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Is environmental scarcity a cause of civil wars?

Is environmental scarcity a cause of civil wars? Environmental Sciences March 2006; 3(1): 1 – 4 EDITORIAL ADRIAN MARTIN, ANDY BLOWERS, & JAN BOERSEMA Civil wars often present themselves as tribal, ethnic or religious in origin. And yet large data sets do not confirm any association between a country’s social diversity and the likelihood of warfare (or to be more precise, the association is inverse: ethnic and religious diversity tends to foster peace, not war). It is not surprising therefore that there is considerable research effort to look beyond The Myth of ‘‘Ethnic Conflict’’ (Crawford and Lipschutz 1999) in an attempt to understand more fundamental causes and triggers. One strand of this enquiry has been ‘environmental conflict’ or ‘environmental security’, an area of academic enquiry that explores possible causal relations between the environment and violent conflict. There are two largely independent dimensions to the study of environmental conflict. The first investigates what has been dubbed the ‘resource curse’. Resource abundance (especially oil) is viewed as a factor in motivating secessionist movements while a wider range of high value resources (oil, gold, drugs, coltan, tin, diamonds, timbers) provide a means of financing rebel armies and thus sustaining and escalating already existing violence (Bannon and Collier 2003). In contrast to concerns about abundance, the second dimension, and the one that is the focus here, relates to resource scarcity as a possible cause of violence. Scarcity in this context refers mainly to renewable resources such as water, fuelwood and soil, and arises due to reduced supply (depletion or degradation), increased demand and/or increasing inequality of distribution. While Malthusian hypotheses relating to resource scarcity became widely unfashionable in the 1980s, and remain so in many academic circles, they had something of a renaissance within environmental conflict literatures of the 1990s, such as Robert Kaplan’s widely read ‘The Coming Anarchy’: For a while the media will continue to ascribe riots and other violent upheavals abroad mainly to ethnic and religious conflict. But as these conflicts multiply, it will become apparent that something else is afoot . . . . It is time to understand ‘the environment’ for what it is: the national security issue of the early twenty-first century. Kaplan’s (1994) work might be dismissed for lack of scientific rigour: it is certainly over- reliant on neo-Malthusian assumptions to cover over gaps in the evidence. However, since the 1980s there have been more careful examinations of the proposed environment – conflict nexus. Thomas Homer-Dixon and the ‘Toronto group’ of scholars have been the most prolific in analysing cases of violent conflict to establish whether environmental scarcity has been a causal factor. Environment, Scarcity and Violence (Homer-Dixon 1999) is far more subtle and nuanced than Kaplan’s work, but the basic findings are not dissimilar: proximate and commonly identified ‘causes’ of violent conflict (ethnicity, religion, etc.) often conceal the ISSN 1569-3430 print/ISSN 1744-4225 online  2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/15693430600593981 2 A. Martin et al. fact that scarcity of renewable natural resources is a significant contributing causal factor. Other major research groups asking the same question, such as a Swiss group led by Gu¨ nther Baechler (1999), have reached much the same conclusion. Despite a degree of agreement, there remains plenty of scope for critical questioning of this proposed causal relationship. Firstly, Large-N surveys that look for statistical associations between environmental degradation variables and conflict variables prove inconclusive. Even where some apparent trend can be observed, it tends not to provide any evidence of causal linkage. For example, a simple data set containing a variable on conflict incidence and a variable on deforestation rates will result in the observation that violent conflicts are more likely to occur in countries with relatively high rates of deforestation. But this does not mean that deforestation is a cause of conflict. To put this in perspective, a similar methodology might tell us that conflict is most likely to occur in countries with low levels of mobile phone ownership, or with lower consumption of tinned pet food. In each case, all that is really confirmed is that such variables are co-responsive with variations in wealth. The variable ‘poverty’ has such a strong influence on the likelihood of violent conflict that it tends to mask attempts to explore statistically the role of less prominent variables. As a result, the evidence for causality comes mostly from case studies that seek relatively in- depth, qualitative explorations of pathways to conflict. There are two main problems associated with these case studies. Firstly, the approach used only selects cases where violence is the outcome, thereby allowing no variation in the dependent variable. The lack of non- conflict