Think piece #2 – Ecology, Peace-building and Human Security

The readings for this week call for a cooperative and collaborative approach to ensure the human security of the world’s population and environmental security of the planet in the face of climate change. All of the authors in this week’s reading have rejected the Malthusian school of ideas as a method of adapting to the effects of climate change. In An Essay on the Principle of Population, Reverend Malthus argued that unchecked population growth must be limited in order to ensure food security by encouraging moral restraints (abstinence, delayed marriage until financially strong) and restricting marriage for the poor and disabled (AAG Center for Global Geography Education, 2011). He also believed that another solution would be to allow society to disintegrate and lead to what is known as a Malthusian catastrophe in order for the “undesired” segments of the population to die prematurely (AAG Center for Global Geography Education, 2011). In order for the population to reduce to sustainable levels, people must either die or be prevented from fully participating in societal customs, such as marriage, which effectively removes them from society at large. In my opinion, although there is little doubt that the catastrophic effects of climate change are already being felt around the world, the response to climate change must be collaborative and cooperative in order to mitigate and deal with the environmental challenges that the world faces.

Watts argues in chapter 4 of Environmental Security that the abrupt degradation of our environment was a result of a political economy in which social relations of production, access to and control of resources, power relations rooted in the state and capital and capitalist accumulation were the focal ideals. That is, a Capitalist economy has contributed to the weakening and marginalization of the peasant class worldwide, whom were made more vulnerable to anticipated and unanticipated environmental processes. The study of the environmental marginalization of the poverty-stricken via the economy is known as Political Ecology. This differs from other sectors of environmental security which analyze the role of culture and humans in causing climate change. In order to adapt to the changing climate, one must become work independently, Watts argues, and not rely on the state to help them because it is the state that has been implicit in the decline of the poor and their resources and landscapes.

On the other hand, part 1 of Parenti’s Tropic of Chaos looks at the human cost of climate change on an individual level by analyzing the death of Ekaru Loruman, a pastoral Kenyan from the Turkana tribe. Beyond the immediate cause of death, Parenti encourages the reader to look at the underlying cause: climate change. The social challenges of a changing planet have led to violence and conflict. Parenti argues that we need to adapt to the effects of climate change by adapting our relationship with nature and adapting our relationship with each other – we need to cooperate in order to mitigate the challenges of a rapidly evolving planet.  In chapter 2, Parenti goes on to explain that the Pentagon has been planning for the complete opposite of what he and most academics in environmental security advocate. The US government is preparing for the worst – an Armageddon – including food insecurity, growing immigration pressures and a militarized management of civilization’s violent disintegration. In short, the Malthusian catastrophe in which the world’s poor are left to die, unable to immigrate to rich nations which have effectively managed the crisis due to their military might. It is in chapter 3 that Parenti realizes that climate change inevitably means war – in particular guerrilla warfare if states and people are unwilling to cooperate together to mitigate the effects of a changing planet.

Buxton and Hayes agree with Parenti and Watts, stating that the degradation of the environment has been caused by state actors and large multinational corporations that then fail to secure the majority of the world’s population. Whilst destroying the environment, powerful state actors like the US increase military might and take away civil liberties in order to create a Malthusian vision of scarcity that encourages private interests and reduces the power of the global poor. Buxton and Hayes argue that we must find a solution for climate change that will start from the bottom-up and build inclusive local, regional and international movements to combat the effects of climate change.

Returning to Environmental Security, Maas et al., have analyzed and highlighted the opportunities and pitfalls of environmental peace-building by looking at the South Caucasus. Building from the work of Watts, Parenti, Buxton and Hayes, Maas has developed a case study where the environment can be used to bring about peace in the face of conflict and struggle by encouraging dialogue, addressing the environmental cause of conflict and using sustainable development in order to create durable long-lasting peace. By utilizing government organizations and NGOS, countries in the South Caucasus have created an environmental peace-building framework that can be implemented around the world. Maas concludes that state driven cooperation alone might be structurally inadequate to solve conflicts and that the environment becomes politicized as soon as it becomes involved in a conflict. In order for environmental peace-building to work, awareness and an authentic interest in the environment are needed, not just the desire to pillage the planet for economic gain. It is hard to implement as states and NGOs must recognize all sides of the conflict for environmental peace-building to truly be effective. Lastly, large numbers of third parties are not necessarily effective, especially if they fail cooperate and merely take up space in the discourse.

In order to bring about a sustainable future, cooperation is necessary between state agents and individuals around the world. Dalby touches on the idea of human insecurity stemming from powerful state actors destroying the environment, particularly in the Global South (see Watts, Parenti, and Buxton and Hayes). He, like the other authors of this week’s reading, advocate for the anti-Malthusian approach, which essentially blames the poor for their environmental instability. We need to change our perspective within the security sphere and look at the human cost of climate change, not just the cost for society and the global economy. The response must be collaborative otherwise everyone’s interests will not be ensured, which is something I strongly agree with.

If I were to write a research paper on the themes and topics discussed in this week’s reading, I would like to focus on the role of colonialism being a cause for human insecurity in the Global South. My argument would be that the interference of the West in colonized nations has led to stolen resources, such as oil, that has contributed to the weakening of the economy of the Global South whilst building up the rich and wealthy nations of the West. This has led to structural inequality, meaning that the environmental effects are felt harshest in the developing world.



AAG Center for Global Geography Education . (2011, September 11). Malthusian Theory of Population. Retrieved September 25, 2016, from Center for Global Geography Education:

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