Our world has become a more dangerous and unstable place.
Civil security and stability have long been menaced by wars, military and territorial ambitions, and strong political and economic disparities. Within the last few decades new and increasingly menacing threats have emerged, many of them linked to environmental and socio-environmental changes and risks. During this period a new term, environmental security, has entered the lexicon used by governments and by news and social media.
Environmental security refers to environmental viability for life support. It emerged as an important concept in the 1960s, identified first from an increasing level of environmental consciousness in developed countries. This was exemplified by the growth of the environmental movement during this period, motivated in part by books such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which exposed the dangers to natural systems and food chains from the misuse of chemical pesticides such as DDT. Many well-known environmental non-governmental organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (1961), Friends of the Earth (1969), and Greenpeace (1971) were founded during this period.
Academics and activists criticized the traditional notions of security and mainstream security at that time, emphasizing their ineffectiveness in addressing environmental problems at national and international security levels.
Classic works such as This Endangered Planet (Richard Falk 1971) and Toward a Politics of Planet Earth (Harold and Margaret Sprout 1971) espoused the view that security as such could no longer be centered only on military power, but that nations needed to collectively take action against common environmental problems that posed threats to national well-being and international stability.
The new field of environmental security studies has emerged. These define national security threats as actions or sequences of events that:
(1) threaten drastically and over a relatively brief span of time to degrade the quality of life for the inhabitants of a state; and/or
(2) threaten significantly to narrow the range of policy choices available to governments or to nongovernmental entities within states.
Scientists have also linked the issue of security to the role of environmental degradation in causing violent conflicts. The prolonged conflicts in Syria are frequently cited as an example.
The United Nations Environment Programme, the Environmental Law Institute, the University of California (Irvine), Duke University, and Columbia University are currently offering a massive open online course (MOOC) on Environmental Security and Sustaining Peace. This MOOC provides an in-depth introduction to the multiple roles that natural resources and the environment play in the onset, escalation, resolution of, and recovery from violent conflicts.
The MOOC has modules focusing on environmental causes of conflict, environmental impacts of conflict, and post-conflict recovery, and addresses themes including extractive resources, resource scarcity, and climate change. The MOOC includes lectures, in-depth case studies, and interviews with notable experts and practitioners.
There are three tracks available to students:
- a certificate track (paid),
- an auditing track (free), and
- a shortened executive learning track for decision-makers (free).
More information is available at the organizer’s online site https://environmentalpeacebuilding.org/education/mooc/
The following websites offer further information on specific topics:
1) www.ejatlas.org provides an Environmental Justice Atlas showing sites of current environmental concern throughout the world, for teaching, networking and advocacy.
2) The Ecolex : https://www.ecolex.org/result/?type=court_decision is an international source of up-to-the-minute environmental judicial decisions by country, subject, keyword, etc.
3) www.environmentalpeacebuilding.org/community outlines the relationship between natural resources, conflicts and peacebuilding.