How to talk about Environmental Security without being alarmist.

Foreign policy analysts are not known for having optimistic outlooks. More often than not they respond to world events with overly pessimistic prognostications, as the subheading of this Foreign Policy article demonstrates.

Yet even among this dour crowd, those who focus on environmental security tend to stand out as being particularly alarmist. DARA International, for instance, recently released its 2nd annual Climate Vulnerability Monitor. The study finds, among other things, that climate change is currently responsible for over 5 million deaths per year and that it could reduce the global GDP by 3% by 2030. It further argues that there is little likelihood for international cooperation on climate change issues and that the high costs of investing in adaptive technologies now will likely preclude the necessary actions to mitigate the consequences of climate change. 

As Carolyn Lamere and Schuyler Null of the New Security Beat point out, however, this report has been criticized by political analysts and environmentalist for being misleading  and using a questionable methodology.

These criticisms should be troubling to those who believe that it is important to consider environmental and climatic factors in foreign policy analysis. If too many people “cry wolf” about the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, then leaders will continue to ignore the very serious environmental problems facing the world today.

Ensuring that environmental security receives its fair share of attention from policy makers will require analysts to explain the effects of environmental change within the context of the political, economic, and social situations in which they occur. 

This approach has recently been admirably employed in articles detailing the impact of drought on the Syrian revolution. As Michael Renner puts it in his article for WorldWatch,

while deep-seated popular discontent over decades of repressive rule surely is a key driver of Syria’s civil war, climate-induced pressures have added fuel to the fire. This is a key point: the repercussions from environmental degradation do not occur in a void, but rather interact with a cauldron of pre-existing societal pressures and problems.”

There should be no doubt that changes to the environment will significantly alter the course of world events in the coming years. Yet, analysts should temper their predictions and consider other factors if they want policy makers to take these changes seriously.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.


One thought on “How to talk about Environmental Security without being alarmist.

  1. Hi Will, Interesting post. I think what we’re seeing are the beginnings of the ramifications of the underlying problem: overpopulation. Too many people on this planet – and the manifestation of that is seas that are being emptied of fish, massive, chronic food distribution problems, and global warming, at least some of which appears to be human-caused. And I think regardless of the language chosen in journal such as Foreign Affairs, policymakers Will have to deal with this seriously. Jack

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