Having been invited to attend a UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) panel titled, "From Conflict to Peacebuilding - The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment" on May 15, 2009, I was interested to see what issues this panel would address, knowing well from past experiences that humanitarian issues--including those during conflict--are in one way or another either essentially tangential to or directly linked with environmental issues.
Most people would consider themselves aware of this connection in theory; it would seem natural that as humanity interacts with the environment, there would be some way in which one affects the other. It might even be reasonable to assume that certain conflicts would result. But specific connections are sometimes less able to be drawn unless one has been amidst situations in which certain populations have been in crisis, and the connection between humanitarian issues and environmental issues becomes more pronounced.
The American public often does not, unless they happen to click on one of these reports on the UN site, or happen to see something buried in the international section of a newspaper or online resource, give the topic vast amounts of thought, at least in terms of conflicts of populations continents away. And, too, such environmental causes of conflict are often not "sexy" enough to get enough coverage, no matter how often the terms of "climate change" or "global warming" are bandied around along with their rather dramatic ramifications. When thinking of environmental issues, people instead immediately perhaps think of the image of a bearded Al Gore talking about climate change, or "do-gooder" environmentalists in Birkenstocks raising hell, or governments giving lip-service to such issues as they continue to dump waste, vote down clean energy, or get pressured by lobbyists to support business interests over proposed truths of basic ecology.
The reason for this is perhaps that these familiar images, stereotypical as they may be, occur among nations of the geo-political North—or what we consider to be "industrialized" nations, including in the West, which are definitely the "haves" of the world. Basic needs, such as access to clean water and reliable sanitation, farmable land, access to natural resources like coal, oil, and other minerals, may be an area of concern, but as much as people may be raising hell about them here in the West, while finite, for us, they’re not at the moment non-existent. Continued...