Editor’s note #2

On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens and scores of other bird voices there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.[1]

Welcome to the second issue of Errant Journal. For this issue we decided to set off from an existing term that we feel cuts to the heart of environmental politics, while at the same time opening up a space for further learning together. We use the term slow violence because we believe that the relation with violence should be front and centre in the discussions of the ‘climate crisis’ as it makes clear the uneven distribution of effects and causes. Coined by Rob Nixon, the term is generally defined by the often used quote from his book that reads: ‘By slow violence I mean a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all.’[2] It therefore is a term that aims to expand our idea of what violence is and perhaps brings the rather abstract and universal concept of ´climate change´ back in relation to the underlying necropolitics that can be understood ‘not just as an unfortunate coincidence or accident, but rather as a deliberate extension of colonial logic.’[3] This perspective also makes evident slow violence’s relation to other forms of violence, such as those that are structural, epistemic, etc., and that similarly go largely unnoticed to those it doesn’t affect. Moving away from a universal narrative and addressing the different roles people, companies, and nation states play also opens up the possibility to pose a response to the mounting call for climate justice. This is a topic addressed in the special section of this issue edited by Radha D’Souza and Jonas Staal that simultaneously functions as an expanded platform for the Court for Intergenerational Climate Crimes to take place at Framer Framed in Amsterdam from September 2021 onwards.

As a continuation of Errant’s first issue on the politics of time and time’s claim to universality, this issue also asks the question to whom this violence is slow. Because while (Western) scientists are busy making projections of how much time we have left before the ‘tipping point’, for many people in this world, the violence inflicted upon them through the destruction of ecosystems has been ongoing for hundreds of years. Therefore, being able to accept the current moment on the doomsday clock as a crisis waiting to happen rather than one already here, is an example of what could be called ‘climate privilege’. Dating, naming, and categorizing are deeply political acts, and the discussion on the start and speed of climate change is no different. That we live in the geological epoch called the Anthropocene is generally accepted now, but when this epoch begins is still under debate. Placing the start in the 1950s, as is being proposed by some scientists, is essentially a Eurocentric way of interpreting geological data. Conversely, there are those who place the start of this new epoch in 1610 – coinciding with the Orbis Spike: the geologically measurable global drop in carbon dioxide levels caused by the murder of between 48 and 55 million peoples in the Americas.[4]

It is a daunting task to take on this subject in such a modest and young publication. There is certainly a healthy fear of contributing to the masses of publications, exhibitions, and symposia on the subject. But defying the neoliberal tendency to only value the new and different, we want to point out again that there’s nothing new (or slow) about these issues, on the contrary they have been continuously addressed by non-western thinkers for many decades.[5] Still, Errant values amplifying voices that are not listened to enough and offer an alternative tone and attitude with the ability – as an infinitely small part of a much larger decolonial project – to seep through general and universalizing ways of thinking. Important in this endeavor is to centre ‘other’ forms of knowledge that are generally left out of (academic) discussions, such as those knowledges that are informal, lived and embodied, or those gained by poetic gestures.

We start this issue with an article on Tuvalu; one of several small island nations in the Pacific where climate change is an imminent and visible threat as portions of land and whole islands are lost due the rising sea levels.[6] People from Tuvalu have been trying to call attention to their situation for decades, but being only the fourth smallest nation in the world, with a total land area of less than 26 sq km and just 11,000 people, who is listening to them? But what is being lost is more than just land. As Maina Talia shows in his article, the loss of land also means the loss of culture and community, and threatens to turn entire nations of people not just into climate refugees but make them truly homeless. Not just losing life, but identity too.

In a very different way, curator Inga Lāce discusses in her article the relationship between nature and nation in the countries surrounding the highly polluted Baltic Sea. While environmental activism played an important role in the early nation-building processes both at the end of the 19th century, as well as during the struggle for independence from the Soviet Union in the 1980s, the same narrative has turned less progressive in attitude and politics today. Her article shows the entanglement of environmentalism with the concept of the nation state, and the military’s role in the pollution of the Baltics. But what if we could change the view and representation of nature and our climate policies towards it, she asks, would we be also able to change our nationhoods?

