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Challenges and opportunities of human conflict and environmental transformation in Ecuadorian highlands

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This article critically analyzes the relationships among resource scarcity, conflict, and the transformation of the environment, positing several conceptual tools that provide a nuanced explanation for environmental transformation through human conflict and which overcome some of the limitations of the existing literature of political conflict. After proposing the idea of nonlinear cycles of violent degradation and demonstrating empirically how this has transformed landscapes and societies in the Ecuadorian highlands, the article examines the sociopolitical processes that occur at each of the nodes of the cycle. Specifically, it argues that the political incentives for cooperative environmental management can build confidence and be instrumental in the de-escalation of violence related to natural resource conflicts. When cooperative environmental management and dispute resolution fails, it is frequently the result of a gap between the short-term political incentives for decision makers to intervene and craft institutional solutions and the long-term pay-offs of these institutional measures for their constituents. The article argues that the destructive cycle is not deterministic, and that at each of the nodes of the cycle, opportunities exist to reach a stage of constructive negotiation, either by building on technical cooperation, mobilizing external allies and pressure agents, or by equalizing the gap in political time windows through conflict escalation so that decision makers find it in their interest to engage and help manage the conflict and mitigate global change. Este artículo analiza críticamente las relaciones entre la escasez de recursos naturales, los conflictos, y la transformación del medio ambiente. Propone varias herramientas conceptuales que ofrecen una explicación detallada de la transformación ambiental por medio de los conflictos humanos y que superan algunas limitaciones de la literatura sobre los conflictos políticos. Después de proponer la idea de ciclos no-lineales de degradación violenta, y demostrar empíricamente cómo se han transformado los paisajes y sociedades de la Sierra ecuatoriana, el artículo examina los procesos sociopolíticos que ocurren en cada uno de los nodos del ciclo. Específicamente, sostiene que los incentivos políticos para el manejo cooperativo del medio ambiente pueden aumentar la confianza y pueden contribuir decisivamente a la disminución de la violencia que está relacionada a conflictos de recursos naturales. Cuando el manejo cooperativo del medio ambiente y la resolución de disputas fracasan, frecuentemente resulta un desequilibrio entre los incentivos políticos de corto plazo para intervenir con la creación de soluciones institucionales, y los beneficios de largo plazo que vienen de las medidas institucionales para su electorado. Este artículo sostiene que el ciclo destructivo no es determinista, y que en cada nodo del ciclo, existen oportunidades para lograr una negociación constructiva. Esta negociación puede resultar de cooperación técnica, de la movilización de aliados externos y agentes de presión, o de cambiar el desequilibrio en incentivos políticos por medio de un aumento del conflicto para hacer que los líderes políticos tengan interés en involucrarse para ayudar a manejar el conflicto y disminuir el impacto del cambio global.
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Pirineos, 163: 63 a 75, JACA; 2008. ISSN 0373-2568
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES OF HUMAN
CONFLICT AND ENVIRONMENTAL
TRANSFORMATION
J. PUGH
Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, USA) and the Center
for Mediation, Peace, and Resolution of Conflict (Quito-Ecuador). CEMPROC International.
5110 Jekyll Rd. Cumming, GA 30040 USA
c.e.: jpugh@jhu.edu
ABSTRACT.– This article critically analyzes the relationships among resource
scarcity, conflict, and the transformation of the environment, positing several conceptual
tools that provide a nuanced explanation for environmental transformation through
human conflict and which overcome some of the limitations of the existing literature of
political conflict. After proposing the idea of nonlinear cycles of violent degradation and
demonstrating empirically how this has transformed landscapes and societies in the
Ecuadorian highlands, the article examines the sociopolitical processes that occur at each
of the nodes of the cycle. Specifically, it argues that the political incentives for cooperative
environmental management can build confidence and be instrumental in the de-escalation
of violence related to natural resource conflicts. When cooperative environmental
management and dispute resolution fails, it is frequently the result of a gap between the
short-term political incentives for decision makers to intervene and craft institutional
solutions and the long-term pay-offs of these institutional measures for their constituents.
