Environmental Security

Environment and Security

May 10, 2012, 8:19 am
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Environmental security refers to the protection of important ecosystem services and assurance of a supply of natural resources, including water, soil, energy, and minerals, in order to enable continued economic and social well being."

The Expanding Definition of National Security

This broader view of national security reflects the fact that new global pressures now threaten the well being and resilience of both human society and the natural environment. These pressures include population growth, increased demand for energy and materials, and competition for access to land, water, minerals, and other vital natural resources. The resulting impacts include changes in global climate and degradation of clean air and water, soil, forests, and wetlands, all of which have the potential to compromise energy security, food security, supply chain security, and other domestic and international concerns. Today the vitality of our ecosystems is already seriously threatened. According to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 15 of 24 important global ecosystem services are being degraded or used unsustainably (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).

Future global ecosystems will be under even greater pressure when by 2050 global population will reach about 9 billion, some 30 percent higher than the 2000 population. Poverty alleviation and rising affluence in developing nations will inevitably increase the demand for natural resources. The boom in Asian economies is well under way, while in Africa another billion people are ready and eager for economic expansion [See Africa's economic growth].

The essence of global security is acquisition of economic well-being and social justice for all. Hence, the challenge ahead is to create global conditions that foster economic growth and human well being in a sustainable manner. How can society address these growing social and environmental pressures in ways that sustain economic growth, assure an adequate supply of natural resources, protect human health and safety, and avoid domestic and international conflicts?

Background and History of Environment and Security

The linkage between environment and security has a long history, underscored by events such as the oil embargo of 1972 that led to gas rationing around the world. Both academic and government experts have worked hard to understand how environment and security can be managed in a coordinated fashion.

The widely-known 1972 “The Limits to Growth” report by the Club of Rome called attention to the risks associated with natural resource scarcities and continuing deterioration of environmental quality (Meadows et al.). It pointed out connections with an array of socio-economic problems (population growth, urbanization, migration, etc.), particularly in developing countries, that could lead to security-relevant threats or even to the outbreak of violent conflicts

A decade later in “Redefining Security,” Richard Ullman identified a number of environmental problems that could potentially lead to security implications. His list included earthquakes, conflicts over territory and resources, population growth, and resource scarcity, particularly oil (Ullman 1983).

To avert these security implications, Ullman argued for redefinition of the threat to national security to include “disturbances and disruptions ranging from external wars to internal rebellions, from blockades and boycotts to raw material shortages and devastating ''natural'' disasters such as decimating epidemics, catastrophic floods, or massive and pervasive droughts.”

The link between environment and security became more evident in the 1987 UN Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) – also known as the Brundtland Commission – report, Our Common Future (UN 1987). This was the first international report to refer explicitly to the connection between environmental degradation and conflict. Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who chaired the Commission, strongly believed that the traditional definition of security, which relied primarily on a military response to threat, was inadequate for dealing with environmental issues that demand non-military responses.

The WCED report advanced the idea that "The whole notion of security as traditionally understood – in terms of political and national threats to sovereignty – must be expanded to include the growing impacts of environmental stress – locally, nationally, regionally, and globally."

The Brundtland Report advanced the vision that “it is possible to construct an economically sounder and fairer future based upon policies and behavior that can secure our ecological foundation.” Hence, future challenges have to be met with a new model that effectively links policy and science in the context of basic food and energy needs, natural resource management, public health and safety, and economic development.

Beginning in the 1990s, the linkage of environment and security began to appear in high-level U.S. policy statements. The National Security Strategy is a document prepared periodically that states U.S. foreign and security policy objectives and seeks to inform the American public and policymakers worldwide of these objectives and strategies. All past national security documents can be downloaded from The Defense Strategy Review Page. The 1992 Strategy advanced the notion that the United States “whenever possible in concert with its allies, to […] achieve cooperative international solutions to key environmental challenges, assuring the sustainability and environmental security of the planet as well as growth and opportunity for all.

Public awareness of the scale and importance of environmental and security issues were further advanced by Norman Myers (1993) and Thomas Homer-Dixon (1993.) In one article Myers wrote (1993):

National security is no longer about fighting forces and weaponry alone. It relates increasingly to watersheds, croplands, forests, genetic resources, climate, and other factors rarely considered by military experts and political leaders, but that taken together deserve to be viewed as equally crucial to a nation’s security as military prowess.

