21 Conclusions, Prospects, Futures

Alexander Lautensach and Sabina Lautensach

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Explain how comprehensive models of human security can yield effective solutions to the challenges of the Anthropocene while the perspectives, values and ideals that informed traditional security models largely contributed to those challenges.
  • Integrate the diverse areas of inquiry and ways of thinking that constitute the field of human security.
  • Outline a concise definition of development that is completely compatible with long-term human security.
  • Critically engage with the contents of several chapters in this textbook and formulate a personal position on those topics.
  • Revisit the introduction and compare and contrast in your own words the six core scenarios presented by Raskin (2016); then relate to them your own vision, informed by current events, of where the world and your country or region are going and why.
  • List sources of human insecurity that arise out of our lack of social, economic, cultural and environmental sustainability.
  • List sources of human insecurity that are independent of sustainability issues and relate them to your home community.
  • Identify opportunities for increasing human security in your community, region, and country; address all four pillars.
  • Deliberate about the strengths and weaknesses of democratic governance in the context of the Anthropocene.


To help the reader gain a vantage point over the stunning diversity of challenges to human security, this chapter begins with a survey of challenges moving from the global dimension to the regional and national ones. The global challenges are dominated by the imperatives to move towards sustainable impacts and to address the many manifestations of the global environmental crisis to ensure the acceptable survival of a maximum population. Prospects for human security on that front seem daunting when one takes into account that many powerful actors in world affairs are only just now beginning to take the challenges seriously. Others are deliberately deprioritising them. Goals and ideals, and entire ways of thinking about development and progress are in limbo at this stage of coming to terms with the new situation of the Anthropocene. The widespread protests against irresponsible climate policies, as well as the 2020 pandemic, have further unsettled those ways of thinking and newly emphasized the global dimension.

At the local, regional and national levels the challenges to human security that dominate the political agenda still tend to emanate from three pilars — socio-political issues (e.g. law enforcement, human rights, governance, international relations), health security (e.g. organisation, financing and distribution of services) and economic security (e.g. employment, ‘growth’, industrial performance, inflation and investments). Until recently, the major media organisations kept environmental insecurity, including even its most obvious manifestation, climate change, well out of the mainstream focus, despite efforts from the social fringes and by NGOs to change that. Powerful lobby groups hindered any substantial progress in emission reductions or energy policy. Then a 15-year-old student from Sweden decided that enough was enough; and within one year the tide seemed to have turned. In 2019 millions of striking young people filled the world’s streets, demanding action against climate change and its consequences; governments declared climate emergencies; support for green parties and environmental NGOs surged in many countries; corporations took initiatives to carefully sidestep around, or to actively participate, in a transition that may well make a decisive difference in world history. But as the political will towards action mounts, so do the challenges — and with every year that they remain unmitigated, the necessary solutions will need to be even less compromising, more costly and hurtful, and increasingly too late as far as the extinctions of species is concerned. The Australian wildfires of 2019 painfully confirmed that insight (Komesaroff & Kerridge, 2020).

The other event that profoundly changed peoples’ view of the world was initiated by a humble virus that spread over all inhabited continents within weeks  and claimed, by the time of writing, almost 400,000 lives. For the first time in our collective memory, a security threat exploded globally, leaving no place to escape and confronting rich and poor alike. Whether one interprets the COVID-19 pandemic as the first of many global ‘transition events’, or as a one-off global inconvenience, it underscored the collective realization that the world is changing rapidly, deeply and menacingly.

The second section of this chapter surveys the opportunities for human security as proposed in the various chapters. It moves again from the global towards the local, beginning with the most urgent agenda of sustainability. A vivid discrepancy appears between the numerous opportunities for international intitatives and the widespread absence of the political will to engage in them cooperatively. More than once in the recent past were we assured by international relations experts that a groundbreaking declaration such as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights would never be produced in today’s fragmented United Nations; neither the political will, nor the global consensus, nor the necessary leadership among the Security Council is evident. Even the SDGs, the first international effort at addressing some of the challenges arising from accelerating global change, are falling short of their targets. In contrast to that disillusioning prospect stand the numerous examples of individual countries achieving impressive gains in the environmental basis for the human security of their citizens, and of citizens taking the initiative on their own security concerns. We arrive at the puzzling conclusion that the sovereign state presents as both a major source of the challenges and of the opportunities.

In the third section a vision of human security is presented that exceeds the merely environmentally sustainable and addresses challenges that operate independently of sustainable physical limits but that nevertheless contribute to crucial aspects of human security. Separate subsections deal with the future of social justice; the clash of cultures (which are not ‘civilizations’) against the backdrop of mass migrations; the complex political futures arising from tendencies towards political fragmentation and irredentism; ethical limitations to the rule of law and civil disobedience in favour of human security; and the crisis of governability indicating pitfalls and strengths of democratic governance in future scenarios. The chapter ends with some extension activities of a more complex type to encourage the student reader not to stop where the book does.

Chapter Overview

21.1 Human Security in World Affairs: Challenges

21.1.1 ‘Ultimate Security’ Is Receding from Our Reach

21.1.2 Collapse: When and How?

21.1.3 From ‘Feeding the Hungry’ Towards the ‘Minimum Sufficient Welfare for the Greatest Sustainable Number’

21.2 Human Security in World Affairs: Opportunities

21.2.1 Opportunities at the International Level

21.2.2 Opportunities at the National and Local Levels Four Objectives that Promote Sustainable Human Security Regionally Developing Countries: How Much Room for Sustainable Human Security? Addressing the Cultural Foundations

21.3 Besides Environmental Sustainability, What Other Aspects of Human Security Need Improvement?

21.3.1 The Future of Health Security

21.3.2 Socio-political Security: The Spectre of Fragmentation

21.3.3 What If the Law Is Wrong?

21.3.4 The Crisis of Governability

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading


21.1 Human Security in World Affairs: Challenges

The arguments presented in the introductory chapters amount to two main propositions. First, the present situation and our prospects for the immediate future cannot be adequately addressed by traditional security thinking. In fact, traditional security policies and their underlying beliefs and values are partly responsible for our current predicaments. As argued in Chapter 3, Chapter 10 and Chapter 11, those underlying beliefs and values included an uncritical confidence in limitless growth, in the ability of technological progress to solve all our problems, and in certain essential characteristics that distinguish humans from all other living beings and render us ‘sapient,’ responsible and rational, enlisting the resources of our entire planet in order to create the perfect world for untold billions. Of course, we were overdue for some sobering up.

This applies to citizens of developed countries in the sense that their addiction to cheap abundant energy and inequitable consumption creates security risks that are not easily recognised under the dominant ideologies of the Conventional Development Paradigm (CDP), political realism, and cornucopianism. The proposition also applies to citizens of developing countries insofar as their dependence on exploitative trade relationships and counterproductive development schemes make it difficult for them to gain the necessary latitude for addressing their specific security challenges. Their incessant pursuit of fossil-fuel-based ‘development’ renders the global ‘climate emergency’ next to intransigent. Chapter 11 and Chapter 12 show how our uncompromising pursuit of a narrow and biased interpretation of progress has led us into a gruesome, unstoppable war against non-human ‘nature’, our very own support base, that has now escalated to grotesque dimensions: Of the entire mammalian biomass on Earth, domestic animals constitute a whopping 60%, humans as a species make up 36%, while the Earth’s entire inventory of wild mammals has shrunk to a mere four percent (Bar-On et al., 2018). Those problems are not even recognised under traditional security models or any ‘hard’ interpretation of human security.

The second proposition states that human security in its multidisciplinary interpretations and multidimensional models can in fact inform effective policies that could vastly improve humanity’s prospects across cultures and around the world. Such policies could address massive security threats that have largely escaped attention because of ideological blinkers, lack of information or inappropriate value priorities. Extending the scope of human security in its comprehensive sense to include future generations can also address the particular dangers indicated in future scenarios involving various combinations of collapse and reform. In this chapter we will again refer to Raskin’s (2016) six scenarios discussed in Chapter 1 (summarised in Table 1.1) because they admirably cover the possible range. The models and the experts behind them are telling decision makers what must be done, and have done so for decades (as documented in the series of World Scientists’ Warnings: Ripple et al., 2017). The problem is that so far those messages have fallen on deaf ears. Instead, the Great Acceleration continues unabated and the war rages on — despite protests and pandemic.

Various chapters reinforce those two propositions with evidence from the areas of conflict studies, international law, the situations of individuals within and without the state, the failing and rebuilding of states, the depletion and scarcity of resources, and from climate change. In Chapter 6 Hennie Strydom explained how International Humanitarian Law developed and mirrored the transition from state-centered to human-centered security thinking and the replacement of inter-state armed conflicts by internal ones. Hence, the causes for internal violent conflict have joined the list of traditional reasons for war as major challenges to human security. Those causes include intolerable socioeconomic inequity, tensions between ethno-cultural or religious factions, displacement of ever larger populations, and the failure of states in exercising their obligations towards the citizenry. Those causes also drive numerous other aspects of human insecurity besides armed conflict, which underscores again the basic fact that avoiding violence (i.e its direct, structural, and cultural types) only constitutes a necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition for security.

