ECSP staff were among the more than 1,000 attendees discussing non-traditional security issues at the 12th National Conference on Science, Policy, and the Environment
last month at the Ronald Reagan Building. Our own Geoff Dabelko spoke on the opening plenary (above) and we collected other excerpts below, though they’re only a small slice of the conference. Find our full coverage by following the NCSE tag
, see the full agenda on environmentalsecurity.org
, and follow the conversation on Twitter (#NCSEconf
Climate, Energy, Food, Water, and Health
At the conference’s lead-off plenary, Jeff Seabright (Vice President, The Coca-Cola Company), Daniel Gerstein (Deputy Under Secretary for Science and Technology, U.S. Department of Homeland Security), Rosamond Naylor (Director, Stanford’s Center on Food Security and Environment), and our ECSP’s Geoff Dabelko highlighted the challenges and opportunities of addressing the diverse yet interconnected issues of climate, energy, food, water, and health.
“We need to embrace diversity regardless of the complexity,” said Dabelko, and “abandon our stereotypes and get out of our stovepipes.” Government agencies, academics, and NGOs must be open to using different tools and work together to capture synergies. “If we know everyone in the room, we are not getting out enough,” he said.
“We have to be concerned with every level – national, state, tribal, regional, down to the individual,” said Gerstein. DHS recognizes that climate change affects all of its efforts, and has established three main areas of focus: Arctic impacts; severe weather; and critical infrastructure and key resources.
For Coca-Cola, “managing the complex relationship among [food, water, and energy] is going to be the challenge of the 21st century, said Seabright, who noted that the business community is “seeing a steady increase in the internalization of these issues into business,” including as part of companies’ competitive advantages and strategies.
Similarly, we must offer opportunities and not just threats, said Dabelko, such as exploring climate adaptation’s potential as a tool for peacebuilding rather than simply focusing on climate’s links to conflict. We need to “find ways to define and measure success that embrace the connections among climate, water, and energy, and does not try to pretend they aren’t connected in the real world,” he said.
Communicating Across Sectors: Difficult But Necessary
Next, Sherri Goodman (Executive Director, CNA Military Advisory Board), Nancy Sutley (Chair, White House Council on Environmental Quality), Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti (Climate and Energy Security Envoy, UK Ministry of Defence), and Susan Avery (Director, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) called on governments, militaries, and institutions to move away from traditional, vertically segmented responsibilities to address today’s environmental and security challenges.
“We live in an interdependent, connected world,” Morisetti said, but communicating that is a challenge. Militaries are likely to have new, broader missions, including conflict prevention, he said, which makes communications all the more important.
Science is moving from reductive to integrated outlooks to better address larger, systems-wide challenges, said Avery, but communicating results of this research to the public, and across and between disciplines, is difficult.
Confronting these communication and education challenges, particularly the difficulties of conveying the probability of various risks, is a key focus of the Council on Environmental Quality, said Sutley. “We confront the challenge of risk communication every day and it’s not limited to climate change,” she said.
Challenging Conventional Wisdom on Climate and Conflict
The common argument is that climate change will lead to scarcity – less arable land, water, rain, etc. – and scarcity will lead to conflict, said Kate Marvel (Lawrence Livermore National Lab). But the link between scarcity and conflict is not that clear. It’s “very important to treat models as tools, not as magic balls,” she said. Developing better diagnostics to test models will help researchers and observers sort out which ones are best.
Kaitlin Shilling (Stanford University) called on the environmental security community to move beyond simple causal pathways towards finding solutions. After all, rolling back climate change is not an option at this point, she said; to find solutions, therefore, we need more detailed analysis of the pathways to violence.
The most common types of climate-conflict correlations are not likely to directly involve the state, said Cullen Hendrix (College of William and Mary). Traditional inter-state wars (think “water wars”) or even civil wars are much less likely than threats to human security (e.g., post-elections violence in Kenya) and community security (e.g., tribal raiding in South Sudan). For this reason, the biggest breakthroughs in understanding climate and conflict links will likely come from better interactions between social and physical scientists, he said.
Because the many unique factors leading to conflict vary from place to place, a better way to assess climate-conflict risk might be mapping human vulnerability to climate change rather than predicting conflict risk in a given place, said Justin Mankin (Stanford University). While human reactions are very difficult to predict, vulnerability is easier to quantify.
Yu Hongyuan (Shanghai Institute for International Studies) compared the concerns of U.S. and Chinese officials on climate change. Polling results, he said, show Chinese officials are most concerned with maintaining access to resources, while American policymakers focus on climate change’s effects on global governance and how it will impact responses to natural disasters, new conflicts, and humanitarian crises. Given the centrality of these two countries to international climate negotiations, Yu said he hoped the “same issues, different values” gulf might be bridged by better understanding each side’s priorities.
Schuyler Null, Lauren Herzer, and Meaghan Parker contributed to this article.
Video Credit: Lyle Birkey/NCSE; photo credit: Sean Peoples/Wilson Center.