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Weaponizing and [re]producing vulnerability to climate change

Type: Paper
Theme: Ethnonationalism and Exclusion Around the World
Sponsor Groups: Development Geographies Specialty Group, Cultural and Political Ecology Specialty Group, Human Dimensions of Global Change Specialty Group
Organizers: Benjamin Warner, Kimberley Thomas
Chairs: Benjamin Warner


Over the past decade, several scholars have noted the possibility that climate vulnerable groups could be perceived as threats and that elites would respond to them accordingly (Barnett and Adger, 2010; Grove, 2010; Oels, 2012; McDonald, 2013). Welzer (2012) likewise warned of the prospect of violence if elites are forced to maintain their privileges as populations vulnerable to climate change struggle to navigate its impacts. For years, we have seen an increasing number of examples of climate change adaptation programs that relocate vulnerability across space and further down a social hierarchy and thus render marginalized people more vulnerable to climate change. We now have evidence that the vulnerability of already vulnerable and marginalized populations is being [re]produced in numerous ways (Atteridge and Remling, 2017; Thomas and Warner, 2019). In this session, we seek to better understand what we consider to be the most egregious of these processes—the weaponization of vulnerability: exacerbating the precarity of vulnerable groups in the service of enhancing the security of those already well-positioned to respond to climate threats.

This process can assume several forms and may entail, for instance, the militarization of police forces or the expansion and entrenchment of non-entrée policies as responses to actual or perceived climate threats. These examples indicate that vulnerability may be weaponized at various scales, ranging from the neighborhood to the international. Lastly, mechanisms for weaponizing vulnerability may be animated by different orientations of power, from sovereignty (“the power to make die and let live”) to biopower (“the power to make live and let die”) (Foucault 1979 in Grove 2014). Drawing on these observations, we seek papers that provide insight into if, how, and by whom people’s vulnerability to climate change is being used against them.

Paper themes that may contribute to the goal of this session include:
• Redistribution of climate change vulnerability through climate adaptation or resilience programs
• Climate change securitization
• Geopolitical maneuvers by wealthy nations under the guise of climate change security
• Discourses of climate change vulnerability
• Vulnerability as an identity
• Goals and uses of vulnerability mapping indexes
• Climate change induced migration or refugee narratives
• Disaster capitalism


Atteridge, A., & Remling, E. (2017). Is adaptation reducing vulnerability or redistributing it? Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, e500.

Barnett, J., & Adger, W. N. (2010). Environmental change, human security and violent conflict.

Grove, K. 2014. Biopolitics. In C. Death (Ed.), Critical Environmental Politics (pp. 22–30). London.

Grove, K. J. (2010). Insuring “our common future?” Dangerous climate change and the biopolitics of environmental security. Geopolitics, 15(3), 536-563.

McDonald, M. (2013). Discourses of climate security. Political Geography, 33, 42-51.

Oels, A., 2012. From “Securitization” of climate change to’ climatization ‘of the security field: comparing Three theoretical perspectives. Climate Change, Human Security and Violent Conflict Volume 8. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Berlin, Heidelberg, pp. 185–205.

Thomas, K. A., & Warner, B. P. (2019). Weaponizing vulnerability to climate change. Global Environmental Change, 57(May), 101928.

Welzer, Harald. 2012. Climate Wars: Why People Will Be Killed in the 21st Century, Malden, MA: Polity Press.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Foley Pfalzgraf*, University of Hawaii, 'We don't even have access to that': Uneven Geographies of Climate Knowledge in Vanuatu 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Yasmin Khan*, University of Toronto, Between the camps and the sea: the dual impact of climate change and Rohingya refugee aid policies on Bangladeshi host communities 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Kela Caldwell*, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Critical Black Epistemologies of Citizenship, Rights, and Vulnerability Post-Hurricane Katrina 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Lisa Kelley*, University of Hawaii - Manoa, Agung Prabowo, Ininnawa Community, Sulawesi 90561, Indonesia, Flooding, agrarian stress, and land use change in Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia 15 12:00 AM
Presenter Heejun Chang*, Portland State University, Chingwen Cheng, Arizona State University, Nancy Grimm, Arizona State University, David Iwaniec, Georgia State University, Yeowon Kim, Arizona State University, Timon McPhearson, The New School, Arun Pallathadka, Portland State University, Bernice Rosenzweig, City University of New York, Tiffany Troxler, Florida International University, Claire Welty, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Rae Zimmerman, New York University, Ryan Brenner, New York University, Assessing Urban Flooding Vulnerability using a Social-Ecological-Technological Framework in North American Cities 15 12:00 AM

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