Should environmental degradation be a security or a development issue?

The technological advances in the past century has led the human race into its heights. The modern human beings are on the verge of space exploration with sophisticated technology such as the internet, cellular devices, advanced weaponry and high speed transportation. Maintaining such as sophisticated way of life has a tremendous amount of impact on the environment. The lack of interest in sustainable energy and an over reliance on some resources has led the human race at a stalemate of war and conflict.

The oil reserves are the most valuable and out of all the most contested resource in the world today. The challenge of terrorism has shaken the modern world and has left it in haphazard conditions. However, the threat of environmental degradation has left the large portions of the human race in an existential threat. It is argued that Climate Change is leading to the rise of sea level and is threatening countries with low coastlines and high density populations. Additionally, deforestation and overuse of natural resources caused resource depletion leading to a chaotic resource deficiency and an increase in Green House Gases (GHG) emissions.

This issue could potentially produce millions of refugees and lead to various challenges. Although, environmental degradation is one of the biggest threats in the world today. Categorising it as a security threat will not help solve the problem as it will require Militarisation. This issue requires policy and lifestyle changes to reduce the heavy burden. In addition, the constant threat of Climate Change being used as a security issue may lead to misuse in order to ensure the self-interests of some powerful states.

“Security is a power word. When a problem is identified as a security issue it can lead to state monopolisation of solutions”. The risk of allowing the governments to take security decisions, displaces power and authority from the general populace into the hands of state leaders; contradicting the very nature of democracy and representative government.

For instance, the September 11th attack in New York led the United States military and its allies to invade sovereign states of Iraq and Afghanistan, breaching international law, worsening security conditions and gave rise to mutated Al Qaeda-like terrorist groups notably Daesh, Al Nusra, Al Shabab and various others. Under normal circumstances, the President of the United States George W. Bush would not have authority to wage such devastating wars in the name of security. As a democratic state does not authorise a single leader or the administration to wage war on another sovereign state without any just cause. The Iraq war, was unconstitutional as well as a violation of international law.

The President managed to amass support for the invasion through his post-9/11 speech. It was in his use of diction, “Axis of Evil” which outlined Iraq and its President Saddam Hussein as the enemy who had nothing to do with the attack on the American soil. Environmentalists have argued against the securitisation of climate change as this provides an opportunity for politicians to increase defence spending and promote the ‘military industrial complex’.

The crisis that environmental degradation can cause if proactive measures are not exercised, can surpass threats of terrorism offered by Al-Qaeda, Daesh and their likes. Militarisation of environmental issues will give additional power and authority to the governments in control. Thus, the securitisation of ecological issues requires an authoritative structure for resource management and order.

‘Ecofacism’ has been termed to describe the potential securitisation of this issue. Militarisation of threats and securitising the problem has been misused in the past to achieve alternative goals besides ensuring the security of the population. As was the case after 9/11 the US government and their allies at the time went on to overthrow an unfavourable regime who were not willing to comply with their Foreign Policy. Insofar, risking the accumulation of such powers at the hands of the governments of powerful states could potentially be catastrophic. According to security analysts, in the times of climate disasters fighting will be conducted over necessities such as food and land. Learning from history this magnitude of mishaps from powerful governments should be avoided. The governments of states have responsibilities to protect its citizens from external threats and to ensure civil order. The loss of food and introduction of displaced people from around the globe (climate refugees) will as a result destabilise any society.

The environmental degradation has led many organisms to become endangered and has led many to extinction. The impacts have had its effect on various ecosystems on land and in the marine life. For instance, the threat to the bee population due to loss of suitable habitat, caused by rise of temperatures and pollution will  leave the pollination process nearly void. This will affect the all ecosystems of the planet, including plants and numerous organisms; eventually threatening human beings as bees will not fully be replaced to pollinate crops. This has been the case in the American state of Iowa where a loss up to 70% of its bee population occurred. This had dramatic effects on the honey production and much loss of plant species and also giving rise to bee competitors, the use of harmful pesticides increased as a result. The human food production is at stake and food is essential for human survival, this evidently is threatening the existing human way of life. The interference of natural calamities in human lives will cause various security issues.

GHG emissions because of power generation and industries are one of the key contributors to Climate Change.