21.1.1 ‘Ultimate Security’ Is Receding from Our Reach

What also emerges from those first two thirds of the text is that many threats to human security are rooted in humanity’s relationship and interactions with the rest of nature, according to Myers’ (1993b) dictum of ‘ultimate security.’ The global environmental crisis in its numerous dimensions is largely driven by humanity overshooting the capacity of ecological support structures. Collectively we are quite literally ‘living beyond our means’, as the UN’s Millennium Assessment Board (UNEP-MAB, 2005) put it. Much suffering, hardship, and loss of biodiversity could have been avoided had the international community arrived at this realisation a few decades earlier when the Club of Rome (Meadows et al., 1972, 2004), and others issued their first warnings about the world approaching limits to growth (Ripple et al., 2017). The Club of Rome’s multivariate computer simulations yielded scenarios that varied in the amounts of non-renewable resources, and in the extent and timing of international countermeasures. Though their assumptions and arguments were never refuted in principle, their critics made much of the fact that the timing of many of their predictions proved off target — an aspect that the authors had clearly declared as neither realistic nor relevant for drawing fundamental conclusions from their forecasts, namely that humanity’s course is unsustainable. Subsequent studies (e.g. Bardi, 2011; Meadows et al., 2004; Turner, 2008; Rockström et al., 2009; Ewing et al., 2010; WWF, 2018) confirmed their conclusions: Global limits to growth are quantifiable and ‘ontologically objective’ (see Chapter 11), they manifest as discrete ecological boundaries, and human activities are variously approaching or transgressing them.

The trouble with overshoot, be it ecological or socioeconomic, is that its manifestations become worse with every year that it remains unmitigated. In the case of ecological overshoot those manifestations include desertification, soil erosion, salination, pollution, loss of biodiversity, resource depletion and pandemics. That self-reinforcing principle means that the necessary measures to address it effectively will need to be even less compromising, more costly and hurtful, and more drastic with every year that is wasted. In any case, for many non-human species at the brink of extinction those measures would arrive entirely too late. Not only do the negative consequences of overshoot increase over time, its self-reinforcement means that they grow exponentially, which means that we tend to overestimate the amount of time left to implement counterstrategies. Moreover, prolonged overshoot engenders the likelihood that tipping points are passed, triggering sudden systemic readjustments, which can manifest as a collapse. With every year that effective solutions are delayed, the likelihood of collapse (and its severity) increases. As most of the negative trends contributing to the Great Acceleration (i.e. emissions of GHGs and other pollutants, consumption, technological expansion, income inequality and military expenditures) are not only proceeding but still accelerating, we can state with confidence that whatever efforts to counteract overshoot might have been attempted, they have not met with evident success. The only two trends in the set that seem to have passed their inflection points, meaning that their rates of increase are no longer increasing, are global population growth and global economic growth; however, their slowing was less the result of deliberate policies but of inadvertent transition effects.[1] The SDG agenda as the only global initiative towards sustainability were hampered from their inception by misguided expectations of ‘development’, by internal contradictions and by ignoring overshoot (O’Neill et al., 2018). On the whole, we conclude that overshoot continues to proceed virtually unmitigated by any effective countermeasures. This renders some limited collapse increasingly likely (Kolbert, 2006; Bendell, 2018; Rees, 2019).

21.1.2 Collapse: When and How?

From the foregoing we conclude that a certain extent of collapse seems all but inevitable. The reasons have been discussed throughout this book; they may be summarised as humanity’s failure to ensure environmental security through a timely reduction of our ecological overshoot and of our growth. Because environmental security underpins the other pillars to such a large extent, its absence is likely to destabilise most other aspects of human security. On that premise, the important questions are when and how collapse can be expected. Unfortunately, chronological predictions have tended to prove false. Retrospectively the failure of such predictions can be explained by the unknown influence and location of tipping points (Galaz et al., 2014). A more productive approach would be to ask what aspects of global change might operate as proximal triggers and how ‘bad’ those changes will need to get before their manifestations will be perceived as collapse. In order to address those questions, we need to first clarify what we mean by ‘collapse.’

From its beginnings, human history has been marked by ups and downs in the extent of human security that was enjoyed by regional populations. Severe declines in one or several pillars were interpreted as ‘collapses.’ Although the present threats are unprecedented in their global extents, they are being perceived inequitably and their impacts are experienced inequitably around the world (with the exception of COVID-19). This was made clear with regards to climate change in Chapter 9. Invariably it is the world’s poorest who have suffered the brunt of collapses, and it will be no different next time; the planetwide extent of the present crisis will merely result in a planetwide variation in the extent of victimisation. In most of its manifestations, collapse will eventuate regionally.

What will be the most likely triggers of collapse? In an updated forecast Jorgen Randers (2012), a member of the original Club of Rome team, suggested that of all manifestations of overshoot, global warming will play the most decisive role in determining humanity’s future during this century. As a result of international inaction, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will continue to rise and cause at least +2°C by 2052. This warming by two degrees has been widely considered a critical threshold, beyond which non-linear increase (‘runaway greenhouse’) might take over.[2] Randers further suggested that the more benign scenarios described in the Club of Rome’s original analysis, in which humanity manages to control production and population increases[3], are probably no longer within our reach because humanity has failed to act in time (Grossman, 2012). Some data suggest that the projections of the IPCC habitually underestimate the  actual climate impact (McKibben, 2010).

As discussed in the introduction and Chapter 9, a range of diverse secondary threats to environmental security arises from global warming and associated climate change. They include flooding of coastal lowlands, more severe weather events, floods and droughts, epidemics, and further constraints on the supplies of food and water, as well as associated health threats (O’Brien, 2010; WWF, 2018). Leading economies will stagnate while some emerging economies will grow which will exacerbate overshoot (in 2019 at 170%), though more slowly. The resulting economic losses, food insecurity, mass migrations and health crises would weaken economies and social orders to a degree that compromises the rule of law and the authority of central governance. Chapter 5, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10 focus on the many challenges to socio-political security, health-related security, and economic security that arise from that general malaise. The increasing global inequity in terms of consumption, resource allocation, and reproductive rate that exists among countries, cultures and classes contributes to this susceptibility (Davies & Sandstrom, 2008; Dobkowski & Wallimann, 2002; Heinberg, 2013). Paul Bellamy’s detailed account in Chapter 5 of the connections between poverty and insecurity makes that abundantly clear.

One knock-on effect of climate change that seems particularly prone to trigger collapse is the depletion of natural resources, especially food and potable water. As explicated by Richard Plate in Chapter 10, human nature predestines us for resource depletion, and the rate at which cultures deplete their resources tends to outpace the rate at which they become aware of that fact. Climate change and the regional threats it poses to agriculture come on top of that constitutive source of food insecurity, at a time when unprecedented population sizes and cultural trends towards increasing meat consumption are already straining the Earth’s biocapacity (Brown, 2011; Grossman, 2012). Historical precedents suggest that food shortages and widespread malnutrition engender violent conflict, social upheaval and health insecurity (Heinberg, 2013). In the same vein, climate-induced shortages of other resources will exacerbate the risk of violence that resource depletion always engenders (Morales, 2002; Parenti, 2011; Homer-Dixon, 1999); most wars of the future will be over resources.

A further effect that is likely to contribute to regional incidents of collapse is the displacement of large populations from inundated coastal plains, from arid or flooded former agricultural regions, and from areas threatened by armed conflict (Myers, 1993a). Those refugees will strain the services and infrastructures of host countries and give rise to intercultural conflicts of the kind that are now plaguing the European Union (Lautensach, 2018a).

The global spread of misplaced notions of free-market laissez-faire policies raises another threat to human security (Chua, 2003). Conditions of weakened governments and widespread public disaffection and destitution favour the emergence of false prophets and demagogues who seek to mobilise followers for their own sinister political purposes. While some might conclude from the present situation that we have already arrived at that point — kakistocracies have been multiplying on the North American continent and elsewhere — historical precedents suggest that the danger from populist autocrats continues to grow, as the other variables increase.

21.1.3 From ‘Feeding the Hungry’ Towards the ‘Minimum Sufficient Welfare for the Greatest Sustainable Number’

Because of the contingencies of overshoot these problems cannot be effectively remedied by efforts that only focus on ‘eliminating poverty’ as the humanitarian ideal, along with SDG #1, demands — independently how one defines poverty.[4] The contingencies of overshoot impose a tragic inversion on the traditional humanitarian agenda of ‘development’. Mere equitable redistribution of food no longer suffices, even if it were politically feasible. At this point in time, if a global dictatorship allocated exactly equal amounts of resources to every human being, we would still all starve, albeit rather slowly (see footnote 5). Secondly, the fact that our current demand amounts to at least 1.7 planets (WWF, 2018) means that in spite of perfect equity two of every five people would be consuming part of the food producing machinery itself (WWF, 2018). Next year it would be a few more, and so forth. People living in more extreme biogeographical regions and latitudes would be hardest pressed because they tend to rely on greater amounts of animal protein. The fact that humanity, together with all domesticated mammals, already constitute 96% of all mammalian biomass on this planet could not speak more loudly on the subject of overshoot. Moreover, the population continues to grow even while food prices rise and fresh water and soils grow scarcer (Brown, 2003; Dobkowski & Wallimann, 2002). This means that neither the redistribution of resources, nor a new global diet (Hirvonen et al., 2020), nor the magical production of more food from thin air by some technical innovation, can be the sole prescription for food security[5], even though they would certainly help to temporarily alleviate some of the worst shortages.

In order to ensure lasting environmental security for all, and with that fulfil an essential condition for the other pillars of human security, humanity must reduce its total environmental impact before nature does this for us in painful ways, and before many more species are lost. Richard Plate and Ronnie Hawkins argue this in Chapter 10, Chapter 11, and Chapter 12. The difficulty with integrated plans that could address the multifaceted range of problems, such as Lester Brown’s (2003) ‘Plan B’, is that they demand an unprecedented extent of political will that can only be regarded as unrealistic. After years of squabbling over such plans to address poverty and hunger, the international community has now been confronted with an even bigger challenge: the likely possibility that irreversible climate change sharply decreases agricultural productivity and sets us back even further.

