Today's New York Times featured a front-page article on the severe drought facing Australia and the ripple effects that water shortage is having around the globe. In a nutshell, Australia's water deficit has hurt its production and export of rice, the global price of rice has risen sharply, and conflict has broken out in states that rely on rice imports for food.
It's not just a bad Kevin Costner movie. In the literature on emerging conflict, competition for water is expected to be a major factor in future warfare. Competition for food (often the byproduct of scarce water) will also drive conflict, particularly in areas of the world where population growth outpaces food-production capability. And global warming will make the competition increasingly fierce.
Infectious diseases will also serve as an engine for conflict. Nations will crumble from within if they cannot control disease epidemics. States and non-state actors will fight over medical treatment facilities, quarantine measures and other friction points. These issues will also create alliances and enmities between states and regions. It's not hard to imagine scenarios where disputes over these basic life necessities lead to civil wars, interstate wars, terrorism, etc.
I've been an environmentalist since my first YMCA camping trips as a kid; I think we ought to care about the environment for its own sake. But if that kind of liberal idealism does nothing for you, then today's Australia story should give you a reason to care. It's just one of many environmental issues with a national security nexus. (Oil and energy policy, anyone?)
By all means, let's save the polar bears. But let's also save ourselves by being smarter and better on environmental issues.
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