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Violent Environments

by on November 28, 2011


The article “Violent environment” by Nancy Lee Pelusoo and Michael Watts depicts the complex approach to the understanding of the connection between the environment and the people. The author tries to blend the political economy with the cultural and environmental politics to discourse the real landscape of violence happening in the developing world. The author states that the current U.S policy about environment conflict on environmental security believes that there is the direct relationship between population growth, violence and resource scarcity.  That’s why this belief of direct relationship was the major topic during the Clinton administration and environmental security but this assumption about the direct relationship between environment and violence was challenged and disapproved in Violent Environment. The author states that the Violent Environments demands new methods to an international set of complex problems, arguing for deeper and informed analyses of the circumstances and processes that cause violence. The author also states that the environment resources such as forests, oil reserves and environmental process such as deforestation, conservation, or resource abundance are constituted by the political economy for the use.  In addition to this, the author states that the violent Environments rejects the neo-Malthusian way of looking at environmental conflict because neo-Malthusian scholars such as Homer-Dixon and Kaplan argue that violence occurs due to scarcity of renewable resource like forest, water etc. If there is scarcity then it prompts marginalization and it heightens the competition but the authors argue that in the environmental violence there is much more than scarcity that can explain environmental conflict. The conflict is a way that can be understood by looking at the relationship between the interior and exterior. The author also states that the way the environmental field workers, politicians and scholars look is defective in many ways because they reject the direct relationship between scarcity and environmental conflict. Environment where all the living and the non-living beings things live is a ground where members attach value, contributes and claims for legitimacy. That’s why, environmental conflict happened not only because of scarcity. We must understand the social, historical and political contexts in the area where of the environmental conflict. The authors also propose an alternative approach called political ecology for the reader to understand the complexity of issues involved in environmental violent. The author gives many cases from all over the world where the conflict is happening. One of the famous one is Blood Diamond in African countries like  Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast etc, petroleum violence in Nigeria etc. The author wants to point out that conflict does not happen because of scarcity. If there are abundance resources, it can equally result in conflict. There is no escaping.




How does the conflict increases due to the resources? Is there any strategy or approaches to stop the conflict?

Is the displacement of the people by environmental conflict politicized or depoliticized?

Resources scarcity has caused inequalities in the distribution of resources in the society, country and the world. In addition to this, the ongoing ecosystem vulnerability increases the environmental resources scarcity.  If there are abundance resource then there is also conflict. Is there ever going to be balance between the resource and the people?



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  1. To answer the second question, I believe that any conflict is both political and non-political because in some cases the resources are actually becoming scare due to environmental factors, however the political mismanagement of resources can also lead to the loss of a natural resource. There are compromises that governments can choose to make, for instance in the protection of the forests in Indonesia and compromising with logging companies to allot a small renewable area for them to cut down in order to manage the damage that is done to a limited natural resource. Unfortunately, political bodies often choose profit over environmentalism and only further damage the planet. The point is that governments have a choice, its just a matter of the bottom line versus people and then environment.

  2. I both agree and disagre with this authors on two levevls. First off, I believe that overpopulation is the underlying problem to a majority, if not all, global issues. Overpopulation causes poverty, pollution, lack of education, climate change, lack of biodiverstiy, resource scarcity and numerous other problems worldwide. I think trying to look for a ‘deeper cause’ and discounting the immense effect of population growth, is just being careless and overanalytical. I do however agree that conflict can arise from resource scarcity as well as recource abundancy, but I think it depends on the political and economnic state of that country to determine the level of conflict that arises.

  3. alannadore permalink

    I thought this article was very interesting because I had not before thought about the fact that violent environments occur often because of the presence of resources, not just because of their scarcity. I realized that this is a true characteristic of many environments in the world today, where influence comes into impoverished countries and changes them, making them more violent because of the large extraction of resources. In my opinion, the article also brought up an extremely relevant point in discussing the concept that legitimacy claims in nature-culture relations have the ability to spark conflict. In relation to question 3, the authors show how precarious the balance between scarcity and abundance conflicts are, and how difficult it is in the world today for people to find peace because both of these areas cause violence. I think though, that because they both stem from the same idea- that resource dependency sparks violence- a balance can be achieved if people learn how to peacefully approach both ends of the spectrum. So much of our world today is developed upon the extraction and brutal utilization of developing countries’ resources, and I think that this article shows that no matter if a resource is scarce or abundant, a level of moderation and respect for nature and inhabitants needs to be achieved or violence will take too high a toll.

  4. Amanda K. permalink

    I fully agree about how there are violent actions used on the environment to support human lifestyle due to overpopulation by creating more living spaces. Overpopulation is definitely a concern, but a good number (though I am not so sure how many to be exact) finds overpopulation as a myth. Why? An … interesting person I’ve met at Denver suggested to “let the Chinese and Indians to die because they are “multiplying like crazy and we (the U.S.) are feeding them”. Another person fought back by saying that the U.S. should educate the world about planned parenthood and becoming more like “us (U.S.)”.

    Yes, our space is shrinking, quality of life goes down as population goes up. We’re burning through the Earth’s resources at an alarming rate, there’s unspeakable mass extinctions of animals, we’ve ruined homes of other animals and pretty much poisoned our atmosphere. Is there a way to balance and restore from this overpopulation shock? Maybe. I can’t say, but there is hope because people from around the world learned about their world and surroundings differently. Natural resources; is it due to overpopulation or by something spiritual? Childbearing; necessity because it’s a social expectation or because it’s to pass on family status and bloodlines?

    If we were to educate other countries about how overpopulation is bad for all of us, isn’t it a form of interrupting their culture with ours? Like I said, I know overpopulation is a concern, but …what about the respect and diversity of human culture across the globe?