Regardless of how severe climate change will turn out, it will mean that the Earth will produce not more food for a growing humanity but less — perhaps substantially less. This will be a result of established agro-ecosystems functioning less well or collapsing entirely, while new agro-ecosystems that could cope with the new conditions of Eaarth (McKibben, 2010) will be slow in developing. Overshoot and climate change are trashing the holy grail of utilitarianism, usually phrased as ‘the greatest good for the greatest number.’

The I=PAT relationship (McCluney, 2004; see Chapter 1) clearly indicates that we can choose among a range of solution states that encompass numerous combinations of global population sizes and per capita affluence and technology use; all those solutions that are sustainable include population sizes below the current level (how far below depends partly on how long it will take us to get there and how severe the climate changes) (Grossman, 2012). Furthermore, Potter’s (1988) hierarchy of survival modes suggests that some of those solutions are morally preferable to others — e.g. miserable survival for all at five billion vs. acceptable survival for all at two billion. Others (e.g. Cohen, 2005; Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 2004) came to similar conclusions years ago. All that points to the question of how many people below the maximum the Earth should support (Pimentel et al., 1999). This is primarily a moral question, weighing welfare against numbers.

The need to reduce our numbers does not only arise from our excessive impact but also from the amount of misery that is already being experienced by much of humanity. The growing scarcity of key resources, particularly food and potable water, causes suffering that would be avoidable with a smaller population. Cohen (2005) framed the challenge of global food security in the analogy of a communal dinner table where some guests go hungry; the problem can be solved in three ways: (1) make a bigger pie, (2) put fewer forks on the table, (3) teach better manners. Ehrlich et al. (1995) reduced the challenge to a ‘race between the stork and the plough’ that is being won by the stork. The chapters on scarcity as well as abundant literature (e.g. Cribb, 2010; Roberts, 2008; Dobkowski & Wallimann, 2002) indicated that little, if any, room remains to increase food supply (i.e. speed up the plough, or make a bigger pie). In effect, reducing the global population and changing our ‘manners’ are our only remaining options, and neither seems satisfactory — the former on ethical grounds, the latter for its limited potential. We will discuss what limited opportunities might remain open in the next section. The upshot is that the holy grail of utilitarians now amounts to the minimum sufficient welfare for the greatest sustainable number. This number is probably no more than about four billion people, and perhaps less than one billion (Pimentel et al., 1999; Cohen, 2005; McCluney, 2004); either way, they will not be consuming much animal protein.

Under the new imperative to tighten our belts it becomes clear that not all conceptions of human security are equally helpful. Those that take into account the primacy of environmental security and the population problem can contribute to constructive solutions and show the way out of overshoot. In contrast, those conceptions that are mainly informed by the Conventional Development Paradigm (represented, e.g. in Bindé, 2001) can only help in the short term (as evident in GDP increases) and will in the long term do more harm than good by reducing natural capital (as evident in decreases of other statistics, e.g. the Inclusive Wealth Indicator, IWI) and by further increasing humanity’s collective impact (IHDP, 2014). Rising GDP and shrinking IWI have been observed with some ‘emerging economies’ such as Brazil and India. Another case in point is the much acclaimed Green Revolution that vastly boosted food production during the 1970s. In the short term it relieved shortages and prevented impending famines; in the long term, however, it will be regarded a disaster, as Plate argued in Chapter 10. The couple of decades of time that it bought us were not used wisely; instead, they were squandered in pursuit of further growth under the belief that this revolution would never end. Now we are again facing famines — except that our numbers have tripled, our ecosystems are weaker, tens of thousands of species have disappeared, natural resources are further depleted, pollution has become worse, and the global climate is changing in uncertain ways. No other misadventure of conventional development policies illustrates the failings of the CDP better than this missed opportunity. Its humanitarian goals were rendered unattainable by our obsession with economic growth.

So much for conventional ‘development.’ What about more idealistic conceptions of human security? The UN’s principle of ‘freedom from needs’ becomes even less meaningful if the hierarchy of human needs is in fact culturally contingent as Brown and Gehrmann argued in Chapter 4. A culture that subscribed to a long term view of human welfare would have rejected external food aid because they would have correctly regarded it as merely adding to their problems (Hardin 2011). But even Sen’s (1999) more flexible principle of ‘development as freedom’ is unable to accommodate ecological constraints. Rather, development needs to be understood as any measure that furthers the transition to sustainability (Keiner, 2006; Lautensach & Lautensach, 2013). This includes a general commitment to non-violent resolution of conflicts as Wilmer explained in Chapter 19.

The most informative and comprehensive description of sustainable human security is represented in Kate Raworth’s (2017) Donut Model, describing a safe operating space for humanity. This operating space is presented as the space between two concentric rings of boundaries. The outer ring is formed by nine environmental boundaries that limit our ecological impact; the inner ring is formed by twelve sociopolitical boundaries that represent basic needs. Combining the requirement for environmental sustainability with those for sociopolitical and cultural sustainability makes intuitive sense, as a grossly unjust and inequitable society will prove to become unstable before long, no matter how ecologically sound its policies may be. At the time of writing, not a single country meets all those conditions for situating itself within the ‘safe operating space’; close approximations were shown by Vietnam and Cuba (O’Neill et al., 2018).[6]

Reinterpretations of ‘development’ often meet with objections based on human rights. The tension between human rights and human security is discussed in Chapter 4 and Chapter 15. Rights become limited not only by other rights but also by the inconvenient fact that insisting on some rights (i.e. rights that are not grantable) will create insecurity, as is explained in Chapter 15. In her critique of dominant interpretations of human rights Thomas (2001) blamed the enshrining of property rights under human rights law, which can, under conditions of limited resources, work at the expense of disenfranchised minorities. In the light of overshoot certain other human rights seem similarly counterproductive, such as the right to a ‘clean environment,’ ‘safe drinking water’ or ‘adequate nutrition.’ Given an excessively large global population (today’s seven billion plus would qualify) and a single planet at our disposal, no government can grant such privileges to all. One additional ‘right’ that has arguably proven not only ungrantable but outright harmful is the right to procreate at will (Lautensach, 2015).

Overshoot not only necessitates that we change some of our notions about rights — it forces us to dig deeper into the human psyche. In Chapter 11 Ronnie Hawkins asserts that humanity’s relationship with the rest of nature is not only shaped by ecological contingencies but also from within every one of us and from within our cultures. By labeling nature as the non-human ‘other’, an inanimate heap of ‘resources’ for the taking, consisting of marvellously useful little automatons just waiting to prove their utility to human endeavours, we ultimately set ourselves up for moral bankruptcy and ecological suicide. Others have observed this as well (Crist, 2017; Curry, 2011; Gorke, 2003); but Hawkins also explores the cultural, historical, and metaphysical grounds from which this attitude sprouted. In her “Letters from the Front” (Chapter 12) she exposes the cruelty and arrogance behind the atrocities in our war against nature. What emerges are not just the deeply questionable ramifications of the dominant environmental ethic behind such development schemes as the UN’s Millennium Goals and Agenda 2030, but a thoroughly unsettling critique of what it means to be ‘modern’ and what constitutes progress.

Besides the obvious need to change our notions about human security, about rights, about nature, and about modernity, another moral imperative that arises from the foregoing is to change our value priorities with respect to each other. As ecologies simplify and economies falter, centralised governance and the rule of law will become more tenuous. This means not only that most of us need to re-learn how to run self-sufficient, resilient communities. It also means that we exercise compassion for those whom the crisis will have displaced from their homes, destitute masses with no recourse (Brito & Smith, 2012). The citizens of failed states run the danger of becoming stateless which at this time severely compromises their security and autonomy as Anna Hayes documents in Chapter 7. Other aspects of human insecurity in failed states are described in Chapter 6, Chapter 8, and Chapter 16. The ranks of displaced multitudes are certain to swell once rising sea levels have inundated some of the world’s heavily populated coastal lands. In the absence of decisive initiative by the UNHCR that would impart on environmental refugees the status of ‘world citizens’ (or at the very least accord them full official refugee status) (Pearce, 2011), their fate depends on the charity of other countries and charitable NGOs — which, in the midst of shortages and economic downturns, cannot be taken for granted. Limited collapse will also mean that a considerable portion of humanity will not survive to their normal life expectancy (Lautensach, 2020). Clearly the human conscience represents as important a ‘tipping point’ as do geophysiological variables.

21.2 Human Security in World Affairs: Opportunities

What, then, would constructive solutions and effective human security policies entail under those circumstances? In this section we review the suggestions made by the chapter authors and venture some ideas of our own, moving from the global level through the national to the local. We will focus mainly on ways to address overshoot and to achieve sustainability. Other avenues toward human security that reach beyond the merely sustainable will be discussed in the final section.