comparisons leaves space for criticism. For example, a case study analysis may conclude that scarcity of water was a factor that contributed to the outbreak of conflict. For each such case, however, there are many dozens of unresearched cases where water scarcity leads to non-violent and even co-operative outcomes. Even within a case of water scarcity that does lead to violence, it is only a minority who resort to this approach to resolving their problems. Can a research programme that fails to compare non-violent cases with violent cases really claim to understand the circumstances under which violence occurs? Secondly, different scholars can and do review much the same case study evidence and arrive at different conclusions. For example, Percival and Homer-Dixon (1998) concluded that land scarcity played only a peripheral role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, whereas Diamond (2005) considered it to be of central importance. This difference in interpretation of the evidence really amounts to the importance attached to evidence of killings other than Hutus killing Tutsis: there are examples of Hutus killing Hutus, and of Hutus killing BaTwa (the indigenous group sometimes called pygmies). For Percival and Homer-Dixon, such exceptions should not distract from the fact that this was essentially a Hutu – Tutsi tribal conflict. For Diamond, it provides unassailable evidence to the contrary. Further differences emerge between those whose analysis focuses largely on local processes (for example, those with theoretical frameworks largely based in social psychology) and those who locate site- specific processes within the context of wider circuits of capital and power (for example, those employing theoretical frameworks based in political science and political ecology). The latter (e.g. Peluso and Watts 2001) provide a robust critique of Homer-Dixon and others, finding their analysis places too much emphasis on the causal powers of local phenomena such as demographic and environmental change. This provides a strong illustration of how the analytical framework adopted makes a profound difference to the resulting data interpretation and conclusions. So what do we think we know about the scarcity-conflict linkage? Firstly, the basic finding from case study research is that there is a causal linkage, but this is hardly ever simple and direct. Environmental scarcity (in particular reduced or more unequal access to renewable resources) acts indirectly, serving as a contributory factor, the causal impact of which is Editorial 3 mediated by intervening social variables. Secondly, and rather more contentiously, the kind of theoretical approaches that seem to best explain such indirect mechanisms are rooted in the social psychology of inter-group conflict (in particular, theories relating to relative deprivation and social identity). The empirical observation is that environmental scarcity rarely creates fresh social cleavages, but under certain conditions it amplifies existing ones. Resource use competition, under these conditions, becomes entwined with existing perceptions of inequality, contributing to a crystallisation of group identities, a propensity to frame problems in inter-group terms, and a hardening of attitudes between groups. Thus the appearance of an inter-group (tribal, ethnic) conflict. The groups who stand opposed to each other may in fact have different ways of using natural resources, and this may be one way in which they construct their different identities. On the other hand, they may use resources in the same ways and seek to invest/construct differences. This being so, what are the ‘conditions’ under which resource scarcity amplifies existing social fault-lines? In general, it is variables that tend to render it more likely that resource access issues add to perceptions of relative deprivation (one group relative to another group) and impair self-esteem associated with group membership. A common variable here is the role of leaders, who are sometimes observed to deliberately instrumentalise issues of environmental scarcity, encouraging followers to construct environmental issues in terms of existing social cleavages. Thus, one of the tactics of the organisers of the genocide in Rwanda was to make land scarcity a tribal issue, deliberately encouraging a social construction of the land scarcity issue that connected the slaughter of Tutsis with its solution. A second variable that relates to this is a history of past conflict: having had a recent violent conflict more than anything else renders a society more vulnerable to another conflict. It deepens poverty but also intensifies the propensity to construct environmental issues in terms of competition between groups, and makes it relatively easy for leaders to foster such perceptions for their own parochial interests. Again, Rwanda serves as an example, with a history of leaders deliberately constructing a social chasm between Hutus and Tutsis (the divide and rule tactics of the Germans and then the Belgians) and subsequently drawing on the emotions of this historic conflict while also