Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2010


Security and Environmental Change

Lecturer: Professor Simon Dalby,
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies,
Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

Main disciplines: Environmental Studies, Geography

Dates: 26 - 30 July 2010
Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 30 participants


Objectives
The course addresses the conceptual and policy issues in contemporary discussions of security related to environmental matters, and in particular to climate change. It reviews the history of articulations of environmental alarm, how these themes recur in geopolitical discussions in the West, and how they are once again in vogue in the discussion of climate change. As the scale of the human transformation of the biosphere has become clear in the last few decades, these issues are now pressing political concerns.

Investigating the potential dangers from environmental changes requires both an understanding of how science and policy represent nature and environment as well as of the policy processes that are involved in invoking threats that apparently require a security response. Thus formulations of security are related to political processes, to how larger geopolitical contexts are invoked to explain state strategies, as well as to the specific vulnerabilities faced in particular locales.

But as numerous critics have been pointing out in various ways over the last two decades “securitization” may not necessarily help resolve the issues portrayed as dangerous. Indeed due to the mobilization of state resources political priorities may get arranged in ways that are counter-productive both due to the inappropriate specification of dangers and the poor fit between the nature of environmental problems and the tools used by the military and security apparatus of contemporary states.

The discussion draws on numerous disciplines, including environmental history, security studies, earth system science, development studies, political geography and disaster research. The course will thus focus on how various scholarly and research agendas pose questions that link security to environment, and use this theme to explore the politics of security, the significance of recent scientific formulations of the earth system. and climate change in particular. and the importance of understanding the geopolitical discourses used in threat construction.

 

Suggested books for the course preparation

 

Further background reading

 

LECTURE OUTLINE (and required readings)

This course consists of 20 lectures, each of the lectures 45 minutes (4 lectures a day).

DAY I:

Lecture 1:  Security
Security is a key part of the political lexicon of modern societies, and one that is essentially contested in numerous ways. In the aftermath of the cold war the term has been extended to cover much more than matters of military concern. This broadening and deepening of the term has to be understood first to understand the term’s use in contemporary political debates and how it is connected to environment.

Reading:

 

Lecture 2: Securitization 
Not all policy issues are matters of security. Only some are deemed serious or dangerous enough to invoke emergency measures or make their status a top priority. This theme is discussed in terms of “securitization” in contemporary security studies.

Readings:

 

Lecture 3: 1980s Debates: Environment as a Security Issue?
At the end of the cold war in the late 1980s many environmental activists and policy makers argued that resources, scarcities and environmental changes were serious enough that they ought to be dealt with as matters of security. But some critical voices argued that this was a big mistake.

Readings:

 

Lecture 4: 1990s Debates 1: “The Coming Anarchy”
The highest profile articulation of environmental dangers as a key theme for security was Robert Kaplan’s essay on the “Coming Anarchy” in 1994. But a careful analysis of what he actually wrote about the global South shows that his travel writing supplemented by careless citation of scholarly works is both convincing to the uninformed, while also being deeply misleading about the causes of conflict.

Readings:

 

DAY II:

Lecture 5: 1990s Debates 2: “Acute Conflict” and Empirical Research
Kaplan relied in part on the research work of Thomas Homer Dixon, but his work on environment and scarcity suggested that things were much more complicated than Kaplan suggested. He also raised numerous methodological issues, which when contrasted with approaches drawn more from development studies pose difficult questions about the agendas of all this research.

Readings:

 

Lecture 6: Resource Wars    
In the late 1990s and the early 2000s more complex investigations into conflict in the South suggested that in many cases, and contrary to the assumptions of scarcity as a problem, abundance of resources was more obviously linked to violence. Struggles over abundant resources are related to civil wars in many cases in complicated ways.

Readings:

 

Lecture 7: Methodological problems: Context and Causations 
Part of the difficulty over reaching agreement about environmental conflict is related to the different assumptions and methods used by social scientists trained in different disciplines. A related difficulty is the complicated matter of how to put these conficts in appropriate context.

Readings:

 

Lecture 8: Contemporary Fears 
The context for the revival of the environmental security discussions in recent years is a concern about climate change and the potential disruptions that might result. Given the scale of changes suggested by the science fears of major disruptions have focused attention once again on environment as a security threat.

Reading:

 

DAY III:

Lecture 9: Climate Change Context 1: Environmental History
But change only makes sense in terms of how things were in the past and what is changing now. What is clear from the scientific literature is that there have been numerous climate variations in the past many of which have had violent consequences for humanity. But now we are in new circumstances, largely of our own making.

