-cosmopolitanism is an intersectional approach to climate change that considers not only the impact of it on the global level but also on the local level. In doing so, eco-cosmopolitanism works against Eurocentric approaches and is more inclusive of non-European people affected by this topic. However, quite ironically, Heise, on whom this theory is based,mostly cites white scientists. In order to be able to provide solutions, discourses on climate change need to be intersectional and inclusive, as they are one-sided and not really helpful otherwise.
Since we’ve discussed the basics for today’s post, I am now going to analyse some lyrics by Enter Shikari with respect to these theories to explore how they tackle these issues.
2. Risk and Risk Society in ‘System…Meltdown’
There was a house in a field on the side of a cliff
And the waves crashing below were just said to be a myth
So they ignored the warnings from the ships in the docks
Now the house on the cliff is the wreckage on the rocks
With these lines, Enter Shikari frame Climate Change as a looming risk. The house is about to fall apart due to erosion of the ground that it is built on. In this context, the waves represent climate change, the reality of which is to this day still denied frequently, while the ships in the docks probably represent scientists with firsthand knowledge and evidence of climate change. Since the threat, i.e. the waves and climate change, are ignored for too long, the house ends up as wreckage on the rocks. Likewise, in reality, our systems are going to break down if we do not find a way to fight climate change effectively.
There are real examples of people migrating as a result of climate change, for instance in the Sundarbans, areas in India and Bangladesh that are flooded quite frequently. According to the World Bank, 13 million people might flee from that area until 2050 due to climate-related crises (Schwartzstein). This is an example of a massive problem connected to climate change: it is only going to worsen refugee crises, as higher sea levels and higher temperatures will make more areas uninhabitable, which is going to result in greater amounts of migration. Already now, innocent people are dying on their escape from climate change and other consequences of colonialism and things are only going to get worse in the future. Accordingly, already now, denial of climate change failure to react appropriately have fatal consequences.
Nothing could fix the building’s flawed foundation
The scaffolding and stilts were the laws and legislation
This house was doomed, but they didn’t care
They’d invested in the system that was beyond repair
As it becomes clear in these lines, the house is representative of our societies’ current systems, hence ‘the scaffolding and stilts were the laws and legislation’. This is not a hypothetical scenario but has real implications for real life and the band communicates the immediacy of this situation.
Additionally, singer Rou Reynolds emphasises the stagnancy when it comes to climate change. ‘This house was doomed, but they didn’t care, they’d invested in a system that was beyond repair.’ Capitalism is a flawed system that leads to the destruction of this planet and as long as we do not tackle the problem at its root, we are not going to be able to handle climate change. As stated earlier, climate change in it current form is an anthropogenic issue. It is human-made and colonialism as well as capitalism provided the basis for it.
We cannot expect to find solutions if we do not acknowledge this and counteract the origins of climate change. If we only treat its symptoms in form of displacement of refugees and so on, we are not going to find any solutions, either. We need lasting and sustainable solutions, not just momentary, colonially imposed ones that are only beneficial to industrialised countries. However, as long as capitalists put their personal interests above the common good, we are not going to see any substantial changes and the band describes the exact issue fittingly in their lyrics.
In the next excerpt, this aspect of capitalist self-interest is contrasted with more pure, innocent concerns for the common good.
When I was little
I dressed up as an astronaut, and explored outer-space
I dressed up as a superhero, and ran about the place
I dressed up as a fireman, and rescued those in need
I dressed up as a doctor, and cured every disease
As a child, when you’re not yet ‘corrupted’ by lust for profit and personal interests, it is the more natural and more reasonable choice to aspire the well-being of others. These childhood throwbacks reflect how children look up to heroes who help others and do something for the greater good, as opposed out of pure self-interest. This contrasts the earlier section of the song strongly and thus highlights the selfish nature of capitalism in great detail, especially the lines about every day heroes ‘ I dressed up as a fireman, and rescued those in need, I dressed up as a doctor, and cured every disease’.
It was crystal clear to me back then that the only problems that I could Face
Would be the same problems that affect us all
But of course this sense of common existence was sucked out of me in an Instance
As if from birth I could walk but I was forced to crawl
The emphasis on one’s own personal good as opposed to the common good may seem like a devolution in comparison with ideas of coexistence present in the excerpt above, which again highlights the negative side of capitalism and its basis: prowling for one’s own good. If we only focus on our individual problems, we cannot expect to tackle issues such as climate change, simply because they have a much larger scope than our egotistical issues.
From this, the band progresses to another section highlighting the immediacy of climate change, in which they stress that this concerns everyone and is essentially robbing us and future generations of our future:
So this an exciting time, to be alive
Our generation’s gotta fight, to survive
It’s in your hands now, whose future?
Our future, Our future
It’s your future
By addressing the listeners with the question ‘whose future?’, the band gets them involved and brings across the point that they are affected by this issue. This is more strongly emphasised by the repetition of ‘our future’ in combination with the final bit ‘It’s your future’, in which the singer directly addresses the listeners. Climate change threatens everyone’s future and now is the time to do something about it.