linking it to land. Other contenders for conditions that favour pathways to conflict include: low level of economic inter-dependence (lack of mutual interests), poor or inappropriate conflict resolution mechanisms (e.g. in Rwanda the Gacaca court system had disappeared prior to 1994), macro-economic change (including hardships associated with structural adjustment), and lack of opportunities for livelihood diversification (including the ‘escape valve’ of migration). There is no universal set of conditions but sets of intervening variables that serve to influence how a resource scarcity problem becomes socially constructed. This attempt at a summary of causality is brief and, given current knowledge, unavoidably vague. For example, we can say something about the ‘intervening variables’ that help determine how scarcity situations are socially constructed, but this remains something of a black box that needs unpacking. The same might also be said about the use of the term ‘scarcity’. There is therefore much still to be learned if understanding of this complex nexus is to be progressed. However, we should still ask whether the limited understanding that we have is in any way useful. We will restrict this discussion to a few observations about the implications for procedures of environmental governance. Does the environmental conflict literature tell us anything about how scarce resources, especially in areas with prevalent poverty, should be managed? Referring back to the social psychology literature, there are some well-trodden rules for conflict management that are based on the principle of promoting cross-group cooperation to achieve collective goals, thus breaking down the ‘groupness’ that tends to characterise perceptions of underlying problems. In brief, these procedures involve face-to-face contact between stakeholder groups, with discussion centred on the identification 4 A. Martin et al. of shared goals and mutually agreed ways of working collectively to achieve these. Further, the quality of communication is critical, with a special need to ensure that discussions are organised in ways that promote equality of participation (Hewstone and Greenland 2000). What is striking about this is that the kind of ‘best practice’ procedures advocated by psychologists seeking to alleviate inter-group conflict bear more than a passing resemblance to the kind of best practice advocated by many environmental governance scholars: it shares key features of the procedures followed in deliberative approaches to environmental decision- making. This similarity in methods suggests the possibility that approaches to breaking down inter-group rivalry might be complementary with approaches that seek good quality environmental decisions (e.g. more sustainable use of existing resources, increased supply of resources or reduced demand for resources). We should not get carried away with this similarity, and certainly not to the extent of prematurely believing that deliberative processes of environmental decision-making can help to avoid serious conflicts. However, it does offer a potentially attractive entry point for research and practice that seeks to integrate conflict management with environmental management. It should probably also be used to inform the development of Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment (PCIA), a tool used by several international aid agencies to mainstream peacemaking into all areas of intervention, including those that effect natural resources. Note 1. This may appear to side with Diamond’s version of events over Homer-Dixon’s. In practice, however, while there is evidence of leaders attempting to play the land issue to motivate the Hutu militia, there is no evidence that this attempt was particularly influential. References Baechler G. 1999. Environmental degradation and violent conflict: hypotheses, research agendas and theory building. In: Suliman M (ed). Ecology, politics and violent conflict. London: Zed Books, pp 76 – 112. Bannon I, Collier P, editors. 2003. Natural resources and violent conflict: options and actions. Washington DC: The World Bank. Crawford B, Lipschutz D. 1999. The myth of ‘‘ethnic conflict’’: politics, economics and ‘‘cultural’’ violence. Berkeley: University of California. Diamond J. 2005. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive. London: Allen Lane. Hewstone M, Greenland K. 2002. Intergroup conflict. International Journal of Psychology 35(20):136 – 144. Homer-Dixon T. 1999. Environment, scarcity and violence. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Kaplan R. 1994. The coming anarchy. The Atlantic Monthly, February, 44 – 76. Peluso N, Watts M. 2001. Violent environments. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Percival V, Homer-Dixon T. 1998. The case of Rwanda. In: Homer-Dixon T, Blitt J (eds). Ecoviolence: links among environment, population and security. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publisher, pp. 201 – 222. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Environmental Sciences Taylor & Francis

Is environmental scarcity a cause of civil wars?