The article argues that the destructive cycle is not deterministic, and that at each of the
nodes of the cycle, opportunities exist to reach a stage of constructive negotiation, either
by building on technical cooperation, mobilizing external allies and pressure agents, or by
equalizing the gap in political time windows through conflict escalation so that decision
makers find it in their interest to engage and help manage the conflict and mitigate global
change.
Key words: environmental conflict, violence de-escalation, political
incentives, Ecuador, Andes Mountains
RESUMEN.– Este artículo analiza críticamente las relaciones entre la escasez de
recursos naturales, los conflictos, y la transformación del medio ambiente. Propone varias
herramientas conceptuales que ofrecen una explicación detallada de la transformación
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J. PUGH
ambiental por medio de los conflictos humanos y que superan algunas limitaciones de la
literatura sobre los conflictos políticos. Después de proponer la idea de ciclos no-lineales
de degradación violenta, y demostrar empíricamente cómo se han transformado los
paisajes y sociedades de la Sierra ecuatoriana, el artículo examina los procesos
sociopolíticos que ocurren en cada uno de los nodos del ciclo. Específicamente, sostiene que
los incentivos políticos para el manejo cooperativo del medio ambiente pueden aumentar
la confianza y pueden contribuir decisivamente a la disminución de la violencia que está
relacionada a conflictos de recursos naturales. Cuando el manejo cooperativo del medio
ambiente y la resolución de disputas fracasan, frecuentemente resulta un desequilibrio
entre los incentivos políticos de corto plazo para intervenir con la creación de soluciones
institucionales, y los beneficios de largo plazo que vienen de las medidas institucionales
para su electorado. Este artículo sostiene que el ciclo destructivo no es determinista, y que
en cada nodo del ciclo, existen oportunidades para lograr una negociación constructiva.
Esta negociación puede resultar de cooperación técnica, de la movilización de aliados
externos y agentes de presión, o de cambiar el desequilibrio en incentivos políticos por
medio de un aumento del conflicto para hacer que los líderes políticos tengan interés en
involucrarse para ayudar a manejar el conflicto y disminuir el impacto del cambio global.
Palabras claves: conflictos ambientales, disminución de violencia, incentivos
políticos, Ecuador, montañas Andinas
1. Introduction
The Andean landscape is constantly shifting and being shaped by
powerful forces, including water erosion in the chill, humid páramo; solar
radiation from the direct rays of the equatorial sun; and seismic activity from
the many volcanoes, to name a few of the natural change agents driving
landscape transformation. The pace of this transformation is increased
significantly, however, as a result of human agency, with the effects of
farming, cattle-grazing, deforestation, industrial emissions, and even tourism
all contributing to a rapid acceleration in the change, and frequently the
degradation, of tropical Andean landscapes. Social interaction, and especially
violent human conflict, has often wide-reaching effects on the environment,
which is transformed not only through naturally-occurring processes but also
through intentional and unintentional human action.
This paper argues that environmental transformation and degradation
that occurs in conjunction with human conflict is frequently the consequence
of a gap in time windows for political action; insufficient institutional
infrastructure to overcome collective action problems; and a failure to engage
meaningfully in negotiation, and that these phenomena are exacerbated by
widespread poverty and socioeconomic inequalities. I unpack the concept of
cycles of violent degradation, demonstrating that natural resource scarcity,
environmental degradation, and violence are interconnected into a
(Pirineos, 2008, Vol. 163, 63-75, ISSN 0373-2568)
destructive cycle, rather than being traced in a linear, causal relationship in
accordance with conventional wisdom and the popular press. Finally, I
explore the nuances that occur at the nodes of the cycle, in which
opportunities for joint environmental cooperation and even the pressure of
escalated conflict combined with intervention from external actors can lead to
constructive negotiation. By exploring the case of the conflict over foreign
mining operations in Ecuador, I provide empirical support for a framework
of environmental conflict management that represents an expansion of
previous work by others. If there is to be an intelligent conversation about
how human conflict can be mitigated and its negative effects on
environmental transformation reduced, conceptual tools like those proposed
here are needed in order to think more clearly about the nature of the
problem.