21.2.1 Opportunities at the International Level

Globalisation presents the paradox of power relationships being redirected, reinvented and modified under the banner of a misguided vision of development that leads to inevitable collapse, which will affect both victims and beneficiaries of globalisation (Lewis, 1998). Some major manifestations of globalisation, notably the increased movement of goods and people and the hyperconsumption in OECD countries, contribute massively to the emission of greenhouse gases; yet other aspects provide opportunities. The two causative areas, economy and technology, also provide the opportunities for the two major actors, international corporations and international intergovernmental institutions. Some analysts consider corporate social responsibility an important factor towards making use of globalising processes to increase human security. On the other hand, many of the threats to human security also involve corporations; as organisations they are not actually capable of sentiments like responsibility or empathy, which renders the phenomenon fortuitous at best (more on corporate responsibility in Section 21.3.1). This leaves us with intergovernmental institutions, and the example of the UN shows both how much has been accomplished, and how much more could be. The SDGs represent the first concerted effort by the international community under the auspices of the UN to pursue sustainable human security worldwide. This represents a huge step forward — or at least it would, if the goals did not contradict each other, if they were reconciled with the demands of Donut Economics (Raworth, 2017), if they took into account global overshoot, and if they recognized the pervasive inter-species injustice and our war against nature. The accomplishments and shortcomings of the SDG agenda are discussed in Chapter 3.

Much intergovernmental initiative seems continually thwarted by the opposition of a few influential maverick countries — which raises the question to what extent the principles of national security and of sovereignty hinder such global efforts towards sustainable human security; and could those principles also be of help? Many states obviously do a passable job at ensuring their own citizens’ human security, and some present stellar examples of international leadership. But is that sufficient reason to allow states so much autonomy under the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols as to enable them to opt out of the process or to hijack its outcomes, to the extent of claiming the right to use nuclear weapons if their ‘survival of the state’ were threatened? If citizens are expected to put up with the legal system around them, why cannot states live up to the same expectation, especially if it benefits their citizens? The present situation amounts to human security by subscription, which allows those states off the hook whose citizens probably most require the commitment. A prestigious body of academics has proposed for the UN to switch from consensus rule to majority rule (Biermann et al., 2012).

The recently proposed Responsibility to Protect (R2P) regime might also help alleviate this difficulty by sufficiently weakening the hegemony of the sovereignty principle. It might still not have enough teeth in the absence of a global law enforcement branch with powers that override sovereign states and bypass the veto in the UNSC. In Chapter 18 Jeffrey Morton and Samantha Maesel express some optimism in the light of recent trends towards supranational regulation. Likewise, Chapter 6, Chapter 9 and Chapter 20 indicate a slow movement by the international community towards a more communitarian perspective on human security, at least in legal terms. Wilmer’s account of nonviolent means for conflict resolution in Chapter 19 expresses the hope that the shared challenges loom large enough to unify the international community to render major armed conflicts less likely.

However, it is equally clear that there are influential groups that would not regard it in their interest if armed conflict simply went out of favour. Those interests are distributed much beyond the US military-industrial complex (which is still the largest supplier of arms) into key industries of virtually all developed countries. Few would dispute that the world’s major armament industries have both the motivation and the power to jeopardise any major swing towards pacifism in world affairs. On the one hand, they thus threaten human security, while on the other those new intergovernmental regimes are unlikely to work without a measure of enforcement — which requires some military muscle. Chapter 5 and Chapter 10 make it clear that the competition among countries for ever scarcer resources will intensify, which might well lead to a reversal of the humanitarian gains made since WWII. The danger lies equally in the possibility that the policing gets out of hand, leading towards a ‘Fortress World’ type future (Raskin, 2016) with extreme inequities, and in the possibility of intensified global anarchy.

The diverse field of international NGOs such as Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, and Amnesty International shows considerable potential to help with global security regimes, particularly in their influence on everyday decisions of citizens aided by electronic social media. As the international version of civil society, they, too, play an important role in globalising processes and have accomplished much in exerting grassroot pressure on reticent governments. If their number and power continue to grow as they have over the past decades, those organisations and social networks represent significant opportunities for swaying the prime actors towards sustainable human security, and particularly towards the kinds of legal reforms suggested in Chapter 16, Chapter 18 and Chapter 20. Sustainable human security is achieved once the activities of societies and countries produce impacts and performances that can be localised in the sustainable operating space described by Kate Raworth’s Donut Model (2012) — below environmental boundaries and above sociopolitical minima.

To summarise the prospects for global initiatives, the chapter authors have identified two major obstacles that limit opportunities towards sustainable human security. The first was the lack of international consensus and the absence of means to reign in dissenting countries and to enforce regimes. The international order is fundamentally anarchic, as Morton and Maesel point out in Chapter 18. Any step towards regimentation of national conduct requires inordinate amounts of effort by individual committed countries. The second obstacle arises from a serious blind spot with the most powerful decision-makers in recognising priority problems. As Chapter 6 and Chapter 18 show, international law and the agenda of the UNSC cover almost exclusively the socio-political and economic pillars of human security; even collaboration on health security is not universally accepted, as the US-American withdrawal from the WHO showed (in the middle of a pandemic, no less). Environmental security is governed to a much lesser extent or not at all by any internationally recognised legal regime, least of all the sustainability imperative. In comparison to Syria, Iran, and the state of the world economy, environmental security and sustainability issues are relegated to sideshows in security debates. The successive high-level conferences at Rio, Kyoto, Copenhagen, etc. indicated the world powers’ unwillingness to compromise what they perceive as their national interests for the benefit of sustainable global environmental security, even in the face of overwhelming consensus among the experts (Brito & Smith, 2012; Brundtland et al., 2012; Ripple et al., 2017).

What would be required to ensure sustainable global environmental security is a concerted effort to secure the minimum acceptable amount of welfare for the greatest sustainable number, in the form of a universal agreement on global goalposts and equitable burdens. Staying below the maximum sustainable impact (which can be expressed as a maximum footprint) gives a per capita goal of 3.6 gha that could provide moderate comfort for a population of about 3 billion, but decreasing because of overshoot.[7] Based on the observations made in the preceding section, three strategies would help humanity move towards the goalposts of sustainability: (a) increasing the equity of impact, (b) halting (and then reversing) population growth as quickly as possible and (c) preparing for incidents of partial collapse.

The practical problems with those strategies are obvious. On the one hand, numerous international NGOs represent vision, responsibility and initiative towards sustainable human security at the global level (albeit not very democratically) — what Bosselmann in Chapter 16 refers to as the global civil society, represented by platform documents such as the Earth Charter (Earth Charter Initiative, 2012) and the Earth Manifesto (Mosquin & Rowe, 2004). On the other hand, the chapters on governance and international law clearly suggest that the goal of international equity is thoroughly unpalatable to the governments of developed countries as well as to transnational corporate powers, and it cannot be enforced anyway under the current global order. Fertility is being addressed worldwide mainly through the empowerment of women but family planning programmes still face the opposition of powerful religious and cultural prejudices, spearheaded by collusive governments (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 2009). The benefits in terms of fertility reduction trickle in much too slowly compared to the progressive damage being caused by worsening overshoot.[8]

In view of those obstacles the prospects for timely and effective intergovernmental action seems rather dim. International development aid, too, is hampered by that blind spot to the sustainability imperative (Lautensach & Lautensach, 2013). The pitfalls of the conventional development paradigm were discussed in the preceding sections. Also, as Clements and LaMonica point out in Chapter 8 and Chapter 14, respectively, prioritising the building or re-building of centralised state institutions in developing countries seldom provides enough support for human security. The global imposition of democratic mechanisms of empowerment is also likely to create new problems in some developing countries because it destabilises market-dominant ethnic minorities, which often leads to violent upheaval (Chua, 2004, p. 12). In a nutshell, the handicap arising from linear models of development and unidimensional notions of progress jeopardises success of many well-intentioned efforts at improving the lot of the world’s poorest. Social change is driven by technological advances (as proposed by Schumpeter, 1950, pp. 81-87), environmental change (as described by the field of environmental history, discussed in Chapter 11), and by shifts in dominant ideas (Kuhn, 1962), which makes linearity seem a rather far-fetched notion (Bowers, 1993; Rees, 2017). The real opportunity of ‘development aid,’ then, is to recognise that many developing countries can make their inhabitants more secure within the context of a hybrid state of the kind Clements advocates in Chapter 8, but incorporating a locally sustainable economy. This would be most relevant for countries rendered ‘fragile’ by the effects of adverse environmental change. The upshot, however, suggests that the sovereignty principle is not entirely dispensable after all.

We conclude again that limited collapse is all but inevitable: the current state of international (dis)order renders unlikely the timely success on the two strategies of increasing socioeconomic equity and reversing population growth at the global level. Even catastrophic scenarios are not likely to change quickly enough this scene of general disunity and corruption of influence, as the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated. With that dismal prospect on the sustainability front comes the sobering conclusion that initiatives in the socio-political, economic, and health-related pillars of human security cannot achieve much lasting success at the international scale. This follows from the primacy of environmental security as the underlying condition for lasting human security as argued in Chapter 1 and Chapter 3. The conditions for the transition to Earth democracy and ecological citizenship, as explained by Bosselmann (Chapter 16), seem unlikely to come about in time, considering the rate at which the crisis is worsening. We are left with the hope that sovereign states or blocs of states might take the initiative. One encouraging phenomenon arose in 2018 with the advent of impactful protest movements like Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and Sunrise (Scharmer, 2019).

21.2.2 Opportunities at the National and Local Levels

We now summarise the potential of regional and national levels as possible arenas for progressive initiatives towards sustainable human security. Human security has been proposed as the main raison d’être of the nation-state (Pitsuwan, 2007). It stands to reason that many place their hopes in the state for progressive initiatives towards sustainable human security by providing the necessary guidance for behaviour change (e.g. Orr, 2018).

