89th American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting

Monday, 12 January 2009
Examining the nexus of environmental effects, geopolitical instability, and national security: The Environmental Security course at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Hall 5 (Phoenix Convention Center)
John M. Lanicci, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ., Daytona Beach, FL; and J. D. Ramsay
Poster PDF (84.8 kB)
In the summer of 2007, the authors offered an experimental course entitled Environmental Security (ES) for the first time at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's (ERAU) Daytona Beach campus*. Our offering the course was motivated in part by our intention to develop a joint research program between ERAU's Applied Meteorology and Homeland Security programs. For our purposes, we adapted the definition of ES from Understanding International Environmental Security: A Strategic Military Perspective, by W. Chris King, 2000, p. 17:

"Environmental Security is a process for effectively responding to changing environmental conditions that have the potential to reduce peace and stability in the world and thus affect US national security."

In this definition, we define “environment” as encompassing the atmosphere, land, and oceans/water bodies. This definition puts ES in terms of national security interests, and spans decision-making levels from “tactical” through the national strategy/policymaking levels. The idea was to develop the course, offer it to the students, and gather feedback as to whether the course should be added to the permanent programs of both Applied Meteorology and Homeland Security. Additionally, the appearance of myriad stories in the media about climate change, energy and food security, and natural disasters around the world make this a very timely course, especially as the U.S. continues to prosecute the Global War On Terrorism, and is arguably in the midst of one of the most important presidential elections in the last 20 years.

Environmental Security as a discipline has been around for at least 30 years, and has gone through periods of both active and waning research interest, largely driven by world events and policymaking agendas in both Washington, D.C. and Europe. Our approach to ES is similar to that of previous researchers, in that we wish to examine potential linkages among natural environmental phenomena, the effects and impacts of those phenomena, and subsequent security issues resulting from those effects and impacts. However, a unique aspect of our approach to ES is our interest in taking results from the research environment to the policymaking arena by linking ES to national security strategy and planning. Our rationale is that ES has renewed relevancy in a post September 11th world, but it has not really received the type of attention, especially by the policymaking world, that it should be given. Given the rise of energy prices and annual economic costs due to severe weather, lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, possible security implications of climate change, and the potential linkage between increasing radicalization and environmental degradation, it is very important to articulate a post 9/11 construct of ES in a way that allows it to be integrated into the national security strategic planning process. Such a planning process would also include linkages from ES to homeland security.

The ERAU-Daytona version of ES begins with a “first principles” look at topics in environmental science and environmental health, such as food production, population dynamics, and laws of supply and demand. It continues with an introduction to meteorology and climatology that focuses on “natural disaster” phenomena, from single “events” such as tropical cyclones, severe thunderstorm outbreaks, and heat waves, to longer-term climatic anomalies such as prolonged droughts, floods, heat, and cold. This introductory material is necessary to build the foundation for examining effects and impacts on vulnerable populations from these various phenomena. We then introduce the students to national security strategy and policymaking using a conceptual model developed by the U.S. Army War College. At this point the students are ready to begin exploring topics in ES, using the working definition of ES discussed above and the introductory topics just described. In this phase of the course, we explore how development and execution of U.S. domestic and foreign policy, and ultimately, U.S. national security interests, can be impacted by emerging threats to nations from environmental health issues, infrastructure vulnerabilities, and natural resource shortages caused by rapid industrialization, population growth, and urbanization in less developed countries. In a seminar format, students and faculty cover a variety of readings and discuss their conclusions. Students are given the opportunity to lead class discussions on assigned readings, and present a final project consisting of a class presentation and term paper on an ES topic chosen during the semester.

The overall course goals can be summarized as follows:

1.Develop a working definition for environmental security that will be applied throughout the course.

2.Recognize the growing role that the natural environment plays in contributing to or causing destabilization within a country or within a region, and how this destabilization can lead to security concerns for the U.S. and its allies.

3.Become familiar with the destabilizing influences of environmental changes, such as reducing access to fresh water, impairing food production, contributing to or causing health catastrophes, land losses, flooding, and major population displacement.

4.Become familiar with the security implications of environmental changes, such as greater potential for failed states and growth of terrorism, mass migrations, and potential conflicts over limited resources within or between countries.

* There is a course entitled Environment and Security, offered at ERAU's Prescott, AZ campus. It is taught by the Department of Global Security and Intelligence Studies. We consulted with that course's instructor, Dr. Phil Jones, as we built our course.

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