Ecological & Economic Factors of Violent Conflict

Decreasing supplies of physically controllable environmental resources, such as clean water and usable agricultural land, sometimes provokes interstate "simple-scarcity" conflicts or resource wars. Moreover, large population movements caused by environmental stress can induce "group-identity" conflicts, especially ethnic clashes.

Severe environmental scarcity can simultaneously increase economic deprivation and disrupt key social institutions, which in turn would cause "deprivation" conflicts such as civil strife and insurgency. It is expected that of the major environmental changes facing humankind, degradation and depletion of agricultural land, forests, water, and fish will contribute more towards social turmoil in the coming decades than climate change or ozone depletion.

There is an urgent need for global action to address our current ecological crisis. Our societies and globalised world are confronted with different interlinked challenges: a great imbalance in wealth and poverty, hunger and malnutrition, climate change, biodiversity losses, resource use and other ecological crises, financial crises, excessive military expenditure, public debt in many countries, and high (youth) unemployment.

While resource scarcity does not inevitably lead to violent conflict, it can act as a conflict multiplier by exacerbating existing social tensions. Meanwhile poor resource management can worsen marginalisation, particularly among the poorest social groups. Top-down policies can fail to take local needs into account, large-scale agricultural investment can displace and disrupt small farmers, and hydropower dams, while positive in terms of cleaner energy production, can have a negative impact on both downstream and upstream communities.

Militarism is one of the most wasteful and environmentally damaging practices that can be changed in order to reduce ecological damage and liberate resources for environment protection and meeting people’s essential needs. Reduction of 10-20% of the global military budget (currently $1.7 trillion per year) would provide sufficient resources to support this. (See Disarmament for Sustainable Development – World Future Council).

The abolition of nuclear weapons alone could release 8% of the global military budget to human and environmental needs, and eliminate the existential threat that nuclear weapons pose to humanity, the environment and to future generations, including the threat of catastrophic climatic consequences from nuclear weapons-use (See Climate-Nuclear Nexus).

In order to address the social injustice and inequality that often act as seeds of violent conflict, equitable resource management should be part of peace building and peacekeeping activities.

Pax Christi International hopes to raise awareness of the complexities surrounding resource management among policy makers at the international level, as well as to explore how international policy can better support local communities to peacefully and equitably manage their natural resources.


Further reading:

Change needed in global environmental and climate protection; call for action against military spending