Also in 1993 the Canadian political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon writing in Scientific American argued that environmental change could be a cause of serious national conflict. The article in turn led to a New York Times op-ed, which was widely circulated in the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Central Intelligence Agency. The article prompted then Vice President Al Gore to invite him to Washington.(Floyd, 2010.) In another landmark publication, Robert Kaplan in 1995 portrayed environment degradation and conflict over resources (such as water) as potential causes of international conflict that can only be controlled if the environment is made a national security issue. Kaplan called the environment as the “national security issue of the early twenty-first century” (Kaplan 1995.) He argued that “the political and strategic impact of surging populations, spreading disease, deforestation and soil erosion, water depletion, air pollution and, possibly, rising sea levels in critical, overcrowded regions will be the core foreign policy challenge from which most others ultimately emanate, arousing the public and uniting assorted interests left over from the cold war.”

This article resonated with a number of important government officials. Former CIA director James Woolsey wrote that the Kaplan article was carefully studied by President Clinton and had captured the imagination of Vice President Gore, who instructed Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Timothy E. Wirth to fax the article to all U.S. embassies. (Floyd, 2010)

Environmental Intelligence Gathering

As the link between environment and security grew, then Senator Al Gore recognized the importance of linking the collection and synthesis of scientific data from the public and intelligence domains. Gore contacted then CIA director Robert Gates about mutually initiating supportive projects. Gates, in turn was supportive and discussions that followed led to the creation of science based group called MEDEA. The name MEDEA was chosen by CIA official Linda Zall for the character in Greek mythology who helped Jason and the Argonauts steal the Golden Fleece (Richelson 1998)

All of the scientists in MEDEA were given access to highly classified intelligence-gathering data and information. The scientists were allowed to study archival data and suggest innovative uses of CIA resources for scientific research. MEDEA scientists were able to access U.S. spy satellite data and studied about two dozen ecologically sensitive sites around the world. They hoped to generate significant results to help with environmental research, particularly with respect to global warming.

In a review of MEDEA activities Jeffrey Richelson (1998) called the MEDEA “scientists in black,” noting that MEDEA was unique in that never before had the intelligence community worked so openly with a group of scientists outside the government. For scientists the unrestricted dissemination of data is the norm. For the intelligence community, data and information is restricted to those who "need to know." MEDEA research results tried to bridge this gap.

While MEDEA was discontinued by the Bush administration, the CIA has reactivated the program as part of a new CIA focus on the implications of climate change on U.S. national security. In 2009 CIA director Leon Panetta said, “Decision makers need information and analysis on the effects climate change can have on security. The CIA is well positioned to deliver that intelligence.” (CIA 2009)

At the same time, the CIA was involved in creating the Center on Climate Change and National Security. The mandate of this new center was less on the science of climate change than on the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources.

U.S. EPA Engagement

Accompanying this growing interest in environmental security, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to expand its own programs in science and technology and laid the groundwork for linking security and sustainability. EPA was prompted to engage in environmental security by its Science Advisory Board (SAB), a group of eminent non-government scientists. Administrator Administrator Bill Reilly (1989-1992) had asked the SAB to look beyond the horizon and anticipate environmental problems that may emerge in the 21st century. In its January 1995 report, the SAB stated, “global environmental quality is a matter of strategic national interest that must be recognized publicly and formally.” The board further observed that “international competition for natural resources like ocean fish and potable water may pose as much of a threat to intentional political stability as an interrupted oil supply does today” (U.S. EPA 1995).

An important aspect of the SAB report was their recommendation that the US develop strategic national policies linking national security, foreign relations, environmental quality, and economic growth. The SAB stated, “EPA should begin working with relevant agencies and organizations to develop strategic national policies that link national security, foreign relations, environmental quality, and economic growth.” In addition, the report called for an “early warning system” to identify potential future environmental risks.

At that time, the term “environmental security” had different meanings in different agencies. The Department of State often referred to it as “environmental diplomacy.” The Department of Defense referred to “preventive defense” as alleviating environmental problems before they became a cause for military conflict. EPA was less concerned about the environment leading to conflict, and hence defined environmental security as a “process whereby solutions to environmental problems contribute to national security” (U.S. EPA 1999).

At the time of the SAB report, EPA’s role in environmental security was just beginning. While EPA had significant expertise in assessing traditional environmental risks – such as chemicals and toxics – assessing environmental security risks was a new challenge. In contrast, the CIA had already embraced the concept of identifying future risks, and had held numerous meetings to identify potential environmentally-related risks (often called “flash points”) that could have potential adverse impact on U.S. national security.

