For Adja: Security and the Environment

>> Saturday, October 24, 2009

Adja asked: What do you think about environmental scarities and security? Are they connected? Can environmental scarities imapct on the regional or global security? And how much?

I'm going to presume you meant "scarcities" (we all have typo issues from time to time) and answer accordingly.

Short answer: Yes, I do think they're related and have been since time immemorial.

Long answer: If you study history, the answer is inescapable. Of course, the resources aren't always the same. For instance, much of the fighting over the lands of China were over areas that were very fertile, because fertile farmlands were meant the difference between feast and famine. In fact, fighting over the rights to crops or to sell particularly crops have incited a number of wars, including the insistence to sell opium to the Chinese (Opium war) and take tea in return.

Resources can be gold and silver, can be wood or foods, can be tea or drugs, even liquors.

Wait, wait, you're thinking, those aren't natural resources or environmental scarcities. But they are definitely related. In an area where rain is scarce or only happens for short bursts all year, food and water are environmental treasures, while, in a rainforest, they might not be.

What we fight over changes from era to era, but we fight over them nonetheless. When food was the big commodity, the fertile crescent and the bounteous banks of the Nile were the treasures and many fought over those lands over centuries. Now that oil is the driver, the battlefields have changed location, but they still exist. It's a sad commentary on us as a species that we have so often used religion as an excuse to take what wasn't ours instead of honestly recognizing we were just thieves, whether it was the rich woodlands of the Native Americans or the gold-heavy Aztecs we destroyed under the rationale they were "heathens" to the Indian (as in India) farmlands and treasures we occupied for centuries. We've fought over access as the Soviet Union did to try to get a warmer water port since all of their rivers freeze over in winter. We've fought over access to rivers, especially in parts of the world where they are the only sources of fresh water.

Historically speaking, some of the poorest peoples in the world have been sitting on terrific resources (as, for instance, Africa has in abundance). As those with education and technology covet those resources, they often fight among themselves, leaving those natives caught in the crossfire or, more commonly today when global condemnation is a factor, they each arm a side of the native population and pretend they're disinterested parties. Too often, though, greed is a factor.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that the resources this world has are enough for all of us if we worked together, if we stopped worrying about controlling it and helped everyone use their resources for their own benefit. Oil, coal and natural gas won't last forever (and the environmental repercussions if we use them to exhaustion are frightful), but there are plenty of alternatives if we go after them. Just the food wasted in America could feed a few countries.

We (I mean humans) spend a lot of time and effort, a lot of bullets and blood, trying to make sure our little pocket of humanity won't run low on resources - but, by doing so, we use resources that everyone could use for their own betterment. I just hope, someday, we learn that we can do much more working together than we can fighting each other.


  • The Mother

    From a historic point of view, Stephanie is absolutely right. We fight over two things: Gods, and resources.

    And, often, the two are intermixed. Religious wars are often really about resources or land (which are really the same thing).

    Someday, we will all be forced to share everything. Until then, we will have more and more wars.

  • Jeff King

    I never really thought about it, but now thinking it over i agree with everything stated above...

  • Anonymous

    Hey Stephanie,
    thank you for answering my question. I'm from Slovenia (Europe) and English is not my mother language so i mistype "scarcities". I apologize for that!


  • Swapna

    Well said... but as long as people in positions of power are motivated by greed, this is not going to change...

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