After this, ‘System…’ transitions into ‘…Meltdown’, which is accompanied by one of the song’s highlights, an immensely powerful base drop coupled with a breakdown. The lyrics build up to this by emphasising that ‘this is gonna change everything’ repeatedly. Life as we know it is threatened by climate change and if we remain stagnant, everything is going to change for worse.
How we gonna get out this alive, get out of this alive?
It’s not too late, it’s not too late
How we gonna get through this alive, get through this alive?
It’s not too late, it’s not too late
Countries are just lines drawn in the sand
Above, you can see the chorus of Meltdown, in which the band emphasises that there is still hope. We must not give up and have to hold on to our hope to tackle climate change, hence ‘How we gonna get out of this alive, get out of this alive? It’s not too late’. Arguably, Enter Shikari hint at eco-cosmopolitanism through the final line ‘countries are just lines drawn in the sand’. The band is very much in favour of unity that transcends borders, which fits eco-cosmopolitanism quite well, as it takes an approach that is supposed to be inclusive of people regardless of where they come from.
This section is followed by another strong message against nationalism, which to this day is still one of my favourite quotes from this band:
Inside this sick foundation
We’ve had the realization
Inside this sick foundation
We’ve had the revelation
Fuck all borders and fuck all boundaries
Fuck all flags and fuck nationalities
You’ve gotta give us a chance before we reach our system meltdown
We have to move past outdated concepts such as nationalism and capitalism, which favour one nation’s good over that of everyone else or we will not be able to overcome global challenges such as climate change. Borders and boundaries are outdated and and antiquated concepts of unnecessary power struggles that only create artificial barriers between people. They are obsolete. We live in a globalised world that has essentially become a village. You can connect with people from all over the world and there is no need for obsolete concepts like nations.
Constant growth is not possible on a planet with finite ressources and we should prioritise wellfare over petty struggles for power in the global environment. Similarly, we have the means to grant food to everyone but due to the immense disparities in wealth and industrialised nations’ focus on their own well-being, people in different places suffer and die. It is due to these nations’ power struggles that crises like climate change and the refugee crisis of 2015 could emerge, so it is about time we overcome them.
The song ends on a positive note and the band emphasises the potential of unity and the need to overcome selfish, nationalist interests: ‘We begin to learn to smile again, start to walk that extra mile again, cause I know that we are one’. We, as in humanity as a whole, cannot expect to salve global issues like climate change if we only focus on individual nations’ interests. We are all affected by climate change and it transcends the national scale. Accordingly, we have to come together and overcome the disparities in this world to work against climate change on a global scale. If only the voices of people from industrialised countries are heard, we will not be able to provide solutions that are viable to people in LDCs and we will only contribute to their exploitation. Unity must not be achieved through a forced assimilation but an appropriate approach to climate change that is viable to all people.
3. The Importance of Addressing Climate Change as a Risk
So, what’s the point of all of this?
Climate change is a risk that is definitely worth addressing. The way we talk about risks impacts the way they are perceived, hence if someone plays down climate change, that is problematic to say the least, since climate change is proven to be real and affects people all over the planet. Before finding solutions, we have to frame the problem adequately because how else are we supposed to tackle an issue? That’s the point of this post – highlighting the importance of climate change and discussions about it.
The consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly obvious and impact more and more people. Some scientists even speak of the pyrocene, the age of fire due to the fires in Australia and California. It is of utmost importance to maintain a dialogue about these issues and promote change, hence everyone should to their best to fight climate change through their consumption, activism and votes.
Apart from that, we need to be more aware of the interrelations of climate change and colonialism, since the latter made the former possible and contributed to it massively. Since there are lots of disparities and different living conditions on this planet, the way we handle climate change has to be viable to people under these different conditions. If we only provide colonial approaches to climate change that benefit industrialised countries to the disadvantage of LDCs, these ‘solutions’ are not going to be viable to people in LDCs and run the risk of perpetuating colonialism.
That being said, I know that climate change can feel like an overwhelming threat but we can still do our part to promote change and must not give up simply because it seems like nothing is going to change. Please be aware of the systems and dynamics that led to climate change and current refugee crises and act accordingly. In other words, educate yourselves and others and do what you can to make a difference. Please do not support parties that are in favour of fracking and maintaining the status quo because we need change.
What’s to come?
I finally wrote my first post on climate change and there is more to come. Since I mostly focus on the representation of political issues, I am mainly going to write about the way these issues are depicted in music and in the future, I am definitely going to touch more on the relation of climate change and matters like race so stay tuned for that.
As always, thanks for reading and a happy new year.
Enter Shikari. “…Meltdown.” A Flash Flood of Colour, Ambush Reality (UK), Hopeless Records (US), 2012.
Enter Shikari. “System….” A Flash Flood of Colour, Ambush Reality (UK), Hopeless Records (US), 2012.
Mayer, Sylvia. “World Risk Society and Ecoglobalism: Risk, Literature, and the Anthropocene.” in: Handbook of Ecocriticism and Cultural Ecology, edited by Hubert Zapf. De Gruyter, 2016, pp. 494-510.
Schwartzstein, Peter. “This vanishing forest protects the coasts—and lives—of two countries.” National Geographic, July 2019, URL: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2019/07/sundarbans-mangrove-forest-in-bangladesh-india-threatened-by-rising-waters-illegal-logging/ .
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