February 9, 2012

Climate change and national security, once again

Part of my research hypothesis is that actors use climate change to promote their own interests. I'm particularly interested in how agricultural research organizations, in addressing the real threat of climate change, also use it to further their own research agendas. For example, private companies like Monsanto are clearly interested in using biotechnology to address climate changes, because this gives them propriety over new crops (evidenced by the proliferation of patents on climate-related plant genes). As I described last week, based on Sally Brooks' study of the CGIAR network and iron-fortified rice, the CGIAR in many ways used iron-fortified rice as a tool to centralize their own power. My own research will take place at the national level—in India—but both of these other actors (private companies and international research organizations) will intersect with my project in hopefully interesting ways.

So it is no surprise to me that other actors, such as the military, also use climate change as a rhetorical device. In class a few weeks ago we discussed how it's peculiar that high-level military and defense communities almost universally accept climate change as a threat to national security (despite the political ambivalence that climate change even exists). But people believe things that are consistent with their own worldview, and in this case, that worldview is to promote national security through hegemony. Using climate change as justification for military or foreign policy actions can thus exaggerate the connection between climate change and national security. This recent article in the Journal of Peace Research explains that "framing the climate issue as a security problem could possibly influence the perceptions of the actors and contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy." A hat-tip to Dr. Clifford Bob, writing at the "Duck of Minerva," for sharing the article and his analysis. He writes,  
But I do worry about the threat inflation being used to justify actions against climate change – and about the strategic alliances, tacit or otherwise, environmentalists strike to achieve their goals. The Pentagon is no friend of the environment, as anyone who’s watched the grindingly slow clean-ups of numerous, highly-polluted military bases well knows. Lending activist legitimation to the defense establishment is likely to be a net-negative for environmental quality...

So we have environmentalists bedding down with the big boys with their big guns over global warming. And now we have human rights activists lusting after the big boys with their little drones, notwithstanding the weapons’ mounting toll in lives and liberties at home and abroad. The Pentagon, always eager for new conquests, similarly keeps its insatiable eye out for anyone hustling the cutting edge of terror, literally and figuratively.

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