Socioecological Perspective of Some Recent Threats to Environmental Security

In this article, the notion of environmental security is developed from a system ecology perspective, namely with reference to threats to social-ecological systems and ecosystems services. The overall conception ofenvir-onmental security is based on some general principles of human environmental interactions:

• Human well-being has several key components: the basic material needs for a good life, freedom and choice, health, good social relations, and personal security.

• How well-being is expressed and experienced is context and situation dependent, reflecting local social and personal factors such as geography, ecology, age, gender, and culture. These concepts are complex and value laden.

• Ecosystems are essential for human survival and well-being through their provisioning, regulating, cultural, and supporting services. Evidence in recent decades of escalating human impacts on ecological systems worldwide raises concerns about the consequences of ecosystem changes for human well-being.

• Human well-being can be enhanced through sustainable human interaction with ecosystems on the base of appropriate instruments, institutions, organizations, and technologies. The creation of these items through participation and transparency may contribute to people's freedoms and choices and to increased economic, social, and environmental security.

• There are direct and indirect pathways between ecosystem change and human well-being, whether they are positive or negative. Indirect effects are characterized by more complex webs of causation, involving social, economic, and political threads.

The dynamic spatial configuration resulting from human appropriation of regional landscapes can have a variety of ecological effects at multiple scales. For example, a direct effect of urbanization is the alteration of local ecological processes through the modification ofland cover: converting desert to residential land cover alters many environmental parameters, such as soil physical and chemical properties, water availability, vegetation, and associated animal and microbial communities. Additionally, urbanization alters the spatial configuration of land-cover patterns within a region. New land-cover types are juxtaposed within increasingly fragmented native land-cover types. Changes in the structure ofthe landscape can have ecological effects such as modifying nutrient transport and transformation and affecting species persistence and biodiversity.

In the recent historical development ofsocial-ecological systems, there is an increasing superimposition of

Table 1 Some definitions of environmental security

AC/UNU Millennium Project

AC/UNU Millennium Project

Barnett J (1997) 'Environmental Security: Now What?', seminar, Department of International Relations, Keele University, 4 Dec. 1997.

Belluck DA, Hull RN, Benjamin SL, Alcorn J, and Linkov I (2006) Environmental security, critical infrastructure and risk assessment: Definitions and current trends. In: Morel B and Linkov I (eds.) Environmental Security and Environmental Management, pp. 3-16. Dortrecht: Springer.

AC/UNU Millennium Project

AC/UNU Millennium Project

'Environmental security of Russia', issue 2, The Security Council of the Russian Federation, Moscow, 1996, p. 55

US Department of Defense (1996)

'On Principles of Environmental Security in the Commonwealth States', Dec. 4 1997

NATO Science Programme 1997

Environmental security is the relative public safety from environmental dangers caused by natural or human processes due to ignorance, accident, mismanagement or design and originating within or across national borders.

Environmental security is the state of human-environment dynamics that includes restoration of the environment damaged by military actions, and amelioration of resource scarcities, environmental degradation, and biological threats that could lead to social disorder and conflict. Environmental security is the proactive minimization of anthropogenic threats to the functional integrity of the biosphere and thus to its interdependent human component.

By ensuring environmental security we mean guarding against environmental degradation in order to preserve or protect human, material, and natural resources at scales ranging from global to local.

The term environmental security refers to a range of concerns that can be organized into three general categories:

1. Concerns about the adverse impact of human activities on the environment.

2. Concerns about the direct and indirect effects of various forms of environmental change (especially scarcity and degradation) which may be natural or human-generated on national and regional security.

3. Concerns about the insecurity individuals and groups (from small communities to humankind) experience due to environmental change such as water scarcity, air pollution, global warming, and so on. Combining these we might conclude that the condition of environmental security is one in which social systems interact with ecological systems in sustainable ways, all individuals have fair and reasonable access to environmental goods, and mechanisms exist to address environmental crises and conflicts.

Environmental security is the maintenance of the physical surroundings of society for its needs without diminishing the natural stock.

Environmental security is protectedness of natural environment and vital interests of citizens, society, the state from internal and external impacts, adverse processes and trends in development that threaten human health, biodiversity and sustainable functioning of ecosystems, and survival of humankind. Environmental security is an integral part of Russia's national security.

