restricted access Chapter 4: Demography, Environment, and Civil Strife
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60 AT BOTH THE global and local levels, natural resource depletion and environmental degradation result from the interactions among extreme wealth, population pressures, and extreme poverty. The material-intensive and pollution-laden consumption habits and production activities of highincome countries are responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gases, solid and hazardous waste, and other environmental pollution. High-income countries also generate a disproportionate amount of the global demand for fossil fuels, nonfuel minerals, grain, meat, fish, tropical hardwoods, and products from endangered species.1 Poverty and inequality within developing countries, especially those with rapidly growing populations, also places burdens on the environment. Impoverished individuals frequently live in the most fragile ecological areas and are often driven to overexploit croplands, pastures, forests, fisheries, and water resources in order to eke out a living. Many have been forced to migrate to marginal areas due to overcrowding on better land. In the past fifty years, the number of people living on fragile land in developing countries has doubled to 1.3 billion, and rural population growth remains higher than average in countries with 30 percent or more of their population living on fragile land. Fragile ecological areas, which represent 73 percent of the Earth’s land surface, have a very limited ability to sustain high population densities and are particularly vulnerable to degradation, erosion, flooding, fires, landslides, and climatic change.2 Demography, Environment, and Civil Strife COLIN H. KAHL 4 04-1375-3 ch4 3/30/07 1:30 PM Page 60 The relationship between the environment and poverty runs both ways. Poverty can contribute to environmental degradation, which in turn worsens poverty, and so on. Today, nearly half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, and more than 1 billion people eke out a living on less than $1 a day. The absolute number of people living on less than $1 a day has actually fallen from 1.5 to 1.1 billion over the past twenty years, even as the world’s population has expanded by 1.6 billion, but most of these gains have occurred in just two countries: China and India. In many other parts of the developing world, poverty remains a seemingly intractable problem. And in some regions, especially sub-Saharan Africa, the absolute number of extremely impoverished individuals has more than doubled since the early 1980s. Today, more than 1.3 billion people depend on agriculture, forests, and fisheries for their livelihoods. This represents around half of total global employment. Consequently, when the local environment is degraded and resource competition becomes more acute, it can have significant implications for the economic survival of entire communities.3 Numerous signs suggest that the combined effects of unsustainable consumption , population growth, and extreme poverty are taking their toll on the environment. To take one example, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has recently calculated humanity’s “ecological footprint” by comparing renewable resource consumption to an estimate of nature’s biological productive capacity . A country’s ecological footprint represents the total area (measured in standardized global hectares of biologically productive land and water) required to produce the renewable resources consumed and to assimilate the wastes generated by human activities. All told, the global footprint in 1999 amounted to 13.7 billion biologically productive hectares, exceeding the 11.4 billion hectares estimated to exist by about 20 percent. Moreover, in the decades ahead as economic globalization accelerates, the human population continues to expand (with the fastest rates of growth occurring in the world’s least developed nations), and the effects of human-induced climate change become more pronounced, the strain on the natural environment is likely to worsen.4 What are the implications of these trends for international security? Though there is scant evidence that population and environmental pressure produce armed clashes between countries (with the partial exception of conflicts over oil and water), a growing body of scholarship has linked these factors to violence within countries. Some see demographically and environmentally induced scarcity as a major source of civil strife, while others argue that a local abundance of valuable natural resources produces greater dangers. Demography, Environment, and Civil Strife 61 04-1375-3 ch4 3/30/07 1:30 PM Page 61 The Demography–Environment–Civil Strife Connection Since the early 1990s, a number of academics and international security specialists have argued that demographic and environmental pressures pose significant threats to political stability in developing countries. Initially, this discussion was dominated by neo-Malthusians, but more...


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