The marine world is resulting in similar consequences, overfishing and pollution is leading to extinction of various edible fish. It is estimated by marine biologists that salmon and tuna will be extinct within twenty years due to loss of habitat. The ocean and the marine world have also seen an unprecedented increase in the population of jellyfish. The presence of jellyfish has relatively low benefits towards human survival, as jellyfish is poisonous and is destructive to coral reeves. The marine ecosystems including herbivores, carnivores and the omnivores are facing destructive effects due to jellyfish boom.

Overpopulation of jellyfish in the sea is threatening other organisms (edible fish) and leading to a disproportionate ecosystem.

This imposes a threat for developing countries, especially in the densely populated tropical areas of the South Asian region where the population is heavily dependent on marine food sources. Destruction of vital food sources poses the risk of famines and strain on the world’s resources. This may result in increased scavenger-like conflicts for rudiments, hampering the security of existing states. Furthermore, rise of GHG emissions and melting of ice caps from mountains due to rise in temperature supposedly are accelerated by human activities. The loss of river water and desertification is a significant challenge that may be faced because of Climate Change. This may cause the potential displacement of millions.

Environmental degradation is more of a development issue as it takes long term actions to alter the effects. The threat of climate change is more than just a rogue state or an army of terrorists. Like a security issue, environmental changes cannot be altered overnight through military interventions. The multifaceted threat of Climate Change will appear from all directions. The most effective and long lasting means of facing the challenge should be through policy changes. Governments of different forms and ideologies must all act in accordance to international law in order to take positive steps to alter policies that undermines nature. The annual conventions held through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to reduce GHG emissions and to promote sustainable development is a step towards the right direction.

A recent UNFCCC organised convention have asked the governments to reduce self-determine levels of GHG emissions.

Developed states should put its resources in coordination with developing states to ensure the basic necessities to set aside the environmentally harmful practices. Use of heavy coal based power plants are an example, for instance Bangladesh with a population of nearly 160 million and with a growing economy cannot afford sustainable methods of electricity to meet its huge demands. The country in order to improve living standards of its citizens has no other realistic option to meet these demands other than to use coal based power generators. There are many opportunities in Bangladesh for sustainable and renewable energy sources to help develop the country. There are huge opportunities for utilising wind and also potential for expanding solar energy. Due to a lack of available fund these opportunities are not being fully implemented. However, recently  through collaboration with industrialised countries such as China, India, Russia and Japan there has been a lot of funding and subsidised instalments of more ‘green’ energy production in Bangladesh. The recent nuclear power plants in Roopur is a sign in the right direction.

Deforestation because of the timber industries is causing depletion of carbon sinks (natural environment that has the ability to absorb carbon dioxide).

Similarly, the deforestation in Malaysia has had disastrous effects on its natural conditions. The timber industry endangered various species and due to the destruction of their natural habitats. However, the government with the help of many developed countries have come into agreement to take a more environmentally friendly approach setting up restrictions on the handling of rainforests and marine life.

Many cases have unfolded for various other developing countries, the argument for these countries are that the developed countries have used same methods in the past to advance their economies and these countries are only following the examples set by its predecessors. Indicating to the industrial revolution where inexpensive coal based engines and factories were the main reasons for their development.

In order to minimize these damages developed and developing countries must put aside its differences in order to synchronize its knowledge, resources and technologies to help the countries in need. This will help avoid the use of environmentally harmful methods of progress. The world community needs to act in accordance to the spirit of preserving the environment for future generations. Tackling developmental issues such as promoting ‘green’ power generation, sustainable food production and reducing deforestation must be solved through international cooperation between states through existing bodies such as the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and UNFCCC.

Environmental degradation is arguably the most dangerous threat to human existence at the moment. This threatens the very core of human livelihood, as the basic necessities are at risk. The damage caused by environmental changes surpasses the threats of any terrorist group, potentially, equalling the danger levels of thermonuclear war. A problem of such magnitude requires more than just a few legislations and most certainly the militarisation which will potentially have limited impact. Securitising the issue and exercising executive order will give too much authority to a leader, enabling them to wage war without the consent of its population and possibly undermine international law.

It is argued that environmental degradation is accelerated by human activities as well as geological reasons. The marine ecosystems and the bees for instance cannot be saved by military technologies. The only way is to adopt a more sustainable way of life and to halt damaging ways, especially the use fossil fuel. ‘Greener’ sources ought to be implemented, over-fishing should be avoided and forests must be protected. The reaction to human intervention with the natural world has potentially accelerated Climate Change. The only way to prevent such dangers is to change how human activities are conducted and adopt sustainable ways of development.


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