Many scholars have noted the interrelated processes that link together the
degradation of natural resources and environmental systems on the one hand
with conflict and violence on the other hand (see HOMER-DIXON, 1991;
HAUGE & ELLINGSEN, 1998; GLEDITSCH, 1998). Much of the political
science literature on this subject focuses on how environmental scarcity
exacerbates existing risk factors like poverty and political instability in order
to fuel low-level conflict (HOMER-DIXON, 1999). Geographers, ecologists,
and policymakers have also recognized and studied the relationships
between human social interaction and the environment, although they have
tended to focus more on how human agency in general shapes environmental
change. L.S. HAMILTON has argued that mountains in particular can serve
as key sites both for violence and conflict (due largely to their remoteness and
lack of control by political agents) as well as potential spaces for conflict
resolution efforts arising from transnational shared environmental
conservation efforts (HAMILTON, 2006).
2. The Destructive Cycle of Conflict and Environmental Transformation
In theorizing the relationship between conflict and environmental change,
we can think about a destructive cycle rather than a linear relationship
between environmental scarcity and conflict. See Figure 1 as a visual
representation of this cycle.
The scarcity of natural resources can be taken as a starting point1. Because
there are not enough of most natural resources freely available for everyone
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1 Framing the analysis in terms of natural resources inevitably focuses only on environmental issues in
relation to human extractive needs, rather than on the intrinsic value of the environmental or on the complex
interdependence of ecosystems in which changes can transform the relationship, and even the very existence,
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J. PUGH
to take as much as they want, some procedure for extracting and distributing
those resources must exist. This often involves territorial/ownership claims,
with prices in essence licensing these ownership claims on the use of the
resource as well as paying for the effort of extracting and delivering the
resource. Since the control of scarce resources is unequally distributed, with
the rich and politically powerful controlling a larger share than the poor,
poverty emerges. Those who are disenfranchised by the social system,
disadvantaged by individual characteristics that make them less productive,
or exploited by those in positions of power find themselves unable to use
nature’s gifts for survival or economic self-improvement. Especially in areas
that are economically dependent on agriculture, poverty can become a key
mediating factor between environmental change (for example, when drought
affects crop production) and the likelihood that the affected population will
engage in conflict and/or violence (DE SOYSA & GLEDITSCH, 1999).
CARPIO & MENESES argue, “Para entender los conflictos ambientales, es
necesario saber que, los síntomas de degradación y contaminación de los
recursos naturales, vistas desde la visión socio-ambiental, evidencian el
deterioro ambiental que disminuye la productividad de los ecosistemas, y
que aumentan la pobreza y la exclusión social. En otras palabras…la pobreza
es la peor forma de contaminación.” (2006: 31).
Poverty, and especially unequal distributions of poverty exacerbated by a
sudden relative change in income, or sudden loss of livelihood, often leads to
conflict in which the new have-nots resist this loss by attempting to reclaim
those resources or control over that territory to which they believe they have
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Figure 1. Destructive Cycle of Conflict and Environmental Transformation.