Criteria and requirements for improving human security at the national level are explicated in several chapters: resource management and coping with scarcity in Chapter 10; dominant views of nature are discussed in Chapter 11; the importance of the rule of law, conflict resolution, human rights, understanding of overshoot and other criteria are discussed in Chapter 6, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 4, and Chapter 3, respectively. Table 21.1 summarises those criteria and requirements and compares their fulfilment at the global and national-regional levels. From the juxtaposition of the two levels, notable differences become apparent in terms of the unmitigated exercise of self-interest, short-term priorities, chauvinism, the lack of enforcement and solidarity, the absence of requirements for effective resource management, and mitigation of scarcity. These differences partly explain the shortfall at the global level as summarised in the preceding section; but they also indicate some positive potential at the national-regional level.

The worldwide trend towards increasing socioeconomic inequity and disparity includes developed as well as developing countries and seems particularly reticent to mitigation. It has created a new class of aristocrats who wield enormous power behind the scenes and outside of electoral politics (Piketty, 2014). The World Economic Forum (2020) considers this trend a grave danger for human security. Reversing it through legislative change may well lie beyond the power of any democratic system.

Table 21.1 Comparison of obstacles and solutions towards effective human security regimes at the global and national/regional levels[9]
Mental Habits and Ideological Traps
  1. Short-term priorities (Chapter 10)
  2. Cornucopianism (Chapter 3)
  3. Political ‘realism’
  4. Chauvinism
  5. Moral ineptitudes (irresponsibility, scruples)
  6. Exploitative view of nature (Chapter 11)
  1. No mitigation
  2. Hegemonic
  3. Untempered, causing Tragedy of the Commons
  4. Overt exceptionalism, intransigent
  5. International Humanitarian Law (IHL)  and human rights inconsistently enforced (Chapter 6)
  6. Global culture of exploitation (Chapter 9)
  1. Mitigated somewhat through responsibility to the electorate
  2. Hegemonic as well
  3. Tempered by liberal institutionalism, communitarianism
  4. More egalitarian and hierarchical ideals
  5. Rule of law, executive, independent judiciary (Chapter 13, Chapter 8)
  6. Varies with culture but often tempered by local and traditional values
Social Traps
(Chapter 10)
  1. Ignorance
  2. Externality and time delay
  1. Rare among delegates
  2. Conceptual difficulties with holistic responsibility
  1. Depends on education (Chapter 12)
  2. Nationalist responsibility vs. colonialist neglect towards other countries
Criteria for Effective Resource Management (Chapter 10)
  1. Responsive to users
  2. Cooperation across scales
  3. Adaptive to changes
  4. Users trust in system
  1. Great inequities in power
  2. Delegates represent governments
  3. Reform is cumbersome
  4. Mixed track record
  1. Responsiveness varies with electoral system
  2. Nested levels of governance
  3. Varies with culture; some successes
  4. Generally moderate trust, depending
Risk of Conflict (Chapter 10)
  1. Resource capture by powerful groups
  2. Ecological marginalisation
  1. Very prevalent as neo-colonialism
  2. Very prevalent as displacement of people (Chapter 7)
  1. Varies with society, culture, electoral system
  2. Not as prevalent; tempered by rule of law Four Objectives that Promote Sustainable Human Security Regionally

Given the poor international consensus on virtually all important issues, and the extent to which sovereign governments still dominate and define what is possible in the political arena, competent administrations empowered by sufficiently engaged and enlightened electorates could accomplish much at the national level in terms of the four sustainability objectives of efficiency, restraint, adaptation, and structural flexibility (Lautensach, 2010). This applies to both developed and developing countries. We will summarise the four objectives here briefly.

The literature abounds with proposals how the efficiency could be increased with which resources and energy are consumed. This would increase regional carrying capacity, minimise harmful environmental impacts and it would buy some time. Efficiency is a major factor in the development of resilience. Countrywide increases in efficiency would require profound and widespread technological innovation, the elimination of many government subsidies, which are becoming unaffordable anyway, and changes in cultural practices. For example, towards improving energy efficiency, Dessus (2001) suggested that governments provide the right infrastructure choices (e.g. public transport), re-model the manufacture of energy-consuming machinery, and help developing partner countries avoid the mistakes made by the developed ones.

The rate of consumption of resources will have to be restrained in developed nations. Cherry Tsoi argues this in Chapter 9 on the example of GHG emissions. This will not be possible without adequate legal incentives to make do with less and counterincentives against overconsumption. More importantly, it would require a profound restructuring of the culture of consumerism and a reassessment of what constitutes growth, progress, sufficiency, and quality of life for individuals, for communities, and for entire societies. This amounts to an all-out effort to elevate the performance of a society, and ultimately of all of humanity, above the socio-political boundaries in Raworth’s (2017) Donut Model. The state is in a position to equalise consumption and to address the disparity in people’s capacities to cope with resource scarcity. Restraint would also have to extend to reproductive habits, which presents an altogether different challenge for health care policy. For example, infertility or low sperm counts would no longer be considered a cause for medical intervention, nor would medical budgets cover costly reproductive technology. Restraint is an important component in the agenda of Deep Adaptation (Bendell, 2011).

Reform efforts will have to facilitate adaptation of political, social and technological practices to the new conditions created by the crisis. This includes the scarcity of certain resources (e.g. metals), pollution and the resulting unprecedented health hazards (e.g. UV levels), reduced biodiversity and the associated destabilisation of ecosystems, and problems related to extremely high regional population densities (McKibben, 2010). For instance, national health care systems will be required to adapt to the predicted cancer epidemics which would certainly overtax their health care budgets, and re-focus towards preventive and palliative care.[10] The precautionary principle is particularly significant for the design of proactive adaptation measures (Myers, 2002). Taking into account the prospect of limited collapse imposes some changes on the agenda of adaptation, which is addressed in the Deep Adaptation agenda.

Efforts toward adaptation, efficiency and restraint would require structural flexibility of political and economic institutions of countries. The eco-socialist school of thought focuses particularly on such a wide-reaching programme of structural reform with specific focus on mitigating the worst of the environmental crisis (Curry, 2011). Their main argument states that global capitalism represents the major culprit in the crisis and that therefore in its present form it cannot be part of the solution (Kovel, 2002). In the absence of global reforms, capitalist economies could be adapted in a top-down direction at the national level. For example, Sala-Diakanda (2001, p. 107) suggests six structural changes towards food security of developing countries, surpassing the SDGs in foresight and insight: Produce staple crops instead of export products, re-orient development policies towards rural communities, eliminate discrimination against women, re-enforce productive traditional values, reform anachronistic agricultural practices, and develop a long-term vision for the future. Other proposed agenda include the reduction of food waste, the rationing of petroleum products, a switch to zero carbon energy, and the restoration of ecosystem services (Rees, 2014; Brown, 2003; Monbiot, 2007; Cumming & Petersen, 2017). The main objective of such reforms is to discontinue the system’s addiction to growth, to work towards implementing a steady-state economy (Daly, 2013), and to develop resilience — all primarily at the national level. The kind of structural change required for those measures obviously transcends the political and reaches into the cultural realm. Developing Countries: How Much Room for Sustainable Human Security?

Examples of island states illustrate how the contingencies of sustainability could inform national human security policies in developing countries (Lautensach & Lautensach, 2010). In January 2010 a major earthquake displaced about 2.3 million Haitians (almost one quarter of the total population) and killed or injured over half a million. The UN’s relief programme, following the conventional development paradigm, focused on the restoration of the island’s economy and entirely ignored the obvious physical limitations imposed by climate, soil conditions, environmental trends, population dynamics and simply the geographical size of the island (UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor 2012). Even though the country’s isolated situation reveals those limitations quite unequivocally, discrepancies are evident between official development priorities and ecological limits. (See Extension Activity 1.)

The example of Haiti illustrates a disconnect between ends and means in conventional development aid. Many international aid efforts are in fact meant to function both as disaster relief and as development, to help the recipient country help itself, at least in the long term. Well intentioned as they often are, their benefits seem to manifest mainly in the short term and hardly address the wider context or the long term. What measures the average developing country should take at the national level in order to ensure the sustainable security of citizens is addressed in Chapter 5, Chapter 9 and Chapter 10. They address as broad contingencies resource scarcity, chronic economic downturns (including the collapse of export markets), increasing population pressure and global environmental change. It hardly needs to be pointed out that those contingencies are seldom given adequate attention in aid programmes such as the one implemented in Haiti.

Many developing countries show characteristics that act in their favour. Most of their inhabitants carry the memory of frugal lifestyles, the kind that disappeared in Europe with the WWII generation. The capacity for frugality and restraint will be of enormous help in face of the coming collapse events; surely the level of food waste in Somalia is already minimal! Acting against that potential benefit of frugality is the trend towards increasing socioeconomic inequity, shown by the growth of affluent middle classes who are working hard to forget the frugality of their forebears in pursuit of the ideal of ‘Western’ affluence. The example of rising meat consumption in developing countries with its detrimental consequences for food security, biodiversity, and emission quota speaks volumes about the counterproductive interpretations of ‘development’ under the CDP. The growing inequity within developing countries also illustrates how the use of national averages can mislead quantitative analyses.

