Hijackings, bioterrorist attacks and suicide bombings arent the only human-induced threats to global security. Climate change, dwindling resources and the unintentional spread of microbial pests also have the potential to cause political destabilization, according to former university president Donald Kennedy, now editor-in-chief of the journal Science.
Kennedy, the Bing Professor of Environmental Science Emeritus, made his comments during a May 28 seminar titled "Environmental Change and Conflict Liability" sponsored by Stanfords Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). The informal event was attended by about a dozen CISAC members who specialize in international security issues including co-director Christopher Chyba, member-in-residence Herbert Abrams and senior research scholar Lynn Eden.
"My task is to persuade you in case some of you need persuading that an environmental scientist concerned with the processes that drive environmental change can say something useful about security," Kennedy told the group.
He described the problems he and his colleagues faced when they attempted an earlier collaborative study on environmental policy and regional conflict.
"The idea was that, if you could somehow match social, religious and historical tensions on one set of maps, and put environmental change and environmental change liabilities on another map and overlay them, you could identify hotspots where it might be predicted that regional conflicts would take place," Kennedy said.
Unfortunately, that approach proved far too simplistic. Nevertheless, he noted, there are three main topics that analysts may find useful when attempting to predict where environmentally driven social conflicts are likely to occur: climate change, biogeographical redistribution and resource availability.