A New Geopolitics for the Anthropocene

Simon Dalby

he Anthropocene requires a fundamental rethink of humanity’s place in the Earth system. In the process, the traditional assumptions of geopolitics, with their premises of separate spaces and peoples in rivalry over scarce land, are superseded by a focus on producing flourishing ecologies as new peaceful habitats for humanity.

Geopolitics is a term with troubling historical connotations. Some of the most pernicious thinking of “classical geopolitics” suggested that environmental circumstances determine the character and conduct of states and their inhabitants, a series of arguments that were often used to justify European imperialism. A particularly dangerous strand of this thinking was the concept of “Lebensraum”, which strongly influenced Hitler’s policies after he attained power in 1933. According to this theory, the need for food production and access to other resources required states (Völker) to expand. If states fail to grow, they must inevitably be taken over by other more powerful ones. The racist and implicitly violent militaristic assumptions of this Geopolitik were rightly condemned after the collapse of the Third Reich.

Much of the success of the European Union can be seen as a direct repudiation of the premises of Geopolitik. However, partly as a result of the climate difficulties caused by this fossil-fuel-powered progress, we are now living in an increasingly disrupted world in which the term “geopolitics” is once again being used to refer to the rivalry of great powers. While some of this usage is related to xenophobic nationalism and suggestions of separate homelands for national populations, the geography in all this is also cut across by economic trade relationships and military alliances. This complicates the picture. For we are now being forced to address some of the old questions about resources, environment, and conflict, but in a very different way from the classical geopolitical mode of thinking.


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