Edited by Peter Dauvergne
Chapter 10: The Comfortable Lie? Another Look at Natural Resource Scarcity and Armed Conflict
Indra de Soysa The idea that increased demands on the natural environment lead to social breakdown is widely accepted. The former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan’s “High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change” suggests very clearly that “[e]nvironmental stress, caused by large populations and shortages of land and other natural resources, can contribute to civil violence.”1 Successive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and a high-level German Government Advisory Council report (WBGU) make very similar claims on what seem to be rather weak grounds.2 Several scholars also weigh in, providing both theoretical and empirical detail about how resource scarcity drives conflict.3 The relatively recent focus on climate change has certainly increased attention on resource degradation and scarcity as a security issue.4 The growing belief that climate change and increasing scarcities are a security challenge is reflected in the recent Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to Wangari Maathai, Albert Gore, and the IPCC.5 Gore also won an Oscar for his documentary An Inconvenient Truth which paints a dramatic picture of the security implications from global warming, such as mass influx of “climate refugees” from the South to the North. Contrary to these popularized beliefs, this chapter will demonstrate that the evidence for natural resource scarcities and armed violence is very scarce and the theory thin. The evidence for poverty and conflict to be part of a resource curse driven by abundance of resources and bad governance is much...
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