Book review: Dispossessed in the Name of ‘Security’

01 February 2016

Book review by Robert J. Burrowes of The Secure and the Dispossesed: How the Military and Corporations are Shaping a Climate-Changed World. The book is edited by Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes, who are both associated with TNI.

The photo shows the devastated Holgate section of Long Beach Island, N.J., following Hurricane Sandy and Nor’easter Athena
Soldiers from the 150th and 160th Engineer Companies, New Jersey Army National Guard, discuss movement options for their D7 bulldozers prior to performing beach replenishment operations Nov. 8, 2012. / Photo credit By New Jersey National Guard @ Flickr

By Robert J. Burrowes* Originally published at

A new book, edited by Nick Buxton and Ben Hayes, both involved with The Transnational Institute, brings together a thoughtful collection of scholars, journalists and activists to explain the pre-eminence of the military and corporations in shaping the global response to the climate catastrophe as an 'opportunity'. See The Secure and the Dispossessed: How the Military and Corporations are Shaping a Climate-Changed World.  Do you think that this catastrophe is an 'opportunity'?

In a series of chapters both in the book and online, we are thoughtfully guided through a deeper understanding of how, for the security/military-industrial complex, 'climate change is just the latest in a long line of threats constructed in such a way as to consolidate its grip on power and public finance.' For corporations, the risk posed by climate change is an opportunity for profit as they promise us 'food security', 'water security', 'energy security'; even if it is at the expense of equity and justice and has 'disastrous implications for the security of human lives and dignity'.

For the security industry, for example, it is an opportunity to offer governments an endless supply of resilience and disaster-related services that have little to do with human security, if your concern is ordinary people. Similarly, 'water security' justifies a soft-drinks manufacturer 'securing' water supplies in drought-prone regions of India, denying local villagers clean drinking water.

And 'energy security' is used to justify the aggressive exploitation of 'unconventional' fossil fuels, the use of military violence to 'secure' energy transport routes, the suppression of protests against further fossil fuel extraction and 'the expansion of renewable energy in a way that ignores concerns about human rights, democratic governance, or energy access'.

As this deadly effort to dispossess the many to secure a future for the few plays out, control of the world's food supply concentrates dangerously in the hands of ever fewer corporations – starting with the ABCD of agribusiness: ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus – at the expense of small farmers and consumers. With land and water grabs and the spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) exacerbating the concentration of food production, distribution and access, the global elite is happy to systematically starve to death 100,000 people each day and send a billion to bed hungry. Profit trumps people. Insane? You decide.

And having created the 'refugee problem' by starving or bombing people out of their homes, elites now use a related set of corporations to erect border fences, provide 'border security' and maintain detention centres and prisons when these refugees seek a viable place to live away from the starvation/war zone they have been forced to flee. As always for the global elite, human beings are victims to be exploited or killed, not people to be supported and helped out of empathy and compassion.

While some corporations offer 'hi-tech solutions' to the crisis, such as geoengineering (or, more accurately, geopiracy as some have labelled it), we need to gently remind ourselves that there is no technical solution to a vast range of problems, including extinction. More importantly, there is no technical solution to human fear, and particularly the fear that makes some people view humans as 'masters' of the Earth rather than just one part of the web of life (who might also be responsible stewards, if we so chose).

Of course, like corporations, the military is also concerned about the climate catastrophe: how can it maintain its capacity to kill and destroy, and its pre-eminent role because of these capacities, in a world in which environmental impacts threaten military infrastructure, energy supply and transport routes but also reinforce the demand for a sensible reallocation of resources to deal with the crisis and other important social and environmental issues?

As the chapter on 'greenwashing death' explains, the US military, for example, is responding in a variety of ways, ranging from switching to nuclear power and agro fuels (supposedly 'green') to making 'green bullets' (with copper instead of lead). Strangely, systematically reducing military capacities to reduce the devastating climate and other environmental impacts of the military is not an option being considered. Nor is the option of economic conversion to non-military (that is, socially valuable) production.

In short, the military is looking to expand its role by emphasizing what it portrays as 'security' threats arising from ecological disasters (although there has been no suggestion that military training and bases should be reoriented/converted to disaster training institutes). And, of course: 'There are no military strategies that focus on the root causes of climate change and what should be done to change these, because the military's primary objective is to secure the current world order, no matter how unjust or unsustainable it is'.