Most developing countries in Haiti’s situation are at risk of becoming failing states, which means that their survival depends largely on external aid, as Strydom (Chapter 6) suggests. That means that much responsibility will rest on the countries that weather a global crash. At the regional and multilateral level, groups of such determined countries could make a decisive difference, depending on how much clout they can muster internationally. They would decide which faltering states are worth defending or supporting and which should be allowed to disappear. This touches on Raskin’s (2016) ‘Fortress World’ and ‘Eco-communalism’ scenarios, under which global regimes are enforced through trade embargoes and other sanctions; but it also indicates opportunities for counterhegemonic, collaborative self-sufficiency in developing regions. Addressing the Cultural Foundations

Given that neither geographical expansion on this planet, nor boosting procuring efficiency, nor resource substitution offer much room for the further increase of the human carrying capacity, it seems clear that resource scarcity is beginning to act as a major brake on the growth of national economies (Dobkowski & Wallimann, 2002; see also Chapter 10). Increasing scarcities not only bereave corncucopianism of the last vestiges of empirical justification, they require people to unlearn myths about what constitutes progress and to replace them with new beliefs and values.[11] As several authors in this text have pointed out, resource depletion and the tragedy of the commons are consequences of psychological and cultural determinants of consumption behaviour. In Chapter 10 Richard Plate discusses perception bias, cognitive disabilities, and counterproductive mental habits that contribute to the unsustainable use of resources. Cultural differences in value priorities also affect our treatment of natural ‘resources’ to a crucial extent. This begins with the question what constitutes a resource for us, and what gives us the right to harvest, mine, deplete, and exploit it to our heart’s delight.

The significance of the cultural context relates to observations by several chapter authors (e.g. Chapter 3 and Chapter 11, also Table 21.1) that the global environmental crisis, and the tragedy of the commons in principle, really represent crises of human thinking. They therefore cannot be addressed without some fundamental changes in the human psyche (Jones, 1993; Rees, 2017). This points to other factors that tend to sway people towards unfair consumption behaviour — attitudes such as selfishness, tribalism, ethnocentrism, chauvinism — behaviour that was selected during our evolutionary past and gave rise to powerful myths; mental habits such as wishful thinking, self-deception, groundless optimism, weakness of will (akrasia), and the social traps discussed by Richard Plate in Chapter 10; and certain moral ineptitudes such as denying one’s moral responsibility[12] and lacking moral scruples (Lautensach, 2010).

Those behaviour determinants need to change, and they are modifiable (Rees, 2014, 2017; Orr ,2018). The state can help with that but the onus is on individuals, families, and communities. In a democratic society such drastic incentives towards behaviour changes could not succeed without sufficient electoral backing or at lest acquiescence, which in turn relies on the development of certain conducive attitudes in societies and individuals. In the absence of such groundswell support, resource management laws and regulations based solely on biological considerations often fail because they did not take into account cultural obstacles (Johannes, 2000).

Culturally contingent behaviour determinants are primarily passed on and perpetuated within cultural groups through formal and informal education. Much of that education takes place through what educationists refer to as the null curriculum and the hidden curriculum, which tend to be intransigent to control or modification (Contenta, 1993; Bowers, 1993).[13] Nevertheless, educational reform presents a huge, largely untapped, potential opportunity for changing the behaviour of coming generations towards sustainable living (Bowers, 1993; Orr, 2004; Lautensach, 2010, 2018b). This is because among all the influences that contribute to the development of values and beliefs in a young person, formal education alone is carried out as a meticulously designed programme, constantly monitored, and under centralised control. The UN recognised this in their Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) and their SDG #4, but without addressing the cultural priorities discussed here. In contrast, the media have largely abandoned their educational responsibility as will be discussed below.

Effective education reform follows three groups of agenda (Lautensach, 2010, 2018b): The transmission of counterproductive beliefs and values has to be stopped; educational shortfall in areas vital to sustainability has to be mitigated; and the learner must be liberated from constraints that prevent him/her from taking independent action. Those agenda are covered by six major educational aims: re-defining progress, replacing anthropocentrism with ecocentrism, remediating crucial skill gaps, imparting a vision for the future, eliminating parochialism, and empowering the learner to take action (Lautensach, 2010; 2020). Those outcomes have been subsumed under the concept of environmental literacy (Orr, 2004) but their significance extends to all aspects of human security.

The empowerment of the learner can benefit from some of the contributions made by the Freirian school of liberation paedagogy (Freire, 1986). However, in contrast to the Freirian focus on sociopolitical constraints, the kind of reform we discuss here aims at the constructive critique of the conceptual constraints presented in consumerism, in the ideology of economic growth, and in the anthropocentric value base. Beyond these agenda of liberation, the reform is directed to favour the development of a communitarian ethic of ecocentric holism, and to finally enable the education system to accomplish what it is envisioned and obligated to do — to empower the learner to build a better world (Jaeger, 2012). Empowerment also protects against propaganda. A glitzy campaign of massive public divertissement of the kind that was financed by BP in the wake of the Deep Water Horizon Gulf oil spill could only have had its desired effects inasmuch as that public had been suitably undereducated and misled, preferably for several generations.

Despite its potential, educational reform is not a universal remedy; in the context of the crisis it can only serve to buy time and to empower future generations to avert the worst. Yet it is a powerful tool for reaching the ‘unaware, unconvinced, and unconcerned’ (Raskin, 2016). It could make the difference between Raskin’s scenarios of ‘Breakdown’ versus ‘Eco-communalism’ or ‘Fortress World’ versus ‘New Sustainability Paradigm’ — huge differences in terms of overall human security and welfare. It can also change values and deconstruct stereotypes.[14] Without a modicum of ecocentric valuing, the last nature preserves might fall to our ravenous appetite for ‘resources’ when shortages really begin to bite. Thousands more of endangered species will disappear like African ‘bushmeat’ in exchange for a few months of extra time. Education also has been valued for its contributions in the development of values, worldviews and requisite civic skills — learning that does not necessarily promote environmental sustainability but that certainly contributes to human security. In the concluding section of this chapter we shall explore those aspects of human security that do not rely on environmental sustainability.

21.3 Besides Environmental Sustainability, What Other Aspects of Human Security Need Improvement?

Our discussion of future prospects for human security has so far shown a certain preoccupation with the dictates of sustainability, especially in its environmental sense, a priority that in our view is well justified but should not lead to the exclusion or neglect of other sources of human insecurity. This is where those organisations and projects come into their own that offer important contributions to human security but whose success does not much depend on addressing overshoot, nor do they necessarily recognise such a dependence. For example, in their 15th Global Risk Report, the World Economic Forum (2020) identified six global areas of insecurity: economic stability, social cohesion, climate, biodiversity, ‘digital fragmentation’, and health systems — covering approximately the four pillars, as well as addressing proposals from similar high-ranking bodies such as the Nobel Laureate Symposium (2011). While their estimations of likelihood and impact (measured in billion US$ only) seem somewhat questionable[15], their analysis of interconnections and current trends allowed them to address most of the risks that were discussed in the chapters of this book. In a similar vein, but with slightly different priorities, Table 21.2 summarises the major ‘risks to watch’ as identified in this book, as they concern the four pillars. The challenges to sustainability are not included as they were already covered in Section 21.1.

As we argued in the introduction, such analyses of specific risks and threats can allow governments to better facilitate direct intervention and provide better justifications for such action than can superficial efforts to promote ‘freedom from fear’ and ‘freedom from want’. They tend to be motivated by concerns for distributive justice, procedural justice, the minimisation of harm and suffering, and other values that inform grantable human rights (see Section 21.1.2).

Economic security should no longer be measured in terms of daily income or per capita GDP (as done e.g. by the UN and its affiliates) but by means of other standards, such as gross per capita happiness (Lane, 2000; Kasser, 2006) or inclusive wealth (IHDP, 2014) . Because of overshoot, recommended measures must not rely on further net economic growth or GDP increase (Costanza et al., 2014) but should include efforts to redistribute existing resources more equitably, to increase the efficiency of resource use, and to decrease birth rates. Ronnie Hawkins presented this argument in detail in Chapter 12. Those imperatives form the basis for a steady-state economy which is characterised by zero growth at national and global levels (Daly & Farley, 2004; Rubin, 2012). Zero growth means that only productivity and the quality of products can increase, not the input of resources. This model would allow post-crash economies to avoid wasteful roller-coaster cycles and relapses into overshoot (Brown, 2001). There is ample evidence that this transition would neither necessarily compromise human happiness or the quality of lives, nor would it decrease human security — on the contrary (Rubin, 2012). After all, zero growth has been the default situation throughout most of human history.

Table 21.2 Major risks to watch for each pillar of human security as discussed in this book; relevant chapters are referenced.
  1. Continuing economic recession
  2. Growing economic disparity
  3. Resource scarcity (Chapter 3, Chapter 10)
  1. Steady state economy; aid and redistribution programmes
  2. Cooperative regimes (Chapter 10)
  3. Control globalising processes (Chapter 10)
National, community
  1. Continuing economic recession
  2. Growing economic disparity
  3. Resource scarcity (Chapter 3, Chapter 10)
  1. Reorient to zero growth
  2. Reorient to zero growth
  3. Bioregional self sufficiency
Global and most regional
  1. Growth of population, environmental impact (Chapter 3)
  2. Climate change, pollution, loss of biodiversity; loss of ecosystem services (Chapter 5, Chapter 9)
  3. Aggravation of above (Chapter 11, Chapter 12)
  1. Family planning, voluntary simplicity movements
  2. Efficiency/restrain/adaptation; structural reform; ecological restoration
  3. Relocate displaced people (Chapter 7); educational reform (Chapter 11, Chapter 12)
Global Pandemics and resistant pathogens (Chapter 17) Immunisation, screening, prevention
National, community Aging populations; growing demand and shrinking supply Preventive, low-cost healthcare for all (Chapter 17)
  1. Retrenchment from globalisation; ‘Fortress World’ scenario
  2. WMD[16] and terrorism (Chapter 7, Chapter 18)
  3. Transnational crime (Chapter 13)
  1. Maintaining global communication (Chapter 16, Chapter 20)
  2. Global inclusive governance and nonviolence (Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 20)
  3. International cooperation (Chapter 6, Chapter 19)
National, community Weakening of central government; fragmentation
  1. Ecocommunalism; freedom of and from religion (Chapter 4)
  2. Hybrid and local governance (Chapter 8, Chapter 14)

21.3.1 The Future of Health Security

Health security across a population, measured in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) as discussed in Chapter 5, can only be improved for the long term if current trends are taken into account in healthcare policy. Those trends include the following:

  • As reproductive rates decrease, demographic profiles will shift towards older ages; different prevailing kinds of conditions will require a shift towards funding of different treatments.
  • Demand for health care will rise as populations continue to grow and gentrify, and as environmental quality declines; as the range of pollutants increases (e.g. endocrine disruptors, carcinogens and mutagens) new disorders are likely to appear.
  • Quality, safety, and availability of food will decline as problems with industrialised production methods (spoilage and contamination, toxicity of additives and packaging, rising costs of production, transport and distribution, economic decline) intensify. Organic and local production can help to some extent but preventive health care will need to take the forefront.
  • As economies and state budgets shrink, costly high-tech treatments will be in shorter supply. The more affordable ‘ounce of prevention’ will dominate.
  • As population densities rise in many regions, and as previously undamaged ecosystems are increasingly invaded and their fauna traded worldwide, epidemics and pandemics become increasingly likely. The 2020 COVID pandemic was probably only the first, and relatively mild, example.