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Taylor & Francis
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1569-3430
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1744-4225
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10.1080/15693430600593981
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Abstract

Environmental Sciences March 2006; 3(1): 1 – 4 EDITORIAL ADRIAN MARTIN, ANDY BLOWERS, & JAN BOERSEMA Civil wars often present themselves as tribal, ethnic or religious in origin. And yet large data sets do not confirm any association between a country’s social diversity and the likelihood of warfare (or to be more precise, the association is inverse: ethnic and religious diversity tends to foster peace, not war). It is not surprising therefore that there is considerable research effort to look beyond The Myth of ‘‘Ethnic Conflict’’ (Crawford and Lipschutz 1999) in an attempt to understand more fundamental causes and triggers. One strand of this enquiry has been ‘environmental conflict’ or ‘environmental security’, an area of academic enquiry that explores possible causal relations between the environment and violent conflict. There are two largely independent dimensions to the study of environmental conflict. The first investigates what has been dubbed the ‘resource curse’. Resource abundance (especially oil) is viewed as a factor in motivating secessionist movements while a wider range of high value resources (oil, gold, drugs, coltan, tin, diamonds, timbers) provide a means of financing rebel armies and thus sustaining and escalating already existing violence (Bannon and Collier 2003). In contrast to concerns about abundance, the second dimension, and the one that is the focus here, relates to resource scarcity as a possible cause of violence. Scarcity in this context refers mainly to renewable resources such as water, fuelwood and soil, and arises due to reduced supply (depletion or degradation), increased demand and/or increasing inequality of distribution. While Malthusian hypotheses relating to resource scarcity became widely unfashionable in the 1980s, and remain so in many academic circles, they had something of a renaissance within environmental conflict literatures of the 1990s, such as Robert Kaplan’s widely read ‘The Coming Anarchy’: For a while the media will continue to ascribe riots and other violent upheavals abroad mainly to ethnic and religious conflict. But as these conflicts multiply, it will become apparent that something else is afoot . . . . It is time to understand ‘the environment’ for what it is: the national security issue of the early twenty-first century. Kaplan’s (1994) work might be dismissed for lack of scientific rigour: it is certainly over- reliant on neo-Malthusian assumptions to cover over gaps in the evidence. However, since the 1980s there have been more careful examinations of the proposed environment – conflict nexus. Thomas Homer-Dixon and the ‘Toronto group’ of scholars have been the most prolific in analysing cases of violent conflict to establish whether environmental scarcity has been a causal factor. Environment, Scarcity and Violence (Homer-Dixon 1999) is far more subtle and nuanced than Kaplan’s work, but the basic findings are not dissimilar: proximate and commonly identified ‘causes’ of violent conflict (ethnicity, religion, etc.) often conceal the ISSN 1569-3430 print/ISSN 1744-4225 online  2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/15693430600593981 2 A. Martin et al. fact that scarcity of renewable natural resources is a significant contributing causal factor. Other major research groups asking the same question, such as a Swiss group led by Gu¨ nther Baechler (1999), have reached much the same conclusion. Despite a degree of agreement, there remains plenty of scope for critical questioning of this proposed causal relationship. Firstly, Large-N surveys that look for statistical associations between environmental degradation variables and conflict variables prove inconclusive. Even where some apparent trend can be observed, it tends not to provide any evidence of causal linkage. For example, a simple data set containing a variable on conflict incidence and a variable on deforestation rates will result in the observation that violent conflicts are more likely to occur in countries with relatively high rates of deforestation. But this does not mean that deforestation is a cause of conflict. To put this in perspective, a similar methodology might tell us that conflict is most likely to occur in countries with low levels of mobile phone ownership, or with lower consumption of tinned pet food. In each case, all that is really confirmed is that such variables are co-responsive with variations in wealth. The variable ‘poverty’ has such a strong influence on the likelihood of violent conflict that it tends to mask attempts to explore statistically the role of less prominent variables. As a result, the evidence for causality comes mostly from case studies that seek relatively in- depth, qualitative explorations of pathways to conflict. There are two main problems associated with these case studies. Firstly, the approach