Peace Studies As Sustainability: Human Security on a Shrinking Planet

by Nicholas B Robson, CSCM, MA

Peace Studies has always been about human security and I write this from the perspective of what may await us in the years ahead. I have spent the last three years researching and writing a report on the necessity of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Arctic Communities adopting modern, low carbon energy policies, and developing their on energy resources and energy security. I quickly realised that in researching energy one cannot ignore climate change as the two are inextricably linked, and in researching climate change one quickly realizes the potential conflict triggers inherent in all these areas. Climate change may very well lead to water security issues, which in turn impinges upon food security. Climate change and warming temperatures lead to sea level rise from (a) expansion and (b) melting ice caps and glaciers. This in turn may well lead to massive refugee flows and may also cause some SIDS to disappear completely. Climate change is also inextricably linked to economic growth and as Tim Johnson said in  ‘Prosperity without growth? The transition to a sustainable economy’ ‘every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth. For the last five decades the pursuit of growth has been the single most important policy goal across the world. The global economy is almost five times the size it was half a century ago. If it continues to grow at the same rate the economy will be 80 times that size by the year 2100. This extraordinary ramping up of global economic activity has no historical precedent. It’s totally at odds with our scientific knowledge of the finite resource base and the fragile ecology on which we depend for survival. And it has already been accompanied by the degradation of an estimated 60% of the world’s ecosystems.‘  As Kenneth Boulding stated “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist”. We have, to quote Richard Heinberg, in his soon to be forthcoming book The End of Growth,  ‘We must convince ourselves that life in a non-growing economy can be fulfilling, interesting, and secure. The absence of growth does not necessarily imply a lack of change or improvement. Within a non-growing or equilibrium economy there can still be continuous development of practical skills, artistic expression, and certain kinds of technology. In fact, some historians and social scientists argue that life in an equilibrium economy can be superior to life in a fast-growing economy: while growth creates opportunities for some, it also typically intensifies competition—there are big winners and big losers, and (as in most boom towns) the quality of relations within the community can suffer as a result. Within a non-growing economy it is possible to maximize benefits and reduce factors leading to decay, but doing so will require pursuing appropriate goals: instead of more, we must strive for better; rather than promoting increased economic activity for its own sake, we must emphasize whatever increases quality of life without stoking consumption. One way to do this is to reinvent and redefine growth itself.‘

I think the most important practical problem, which may be more of an engineering challenge than a scientific one, is to build economically viable nuclear fusion power stations, as well as all the other alternative technologies, wind, solar (photo-voltaic and solar-thermal), geothermal, tidal and small distributed nuclear such as the Toshiba Westinghouse 4S and the Travelling Wave reactors. All of the reactors have very low proliferation risk, with the Travelling Wave burning depleted uranium. If we haven’t dealt with our world’s increasing appetite for energy by the end of this century, I think we will be in very deep trouble indeed. Brian Cox, physicist and researcher on the Large Hadron Collider, stated in an interview (with Stephen Hawking) reported in the Guardian Sept 11 2010 “I share that view, that the provision of clean energy is of overwhelming importance“. On November 9th the International Energy Agency (IEA) released their 2010 World Energy Outlook, which admits that Peak Oil is inevitable. According to the IEA, from now until 2030 the world oil consumption will rise by about 60%. Transportation will be the fastest growing oil-consuming sector. By 2030, the number of cars will increase to well over 1.25 billion from approximately 700 million today. Consequently, global consumption of gasoline could double.  This will affect all sectors of society, including the world’s armed forces, it has been suggested that the US military get ready for tomorrow’s challenges, that their Department of Defense ensure that it can operate all of its systems on non-petroleum fuels by 2040. This 30-year time frame reflects market indicators pointing toward both higher demand for petroleum and increasing international competition to acquire it. However, apart from the energy security implications, the climate change consequences do not bear thinking about. The continued output of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere may also lead to a drastic decline in ocean life caused by the acidification of the planet’s oceans. Ocean acidification refers to the ongoing decline in oceanic pH resulting from the uptake of atmospheric CO, and this will start affecting the lowest end of the food chain first which in turn will reach throughout the oceanic food chain. “Ocean acidification is widely viewed as an emerging threat to coral reefs,” said Rosenstiel School graduate student Rebecca Albright. “Our study is one of the first to document the impacts of ocean acidification on coral recruitment.” Albright and colleagues report that ocean acidification could compromise the successful fertilization, larval settlement and survivorship of Elkhorn corals. Given that seafood makes up a large part of the diet of many countries this has a serious implication for global food security. Overall, 1 billion people around the world rely on fish as their primary source of protein With ocean acidification we may see a decline in fish catches with dire consequences for many nations that rely on the ocean for much of their protein. The author was recently in Victoria, Mahé, Seychelles and was impressed by the vast range of fish on sale in the local market. On a small island with very little land on which to conduct agriculture a drop in their fish catch would be disastrous. The same applies to Arctic communities and SIDS globally. The other looming problem is water security. Today Reuters had an article reporting on farmers in Yemen leaving their land and moving to the city as the country grapples with a drying climate, a rapidly growing population and falling water tables. All of these growing resource shortages are exacerbated by a lack of sustainable practices. The results in years to come could either be conflict, or we can try and implement sustainability and prevent conflict from arising. Therefore to me, besides the prevention and resolution of conflict, peace studies can, at a very basic level, be about sustainability and human security.

Nicholas B Robson, CSCM, MA

Director-General – Cayman Institute

Advisory Committee Member – Many Strong Voices

Chief Coordinator – South Asian Strategic Stability Institute

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