The global environment is connected to the security, economic prosperity and social well-being of both states and individuals. Until recently, the concept of security has only been associated with national security which emphasised armed conflict as the means to attain security through state power. The concept of environmental security broadens this definition by focussing on the transnational nature of the global environment which disregards human-constructed borders . Because of this the environment should replace the traditional realist idea of security as the key issue in global contemporary politics.
All people are in reality transnational actors who can make choices which contribute to the directions of global politics. The American anthropologist Margaret Mead states: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. Realist theorists believe that all decision makers are alike in their approach, that they are unitary actors with no essential differences and make their choices through rational calculations. To make a rational choice one must recognise a problem and define it objectively through access to a complete set of facts. The next step is to select the desired goal and then identify all of the alternatives. Finally, a choice must be made which includes a cost-benefit analysis based upon an accurate prediction of success.
The challenges to the global environment in the century ahead include global warming, ozone depletion, and the loss of tropical rainforests and marine habitats. These challenges are as much a threat to humanity as the threat of nuclear warfare. However, because the threat of nuclear warfare focuses on mutually assured destruction more focus is given to this threat because of its perceived and tangible reality. On the other hand the threats to the global environment are more difficult to perceive because one cannot see ozone depletion or see the immediate effects of global warming. Rainforest destruction happens far away from the major cities in which much of the global population, and so does the loss of marine habitats.
To counter this disassociation from these real challenges, imagery is effective in trying to enlighten global citizens of the inherent ordeals that they and their descendents face in the near future. Through the mass media, the world is defined by images. Many of the perceptions derived from this imagery can distort or intensify our experience of the world’s political realities. Our assumptions or interpretations of these realities can affect the way we act upon them. Environmental NGOs and IGOs such as Greenpeace and the UN Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) use imagery effectively to try and make humans act in a global effort to protect the environment on which they rely from degradation and loss.
The challenges that have arisen out of environmental problems will in effect bring about the ‘politics of scarcity’. This concept emphasizes that resource scarcity brought about by restricted access to food, water and oil will be a more likely cause future international conflict than any military challenge. Human life depends upon what ecologists term ‘the global commons’ which emphasizes the interdependence of humanity with the planet’s ability to sustain it. Lester R. Brown argues: “In ecology, as in economics, we can consume principle along with interest in the short run, but, for the long term, that practice leads to bankruptcy”. The goal that these challenges present to us is one of sustainable development.
In 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development authored a report called Our Common Future. It concluded that the world cannot sustain the growth that is required to meet the aspirations of the world’s growing population unless it can adopt a new approach to economic development, equity, resource management and energy efficiency. It defined a ‘sustainable society as one that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. The alternatives to action on achieving such goals as a sustainable society have diminished since 1987, as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged in 2009 at the Copenhagen Climate Conference: “We must harness the political will to seal the deal on an ambitious new climate agreement…If we get it wrong we face catastrophic damage to people, to the planet”.
Data from the World Meteorological Organisation that monitors the global surface temperatures show that global warming is not a myth. NASA and the IPCC both predict that global temperatures will rise by up to 12 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. This will cause sea levels to rise, heat waves and droughts, increase storm damage, extinctions of ecosystems, increase prevalence of diseases and increase hunger and water shortages. Deforestation causes threats to biodiversity, desertification and exacerbates the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the cause of global warming. The demand and consumption of fossil fuels has caused global warming but is also a threat in the fact that its depletion will cause instability in global economic and political systems, as advisor on peace and security Michael Klare asserts: “We are nearing the end of the Petroleum Age and have entered the Age of Insufficiency”.
Through neglect, environmental security will compromise human security. With effort and recognition of the impending threats solutions can be achieved, with conversion to renewable sources of energy, adherence to international treaties, sustainable development and independent state and local solutions. The potential of these threats is as pronounced as any threats of armed aggression and in fact, neglect may exacerbate armed conflict between people. Therefore, the imperative to rationally manage global environmental security must replace the traditional realist theory of military security as the key issue in contemporary global politics.