Environmental confrontations:2

The outlines of the struggle pitting the search for resources and commodities against environmentalists and inhabitants are being redrawn under the influence of three main commercial factors:
• ‘new wave’: new consumer products and technology that bring demand for
new commodities.
• ‘off the beaten track’ commodities, which may appear in areas previously unconsidered in resource terms, such as Mongolia or parts of Australia and the United States.
• the ever-increasing illegal trade, where environmental elements such as flora and fauna get ‘networked’ with other illegal forms like drugs and guns.

Though ‘environmental confrontations’ are envisaged as distinct from war, their history is rooted in war as it began after the First World War on both sides of the Atlantic, stirred by the wartime destruction: the aim was to fight industrialization and live in harmony with nature, a project which included new farming techniques, and through which, it was believed, new, healthy and peace-loving societies would emerge.

Typical of the radicals of this movement was the British author Henry Williamson, whose bestseller Tarka the Otter contained the subtext of a rallying cry to promote the redemptive force of Nature. In the United States Aldo Leopold (1887–1948) drew on his work in the Forest Service to blend aspects of ecology (the study of living systems in relation to their environment), ethology (the study of animals in their habitat) and biology; today we would situate Leopold’s writing in the fields of environmentalism or conservation.

Around the same time, a radical direct action agenda of ‘monkey wrenching’—acts of sabotage in the cause of environmentalism—was promoted by Edward Abbey (1927–89).

Not only has conflict had an impact on the environment; the impact of the environment on conflict was highlighted recently by research from Columbia University indicating that cyclical climatic changes such as El Niño, which brings hot and dry conditions to tropical nations and cuts food production, doubles the risk of civil war.

Analysis showed that 50 out of 250 conflicts between 1950 and 2004 were triggered by the El Niño cycle, prompting Solomon Hsiang of Columbia University to suggest that ‘it could be that agricultural income in El Niño years drops to levels that can trigger violence. Furthermore, psychologists think that aggressive behaviour gets generally more widespread during exceptionally warm conditions.’ Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre

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