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Handbook of Global Environmental Politics

Edited by Peter Dauvergne

The first Handbook of original articles by leading scholars of global environmental politics, this landmark volume maps the latest theoretical and empirical research in this young and growing field. Captured here are the dynamic and energetic debates over concerns for the health of the planet and how they might best be addressed.
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Chapter 9: Man, The State and Nature: Rethinking Environmental Security

Richard A. Matthew


Richard A. Matthew The 300-year period of the Industrial Revolution, during which humankind established dominance within nature, was defined by many distinctive features including a cascade of powerful, transformational technologies and a strong link between happiness and consumption that encouraged the rapid reformatting of natural resources into private property and other commodities.1 Industrial technologies made possible food production, sanitation and trade at unprecedented levels, and introduced life-extending antibiotics and vaccines. The human population entered a steep growth period as infant mortality declined and life expectancy increased. Armed with motivation and capability, industrial man rarely turned away from an opportunity to transform nature into material. Early in this process, Thomas Malthus (1798) wrote An Essay on the Principle of Population in which he argued ‘that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man’. The imbalance between human needs and food availability, Malthus predicted, would lead to famine, disease and war. As the age of global change matured, the link between environment and security gained more attention. In 1948, Fairfield Osborn (1948: 200–201) wrote: ‘When will it be openly recognized that one of the principal causes of the aggressive attitudes of individual nations and of much of the present discord among groups of nations is traceable to diminishing productive lands and to increasing population pressures?’ Reacting to the experience of two world wars, Osborn (ibid.: 201) concluded that ‘Every country, all the world, is met with the...

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