Scarcity of Natural
Resources Poverty Conflict over
Resources
Over exploitation Environmental
Degradation
Violence and
Destruction
of many species, even if this does not immediately reduce or increase the number of resources available to be
extracted by humans. This is an important consideration and a valid potential criticism, but since I am focu-
sing on human conflict, the variables need to be compatible and comparable, so it makes sense to frame envi-
ronmental factors in terms of natural resources that affect or are available to humans.
a legitimate claim or which was formerly controlled by them. Widespread
poverty itself is not necessarily a persuasive causal explanation for violence,
as many of the poorest areas of the world remain poor over time, but they are
not the areas most characterized by violence. LEIF OLSSON argues, “While
poverty may be a near-endemic condition in certain societies, loss of
livelihood marks a rapid transition from a previous stable condition of
relative welfare into a condition of poverty or destitution. It is the rapid
process of change resulting in a sudden fall into poverty, more than the
endemic condition of poverty, which creates the potential for livelihood
conflicts.” (OLSSON, 2001: 3).
Such a sudden change in livelihood could come as a result of the
contamination of a watershed on which a population depends for fishing,
farming, tourism, and drinking water, as occurred in Papallacta, Ecuador in
2003 (SCIORTINO et al., 2007; PUGH & SARMIENTO, 2004). The loss of
livelihood could also come as a result of the burning of vegetation in the high
grassland paramo, resulting in a diminished capacity to absorb and filter
moisture, causing a water shortage that severely intensifies the
intracommunity competition over the distribution of water for drinking and
agriculture, as occurred in the communities around Lago San Pablo in
northern Ecuador (CABASCANGO, 2007). One of the best examples of this
loss of livelihood resulting in conflict is the incursion of petroleum companies
into traditional indigenous territories, where colonists, equipment, and oil
spills significantly diminish the population’s livelihood. As a result, conflict
emerges, and in the case of the Cofán indigenous group in northeast Ecuador,
the population may escalate to violence. This group, after repeated attempts
at a negotiated solution, burned down the oil well and equipment of the
petroleum company that had established drilling operations in their territory
(BORMAN, 2007).
As the conflict and violence that results from resource competition and
loss of livelihood escalates, there is a significant likelihood that this human
conflict can have disastrous side effects in terms of environmental
degradation. In the case of the Cofán, the conflict over the oil well escalated
to the point of burning the equipment, which would have released toxic
fumes, and the fire could easily have spread, burning parts of the
surrounding forest. A further illustration of resource conflict and violence
having negative environmental effects is the violence waged in Colombia on
multinational corporations by the ELN (Ejercito de Liberación Nacional),
which claims a Marxist agenda to free the poor of the oppressive poverty
caused by the exploitation of foreign companies stealing the scare resources
that make up the national patrimony of the country. The most common
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manifestation of this conflict, however, is through explosive attacks and
sabotage on petroleum infrastructure, which leads to oil spills, wasted fossil
fuel resources, and degradation in the surrounding ecosystems as a result of
the attacks (PUGH, 2003). Given the delicate balance and complex
interdependent networks that characterize mountain ecosystems, this type of
massive disruption is likely to have far-reaching, long term effects both on the
system and on the capacity of humans to benefit from available natural
resources. As these empirical examples show, environmental disasters and
competition for natural resources can result in escalated conflict and violence,
which exacerbates the destructive cycle.
It should be noted that there are other possible outcomes from the
escalation of conflict, such as greater urgency and pressure to negotiate,
which will be explored later in this paper in the context of a framework for
environmental conflict management. Alternatively, unilateral actions by the
more powerful actor or by external agents might include cooptation of
opponents, corruption, repression, or complete withdrawal. The Lake
Papallacta water contamination case mentioned above illustrates all of these
factors, as the affected community was offered a one-time minimal settlement
that they could either accept or take on the company in court, an unrealistic
option for economically disadvantaged campesinos. Local leaders were co-
opted and convinced to agree to the settlement, and despite complaints from
the population that very little of the settlement money was used to benefit the
community, residents felt hopeless that they could do anything about it
(SCIORTINO, et al., 2007; PUGH & SARMIENTO, 2004). ESPERANZA
MARTINEZ argues that this type of unilateral solution through co-optation is
a frequent strategy of many businesses involved in environmental conflict
(MARTINEZ, 2006).
