Dynamics of Environmental Security

  1. Background and History of Environment and Security
  2. Environment and Security 1
  3. Environment and Security 10
  4. Environment and Security 11
  5. Environment and Security 2
  6. Environment and Security 3

Today societies exist in a complex and interconnected world, in which industrial and social development are closely linked to the use and protection of environmental resources. Capturing the linkages of economic development, environmental and social well-being, and national security is not easy. Figure 2 shows how the three pillars of sustainability are linked to each other domestically, and also shows important linkages to the international community. There are a variety of international relationships that keep this dynamic system in balance-trade and tourism, foreign investment, mutual aid and alliances, and education and migration. National security involves assuring the smooth functioning of these relationships, and avoiding disruptions due to natural or anthropogenic causes.

Figure 2.Dynamic resource flows related to environmental security

We use Figure 2 as a base upon which to highlight the impact of emerging economic and social drivers, and government and societal responses, which follow in Figures 3 and 4.

Figure 3 identifies three major drivers that threaten the continuity of both environmental resources and national security: Population growth, Economic growth, and Scarcity of resources, including energy, water, land, and minerals. These drivers are already placing stress upon the natural resource base, and the pressure of 9 billion people in 2050 will only increase the threats to global security and human well-being.

The overall ecological burdens of growth can be understood from the following equation, which isderived from the well-known IPAT equation (Chertow, 2001).

Total burden = population ? ($ GDP / capita) ? (resources / $ GDP) ? (burden / resource unit)

The above equation holds whether the resources are fossil fuels and the burdens are greenhouse gas emissions, or whether the resources are material flows and the burdens are ecosystem service degradation. The first two factors are inexorably rising; and even if population growth slows, the GDP per capita will most likely continue to rise in developing nations. Thus, a fourth driver shown in Figure 3, a consequence of the above drivers, is climate and ecological disruptions. A 2008 report published by the CNA Corporation, a Pentagon-funded think tank, spoke of climate change as a "threat multiplier" that could lead to wide conflict over resources (CNA 2008).

Figure 3.Major drivers that threaten environmental security

Drawing on United Nations data and scenarios, the Global Footprint Network suggests that if current trends in population and consumption continue, by the 2030s, the equivalent of two Earths will be needed to support the world's population.

How can society respond effectively to these drivers and avoid them leading to national and international conflicts? Figure 4 identifies four areas of response; namely, Regulations and Risk Management, Controlled Resource Extraction and Use, Infrastructure Development, and Poverty Alleviation. All but the last of these responses are closely tied to the mission of EPA.

Recognition of the need to manage resource use in an environmentally sound manner was central to the creation of EPA in 1970. The practice of risk assessment and management is a key underlying approach for setting environmental regulations and protecting human health. Similarly, risk management is utilized in security to analyze threats and countermeasures, and to support effective long range planning.

Figure 4.Responses to the drivers that threaten security

Failure to anticipate risks can have severe consequences, as exemplified by the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Offshore drilling will be an important future source of oil, especially in the pristine Arctic Ocean. In late 2010 Russian signed an Arctic Exploration Deal with Exxon. Other Western oil companies, recognizing Moscow's openness to new ocean drilling, are now having similar discussions with Russia. Assuming that global demand for oil continues to rise, Russia could prove vital to world supplies in coming decades, now that it has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer.

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill reached a number of important conclusions relative to future oil safety and national security, two of which related to regulations and risk management. The commission's report concluded that the risk assessments conducted by BP were insufficient (National Commission 2011). A risk assessment for the failed Macondo oil rig estimated that the most likely size of a large spill would be 4,600 barrels, yet more than 26,000 barrels were spilled over the rig's 40-year production cycle -a gross underestimation of the potential risk.

At the same time, there was inadequate regulatory authority to evaluate risk independently. The Oil Commission found that government oversight was severely compromised. The agency in charge of promoting the expansion of drilling - resulting in over $ 18 billion in oil revenues - was also in charge of keeping it safe. Here, economics and financial profit clearly overshadowed risk and safety. Risk management and proper regulations are therefore key elements of responding to external drivers.

A second major response is exercising control over consumption of resources from the ocean and land for food, energy, and materials. During much of the past decade the consumption of food (and energy) staples including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans, has outstripped production. As a result, the once large stockpiles of these commodities have now seriously declined. The imbalance between supply and demand has resulted in two huge spikes of international grain prices since 2007 (Gillis 2011). Future grain production is likely to be adversely affected by climate change and associated weather extremes.

Similarly, logging and extraction of minerals such as coal, metals, and rare earths for industrial products must be approached with greater awareness of resource limits. Careful land use is necessary to protect the vital ecosystems that provide support for the U.S. economy. Failure to control resource extraction can lead to conflicts over food and fuel use, water, and mineral rights.

Development of infrastructure in cities is also a pressing need as more and more people move to urban areas. In the U.S., aging infrastructures, including roads, bridges, and pipelines, have been neglected for years, and pose safety risks. In other parts of the world, development of new infrastructure is sorely needed.

According to UN data, the world's urban population is currently growing at four times the rate of the rural population. Between 1990 and 2025, the number of people living in urban areas is projected to double to more than 5 billion. If so, then almost two thirds of the world's population will be living in towns and cities. An estimated 90 percent of the increase will occur in developing countries. Africa has the highest urban growth rate of all world regions: 5 percent per year. Such growth will not only place demands on current and planned infrastructure, including supply of clean water, but will also create challenges for protection of human health and safety.

Poverty alleviation is a key element of the UN Millennium Goals, and is closely tied to environmental security. 2.9 billion people world-wide currently survive on less than $ 2 a day, 2.6 billion without access to proper sanitation, 1.2 billion without access to safe drinking water, 924 million "slum dwellers," 829 million chronically undernourished, 790 million lacking health services, 4 billion in developing countries with annual income less than $ 300, 191 million people unemployed and 39 million adults and children living with HIV / AIDS (Hecht, 2009.) And far more people are dying of malnutrition and disease than of conflict or war./ p>

Environment and Security 6 | Environment and Security 7 | Environment and Security 8 | Environment and Security 9 | Environment and Security 10 | Environment and Security 11 | The Expanding Definition of National Security | Background and History of Environment and Security | Environmental Intelligence Gathering | U.S. EPA Engagement |

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