EPA’s involvement in environmental security was further strengthened by problems related to Soviet dumping of radioactive waste in the Arctic. In dealing with such issues it was clear to EPA that they needed an environmental security strategy, as well as a partnership with the Department of Defense and other agencies. During the mid 1990s, DOD, DOE, and EPA collaborated to forge a partnership on environment and security (Lloyd, 2010.)

Part of the stimulus for this joint planning was a DOD-CIA Environmental Security Conference held at the Department of State on June 15–16 1995. The conference was designed to explore the relationship between the civil, defense, and intelligence communities. The conference re-enforced the idea that the United States needed an environmental security strategy.

This was in turn reflected in the 1996 National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, which noted, “The end of the Cold War fundamentally changed America’s security imperative. The central security challenge of the past half century – the threat of communist expansion – is gone.” (All US National Security Strategies are accessible at: http://www.comw.org/qdr/offdocs.html). The Strategy described a host of new national security problems that had emerged: “Large-scale environmental degradation, exacerbated by rapid population growth, threatens to undermine political stability in many countries and regions.”

Following the June 1995 meeting EPA, DOD, and later DOE began to explore idea of an environmental security initiative and a bilateral agreement. Alan Hecht, then Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator in the EPA Office of International Activities (now the Office of International Activities and Tribal Affairs) drafted the first version of a DOD-EPA action plan and a possible EPA-DOD agreement.

Twenty-First Century Challenges

In 2001, at the start of the Administration of George W. Bush, environment and security were further linked to social well being. The 2002 National Security Strategy stated, “A world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, is neither just nor stable. Including all of the world’s poor in an expanding circle of development – and opportunity – is a moral imperative and one of the top priorities of U.S. international policy.”

Events in the decade from 2000 to 2010 were dominated by the 9/11 attack and subsequent war on terrorism. The events of 9/11 have sharpened the national debate on the meaning of security and on the root causes and means of preventing terrorism. Before 9/11, while there was prosperity in the West, there were warnings of dissatisfaction and instability in the rest of the world. In Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, development had failed to improve the quality of life for 300 million people. Health, education, and social services in much of Africa were deteriorating.

Travel writer Paul Theroux, who as a young author lived in Africa in the 1960s, returned in 2000 to make an overland trek from Cairo to Capetown. His subsequent book observed that thirty years after he had lived in Africa as a young teacher, “Africa is materially more decrepit than it was when I first knew it –hungrier, poorer, less educated, more pessimistic, more corrupt, and you can’t tell the politicians from the witch-doctors” (Theroux, 2002.) Before 9/11 Frank Carlucci, (a former Secretary of Defense) working with a RAND-convened panel of 54 American leaders in foreign and defense policy produced a number of recommendations for the new Bush Administration. (Carlucci et al 2000) One of his recommendations goes to the heart of the issues of environment and security:

"A host of new global challenges may soon require imaginative and sustained responses. These nontraditional challenges include uncontrolled migration across borders, international crime, pandemics like AIDs and malaria, and environmental degradation…. However, in this era, Developed nations have the resources and opportunity to ask themselves whether they want to live in a world where such problems continue to fester, or whether they will try to make a difference. This is primarily a matter of leadership and forming alliances between like-minded, relatively wealthy countries to begin a new ethos for the future that is not based solely on a short-term national model but that embraces a long-term global vision."

The essence of the above recommendation is that economic prosperity, environmental protection and social justice must be combined to ensure global security. In effect, the world needs a renewed focus on what is commonly known as the “three pillars” of sustainable development, depicted in Figure 1.

caption Figure 1. Three pillars of sustainable development

This vision has recently re-emerged in a 2011 policy paper by two staff members of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, which outlines a new National Strategic Narrative (Porter and Mykleby 2011). Within the concept of a new strategic narrative is the recognition of the need for a more sustainable society. The paper argues that it is time for the U.S. to re-focus its national interests and principles through the lens of the global environment of tomorrow. The paper asserts that it is time to move beyond a strategy of containment to a strategy of sustainment (i.e., sustainability); from an emphasis on power and control to an emphasis on strength and influence; from a defensive posture of exclusion, to a proactive posture of engagement.

Dynamics of Environmental Security

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>

Harnessing Intellectual Capital

As illustrated above in Figure 3, there are many global economic and social drivers that could impact societal well being and natural resources, and in turn lead to international conflict. These drivers and stressors have been growing over time. The time is clearly at hand to for global society to work together in order to support a growing and sustainable economy, reduce environmental threats, and enhance international security.