And yet, despite everything that the military and corporations do to destroy the bonds of human solidarity in our world, many people still act selflessly as the people of Occupy Sandy did after Hurricane Sandy hit New York and the government and people of Cuba did after surviving the same hurricane. In addition to this simple example, however, the book offers many instances of people responding powerfully to the state of our world.

I have a few friendly issues with the editors and authors of this book reflecting my own long-term engagement with the concerns discussed thoughtfully in it.

First, my own reading of the science persuades me that we do not have 'climate change' but a climate catastrophe. Language is important and 'change' has a benign connotation for most people. Just as the word 'security' has been adversely co-opted so, in the context of the climate, has the word 'change'.

Second, I would talk about capitalism, not neoliberalism. The precise form that capitalism takes in a particular era might reflect 'evolution' of a sort but, in whatever guise, capitalism is fundamentally exploitative as playing the board game 'Monopoly' taught me as a child. Capitalism is designed to bankrupt and eliminate other 'players' from the 'game' leaving just one 'player' (the global elite) to own everything. With corrupted legal systems and military forces also used to defend capitalism as a structure of exploitation, there seems little point to me in shifting the focus to one or another manifestation of it. Capitalism kills people. Our task is to explain this, which this book does superbly.

Prior to the emergence of empires in the past few thousand years (which use/d military violence to extract resources from the empire's periphery and return them to the centre), and in contrast to capitalism (which now performs a similar function using exploitative trading arrangements backed by military violence when necessary), locally self-reliant forms of economic activity have maximised individual and species survival, and nurtured the Earth, for four billion years. These forms must be restored and supported now.

Third, buying into the elite narrative about the time we have to respond to this catastrophe by using an 'end of century' timeframe is unwise. At the current rate of synergistic environmental destruction, and based on the highly problematic assumption that we can prevent nuclear war, I expect human extinction by 2030 without a concerted and strategic effort by individuals, groups and communities. Why 2030? Because it is human fear, not environmental destruction, that is the crux of the problem. See 'Why is Near Term Human Extinction Inevitable?

Fourth, in my view, it is important to identify and focus on elite insanity. See 'The Global Elite is Insane'. For more detail, see 'Why Violence?'. Time and again throughout this book, one author after another described corporate and/or military behaviour that is quite insane. For example, the day after climate scientists reported a record decline in Arctic sea ice, Shell Alaska vice-president Peter Slaiby stated the company's view as follows: 'I will be one of those persons most cheering for an endless summer in Alaska'.

Apart from displaying a mind quite incapable of grappling with, and responding intelligently to, the complex reality explained by science, he also revealed himself to be someone who is quite insane: incapable of ‘normal perception, behaviour and social interaction’, someone who is incapable of love, compassion, empathy and sympathy for those organisms, human and non-human alike, who are already suffering the adverse impacts of the climate catastrophe. But Slaiby is not alone as an endless sequence of insane pronouncements by elite individuals is given ample publicity by the media. Do I need to mention the current crop of US presidential candidates in this context? We have become so used to this insanity, that it is rarely noted. But it is people in this category who are driving official inaction or wrong action.

And fifth, my own experience is consistent with Gandhi's belief that resistance to structural violence requires powerful individuals to work collaboratively in a strategic manner. For this reason, giving individuals opportunities to experience and expand their individual power is an important corollary of providing opportunities for collective resistance. For this reason, I believe that 'The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth'  offers a superior response for individuals, groups and communities who have not previously engaged in resistance but who must now be drawn into the collective overall effort to both fight the climate catastrophe but also, simultaneously, all other manifestations of elite-driven violence as well.

In short, giving people opportunities to respond powerfully, at home, is invaluable. Some of these will then join organised campaigns of resistance. Even if they do not, they are still personally involved in undermining the structural violence that is destroying our world.

But to return to the book: if you want further evidence of the elite insanity that is driving military and corporate interests to perceive the climate catastrophe as an opportunity to extend their control over people and resources and to maximise profits while doing so, then you do not need to go past this book. In nauseatingly documented detail, the authors clearly spell out the challenges we face in resisting elite-driven violence while also intelligently responding to a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. For this reason, the book is invaluable.

*Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of 'Why Violence?'€™ His email address is and his website is at