›The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States, the long-awaited report from the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research, was released this week.
The Worldwatch Institute’s Robert Engelman discussed his recent book More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.
Saleem Ali urges Pakistan and India to amicably resolve the Sir Creek dispute in an op-ed in Pakistan’s Daily Times.
“Reducing carbon dependency also goes to the heart of our basic security needs for the future,” writes Tony Blair in an op-ed in the Washington Post.
A new guide from the Population Reference Bureau on sexual and reproductive health in the Middle East and North Africa targets journalists.
›May 29, 2008 // By Sonia SchmanskiThe Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has claimed responsibility for a May 26 night attack on a Shell oil facility. A government spokesman confirmed the explosion, suggesting “that explosives might have been used by miscreants.” Through its website, MEND claims that 11 deaths resulted from the blast, although officials deny that anyone was hurt. The Niger Delta has long been plagued by violence, including the January 2006 kidnapping of four Shell workers by MEND and the October 1998 explosion that killed more than 1,000 people in Jesse, Nigeria. These and other episodes of violence—including pipeline sabotaging and kidnapping—have regularly disrupted the Niger Delta. Anger over increased economic marginalization—in 2006, Nigeria ranked 159th out of 177 countries on the UN Human Development Index—distrust of the national government, and a lack of effective avenues of recourse for those left behind by Nigeria’s oil boom have driven violent protests against the state and international oil corporations. Moreover, local people, many of whom live on less than $1 per day, sometimes cut holes in the pipes to siphon oil, which can inadvertently cause dangerous explosions.
Earlier this month, more than 100 people were killed when a construction vehicle struck an oil pipeline in Nigeria, reports the Nigerian Red Cross. Reports indicate that this event was an accident, but the explosion nevertheless prompted the editorial board of the Abuja-based newspaper Leadership to suggest that “all those who live near oil pipelines should consider relocating to safer places,” and to condemn the “wealth-seeking, greedy soldiers and policemen who are supposed to protect us and our property from criminals.”
For more on the politics and conflict surrounding oil in Nigeria, see this article by Kenneth Omeje, a research fellow at the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, which examines Nigeria’s experience with oil extraction, the paradoxical circumstance of simultaneous resource scarcity and abundance, and the violent outbursts spawned by perceived government mismanagement of the country’s oil reserves.
›On May 13, 2008, renowned environmental defender Marina Silva, Brazil’s environment minister, resigned from her post after losing yet another political battle for control of environmental policies within the federal government. The “last straw” was President Luiz Inácio da Silva’s decision to place Minister of Strategic Affairs Roberto Mangabeira Unger, a Harvard law professor with limited experience with Amazon affairs, in charge of the highly publicized Sustainable Amazon Plan (PAS), withdrawing it from the auspices of the Ministry of Environment. Silva’s decision has had major negative repercussions and has exposed the shortcomings of Brazil’s Amazon policy.
The daughter of poor rubber tappers who became a successful politician and a champion of the Amazon, Silva was one of the most recognized and admired members of President Lula’s government. While a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party in the 1980s, she led the Association of Rubber Tree Tappers with Chico Mendes, a pioneer of the Brazilian environmental movement who was murdered in 1988. That same year, Silva was elected to the state legislature of Acre. In 1994, she was elected to the Senate on the Worker’s Party (PT) platform, and was re-elected in 2002. During her eight years in Congress (1995-2002), Silva became a well-respected expert on sustainable development and national environmental protection issues.
Yet during her tenure as Minister of Environment, Silva lost many important battles and was rapidly becoming a merely symbolic figure. Particularly contentious was the alleged obstructionism of Brazilian Institute for Environment and Renewable Resources (IBAMA) technicians, who refused to issue environmental permits for large development projects—especially hydro-electric projects—in the Amazon region. In response, President Lula reduced Silva’s power by splitting IBAMA into two agencies and separating environmental protection from the issuance of environmental licenses. IBAMA personnel reacted with a strike.
