Environmental Security: A Case Study of Climate Change

The security of individuals, communities, nations, and the entire global community is increasingly jeopardized by unpremeditated, non-military environmental threats. These threats are self-generated: we perpetrate them on ourselves, by fouling our air and water, and overharvesting our land. These threats are not felt equally around the world. Southern countries face severe problems from desertification, while northern industrial countries deal with acid rain, and polar regions see large depositions of persistent organic chemical pollutants. Climate change will cause uneven effects over the entire globe for the next fifty to 100 years, with some countries benefiting and others suffering. Despite these omnipresent connections, environmental issues are still not high on the national security agenda. Those who study environmental problems such as deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and climate change generally don’t see the connection through to its higher-order effects, and those who study security problems such as non-proliferation, terrorism, and civil conflict often don’t recognize the environmental roots and effects of these problems. So why is this such a hard gap to bridge? Thinking in this multidisciplinary way is not traditional for either environmentalists or security specialists, the majority of whom have defined their fields in specific ways. Consequently the nexus of environmental security is seen neither as
a security issue nor an environmental issue. However, environmental issues are often security concerns because even without directly causing open conflict, they have the potential to destabilize regimes, displace populations, and lead to state collapse. The environment is the planetary support system on which all other human enterprises depend. If political, social, cultural, religious, and most importantly economic systems are to remain secure and viable, the environment must also remain secure and viable. This makes
global environmental conditions a legitimate national security concern for all countries.

Infectious diseases are the world’s leading cause of death, and climate change will increase disease exposure risks worldwide. Recent research has demonstrated that this risk is increased for all terrestrial and marine biota, not merely humans (Harvell et al 2002). As worldwide

transportation increases and trade in goods and services is becoming globalized, infectious
disease is becoming globalized as well. As a result, U.S. armed forces stationed overseas will
face increasing exposure to a variety of diseases in new regions. This will reduce military
readiness directly by incapacitating troops.

The lessons to be learned from studying the nexus of environmental issues and security issues are applicable not only to the United States or to the Asia-Pacific region, but to the whole world. First, the case study of climate change demonstrates that we must take responsibility for our role in causing environmental degradation; the head in the sand approach of the current
Administration benefits no one except a select few.


Elizabeth L. Chalecki
Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security

Resource file: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_security



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