used only selects cases where violence is the outcome, thereby allowing no variation in the dependent variable. The lack of non- conflict comparisons leaves space for criticism. For example, a case study analysis may conclude that scarcity of water was a factor that contributed to the outbreak of conflict. For each such case, however, there are many dozens of unresearched cases where water scarcity leads to non-violent and even co-operative outcomes. Even within a case of water scarcity that does lead to violence, it is only a minority who resort to this approach to resolving their problems. Can a research programme that fails to compare non-violent cases with violent cases really claim to understand the circumstances under which violence occurs? Secondly, different scholars can and do review much the same case study evidence and arrive at different conclusions. For example, Percival and Homer-Dixon (1998) concluded that land scarcity played only a peripheral role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, whereas Diamond (2005) considered it to be of central importance. This difference in interpretation of the evidence really amounts to the importance attached to evidence of killings other than Hutus killing Tutsis: there are examples of Hutus killing Hutus, and of Hutus killing BaTwa (the indigenous group sometimes called pygmies). For Percival and Homer-Dixon, such exceptions should not distract from the fact that this was essentially a Hutu – Tutsi tribal conflict. For Diamond, it provides unassailable evidence to the contrary. Further differences emerge between those whose analysis focuses largely on local processes (for example, those with theoretical frameworks largely based in social psychology) and those who locate site- specific processes within the context of wider circuits of capital and power (for example, those employing theoretical frameworks based in political science and political ecology). The latter (e.g. Peluso and Watts 2001) provide a robust critique of Homer-Dixon and others, finding their analysis places too much emphasis on the causal powers of local phenomena such as demographic and environmental change. This provides a strong illustration of how the analytical framework adopted makes a profound difference to the resulting data interpretation and conclusions. So what do we think we know about the scarcity-conflict linkage? Firstly, the basic finding from case study research is that there is a causal linkage, but this is hardly ever simple and direct. Environmental scarcity (in particular reduced or more unequal access to renewable resources) acts indirectly, serving as a contributory factor, the causal impact of which is Editorial 3 mediated by intervening social variables. Secondly, and rather more contentiously, the kind of theoretical approaches that seem to best explain such indirect mechanisms are rooted in the social psychology of inter-group conflict (in particular, theories relating to relative deprivation and social identity). The empirical observation is that environmental scarcity rarely creates fresh social cleavages, but under certain conditions it amplifies existing ones. Resource use competition, under these conditions, becomes entwined with existing perceptions of inequality, contributing to a crystallisation of group identities, a propensity to frame problems in inter-group terms, and a hardening of attitudes between groups. Thus the appearance of an inter-group (tribal, ethnic) conflict. The groups who stand opposed to each other may in fact have different ways of using natural resources, and this may be one way in which they construct their different identities. On the other hand, they may use resources in the same ways and seek to invest/construct differences. This being so, what are the ‘conditions’ under which resource scarcity amplifies existing social fault-lines? In general, it is variables that tend to render it more likely that resource access issues add to perceptions of relative deprivation (one group relative to another group) and impair self-esteem associated with group membership. A common variable here is the role of leaders, who are sometimes observed to deliberately instrumentalise issues of environmental scarcity, encouraging followers to construct environmental issues in terms of existing social cleavages. Thus, one of the tactics of the organisers of the genocide in Rwanda was to make land scarcity a tribal issue, deliberately encouraging a social construction of the land scarcity issue that connected the slaughter of Tutsis with its solution. A second variable that relates to this is a history of past conflict: having had a recent violent conflict more than anything else renders a society more vulnerable to another conflict. It deepens poverty but also intensifies the propensity to construct environmental issues in terms of competition between groups, and makes it relatively easy for leaders to foster such perceptions for their own parochial interests. Again, Rwanda serves as an example, with a history of leaders deliberately constructing a social chasm between Hutus and Tutsis (the divide and rule tactics of the Germans and then the