Environmental Security and Sustainability

The main area of interest of environmental security is the intersection of three different capitals: social, ecological, and economic. Many of our popular and scientific ideas are based upon a static view of the world and of the place of humans in it. Some views of sustainability have this static quality.

The welfare function provides a way of thinking about the sustainability of economic and environmental change. There is no generally accepted definition of sustainable development (and it is doubtful whether the concept has scientific validity).

Of all the environmental policy concepts to emerge in the last 20 years, none is more compelling than that of sustainability. The concept was put on the international policy agenda by the Brundtland Commission more than a decade ago, by formulating the classic definition of sustainable development, namely, development that ''seeks to meet the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability to meet those of the future.'' The introduction of these concepts has raised the important question as to whether humanity at the global scale is currently on a sustainable or unsustainable path.

An alternative approach is to consider the sustainabil-ity of an economy and its supporting environment in terms of its capacity to absorb stress and shock without fundamental change (resilience). For any economy, there are many possible states, each delivering different levels of welfare to society.

Ultimately, the major obstacles to sustainable development can be reduced to three basic categories: willingness, understanding, and capacity. The first and major obstacle has been described as a lack of political will to implement those changes that are glaringly necessary. Asymmetric power structures, vested interests, and conceptions by humankind which emphasize antagonism, competition, and individualism over cooperation and solidarity lie at the heart of this obstacle. Even in cases where political will is present, another obstacle is the lack of understanding of the behavior of complex systems.

This understanding is often failure to address the relevant linkages within and between systems and across scales. Compartmentalized perceptions of reality and a scientific tradition and training that are still largely reductionist impair the development of understanding. Inadequate institutions, lack of financial resources, unskilled human resources, weak infrastructure, plain poverty, and other limitations contribute to the third obstacle: insufficient capacity to perform the actions and changes needed, affecting notably (but not exclusively) the developing world.

Self-organization of ecological systems establishes the arena for evolutionary change. Self-organization of human institutional patterns establishes the arena for future sustainable opportunity. Selective pressures also come from aspects of the physical-chemical environment, such as geomorphol-ogy, hydrology, biogeochemistry, and climate. Evolution, in turn, shapes ecosystems because ecological systems are self-organized from evolved components. Those self-organized components include some suites of organisms that create physical structure and are reenforced by that structure. Others act as 'ecological engineers' altering the physical structure and especially the biogeochemistry of ecosystems.

As a consequence, the interplay of evolution, ecology, and the physical-chemical environment is a complicated dynamic arena, in which configuration and control change eternally. Humans facilitate self-organized patterns more intensively and over much larger scale ranges than do other organisms.

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