Taking those trends into account will necessitate a greater emphasis on preventive care (particularly immunization and removal of pollutants) and screening programmes as noted in Chapter 17. The latter has gained particular importance as major pathogens become increasingly resistant to antibiotics and emerge newly in globalised, modified environments inhabited by an aging population (Montagnier, 2001; Epstein, 2000). After the meltdown and explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant on 11 March 2011 public concern was alerted by reports claiming that initially officials underestimated and misrepresented the extent of the danger.[17] The fact that the country responsible (Japan) decided to abandon nuclear power (only to falter again weeks later) while the countries suffering most from the radioactive fallout (US and Canada) have not and their media remain mute on the subject, indicates that a sound assessment of some health risks does not yet prevail throughout the international community when it contravenes the interests of powerful industrial lobbies.


Corporate Irresponsibility and Human Insecurity: The Case of Canadian Asbestos Mining

Perhaps the most grotesque example of corporate influence on health legislation is the story of asbestos mining and export in the Canadian province of Quebec. Over the past century, evidence has accumulated to implicate all types of asbestos in the causation of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, and other conditions. The WHO and other international health organisations decry its use, and in Canada it is hardly used anywhere; yet its mining and export continued unabated for decades. Like the tobacco industry before it, the Canadian asbestos mining industry engaged in a prolonged public relations campaign to delay, deny, and distort scientific evidence on the harmfulness of their product, and to divide or discredit researchers involved (Leuprecht, 2011).

The government of Canada not only refused to allow asbestos to be put onto the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances, it refused to give any reason either to the Canadian public in whose name it acted, or to the delegates taking part in the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (Soskolne & Ruff, 2012).

The export of asbestos threatened the human security of people in the receiving countries, particularly their rights to life and to health. This shows that threats to health security can arise from the complicity between states and non-state actors such as individuals, groups, and corporations. Finally, a legislative change prohibited all mining, use, manufacture, sale, import and export of asbestos in Canada from 30 January 2019, but exempting military and nuclear facilities as well as the chloralkali industry until 2022. The export market is now left to asbestos producers in Russia and Kazakhstan, and their hapless customers (primarily India).

One of many other case examples involves the pesticide DCBP. Its adverse health effects were proven in 1977 and it was banned from the US domestic market in 1979 while its export continued undiminished. Eventually its manufacturers were forced by a blockade of banana exports to compensate 5,000 Honduran farm workers who had contracted severe reproductive dysfunctions after prolonged exposure. The labour leader who organized the blockade was later assassinated (Bouguerra, 2001).

Corporate social responsibility and the responsibilities of corporations with regard to human rights rank high on the agenda of international institutions, especially the United Nations. As outlined in Chapter 5, non-state actors such as corporations and their leaders, as well as complicit governments, are accountable for human rights violations. Yet neither one are usually brought to justice.

The dubious influence of corporate powers on health security is evident in the industrialised production of foods and food additives. The pernicious side effects of some additives sometimes become apparent only after decades of use, and even then the manufacturer’s lobbying efforts may prevent their removal from the market.[18] Other areas where strong corporate interests influence health security policies include toxic waste processing, nuclear waste deposits, and hazardous chemical industries (see textbox above). Most genetically modified crop cultivars require hugely elevated levels of pesticides and fertilisers which are usually sold by the same companies that sell the seeds.
Time and time again, influential corporate groups with an interest in perpetuating the status quo have spent enormous resources to ensure that information about ecological overshoot, global warming and climate change, regional environmental problems or risks, or particular health hazards is delayed, denied, or distorted, and political opposition divided, bought or discredited (Beder, 2006). Those efforts included the co-opting of media conglomerates and of politicians. Examples include the tobacco industry, nuclear industry, oil companies, and pharmaceutical corporations (Oreskes & Conway, 2010). Countries with a ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system (e.g. the US, Canada and the UK) seem particularly susceptible to such covert manipulation, as large numbers of votes are never represented in their parliaments.

Clearly it is not enough for society to leave corporations in positions of enormous power and merely hope that they will exercise corporate social responsibility — whatever that may mean in particular cases. Corporations cannot be expected to shape their policies according to the public good; it is neither their duty nor in their interest. It is rather the duty of societies to makes sure that corporations are not placed in positions where their exercise of normal day-to-day business causes harm. That duty extends also to reversing the privatisation of public services and the underlying prioritisation of market forces, that have become worldwide phenomena wherever the neo-liberal ideology dominates. Even though globalisation may directly result from the ‘worldwide domination of capitalism’ (Desai, 2001), that does not necessarily mould it into the monolithic form of development envisioned by the CDP; rather, the particular shape of globalisation remains subject to the political preferences of societies.

21.3.2 Socio-political Security: The Spectre of Fragmentation

Socio-political security includes the tentative and fragile system of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international criminal law as outlined in Chapter 6 and Chapter 18. Opportunities in those areas arise from the trend to make IHL more inclusive and to adapt it to changing conditions of violent conflict. With the help of the lessons from the UN’s questionable decisions in the cases of Rwanda and Kosovo it is to be hoped that a more effective framework can be developed to make global peacekeeping more reliable. Unfortunately, but perhaps inevitably, UN peacekeeping operations have increasingly taken on an enforcer function as a means to maintain and restore security, capacities for which they are ill-equipped and ill-prepared (Sloan, 2011). At the same time, weapons of mass destruction are proliferating and global terrorism shows no sign of abating (World Economic Forum, 2020). A connection between the two trends seems plausible. As in the health care field, preventive measures seem to carry the advantage (Langille, 2015).

As population densities increase and resources decline, new frictions between cultures and states will develop, and many will result in violent conflict (see Chapter 5). An intergovernmental mediation agency of the kind that Franke Wilmer suggested in Chapter 19 would be very helpful to assuage tensions before they build to critical levels. A second level of intervention could be added in the form of a UN Emergency Peace Service (UNEPS) (Langille, 2015). The potential benefits go far beyond preventing wars. Terrorism cannot be defeated by counter-terrorism but only by eliminating its root causes, as Anna Hayes argued in Chapter 7. This means that mechanisms for conflict resolution will not only have to become more proactive, they will have to include everyone, most of all those sectors of society from which prospective and potential terrorists are recruited. To ward off the new threat of eco-terrorism this would require allocating more political power to communities as balance against the interests of corporate groups and centralised governments, especially at a time of economic recession. As Hayes asserts, some people become terrorists because they feel ‘alienated by what they perceive to be an unjust and unfair society or political structure’. This danger would become particularly serious if the peacekeeping framework developed towards a ‘Fortress World’ scenario (Raskin, 2016).

The opportunity in socio-political security lies in reaching an effective compromise between excessively forceful approaches and too much laissez-faire causing fragmentation. With the global influence of US policy waning and economies declining, some concern is emerging about a ‘retrenchment from globalisation’, defined by the World Economic Forum (2011, p. 39) as “restrictions to global movements of goods, people and ideas”. Their concerns about possible economic implications seem unjustified considering the possible benefits of eco-communalism; some of the present-day “insane trade” practices (Keller, 2019) cannot be abolished soon enough.[19] The greater danger from such a retrenchment into ‘Fortress World’ affects socio-political security through the spectres of nationalism, tribalism, and xenophobia. Less international cooperation on IHL and ICL could have disastrous consequences for human security, as Chapter 6 and Chapter 18 indicate. A decrease in international cooperation on law enforcement would also allow for transnational crime to expand, with all the associated human security threats explained by Wilson in Chapter 13. He argues that human security cannot be improved in that area without increased cooperation and coordination among countries. As the danger of global fragmentation has not yet been widely recognised, proactive countermeasures at the national level have not entered public discussion. One crucial requirement for the early prevention of intercultural conflict would be guaranteeing freedom of and from religion worldwide as Brown and Gehrmann recommended in Chapter 4; official precautions and provisions for cultural safety would be another (Lautensach & Lautensach, 2015). The dangers of intercultural conflict have increased in recent years with the waves of mass migration into Europe, the US and other countries.