Besides oil spills and rising sea levels, most forms of slow violence are only visible through their effects long after the damage is done; because they literally cannot be seen, such as the case of radioactive waste poetically addressed in this issue by Inas Halabi, or because they belong to another form of knowing that is hard to truly understand from the perspective of Western epistemology. For the people of the Amazon for instance, the plant yagé, also known ayahuasca, is not just a mind-altering plant, but a technology that is essential for the connection with ecological networks that ensure balance within their environment. From this point of view, severing the relations of the plant by commodifying it as a tourist attraction erases its deep, relational meaning and importance. For this reason, we are very grateful for the permission we received from Hernando Chindoy Chindoy, AWAI Legal Representative of the Inga People of Colombia, to republish and translate the manifesto written to address this topic. Additionally, we publish an interview with Inga leader and activist Rosa Elena Jacanamijoy Jacanamijoy in which she explains how the ‘bad management of plants (by thinking they are an object) can also make us sick, can kill.’ In a similar vein, Aldo Ramos reminds us in his creative text that in order to plant a tree, you cannot sever it from its location. It needs ‘other plants, animals and people, Interwoven with a whole community, rooted in a living world’.

The logic of extraction that is at the root of much of the slow violence people face, is woven throughout this issue. Extractivist thinking not only plays a part in the cause, but also – perhaps even more disturbingly – in the envisioned ‘solution’ of climate change in projects of renewable energy. As Ivet Reyes Maturano describes, bolstered by the voices of the local people she spoke with, people of Yucatán are continuously ignored and threatened by large companies that are destroying land for the production of ‘renewable energy’. It is clear that the objective is not finding a solution to climate change at all, but to make more profit by any means necessary. It is unnerving that decades after the hegemonic powers of this world have (also) come to be aware of the inability of the Earth to sustain our destructive ways, we have learned absolutely nothing and our ‘solutions’ are still based on the same modern/colonial ways of thinking that got us here in the first place.

In order not to repeat certain set ways of addressing climate change, we have been very careful in our use of images for this issue, so as not to inadvertently frame slow violence as something beautiful or sublime. Something that happens all too often in the visualization of this topic through aerial photography or images that show the immense scale of destruction, deforestation, and industrialization of areas which previously held rich biodiversity. Connie Zheng addresses this topic specifically in her essay on the work Becoming Alluvium by Thao-Nguyen Phan that examines possible alternatives to ‘the emotional gut-punch and slick yet generic pop-apocalyptic visuality that we are all too familiar with.’

As already mentioned at the beginning of this text, the gesture this issue makes of indicating that climate change is not a global phenomenon, but one caused by certain peoples, companies, and nation states, allows for climate justice to take place. We are very happy to be able to include in this issue a section edited by activist lawyer and writer Radha D’Souza and artist Jonas Staal in which they give space to the judges of their Court for Intergenerational Climate Crimes to be hosted by Framer Framed later this year. This ‘more-than-human’ tribunal for the prosecution of intergenerational climate crimes is based on the idea of a mutually dependent and intergenerational climate justice that requires not only equality between human and non-human actors, but also close interdependence between different time scales, between the past, the present and the future.

In our opinion, slow violence is not (just) a problem of making the effects of pollution and climate change visible and comprehensible, because it is not something that has not been addressed before. It has. Many times, and by many different people all over the world. Addressing slow violence is therefore a process of listening and accepting that there is also knowledge outside of what is considered as knowledge by the ruling hegemony, or outside that which we can even comprehend. Listen. Listen to the people who inhabit the geographies at stake, but also listen to the land itself, and to the birds that are growing more silent with every passing spring. It is this listening that can be at the basis of an ‘anthropological shift’, which as Rolando Vázquez phrases it: ‘has to do with moving away from the mode of consuming, of disposing of Earth and worlds, to becoming or being in disposition for Earth and others and their worlds. […] It is about becoming open to the radical diversity of Earth-worlds, as an enriching experience that remains always in excess of the self, and that should not be subsumed and reduced through forms of appropriation and representation.’[7]

Perhaps this spring/summer issue of Errant is ideally read outside, in a park or a forest, where the words and images can be supported by the sounds of your surroundings. In any case, and wherever you are, we hope you enjoy reading it.

[1] Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994: p. 2.

[2] Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press, 2013: p. 2.

[3] Davis, Heather, Zoe Todd. ‘On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene.’ ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, Vol. 16, No. 4 (2017): p. 771.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Todd, Zoe. ‘An Indigenous Feminist’s Take On The Ontological Turn: ‘Ontology’ Is Just Another

Word For Colonialism.’ Journal of Historical Sociology, Vol. 29, No. 1 (March 2016): p. 14.

[6] Some of the other island nations facing the same threat and featured by the drawings on the cover and throughout this issue are: Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Kiribati, Fiji, Solomon Islands and Nauru.

[7] Vázquez, Rolando. Vistas of Modernity. Decolonial aesthesis and the end of the Contemporary. Amsterdam: Mondriaan Fund, 2020: p. 157.

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