  5. katiecarbaugh permalink

    I also agree that overpopulation is a very large concern. When I mention this, I often get the reply that even when there were only hundreds of thousands of people living on the earth (as opposed to billions), some level of natural conflict still existed. However, the goal is not to eliminate conflict but to reduce it. If hunter-gatherers who lived during such a time (a time when the earth was far less populated) had proportionally less conflict with other groups, then we need to look at the authors’ ideas and see if they can teach us how to research these groups of people. If the authors are correct when they say that neither an overabundance nor scarcity of resources is the problem–that it’s people’s relationship to resources that is of utmost importance– then, we need to examine hunter-gather’s relationship to their resources and gain a deeper understanding of their interaction with the environment in order to learn from their traditional way of life. This way, we may be able to use their wisdom and apply it to our modern lives. Even though technology makes the world a very different place, if we keep an open mind we may be able to make a dent in the conflict problem without waiting for mass elimination to occur (and, I am talking about depopulation that may occur due to any number of natural or human-facilitated events taking place such as new disease outbreaks or birth control education).

  6. Megan Powell permalink

    I too found this article interesting because it offered a differing perspective of the relationship between violence and the environment. When first reading Homer-Dickson’s approach to explaining the cause of violence in certain environments — I could see why it had such popularity. The idea that increased environmental scarcity, decreased economic activity, and migration can all cause conflict and violence seems to make sense intuitively. On the other hand, Palusso and Watts seem to argue, as many authors we’ve read have, that the relationship between an environment and the violence that takes place in it is much more complicated than the Homer-Dickson’s explanation lets on. Palusso and Watts also add into their explanation of violent environments the importance of local histories, social relations, power relations, and material transformation. After reading their perspective, I think they make a strong point that violence is a complex human happening that can only be explained through a sufficiently broad approach — there is no direct proportionality with violence and the environment.

  7. Fred Reisen permalink

    To answer Punam’s question I believe that conflict can increase due to resource abundance because whoever is first to control it will ultimately make the profit. Furthermore I believe the displacement of people is always a politicized activity. We live in a political world where governments ultimately control every aspect of our lives and control of environmental resources whether it be due to abundance or scarcity is always a political issue. I think there is a possibility for a balance between resources and people but the earths population just surpassed 7 billion people and with the current resources we rely on being mainly nonrenewable there is no possible balance in sight. Once renewable resources are used to OUR full potential (solar, wind, geothermal, sustainable harvested timbers, ect) than perhaps a balance can be the goal but I do not see it in the near future.

  8. In response to Punam’s first question, a group of people who want to use an area for production feel entitled to use it in any way that benefits them. The case study I read about Las Alamos nuclear testing in the Bikini islands is an example of how a powerful group of people use a piece of land, but do not take in to account the broader effects of how they use that land. About 250 people, and probably many more, who had no part in the nuclear testing were effected by large quantities of radiation because the explosion spread 50,000 square miles in the Pacific. The conflict that erupts because of control over resources is difficult to regulate because it is the result of one nation effecting another. There would need to be direct communication about what nuclear testing was being done and where with any groups that would suffer from radiation.

  9. The history describing how environmental concerns have become a crucial security issue over the years is extremely interesting especially from the years of 1989-1991. In 1989 there was a, “fortuitously, growing public concern over the global climate change, ozone depletion, and chemical warfare…”(10). “Environmental problems and international instability were first recognized,” by the United States government in 1991 leading to the establishment of a Senior Director for Global Environmental Affairs (10). This recognition may have aided in the United States involvement in assisting Kuwait in the Gulf War against Iraqi forces mainly through air strikes. Kuwaiti oil wells were targeted by the Iraqi troops with estimated oil spills of three million barrels burning per day, resulting in a daily combustion of 430,000 tons of crude oil (Barnaby, 3). This created environmental problems and left the US potentially unstable if action wasn’t taken to secure the oil wells. After the war, the United States gave minimal aid to Kuwait in cleaning up the oil, and privatize much of the information regarding the extent in which the environment was damaged, demonstrating little to no concern about the environment itself. This illustrated that the US government is only concerned about the environment to the extent in which it threatens national security.

  10. janellekramer permalink

    I liked this article because it addresses a problem that is prevalent, yet not much talked about. They are saying that violence surrounding the environment is a bigger issue than some people like Homer-Dixon thinks it is. Even though this is a sad topic that people don’t want to think about when they are not directly affected, it is important to look at. So much policy is created due to environmental violence. However, some environmental violence is created due to policy that is created to divvy up land or water rights. The question now is: How do we create policy that stops environmental violence? That answer is a lot more complicated.

  11. In regards to Punam’s last question, resources clearly have proven to greatly influence a culture’s violence and ability to be successful. The competition for resources has been a problem for humans for hundreds of years, constantly causing violence, corruption, and even death. In addition, ecosystem vulnerability will have nothing but negative effects for a society with a scarcity of resources. Simultaneously, an abundance of resources often causing similar results of violence and competition. This supply and demand system is seemingly everywhere, to address the last question, it seems nearly impossible for their to be a “balance” between the people and resources with the current mindset and organization of global trading.

  12. Benjamin N. permalink

    I don’t know if there can ever be a balance between people and resources. We live on a planet with a lot of people we need to take care of, and the abundance of modern conveniences and practices currently require the use of a lot of resources. We can take steps to minimize human impact, like planting two trees for every one that’s dug up, but I don’t think a true balance can ever be struck because modern humans require so many resources, our world population just keeps growing, and therefore, that need continues to grow as well.

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