Belgians) and subsequently drawing on the emotions of this historic conflict while also linking it to land. Other contenders for conditions that favour pathways to conflict include: low level of economic inter-dependence (lack of mutual interests), poor or inappropriate conflict resolution mechanisms (e.g. in Rwanda the Gacaca court system had disappeared prior to 1994), macro-economic change (including hardships associated with structural adjustment), and lack of opportunities for livelihood diversification (including the ‘escape valve’ of migration). There is no universal set of conditions but sets of intervening variables that serve to influence how a resource scarcity problem becomes socially constructed. This attempt at a summary of causality is brief and, given current knowledge, unavoidably vague. For example, we can say something about the ‘intervening variables’ that help determine how scarcity situations are socially constructed, but this remains something of a black box that needs unpacking. The same might also be said about the use of the term ‘scarcity’. There is therefore much still to be learned if understanding of this complex nexus is to be progressed. However, we should still ask whether the limited understanding that we have is in any way useful. We will restrict this discussion to a few observations about the implications for procedures of environmental governance. Does the environmental conflict literature tell us anything about how scarce resources, especially in areas with prevalent poverty, should be managed? Referring back to the social psychology literature, there are some well-trodden rules for conflict management that are based on the principle of promoting cross-group cooperation to achieve collective goals, thus breaking down the ‘groupness’ that tends to characterise perceptions of underlying problems. In brief, these procedures involve face-to-face contact between stakeholder groups, with discussion centred on the identification 4 A. Martin et al. of shared goals and mutually agreed ways of working collectively to achieve these. Further, the quality of communication is critical, with a special need to ensure that discussions are organised in ways that promote equality of participation (Hewstone and Greenland 2000). What is striking about this is that the kind of ‘best practice’ procedures advocated by psychologists seeking to alleviate inter-group conflict bear more than a passing resemblance to the kind of best practice advocated by many environmental governance scholars: it shares key features of the procedures followed in deliberative approaches to environmental decision- making. This similarity in methods suggests the possibility that approaches to breaking down inter-group rivalry might be complementary with approaches that seek good quality environmental decisions (e.g. more sustainable use of existing resources, increased supply of resources or reduced demand for resources). We should not get carried away with this similarity, and certainly not to the extent of prematurely believing that deliberative processes of environmental decision-making can help to avoid serious conflicts. However, it does offer a potentially attractive entry point for research and practice that seeks to integrate conflict management with environmental management. It should probably also be used to inform the development of Peace and Conflict Impact Assessment (PCIA), a tool used by several international aid agencies to mainstream peacemaking into all areas of intervention, including those that effect natural resources. Note 1. This may appear to side with Diamond’s version of events over Homer-Dixon’s. In practice, however, while there is evidence of leaders attempting to play the land issue to motivate the Hutu militia, there is no evidence that this attempt was particularly influential. References Baechler G. 1999. Environmental degradation and violent conflict: hypotheses, research agendas and theory building. In: Suliman M (ed). Ecology, politics and violent conflict. London: Zed Books, pp 76 – 112. Bannon I, Collier P, editors. 2003. Natural resources and violent conflict: options and actions. Washington DC: The World Bank. Crawford B, Lipschutz D. 1999. The myth of ‘‘ethnic conflict’’: politics, economics and ‘‘cultural’’ violence. Berkeley: University of California. Diamond J. 2005. Collapse: how societies choose to fail or survive. London: Allen Lane. Hewstone M, Greenland K. 2002. Intergroup conflict. International Journal of Psychology 35(20):136 – 144. Homer-Dixon T. 1999. Environment, scarcity and violence. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Kaplan R. 1994. The coming anarchy. The Atlantic Monthly, February, 44 – 76. Peluso N, Watts M. 2001. Violent environments. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Percival V, Homer-Dixon T. 1998. The case of Rwanda. In: Homer-Dixon T, Blitt J (eds). Ecoviolence: links among environment, population and security. Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield Publisher, pp. 201 – 222.

Journal

Environmental SciencesTaylor & Francis

Published: Mar 1, 2006

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