How can this be done? Three fundamental sources of intellectual capital are available to strengthen the responses shown in Figure 4. These are science and technological innovation, enterprise strategies, and interagency collaboration.

Science and Technology: Today more than ever in the past, the constructive power of science and technology can propel humankind to new levels of global well being. In particular, the practice of sustainability science can help to anticipate problems, promote innovation, and support decision- making. A National Academy of Engineering report suggests that the path to sustainability “involves the creative design of products, processes, systems and organizations, and the implementation of smart management strategies that effectively harness technologies and ideas to avoid environmental problems before they arise” (Richards and Frosch 1997).

One area where sustainability science is crucial is protecting human health. Today global health impacts from toxic pollutants such as heavy metals, pesticides and radionuclides, are greater than previously thought. More than 100 million people are estimated to be at risk from toxic pollution at levels above international health standards. (McCartor et al. 2010.) In the Blacksmith Institute World’s Worst Pollutants Report 2010, McCartor identified six pollutants that threaten the health of millions of people: Lead, mercury, chromium, arsenic, pesticides, and radionuclides. This is a public health issue as salient as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/ AIDS, and one that should receive considerable attention and resources.

The risks to human health posed by toxic pollution are largely a consequence of industrial activities, yet a thriving industrial base is essential for economic development and social well-being. This conflict can only be resolved through introduction of innovative technologies, including sustainable design and application of green chemistry principles. EPA has worked with many companies to help introduce “design for environment” strategies into their product development processes.

The need to advance sustainability science is evident across all federal agencies. As a report by the Advisory Committee for Environmental Research and Education of the National Science Foundation argued,

[e]nvironmental science must move beyond identifying issues and toward providing sound basis for the development of innovative solutions, effective adaption, and mitigation strategies.” The report added that to accomplish this goal “we urgently need to expand our capacity to study the environment as an integrated system that includes the human dimension (NSF Advisory Committee, 2009) Thus, the challenge ahead is to better coordinate science and technology, including international scientific cooperation, in order to advance our understanding of sustainable systems. This will requires integration of research on human health and pollution prevention with a broader understanding of the interdependence between socioeconomic systems and ecosystem services. An integrative approach will enable the global community to simultaneously enhance scientific knowledge, stimulate economic growth, and alleviate poverty, thus strengthening national security.

Enterprise Strategy: The strategic importance of enterprise sustainability has been elevated by a variety of forces, including the growing expectations of customers and other stakeholder groups, increasingly stringent environmental laws and regulations, and international environmental management system standards. In addition, companies have been confronted with a proliferation of sustainability rating schemes, eco-labels, and voluntary codes and principles (Hecht, 2009.)

In pursuit of shareholder value, leading companies have moved beyond compliance and risk management and adopted voluntary practices including corporate citizenship, pollution prevention, product stewardship, Design for Environment, and ultimately supply chain sustainability. The latter requires consideration of the entire product life cycle, from extraction of resources and processing of feedstocks to transportation, logistics, distribution, and end-of-life asset recovery. (Fiksel, 2009)

Why is this important and how does it relate to national security?

US businesses operating around the world are pioneering new models that protect natural resources, enhance social well being and increase the bottom line. For example the concept of “creating shared value” advanced by Michael Porter (2010) and practiced by Nestle and others is a good example of sustainable enterprise management that also improves quality of life. Serious efforts should be made to support business models that promote economic development while reducing overall stressors on the environment. The business world can, in effect, be a positive force advancing global security. In addition to cost reductions and productivity improvements, companies can raise the standards of people around the world and thus contribute to more sustainable society.

Another important emerging business trend is the growing awareness of enterprise resilience, defined as the capacity to survive, adapt, and grow in the face of a turbulent business environment. Enterprises can learn much from natural ecosystems, in which individual creatures and entire species are engaged in a constant struggle for food, security, survival, and growth. Living systems are complex, adaptive, and remarkably resilient. Similarly, resilient enterprises are able to anticipate surprises, recover from disruptions, adapt to changing needs, and innovate to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Indeed, resilience is the first step toward long-term sustainability. Moreover, the resilience of industrial supply chains is closely linked to the resilience of the communities and markets in which they operate. (Fiksel, 2007)

Much can be accomplished by forging new partnerships between government and the business community that focus on social responsibility, sustainability and resilience. For example, EPA and DOE are working with the Sustainability Consortium on product life cycle characterization. Similarly, Sandia Labs and the Department of Defense have worked with several industrial sectors to examine their vulnerabilities to disruptive events, including terrorist strikes and natural disasters. The ground is fertile for establishing a national compact on environmental security.

