- Editors’ Note
By 2016, a group of scientists convened by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS)—the professional organization charged with defining the earth’s time scale—is expected to decide whether we have reached a new geological epoch in our planet’s history. Although we have officially been in the Holocene epoch since the last major ice age 11,700 years ago, an emerging outlook has claimed that we are now in an era of human impact—the age of man, or the “Anthropocene.”
The precise start date of the Anthropocene is still under debate: Was it 1610, when Antarctic ice cores demonstrated a notable dip in atmospheric carbon dioxide, likely as a consequence of European colonization and development of the Americas? Was it the late eighteenth century, with the start of the Industrial Revolution? Was it over the last seventy years, when industrial chemicals became pervasive and nuclear weapons testing created a rock layer with high proportions of radioactive isotopes? Or was it some eight thousand years ago at the advent of early agriculture?
There may be disagreement over particulars, but the consensus is growing: humans are changing the environment on a planetary scale like never before. And with our species’ mounting biogeophysical impact on the world around us, there is a need to confront and explore these changes now more than ever. As such, this issue of the SAIS Review of International Affairs, “The Era of Man: Environmental Security on a Changing Planet,” seeks to address the breadth of human impacts on the environment through the lens of human, national, and global security.
The relation between security and the environment is complex and multifaceted, ranging from population dynamics, to energy and cyber security, to rising sea levels and patterns of migration, to illegal logging, wildlife trafficking, and terrorist financing. By exploring each of these topics and more, this issue of the SAIS Review aims to unpack the growing field of environmental security and to explore the potential impacts of environmental change, both as a cause of conflict and a chance for cooperation.
Our first authors, Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) professors Carol Dumaine and Irving Mintzer, set the stage for our issue with a foundational piece on confronting climate change and redefining security in the Anthropocene.
The magnitude of human impact on the environment is a direct consequence of the scale of population growth. As our global population continues to increase, exacerbating the effects of an uncertain but changing environment, the importance of modeling change and risk will become increasingly crucial to [End Page 1] our decision-making processes. Roger-Mark De Souza identifies how countries can harness key demographic trends—like youth bulges and urbanization—to build “demographic resilience” to better anticipate the shocks and stresses associated with climate change. Caitlin E. Werrell, Francesco Femia, and Troy Sternberg then question the strength of our predictive tools, examining how global climate events contributed to instability in Syria and Egypt and whether climate and natural resource variables were incorporated into those indices prior to the Arab Spring. Recognizing that the consequences of climate change are inherently uncertain, Robert Repetto and Robert Easton reconsider the Nordhaus DICE model to account for uncertainties. In doing so, the authors find the cost of insurance against climate change to be virtually zero, suggesting the science and economics of climate change are not in conflict.
Next, we feature three articles that examine the critical relationship between climate change and energy. Michael T. Klare begins this section by looking at how climate change impacts, such as extreme weather events, affect energy security. Identifying a dynamic he terms the climate change “blowback,” Klare provides insight into how climate change will affect access to and the supply of fossil fuels and renewable energies. Sharon Burke and Emily Schneider then look at the literal source of American power: the US electrical grid. By examining the risks, vulnerabilities, and threats facing the grid, Burke and Schneider highlight the importance of building resiliency to the grid’s greatest threat: Mother Nature. Closing...