Topic: Slow Violence

industrial smoke tower, Slow Violence, Climate Lit

Slow Violence (origin: Rob Nixon)

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.

©2021 ClimateLit (Marek Oziewicz)

Related terms: structural violenceenvironmental racismpollution

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)

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by Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier

“Modern human civilization has developed within just 10,000 years, yet our success as a species has tipped the planet’s systems outside their natural limits.”

by K. O'Neill

“I know our village is small, and we can only do small things to help the sea. But I still think we should do them. Even if other people are harming the reef, it doesn’t make it okay for us to as well.”

by Jewell Parker Rhodes

“Saving the environment is harder than fractions. Harder than getting my sisters to be nice. Harder than dreaming nightmares. Or searching for mermaids.”

by Amy Allgeyer

“I nod, but my mind’s fixed on something else—something abnormal in the valley. Something that might be causing all those health problems. And that something is bright orange.”

by Emma Reynolds

“We can’t eat money or drink oil. One day I will be an ancestor and I want my descendants to know I used my voice so they can have a future.”

Frozen 2, Climate Lit

by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

“Our lands and people, now connected by love.” 

Greta and the Giants: Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Stand the Save the World, Climate Lit

by Zoë Tucker

“And no one told them to stop because everyone was scared of them”

by Michele Weber Hurwitz

“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 Katherine Rundell

“He’s a guardian. He had not been clear, until this moment, what that meant: it meant this feeling. It meant burning to keep watch, for that which needed to be watched. It meant burning to keep it safe. It meant a ferocious and careful love.”

by Abi Elphinstone

“My brother and my friend in Jungledrop taught me that worlds are not built by people of power!” she cried. “Worlds are built by people who care! Kingdoms go on because kindness goes on.”

by Don Hall

“This place is alive. It’s a living thing! We didn’t find the heart of Pando. We found an actual heart.”

The Lorax

by Dr. Seuss

“I meant no harm. I most truly did not. / But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.”

by Joan He

“People wanted the quickest, easiest solutions. To solve their most immediate problems, they could steal from any future other than their own.”

One Earth, cover

by Megan Herbert, Michael E. Mann

“I’m just a kid. What can I do? / Someone must help us. It’s now up to you.”

The Wump World

by Bill Peet

“This world of our has gone sour. We’ve got to get out of here quick”