Silva’s resignation has already had significant domestic and international ramifications. All second- and third-echelon employees in the Ministry of Environment and IBAMA resigned in solidarity with her. Jose Maria Cardoso da Silva, vice president of Conservation International-South America, called Silva’s departure a “disaster”; Anthony Hall, a development and environment specialist at the London School of Economics, noted that “her resignation will be interpreted as a weakening in the government’s concern with the environment and forest conservation.”
The day after Silva’s resignation, President Lula confirmed that she would be replaced by Carlos Minc, a well-known environmental activist and university professor who was one of the founders of Brazil’s Green Party. Minc previously served as Rio de Janeiro’s state secretary for the environment. His appointment has apparently been well-received: Agência Brasil reports that Silva is “satisfied” with her replacement.
It remains to be seen how Minc will use his new position. His love of the limelight—he follows his own dress code, which does not include a necktie, and has described himself as a “performer”—has cost him politically in his first days on his new job, as President Lula rejected public demands he made to strengthen the Ministry of Environment’s authority. Minc’s first actions as Minister of Environment suggest that he will be a vocal figure. He warned “polluters” that they should fear his ministry’s oversight. He also instigated a public fight with the governor of the state of Mato Grosso, Blairo Maggi, an influential soybean farmer, declaring—a bit sarcastically—that most of the recent increase deforestation in the Amazon has taken place in Mato Grosso. On the issue at hand, however—the issuance of environmental licenses for major development projects in the Amazon—the new minister promised to move faster and more efficiently than his predecessor.
Despite Minc’s aggressive rhetoric, questions about his effectiveness remain. They will be answered by the substance, rather than the style, of his tenure as minister. Back in the Senate, serving the remainder of her term as a representative for Acre until the end of 2010, Silva will continue to be an important voice in the ongoing debate in Brazil over how to reconcile the country’s dual objectives of promoting economic development and protecting the Amazon.
Paulo Sotero is the director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Brazil Institute Program Assistant Alan Wright contributed to this posting.
›Natural Security: Protected areas and hazard mitigation, a new report from WWF and Equilibrium, explores how protected areas might have prevented some of the worst impacts of recent floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis.
The Economist reviews Matthew Connelly’s new book, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, which Connelly discussed recently at the Wilson Center, and weighs in on Malthus, calling him a “false prophet.”
The Council on Foreign Relations has a new Daily Analysis that takes Malthusian worries of food and energy shortages more seriously.
In an article featuring recent ECSP speaker Brian O’Neill, Nature explores whether a smaller global population would help solve the challenge of climate change.
›May 21, 2008 // By Geoff DabelkoCarl Ganter is a journalist with a mission. We tend to think journalists are supposed to be impartial observers, but much good reporting is done by journalists who are passionate about their subjects. And Carl is that—passionate about water, in its many forms, locations, and roles. Water and human health. Water and politics. Water and conflict. Water and food. Water and girls’ education. Water and ecosystems. Water and…
I could keep going because water is so central to so many natural and social systems. So central, in fact, that we often miss its critical importance, even when it is right in front of us.
Carl, his wife and fellow journalist Eileen, and an all-star team of journalists have come together under the banner of Circle of Blue to try to reveal the many faces of water: faces of joy when girls are freed from spending hours each day walking to collect water for their families, and faces of grief, as 2-4 million people every year—most of them children—die from complications associated with diarrhea.
We at the Woodrow Wilson Center have been lucky to have Carl as a working group member in our Navigating Peace Water Initiative.
I interviewed Carl about his work with Circle of Blue and their Water News website when he was last in Washington.
›May 21, 2008 // By Liat RacinThe National Library of Medicine’s newest exhibit, “Against the Odds: Making a Difference in Global Health,” examines the “revolution in global health” that has transformed communities over the past several decades. In addition to acknowledging the vast achievements in health and science, the exhibit also aims to raise public awareness of the various factors that cause illness, from economic and social inequality to conflict.
The exhibit is divided into six sections: Community Health, Food for Life, Action on AIDS, The Legacy of War, Preventing Disease, and Global Collaboration. Each section reveals how doctors and nurses, advocates, and communities have joined forces to overcome public health challenges. For instance, “The Legacy of War” highlights the Nobel Peace Prize-winning work of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which worked to inform policymakers and citizens of the consequences of nuclear war, and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which advocated successfully for the passage of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The exhibit’s website features compelling photographs, guest columns by leading public health experts, and a range of interactive features.