As conflict-ravaged environmental degradation transforms the mountain
landscape, the remaining accessible natural resources are utilized more
intensively, putting even greater strain on the system. A lake that has been
contaminated by lead from surplus weaponry or by petroleum spilled in a
violent conflict means that everyone must draw drinking and irrigation water
from the remaining rivers and streams nearby, which in turn become even
more scarce as a result of this more intensive over exploitation. This brings
the cycle full scale back to its starting point of resource scarcity. As this
explanation makes apparent, environmental degradation, natural resource
scarcity, and violent conflict are not linked into a linear causal relationship;
rather, they form mutually reinforcing components of a destructive cycle
which threatens the integrity of ecosystems and landscapes as well as the
peace and prosperity of human populations.
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3. The Time Window Gap as Explanation for the Persistence of the Cycle
Given the dangers of this destructive cycle, and the fact that this insight
has not gone unrecognized in the literature, why is it that human societies
acting from rational self-interest do not craft cooperative policies to avoid this
suboptimal outcome? The familiar answer to this is that the paradox presents
a collective action problem in which no one person has enough incentive to
bear the costs of stopping the cycle, even when the combination of everyone
doing nothing creates an outcome that is much worse for everyone. All
affected parties would much rather free ride on the protective efforts of others
while enjoying the environmental benefits that result (OLSON, 1965;
LIEBRAND, MESSICK, & WILKE, 1992; HARDIN, 1968). This is not all of the
answer, however, because the traditional solution to collective action
problems is to build institutions that raise the cost of defection and increase
particular benefits for cooperation. These institutions, such as government
regulation, permitting, and clubs, however, often fail to materialize, or if they
exist, fail to successfully bring about cooperative and coordinated conflict
resolution and conservation efforts that would overcome free riding and
break the destructive cycle described above.
One of the major reasons why societies, and especially decision makers,
fail to create sustainable institutional solutions to collective action problems
that allow environmental transformation and degradation to occur as a result
of conflict is what I call the ‘time-window gap’. At key points in the
destructive cycle, political leaders could intervene in a way that would alter
the trajectory of the cycle. In particular, the environmental degradation,
overexploitation, and poverty stages are three points in which long-term
investments of political will, such as protection of endangered species,
permits, and enforcement to prevent overuse of resources, could be decisive
in reversing the perils of the collective action problem known as the ‘tragedy
of the commons’ (HARDIN 1968).
The fact remains, however, that this political will is required from decision
makers who owe their livelihood to staying in power, which is accomplished
in regular political cycles, usually corresponding with elections every few
years. This means that the political leader is under pressure to produce direct
benefits for his/her constituents in a fairly short time frame and has very little
incentive to worry about, or spend political capital to achieve, diffuse benefits
that will not be direct or apparent for some time, such as protecting the
balance of interdependent mountain ecosystems. Demands for political
approval of projects that are lucrative in the short term, like unrestricted
fishing, logging, and construction of electric power dams, promise
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immediate, direct benefits to particular constituents who will be better off
and have a high incentive to support the political leader. The incentives for
the political leader to prevent actions with such harmful effects, on the other
hand, are diffuse benefits that raise the quality of life for everyone, not
particular beneficiaries, and which may not be apparent for some time. This
gap between the short time window of the decision maker’s political need to
provide direct economic benefits within a short period of time and the longer
time window required for the policy changes to produce enough collective
benefits to be noticed and to disrupt the trajectory of the destructive cycle
helps to explain the unfortunate persistence of the cycle in societies around
the world. Ironically, the escalation of conflict to violence can sometimes have
the counterintuitive effect of equalizing the time gap window and motivating
the politician to intervene or facilitate a dialogue, because the risk of doing
nothing in the face of crisis may be greater than the risk of disappointing
constituents seeking particularistic economic benefits. This phenomenon will
be explored later in this paper through the example of the Canadian mining
industry in Ecuador.