Readings:

 

Lecture 10: Climate Change Context 2: Earth Systems Change 
Contemporary climate change is mostly human generated, a point that is made clear by the emerging science of the earth system that makes it clear that life itself is an important part of the biosphere. But the biosphere is a complex system that may well change rapidly in the future as a result of rising levels of greenhouse gases, with potentially severe disruptions to human societies.

Readings:

 

Lecture 11: Knowing Climate Dangers
Thinking carefully about this science, and how danger is to be distinguished from alarmism that is not justified by the scientific understandings of the earth system, is especially important so that securitization is not unquestionly invoked where it may do more harm than good.

Readings:

 

Lecture 12: Climate Conflicts?
Raising the question as to whether the disruptions caused by climate change will cause violence and hence invoke traditional security measures reprises the discussions in the 1990s about the empirical difficulties of linking environmental scarcities to conflict. This discusssion continues, but now once again links up to how security is defined and who in particular is insecure and where.

Readings:

 

DAY IV:

Lecture 13: Anthropocene Vulnerabilities
The new context of human insecurity is partly caused by the economic transformations of globalization. As people are interlinked into the global economy in many ways they become more vulnerable to hazards that are not so obviously just “environmental” requiring us to examine who is vulnerable, where and why.

Readings:

 

Lecture 14: Insurance and Civil Conflict
Humanity has, in the process of building a global economy, become an urban species, and while much of the literature on environmental change focuses on rural locations and poverty as key themes, it is also now clear that financial measures matter in dealing with disasters, and the potential civil unrest that may occur if states and economies fail to deal with the consequences of disasters.

Readings:

 

Lecture 15: National Security Revisited
Putting these concerns together has once again raised the issue of whether this is all a matter of national security for the United States. It also once again raises the issues of the appropriateness of thinking about all these issues in terms of national security, a preoccupation of American thinkers in particular.

Reading:

 

Lecture 16: “Interventions” and “Protections”
Might all this be better understood as a matter of international security, and the does the discussion of human security and “the responsibility to protect” now suggest that states have the obligation to intervene to “save” key ecosystems, or protect citizens from environmental harms that might cross national frontiers. If citizens flee disasters are they to be portrayed as threats to national security, and if so with what consequences?

Readings:

 

DAY V:

Lecture 17: Human Security
But the larger discussion of global environmental change and vulnerabilities suggests that the interconnections across frontiers and the complex causations of insecurity now require a larger political concern with international equity and more complex policy initiatives. Not least African societies seem especially vulnerable.

Readings:

 

Lecture 18: Desecuritization
Perhaps security is simply unhelpful in dealing with these issues and the early critics back in the 1980s turned out to be correct? Is desecuritization the more appropriate way to deal with these issues. The environmental changes we are dealing with might be better understood as a matter of routine cultural matters. Perhaps thinking about this in terms of gender might be more helpful than national security.

Readings:

 

Lecture 19: Sustainable Security
If sustainability is put at the centre of attempts to think about change and the focus is on managing inevitable change, rather than dealing with the unfortunate effects of coming disruptions, might security be rethought as the critics in the 1990s suggested. Some of the most pressing issues face states in Asia, and how they respond will be very important in coming decades.

Readings:

 

Lecture 20: Just Managing the Future?
Finally this all raises the possibilities of more cooperative ventures for the future. Are there ways in which environmental peacemaking and diplomacy might be more efficacious than thinking about all these themes through lenses of security? Is it time to finally discard security as a hopelessly misleading mode of thinking about what needs to be done in coming decades?

Readings:

 

The lecturer
Simon Dalby is Professor of Geography, Political Economy and Environmental Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa where he has taught since 1993. He holds a Ph.D. from Simon Fraser University and is author of Creating the Second Cold War (Pinter and Guilford, 1990) and Environmental Security (University of Minnesota Press, 2002). He is coeditor of Rethinking Geopolitics (Routledge, 1998) and The Geopolitics Reader (Routledge, 1998, second edition, 2006). Current research interests include the debate about empire and the geopolitics of the Bush doctrine in addition to matters of environmental security and sustainability. His latest book, on Security and Environmental Change, was published in June 2009 by Polity Press. He has recently been political section editor of Geography Compass and is now co-editor of Geopolitics.

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