“Development in Reverse”: ‘International Studies Quarterly’ Article Links Natural Disasters, Violence›Although numerous research projects have found that environmental change can contribute to conflict “through its impact on social variables such as migration, agricultural and economic decline, and through the weakening of institutions, in particular the state,” very few analysts have systematically addressed the relationship between natural disasters and violent civil conflict, write Philip Nel and Marjolein Rightarts in “Natural Disasters and the Risk of Violent Conflict,” published in the March 2008 issue of International Studies Quarterly (subscription required). Criticizing political scientists’ tendency to diminish the importance of geography and environmental factors in assessing violence, they argue that it has become critically important to “correct this oversight.”
Recent events indicate that this attention is overdue. On May 2, Cyclone Nargis began its devastating journey through Myanmar. The latest UN estimates put the death toll at somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000. On May 12, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck China’s Sichuan Province (incidentally, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes top Nel and Rightarts’ list of the disasters most likely to lead to violence). Official death toll estimates currently stand at 40,000, but are likely to continue to increase. While the Chinese government has been praised both at home and abroad for the speed and scale of its response, Burma’s ruling military junta has been roundly condemned for delaying the arrival of international humanitarian assistance. It remains to be seen whether the junta’s controversial response will lead to popular rebellion among the Burmese people.
Low- and middle-income countries with high levels of inequality are most susceptible to the violence caused by natural disasters, write Nels and Rightarts. Natural disasters create openings for violent civil conflict by reducing state capacity while simultaneously increasing demands upon the state. The scramble for limited resources in the wake of a natural disaster can easily devolve into widespread violence.
“Given the dire predictions that natural disasters are set to become more frequent in the near future” due to climate change, Nel and Rightarts conclude, “conflict reduction and management strategies in the twenty-first century simply have to be more attuned to the effects of natural disasters than they have been up to now.”
›The narrow window of opportunity to address climate change makes it imperative that we “remove our heads from the proverbial sand,” writes editor Carolyn Pumphrey in “Global Climate Change: National Security Implications,” released by the U.S. Army War College earlier this month. The report aggregates the presentations given at a 2007 colloquium by the same name in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and features contributions from several authors who have worked recently with ECSP, including Kent Hughes Butts, Joshua Busby, and John T. Ackerman (who has also been a guest contributor to the New Security Beat).
The risks associated with climate change include the spread of disease, severe drought, and coastal flooding, which could lead to decreased agricultural output, mass migration, and other challenges. Pumphrey writes that while social scientists are not in full agreement that violence will result from these developments, conference participants agreed that climate change presents a serious threat, “compounded by a context of rapid population growth, increasing economic appetite, pockets of extreme violence, and global interdependence.” By inflaming latent tensions, climate change will “complicate American foreign policy in a wide variety of ways,” says Pumphrey.
Since the Senate Armed Services Committee called environmental destruction a “growing national security threat” in the late 1990s, some effort has been devoted to crafting a U.S. response, but politicians have hesitated to act on uncertain scientific data, says Pumphrey, arguing additionally that the creeping dangers associated with climate change have only recently begun to captivate the public imagination, and that attempts to spice them up can lead to inaccurate exaggeration. Finally, Pumphrey says, pervasive overconfidence in the ability of “American ingenuity” to outpace emerging dangers has hindered decisive action.
Pumphrey calls for a three-pronged strategy that includes “better intelligence, better science, and better understanding of the relationships between such things as violence, society, and climate change.” She maintains that we must slow the rate of climate change and prepare for unavoidable changes, take action to alleviate international social distress, and prepare to address potential conflicts. And, she notes, this is “a job for everyone,” not just the military.
Join the Conversation
- The National Plan for Civil Earth Observations Monday, August 25, 2014
- Eastern Europe’s Most Difficult Transition: Public Health and Demographic Policy, Two Decades after the Cold War Wednesday, August 20, 2014
- Preempting Environmental and Human Security Crises in Africa: Science-Based Planning for Climate Variability Threats Thursday, July 31, 2014