4. Escaping the Cycle through Negotiation, Dialogue, and Technical
Cooperation
Despite the difficulties presented both by the destructive cycle and the
sociopolitical realities that contribute to its perpetuation through the gap in
political time windows, a more complex view of environmental conflict
reveals that efforts to escape or transform the cycle can and sometimes do
succeed. The cycle described in Figure 1 indicates the way that interrelated
phenomena of scarce resources, poverty, violence, and environmental
degradation interact, exacerbating each other’s effects in an ongoing fashion.
At each of the nodes of the cycle, however, there are opportunities for agency
in which engagement or intervention by political entrepreneurs or organized
mobilization by affected parties in alliance with external allies could change
the trajectory of the conflict into an opportunity for positive change. When
competition over resources, loss of livelihood, or other factors results in
environmental conflict, KEN CONCA notes that exacerbation of violence and
environmental degradation is not the only, or even the most likely, outcome.
Rather, he argues that the shared problem represented by environmental
damage can be an opportunity to engage in joint problem solving, shared
technical consultation, and the production of unified conservation programs
that transform conflict through technical cooperation (CONCA, 2002).
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In addition to the possibility of joint technical cooperation to resolve
environmental challenges (and their associated conflicts), it is also important
to note that conflict over environmental resources does not necessarily
produce a violent outcome. Figure 2 lays out a framework for understanding
how environmental conflict management works, including the actors
involved and the factors shaping their decision-making process and options.
Frequently, when an action is taken by an actor (‘conflict generator’) that
could adversely affect the environment or intrude on another party’s ability
to benefit from natural resources, the affected party responds using a menu
of possible actions, including political demands, mobilization of allies,
pressure for third-party intervention, or violent resistance, to name a few
(GUÍA, 1998)2. The interaction between the generating party and the affected
parties may also be shaped by ethical concerns, the self-image of the parties
as presented to the public, and/or the history between the two (FONTAINE,
2003). Based on the response of the affected parties, and the degree to which
it forces the generator to pay attention and respond, the conflict proceeds into
a negotiation phase in which both sides seek to come to a mutually acceptable
agreement. This may succeed, but if it does not, the conflict may escalate,
possibly leading to violence and/or environmental degradation as described
in Figure 1. In this case, the cycle might continue to spiral, or the escalation
could lead directly back to negotiations. All of this takes place in the context
of pressure from external actors, including government, activists, interest
groups, and corporations, as well as the sociopolitical context that shapes the
opportunities and constraints on available options.
The conflict between foreign mining companies such as the Canadian
Ascendant Copper Corporation and the largely indigenous communities of
Íntag and Cotacachi, Ecuador provides empirical support for how this model
works in practice. Opposition to the mining operations of Ascendant in Íntag
began to escalate, with local actors arguing that they were getting an unfair
share of the benefits from the extraction of Ecuador’s patrimony, that foreign
mining was an unsustainable enterprise that would strip their region of
natural resources, and that the operation was disrupting the rich biodiversity
of the area. As local actors, including activist cooperatives, sectors of local
government, and other inhabitants resisted the mining operations through
political demands to expel the company, protests, and communication
campaigns, the conflict began to escalate. Little successful negotiation
occurred, so opponents of the mining appealed to the Ministry of Energy and
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2 This framework expands upon valuable insights proposed and detailed in GUÍA 1998 by the
Observatorio Latinoamericano para Conflictos Ambientales. See that work for a more practical step-by-step
manual for managing environmental conflict in Latin America.
other external agents, staged protests, and according to news reports, they
ultimately resorted to burning a miners’ work camp and kidnapping several
mining employees hostage with demands that the company leave (DECOIN,
2005; MINERÍA, 2006). The mining company also appealed to the
government, police, and military to stem the illegal and violent activity, and
in the context of an unfavorable sociopolitical context and negative public
perception, the Mayor of Cotacachi claimed that Ascendant had mobilized
private security forces, which escalated the violence further through forced
detentions, use of tear gas on residents, and other security measures
(TITUAÑA, 2006). In the face of the escalating conflict, the time window gap
between environmental benefits and political opportunities was equalized by
the desire to stop the violence, and Minister of Energy Alberto Acosta called
for a national-level dialogue to mediate the conflict between mining
companies and local populations and to deliberate on future plans
(MINISTRO, 2007). Subsequently, the negotiation was incorporated into the
national Constituent Assembly deliberations, an excellent example of
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Figure 2. Process of Environmental Conflict Management.
escalation combined with third-party pressure returning an environmental
conflict to the negotiation stage of the framework.
