The environmental security discussion dating from the 1980s and Our Common Future needs an update. Accelerating climate change and the novel earth system science findings, encapsulated in the discussion about the Anthropocene, require a more comprehensive understanding of human vulnerabilities and the long term transformation of the planetary system that fossil fueled modernity is causing. The speed and scale of these changes suggests that we are now living in a climate emergency for which novel security strategies are needed. This highlights the contradiction between traditional security policies that focus on sustaining the existing social order, and the new need to think about how to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Putting environmental peacemaking at the heart of development thinking, and avoiding the worst excesses of possible geoengineering experiments in coming decades, are two key themes that need to be worked into novel formulations of environmental security.
Our Common Future marks a key historical point when climate change became part of both the development agenda and wider global policy deliberations. It marks a stage on the larger trajectory from the 1972 Stockholm conference on The Human Environment and the contemporaneous Limits to Growth debate through to the 1990s discussions at Rio de Janeiro and subsequently the formulation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity. Unlike subsequent Earth Systems analyses the 1980s discussion of sustainable development focused on the dangers of nuclear war and smaller scale conflict, and its relationships to environmental change. Now while climate is Sustainable Development Goal 13, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change has begun to construct an international regime to tackle it, attention also needs to be paid to Goal 16, institutional innovation to prevent conflict that disrupts development and perpetuates rivalries that prevent the effective implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Climate change is an increasingly urgent matter of global politics, a consequence of the huge success of the fossil-fueled global economy. The longstanding discussion of the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock’s ideas of earth as a self-regulating life system, and the dangers that rising greenhouse gas concentrations present to this system, foreshadow contemporary earth system science discussions. The formulation of earth as now in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, has added forcefully to Lovelock’s contentions, and made it clear that globalization now needs to be understood as a driving force operating at such a scale that it is transforming the planet in ways that are very dangerous for the future of humanity. Current attempts to tackle climate change are only the beginning of what needs to be done to shape the Anthropocene in ways that will be benign to humanity’s future.
Shannon O’Lear, Simon Dalby, Corey Johnson and Stacy D. VanDeveer
This final chapter returns to the overarching theme of environmental geopolitics research and provides a recap of the content chapters. The different methodologies and focal points of the contributed chapters demonstrate different ways to design and conduct environmental geopolitics research. The chapter offers commentary on the urgent need for this subfield of research given the rapidly changing environmental circumstances that human activity has caused. Just as environmental features are not fixed, geopolitical features such as states, boundaries, and power dynamics among different groups of people are also dynamic. Although ideas of borders, borders between “here” and “there,” or between “us” and “them,” tend to be fixed, the chapter encourages readers to question the idea of a border between humans and an external environment. Rather than view “the” environment as a threat or something to be managed, it is helpful to understand how many of the human systems embedded in modernity are actually the threat not only to environmental features but also to ourselves. Therefore, this chapter argues, it is worthwhile to “see” how power is embedded in mainstream and familiar discourses about environmental processes and change. Not only are some views and interests stabilized by dominant trends, but other voices and interests are sidelined or silenced. The chapter closes by offering constructive approaches to interpreting and challenging discourses in mainstream media, policy debates, scholarly efforts, and day-to-day patterns of consumption and citizenship.