Interagency Collaboration:A 2010 Report from the Center for New American Security called for the creation of a Natural Security Community. The Report recognized that many government agencies are working on issues related to national security and that it was “important to cultivate…networks among security and environmental analysts” (Parthemore and Rogers 2010).

The intelligence community has been successful in creating a mechanism to assemble, analyze, and project future trends as a basis for planning national security. Today the National Intelligence Council (NIC) prepares far-reaching reports to anticipate critical trends and synergies. The NIC serves the intelligence communities as a focal point for midterm and long-term strategic thinking. Its many functions include helping policy makers to address specific questions and drawing upon non-governmental experts in academia and the private sector to develop long-term perspectives.

Today the NIC prepares many reports that examine global trends to 2025 and beyond. The goal of these reports is to provide US policymakers with a view of how world developments could evolve, identifying opportunities and potentially negative developments that might warrant policy action. These papers in turn stimulate a broader discussion of value to educational and policy institutions at home and abroad. NIC’s 2025 report reinforces the challenges facing society, stating that “Unprecedented economic growth, coupled with 1.5 billion more people, will put pressure on resources—particularly energy, food, and water—raising the specter of scarcities emerging as demand outstrips supply.” Such reports on environmental, economic, and social trends are also plentiful in the UN system and among international organizations. But in the U.S., no single group is compiling and integrating information about sustainability and security to support policy formulation. An integrated approach is needed that connects all agencies involved in the interface of energy, environment, security, and social issues. The existing National Security Strategy of the United States could be expanded to embrace sustainability and resilience practices, and thus form the basis for a more integrated National Security and Sustainability Strategy.


Since the first World Environment Conference in Stockholm in 1972, rich and poor countries have been divided by the notion of common but differentiated responsibility. The source of this division is a result of the massive demand on resources by the rich countries and the desire of the poor countries to emulate that pattern. Since 1972, the phrase “common but differentiated responsibility” has been included in almost all international environmental compacts and treaties. The same issue dominated discussion in Rio in 1992, then in Johannesburg in 2002, and in Copenhagen in 2009, and will be again in Rio in 2012. It has been assumed that global economic growth will inevitably result in increasing environmental burdens. As early as 1972 Russell Train argued that this need not be the case; that the “the US had learned that economic development at the expense of the environment imposes heavy costs to health and in the quality of life generally – costs that could be minimized by forethought and planning.”

While there is significant discussion about international efforts to promote green economy, the world is a long way from realizing this concept of mutually supportive economic growth and environmental protection. For Rio+20 and beyond, sustainability offers a strategic goal for the prosperity of all nations in the 21st century. Government and business partnerships can make this vision a reality.

In response to the drivers that threaten environmental security, this paper has outlined a number of strategic responses. The effectiveness of these responses will be measured in terms of four major outcomes, depicted in Figure 5:

  • Vitality and Resilience of ecosystems
  • Security and Quality of Life for communities, including public health and safety
  • Equity and Opportunity for disadvantaged groups, especially in developing nations
  • Continuity and Competitiveness of a nation's industrial base.

Conversely, failure to achieve an effective response will lead to adverse outcomes that pose threats to national security; namely, conflicts over resources such as land, water, energy, and materials; lack of readiness for climate change impacts, leading to economic disruptions and community displacement, adverse health events including spread of disease, and economic hardship that in turn threatens social stability. Given these vulnerabilities, it is critical that the U.S. develop an integrated strategy for responding to threats to national environmental security. Taking a systems view that recognizes the convergence of environmental protection and national security will enable a deeper understanding the potential interactions among drivers and responses. This will not only lead to improved security, but will reinforce economic competitiveness for U.S. industry and quality of life for U.S. communities.

Figure 5. Potential outcomes of an effective response strategy


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  28. U.S. EPA. Science Advisory Board.1995. Beyond the Horizon: Using Foresight to Protect the Environmental Future. EPA-SAB-EC-95-007. January. Washington, D.C.: U.S. EPA.


Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the USEPA. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute Agency endorsement or recommendations for use.



Fiksel, J., & Hecht, A. (2012). Environment and Security. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/167611


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