Conclusions
As this analysis shows, the connections between human conflict and
environmental transformation are numerous and interdependent. Rather
than a linear relationship in which violence causes environmental
degradation or environmental scarcity fuels violent conflict, I have argued
that these two phenomena are linked in a destructive cycle which has proven
very difficult for many societies to overcome. In addition to environmental
degradation and violence, poverty and loss of livelihood play a key
intermediary role in the cycle that connects these components. In order to
understand why these destructive cycles have been so difficult to transform
into positive cooperation, I have proposed that one explanation lies in the
gaps between the time window available for policies to offer direct
constituent benefits in order to be relevant to political leaders seeking to stay
in power (short time window) and the time window in which the diffuse
benefits of environmental cooperation and protection are likely to become
manifest for the policy maker’s constituents (long time window). Finally, I
have argued that the destructive cycle is not deterministic, and that at each of
the nodes of the cycle, opportunities exist to reach a stage of constructive
negotiation, either by building on technical cooperation, mobilizing external
allies and pressure agents, or by equalizing the gap in political time windows
through conflict escalation so that decision makers find it in their interest to
engage and help manage the conflict. Future research and policy analysis can
build upon these insights to develop more detailed ideas about how to deal
with the interrelated problems of violent conflict and environmental
degradation and to engineer strong institutional mechanisms that overcome
the challenge of the time window gap and alter incentive structures for
political leaders, preferably without having to escalate to violence.
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... NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) continues to put environmental security on its priority list (Coskun, Alganci, & Usta, 2008). There is strong agreement that degradation and environmental change may jeopardize security where the term "security" may be national, international, or human security (Pugh, 2008). Although it has several definitions, the first definition in 1991 is "Environmental security concerns the maintenance of the local and the planetary biosphere as the essential support system on which all other human enterprises depend" (Buzan, 1991). ...
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Thomas F. Homer-Dixon is an Assistant Professor at University College, University of Toronto, and Coordinator of the College's Peace and Conflict Studies Program. He is co-director of an international research project on Environmental Change and Acute Conflict sponsored jointly by his Program and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. This article is an abridged version of a paper prepared for the Global Environmental Change Committee of the Social Science Research Council and for a conference on "Emerging Trends in Global Security" convened by York University in October, 1990. The full paper is available from the author. Portions have appeared in "Environmental Change and Economic Decline in Developing Countries," International Studies Notes, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Winter 1991), pp. 18-23; "Environmental Change and Human Security," Behind the Headlines, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Toronto: Canadian Institute for International Affairs, 1991); and "Environmental Change and Violent Conflict," American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Occasional Paper No. 4 (June 1990). For their helpful comments, the author is grateful to Peter Cebon, William Clark, Daniel Deudney, Darya Farha, Peter Gleick, Ernst Haas, Fen Hampson, Roger Karapin, Jill Lazenby, Vicki Norberg-Bohm, Ted Parson, George Rathjens, James Risbey, Richard Rockwell, Thomas Schelling, Eugene Skolnikoff, Martha Snodgrass, Janice Stein, Urs Thomas, Myron Weiner, and Jane Willms. Financial support for research and writing was received from The Royal Society of Canada, the Donner Canadian Foundation, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 1. See, for example, Janet Welsh Brown, ed., In the U.S. Interest: Resources, Growth, and Security in the Developing World (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1990); Neville Brown, "Climate, Ecology