“Go global,” make connections

In his call for localized and culturally sensitive stories on climate change, M Sanjayan brought forward the example of restoring a local water shed to deal with Santiago’s climate-related tap water shortages. While I am all for cultural sensitivity, I can’t help but think that such actions fall short - taking appropriate short-term action to a long-term problem. Similarly I can’t knock local action, or local stories - both are necessary - but if we want to tackle a global problem it seems necessary to address it as such. Making connections between localized events and actions seems to me like a sound approach.

A recently released study by The Center For Climate and Security might serve as an example. The Arab Spring and Climate Change argues that climate change created the environment that nurtured the tensions and inequality that led to the revolutions across the Arab world in 2010 and 2011.

Here’s how the story goes (or one of them, at least): in 2010 and 2011, the world’s major wheat producers experienced major droughts and floods. This led to a global wheat shortage and price-spike from $157 to $326 per metric tonne. The world’s top nine wheat importing countries are in the Middle East, seven of those experienced social unrest during the time of the global wheat shortage. The ramifications of that unrest are global.

The editors of the report recommend a shifting of the frame through which conflict and security are viewed. From the study:

Beyond individual countries, if we accept the conclusions of the authors collected here, then we must expect a continuing and increasing interplay between climate, land, water, food, migration, urbanization, and economic, social, and political stress. Yet almost none of those issues shows up in a traditional course on international relations, which focuses far more on the traditional geopolitics of interstate relations, particularly the distribution of military and economic power among a handful of the most important states. Insecurity in this world is defined largely in terms of military threats posed by rising or declining powers; security dilemmas between rival states, which must assume worst-case motivations on one another’s part; physical and virtual terrorist attacks; and denial of access to any of the world’s common spaces—ocean, air, outer space, and, increasingly, cyberspace.

I’d love to see this kind of shift, and think that if academia were willing to take it on, the news media might just follow - or at least report on it.

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