Slow violence is a term coined by Rob Nixon in Slow Violence and the Environmentalism and of the Poor (Harvard University Press, 2011) to describe the attritional wake of environmental devastation or pollution: its “invisible” and/or “side-effect” forms. In Nixon’s definition, slow violence is “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). Slow violence refers to domino-effect consequences of environmental devastation, when one element in the ecosystem is damaged or disrupted, leading to long-lasting disruption in other elements or ecosystems. The connections between the “main” event and its dispersed consequences are not always direct or easily traceable. The perpetrators may not be obvious, but the victims are.
Examples of slow violence include birth defects and other conditions related to toxins released into water and soil after the 1984 failure of Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India; or the unprecedented levels of cancer and respiratory diseases experienced by poor Black residents of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley”; or the legacy of pollution and demolished environments left to local communities after industry exploits the site and relocates elsewhere, as, say, in the aftermath of the fracking boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia.
Looking for more? Check these resources:
Thom Davies, “Slow violence and toxic geographies: ‘Out of sight’ to whom?” (Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space. April 2019. doi:10.1177/2399654419841063)
©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)
“I bend toward the water and look closer. The start of a dead zone? Was that boy trying to scare us, like Maya said? Or does he really know what’s happening? I spot another dead fish, floating on its side. There are clumps of green on its silver scales, more than the last one had. I walk away from the reeds and kneel by a clearer part of the water. ‘Renn? Everything okay?’ There’s a pause, then: I’ve been better. ‘What’s wrong?’ Hard to explain.”
by Zoë Tucker
“And no one told them to stop because everyone was scared of them”