and International Security," Survival, Vol. 31, No. 6 (November/December 1989), pp. 519-532; Peter Gleick, "Climate Change and International Politics: Problems Facing Developing Countries," Ambio, Vol. 18, No. 6 (1989), pp. 333-339; Gleick, "The Implications of Global Climatic Changes for International Security," Climatic Change, Vol. 15, No. 1/2 (October 1989), pp. 309-325; Ronnie Lipschutz and John Holdren, "Crossing Borders: Resource Flows, the Global Environment, and International Security," Bulletin of Peace Proposals, Vol. 21, No. 2 (June 1990), pp. 121-33; Jessica Tuchman Mathews, "Redefining Security," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 68, No. 2 (Spring 1989), pp. 162-177; Norman Myers, "Environment and Security," Foreign Policy, No. 74 (Spring 1989), pp. 23-41; Michael Renner, National Security: The Economic and Environmental Dimensions, Worldwatch Paper No. 89 (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, 1989); and Arthur Westing, ed., Global Resources and International Conflict: Environmental Factors in Strategic Policy and Action (Oxford: New York, 1986). For a skeptical perspective, see Daniel Deudney, "The Case Against Linking Environmental Degradation and National Security," Millennium, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Winter 1990), pp. 461-476. 2. Readers interested in a careful argument for an expanded notion of security that includes environmental threats to national well-being should see Richard Ullman, "Redefining Security," International Security, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Summer 1983), esp. pp. 133 and 143. 3. For example, see David Wirth, "Climate Chaos," Foreign Policy, No. 74 (Spring 1989), p. 10. 4. Robert Heilbroner, An Inquiry into the Human Prospect (New York: Norton, 1980), pp. 39 and 95; William Ophuls, Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity: A Prologue to a Political Theory of the Steady State (San Francisco: Freeman, 1977), pp. 214-217. 5. Fen Hampson, "The Climate for War," Peace and Security, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Autumn 1988), p. 9. 6. Jodi Jacobson, Environmental Refugees: A Yardstick of Habitability, Worldwatch Paper No. 86 (Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, 1988). 7. Peter Gleick, "Climate Change," p. 336; Malin Falkenmark, "Fresh Waters as a Factor in Strategic Policy and Action," in Westing, Global Resources, pp. 85-113. 8. Peter Wallensteen, "Food Crops as a Factor in Strategic Policy and Action," Westing, Global Resources, pp. 151-155. 9. Ibid., p. 146-151. 10. Ted Gurr, "On the Political Consequences of Scarcity and Economic Decline," International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1 (March 1985), pp. 51-75. 11. "The disappearance of ecological abundance seems bound to make international politics even more tension ridden and potentially violent than it already is. Indeed, the pressures of ecological scarcity may embroil the world in hopeless strife...
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Conflict over scarce resources, such as minerals, fish, water, and particularly territory, is a traditional source of armed struggle. Recently, wideranging claims have been made to the effect that environmental degradation will increase resource scarcity and therefore contribute to an increase in armed conflict. So far, there has been much controversy and little relevant systematic study of this phenomenon. Most scholarship on the relationship between resources, the environment, and armed conflict suffers from one or more of the following problems: (1) there is a lack of clarity over what is meant by `environmental conflict'; (2) researchers engage in definitional and polemical exercises rather than analysis; (3) important variables are neglected, notably political and economic factors which have a strong influence on conflict and mediate the influence of resource and environmental factors; (4) some models become so large and complex that they are virtually untestable; (5) cases are selected on values of the dependent variable; (6) the causality of the relationship is reversed; (7) postulated events in the future are cited as empirical evidence; (8) studies fail to distinguish between foreign and domestic conflict; and (9) confusion reigns about the appropriate level of analysis. While no publications are characterized by all of these problems, many have several of them. This article identifies a few lights in the wilderness and briefly outlines a program of research.