Environmental security is comprised of restoration, compliance, conservation, pollution prevention, environmental security technology, and international activities.

Environmental security is the state of protection of vital interests of the individual, society, natural environment from threats resulting from anthropogenic and natural impacts on the environment.

Scientific problems related to environmental security including the reclamation of contaminated military sites, regional environmental problems and natural and man-made disasters; affordable cleanup technologies are of particular interest.

technostructure, biostructure, and ecostructure called 'technosubstitution', which leads to an increase in thermodynamic flows and sinks. This has large consequences on ecological patterns and processes, and thus on ecosystem services and sustainability.

In short, the previous statements could be tentatively reformulated to define environmental security according to the following: environmental security, in an objective sense, aims to evaluate the level of threats to acquire and sustain ecosystem values in terms of ecosystem goods and services at multiple scales and, in a subjective sense, represents the level of fear that such values will be attacked and possibly lost.

In the above definition, environmental security has to do with risks or fragility (vulnerability) of losing ecosystem goods and services as well as the perception of those risks. Thus, fragility is deemed multilayered, multiscale, and complex, existing in both the objective physical and social realms, as well as in the subjective realm. Often it exists because of the choices we make. As well, it is often imposed upon people and communities because of our political or social-economic systems. The perception of security is quite fundamental at all levels of human organization, from the individual to the governments. As to environmental security in the subjective sense, the 'threats' are of an abstract nature, in the domains of feelings and cognition.

The level of fear that such values will be attacked and possibly lost much depends on the correct information and the consciousness of the role and significance played by ecosystem goods and services. In this respect, given that both objective and subjective measures provide reliable estimates of environmental security through, for example, efficient indicators and sampling designs, it is interesting to judge the concordance between 'objective' and 'subjective' evaluations.

As an example, the environmental security of the same location might be evaluated differently in objective and subjective terms (Table 2). In cases (a) and (d), there is concordance between objective and subjective evaluations; for case (a), both agree on positive (high) environmental security, whereas for case (d) both agree on negative (low) environmental security. In contrast, cases (b) and (c) are discordant; in the first case, there is no fear that values such as ecosystem goods and services will be attacked and possibly lost, while the objective evaluation says just the opposite. This is very dangerous but common in the real world because people are often unaware of the

Table 2 Possible combinations between 'objective' and 'subjective' evaluations


environmental degradation they cause. In contrast, in case (c), there is fear that ecosystem goods and services will be attacked and possibly lost (low environmental security) but there is no objective reason for such fear. For example, certain Mediterranean beaches are often naturally covered by seaweed leaves (Posidonia oceanica), which is an indicator of good coastal ecosystem quality. However, most tourists wrongly perceive beaches covered by leaves as 'dirty' and 'insecure', so leaves are removed becoming a waste.

Departing from the individual perspective, security can be derived through different livelihood strategies of which the environmental strategy is one. Although fragility, as the capacity to cope with external stress, is a concept that deals with problems and stress situations -the lack of security - in local people's lives, the focus on livelihood strategies and security can be seen as the opposite. Studying the factors that make people feel safe and secure gives us a deeper understanding of their day-to-day thinking when making decisions that affect their livelihood. It also puts focus on the strategies that work well and could be further developed and encouraged from a management and planning perspective.

Regarding the family perspective (the family level), security is related to the feelings of safety, assurance, and confidence in that the family will be able to secure a livelihood for itself in the future, and the precautions that the family members take to ensure this. The concept of security is thus closely connected to what is most important for local people - their everyday survival. This applies to each hierarchical level of social organization.

Climate change is likely to make many threats worse, especially heat waves, drought, and flood, and that occurs in a context where many global and social trends are also creating fragility. Where it is safe and ethical, the explicit inclusion in social-ecological studies of people living and working in a study area can promote scientific realism and reveal nonintuitive causal relationships. This integration may provide social benefits, including a better public perception ofscience and scientists. A holistic or 'integrated risk management' approach is needed, to reduce fragility and deal with risk effectively. Environmental security is such an integrated risk assessment and management approach.

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