Fall 2022: Introduction to Climate Change and Security

Hannah Vander Meulen; Clae Blanck; and Ellie Rubinger

In Environmental Geopolitics, by Dr. Shannon O’Lear, Chapter 4 entitled “Climate Change and Security” examines the topics of climate change and security, more specifically how climate change has become connected with security and risk. The U.S. military has begun to look at climate change as a security risk, specifically the impacts climate change has on national security. The key theme of this chapter is how climate change came to be understood as a national security issue.

Security has traditionally been viewed in nationalistic terms and as an issue for military readiness and action. Climate change has come to be understood as a security issue in how unpredictable weather systems and other climate change impacts may pose a threat to national concerns. Viewing climate change as a security issue often leads to “the wrong kinds of problem-solving approaches”, because the military is likely not equipped with all the necessary tools to address these environmental issues (O’Lear, 2018).

Security, when associated with national interests, usually refers to territorial space, but climate change does not recognize state boundaries and territory. Securitizing something means to prioritize it as an urgent matter. When an issue is prioritized and discussed as a security concern, to assess what kinds of issues or concerns may be overlooked in this process, it can be helpful to keep the three environmental geopolitical questions in mind. How are the role and meaning of the environment being defined? What role have humans played in this issue? What is the spatial scale of this issue?

We must also examine the way power dynamics play a role in the securitization of the environment. Who is benefiting from the securitization of the environment? Who is deciding what is being securitized? Who or what is not being secured? All these questions help examine the different ways power impacts the securitization of the environment.

The three podcasts in this section exemplify the securitization of the environment.

The first podcast in this section, Hannah Min’s podcast titled “Water: A Contested Resource Between BHP and Indigenous Folk” explains that once the mining company, BHP, began using the Great Artesian Water Basin, a water source the Indigenous peoples in the surrounding community depend on, the water source has quickly depleted and become polluted. This podcast discusses the securitization of water, specifically from the Great Artesian Water Basin in Queensland Australia. In this podcast, Min demonstrates how water is being securitized by the mining company. The mining company has more power than the Indigenous people, and therefore the legal rights of the water went to the mining company. This situation brings up the question of who is benefiting from the securitization of the environment? The mining company gains access to the water source, and the Indigenous peoples are left with depleted and polluted water. The securitization of water by the mining company is made possible by unequal power dynamics.

— Hannah Vander Meulen

In Jenna Patterson’s podcast, “Analyzing U.S. Arctic Security” she analyzes a claim made by the United States Department of Defense, DoD for short, where a security policy for the melting Arctic is proposed. The claim aims to securitize the “Arctic as U.S. Homeland”, meaning the report that’s being made claims the U.S. must treat the Arctic as U.S. Homeland to protect United States sovereignty. Patterson points out in her podcast, that the receding polar ice caps in the Arctic are cited as a potential risk to the U.S. physical security, but the cause of this recession is not specified in the claim.

The Department of Defense’s claim is using a particular framing of climate change impacts, in this case, the melting ice caps, as an issue that the U.S. military can and should address. Patterson states that the reason to securitize the Arctic as U.S. Homeland is to ensure China doesn’t have access to the resources. The fact that the Arctic is oil-rich causes citizens to question if securitizing the Arctic will actually protect the environment or if securitizing the Arctic is just for profit. In O’Lear’s book, she highlights that policy statements, such as the DoD’s statement, can be vague and can be interpreted in a number of ways. Patterson uses the environmental geopolitical framework to consider how securitizing the Arctic might be more for the benefit of the economy rather than for protecting the environment.

— Clae Blanck

In Simmi Rana’s podcast, “Imitating Volcanoes and Inter-State Conflict: Managing Solar Radiation Management”, she describes solar geoengineering as an attempt promoted by some scientists to fix climate change with new technologies. This podcast examines a claim from the Brookings Institute that they are, “preparing the United States for security and governance in a geoengineering future.” Rana observes that this is a call for security, but it does not describe what, specifically, is being secured. The argument from Brookings focuses on the potential negative outcomes of not using solar geoengineering as a solution to climate change.

Rana points out some of the potential and substantial negative outcomes of employing these proposed technologies. For instance, solar engineering is only effective in some parts of the world and is not a permanent solution. It makes no change to existing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The use of proposed solar engineering technologies would arguably be an undemocratic process that would serve to promote the interests of a particular country or company. This experimentation could potentially harm the environment irreversibly. The likely disastrous outcomes of solar geoengineering tend not to be part of the claims about securitization that accompany the promotion of these proposed technologies.

The three podcasts in this section exemplify themes of security and uncover issues of framing climate change as a threat to security. Through discussions of unequal power dynamics, economic incentives, and more, these podcasts highlight the issues that come from framing climate change as a threat to security. Each podcast helps us conclude that framing climate change as a security threat is largely unhelpful and does not address the source of the problem.

— Ellie Rubinger

O’Lear, Shannon. 2018. Environmental Geopolitics. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.


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Fall 2022: Introduction to Climate Change and Security Copyright © 2022 by Hannah Vander Meulen; Clae Blanck; and Ellie Rubinger is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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