In the introduction we also mentioned that worldwide economic decline and deterioration of infrastructures could seriously destabilise the coherence of large countries. To what extent would that compromise human security? Might the opportunities for regional self-determination not present some benefits? The efforts of many international organisations have been motivated by the tacit assumption that the cohesion of a nation-state is always a good thing. Although ‘balkanisation’, the fragmentation of a federal state along ethno-cultural lines, often leads to bloody civil wars, its forceful prevention can create more harm than good — as the Balkan precedent showed (Pringle, 2012). The forceful attempts by Serbia in 1991 to preserve Yugoslavian integrity caused much suffering without ultimately halting the disintegration. An illustrative counterexample would be the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia in 1992. The recipe for disaster seems to be a multiethnic federal state ruled by a dominant ethnic minority (Chua, 2003; Hale, 2004). Despite the commonly pejorative use of ‘balkanization’ we suggest that the concept bears the opportunity for a peaceful, ordered disintegration but within the context of a vigilant and helpful international community.

What muddles this issue is that norms of human security are often mixed with trite nationalistic ideals and old-style national security, and also with justified concerns about the effects of patriotic fervour (see Chapter 19). When a country peacefully divides into two, as in the case of Czechoslovakia, this does not automatically compromise the human security of the inhabitants — actually, the results of the Czechoslovakian referendum suggested that the majority believed the opposite would ensue. When the breakup went ahead without any violence, the international community commended Prime Minister Václav Havel for his dedication to human security in a situation where other leaders might have let their anachronistic adherence to nationalistic ideals and so-called ‘realist’ values tempt them into reacting oppressively. The extent of political fragmentation distinguishes Raskin’s (2016) two ‘civilised’ scenarios of ‘Eco-Communalism’ and ‘New Sustainability Paradigm’; in the latter, sustainable policies are coordinated and arbitrated by a central global governing body, which many would regard as the preferable scenario. Again, the opportunity lies in finding and implementing the right compromise.

Whether the fragmentation of large countries can somehow be reconciled with the consolidation of a global governing authority will have to await the test of history. The World Economic Forum (2011) considered the failure of global governance to be one of the two central risks to human security (the other one being economic disparity). To be sure, in the absence of adequate global or super-regional security regimes and arbitration authorities the threat of rogue states, cyberconflict, WMDs, transnational crime, nationalism and terrorism will persist, no matter how ecologically sustainable the world may have become. Of particular concern in a politically fragmented world would be the future of human rights, especially for groups that are already disadvantaged such as women.[20] As explained in Chapter 15, human rights depend on civil society, which benefits greatly from networking, international monitoring and enforcement, and communication. A retrenchment from globalisation could spell disaster for many world citizens. These pitfalls of a ‘de-globalisation’ trend are the reason why the latter of the two ‘civilised’ Raskin scenarios is to be preferred from a human security perspective.

Avenues towards such responsible global governance are proposed by Klaus Bosselmann in Chapter 16 and by Katy Gwiazdon in Chapter 20. Those approaches need to surmount several challenges. The first lies in the transition from the presently existing kind of global hegemony exerted by corporate interest groups and subservient governments towards a form of governance that is inclusive, democratic, and sustainable. Secondly, national sovereignty needs to be reigned in — through nothing less than a consensus of sovereign governments! This would include a change from the dominant ethic of ‘realism’ to ‘enlightened self interest’ which would then allow for an empowerment of the UN or some other global governing framework. Morton and Maesel present a convincing argument for this in Chapter 18. Gwiazdon in Chapter 20 emphasises the diversity of levels and modes that can contribute to a compelling consensus towards global governance (which in her sense includes all local levels). Many of those mechanisms for consensus building on supporting human security are still quite ineffective and undeveloped (see Chapter 6); bringing them up to task constitutes an additional challenge.

21.3.3 What If the Law Is Wrong?

In Chapter 13, John Wilson explored how the rule of law can promote human security nationally and internationally, working on the assumption that state authority always has automatic legitimacy. Likewise, Katy Gwiazdon in Chapter 20 emphasises the rule of law in environmental governance. To be sure, many states derive adequate legitimacy through democratic representation in their legislative bodies and reasonably equitable sharing of power. Equally obvious are the exceptions. One kind of exception is the hybrid political order in ‘fragile’ states that Clements discussed in Chapter 8; from a human security perspective, argues Clements, such hybrid orders are as legitimate as the typical Weberian state. Thus, in any country where power relationships are deemed too inequitable or state benefits too weak, local communities and traditional orders can legitimately contribute toward systems of secure governance, but with some modifications to what is commonly considered the rule of law.

A very different kind of exception arises from situations where a state abuses its power or where the law does anything but promote human security. The authors’ male ancestors served in the German armed forces during two world wars under regimes of dubious legitimacy which at times were engaged in crimes against humanity. Under such circumstances it becomes a moral duty for the soldier or citizen to disobey orders, to ignore such laws as seem unjust in one’s own judgment, and to thwart the designs of state authority wherever one deems the risks acceptable. Numerous scenarios popularised in the media involved families giving refuge to Jewish refugees during the holocaust, not only breaking the law of the land but risking their own lives in the process. They did so because they refused to regard Jews as “guilty or beyond hope” or themselves as helpless (Oliner & Oliner, 1988). Other examples come from East German border guards defying their shoot-to-kill orders when encountering compatriots fleeing across the Iron Curtain into the West. Surely we can agree that those people acted virtuously defying the absolute authority of an inhumane and brutal state, even if not all of us might have had the stamina to act likewise in their places.

In such unequivocal cases personal moral judgment and possibly a moral consensus among families and communities must override state authority for the sake of human security. But this raises some questions about situations in the moral grey zone where the relative legitimacies of the two opposing positions are less clear, where Clements (in Chapter 8) would note an incompatibility between modern state agenda and customary approaches, but where a decisive moral imperative may not be so easily identified. The situation that US citizens find themselves in under the Trump regime provides a poignant contemporary example.

Before you read on, see Extension Activity 4 and discuss (with yourself at least) what possible criteria could be used to define this ethical boundary.

Clements suggests another reason why reconciliation of such conflicts is important to human security: Countries that succeed in establishing effective hybrid orders of governance tend to be more resilient in emergency situations. The global crisis is bound to present us with plenty of occasions to test this hypothesis. Hybrid modes of governance can also help stabilise the cultural identity of indigenous peoples and address their legitimate claims for political self-determination. The goal of effective hybrid governance lends a new meaning to the concept of sustainable development, far beyond its often overemphasised and questionable economic dimensions. Its significance reaches from international regimes through national governance to the building of secure local communities. One problem area where hybrid governance might be unable to help is the endangerment of environmental security by government inaction on pollution and climate change; civil disobedience is bound to increase in this area.

21.3.4 The Crisis of Governability

The trend, particularly noticeable in North America, of news media and journalism prioritising goals of entertainment rather than public education represents a threat to human security. Even political programmes seem to “provoke more than they inform” (Kupchan, 2012, p. 65). The explosive expansion of social media in recent years added another dimension to that trend. It leaves the public, who is already often woefully undereducated, uninformed about current affairs of significance to their security. At the same time it perpetuates and increases the influence of corporate groups and their agents over public opinion and consumer choices, and it relieves governments of a considerable portion of their accountability obligations (Kaplan, 2007). It raises serious questions about the merits of that sacred principle of democratic liberalism, ‘giving the people what they want.’ Clearly some of the societal outcomes suggest this principle to be unsuitable for the media and entertainment sector, on grounds of human security.[21]

This predicament applies with equal significance to the marketing of consumer goods in general, to food security, to health care, and to governance and the definition of welfare. Welfare is created, firstly, by the satisfaction of needs. It is the objective of marketing to create human wants and then to make people perceive those wants as needs, no matter how tenuous their connections might be to determinants of happiness (Lane, 2000). It seems clear that ‘giving people what they want’ does little towards ‘freedom from want’ or ‘need’ as long as the same companies who do the giving also advise people what to ask for. But to what extent does this concern extend to governance? Recent political developments in the US, the EU, and Japan suggest that those governments that most closely adhere to the democratic ideal of electoral appeasement are encountering severe problems with economic decline, rising poverty and inequity, ideological polarisation and political paralysis (M’Bokolo et al., 2001).

This problem has been recognised in the mainstream literature as the ‘crisis of governability’ — a ‘mismatch between the growing demand for good governance and its shrinking supply’ (Kupchan, 2012, p. 62). Good governance can be regarded as a limited resource when one defines it as government giving the people what they demand in terms of basic needs, justice and protection and to perpetuate its ability to do so. A world in overshoot clearly cannot fully meet that need any further, but that argument is not recognised among the adherents of the conventional development paradigm. Instead they focus — with some justification — on the global phenomena of decreasing governing leverage in democracies, lack of international consensus and solidarity, and the inability of democracies to apportion sacrifice. Most interesting are the recommended remedies, as exemplified by Kupchan (2012): better strategic planning of national economic policy, gaining electoral support through populist appeasement and ideological galvanisation, and counteracting widespread tendencies towards protectionism and isolationism. These remedies do not seem to promote democratic ideals; instead they could spell a general transition towards less democratic governance such as plutocracy or state capitalism, perhaps even a benign dictatorship of some form — which brings us to our closing question.

The two essential characteristics of a democratic society are equitable representation and equitable participation. Most societies in the globalised world aspire to those ideals, but how sustainable are they in the social sense? The ‘crisis of governability’ points to this question most poignantly. Yet, if they are not sustainable, what good are they for human security?

These are important questions that concern us all because, as has been suggested throughout this book, many current trends, practices and policies in general render the goal of sustainable flourishing less and less attainable for humanity. Aside from Kupchan’s (2012) analysis described above, a major reason is our persistent collective inattention to overshoot, to the fact that our demands cannot be sustainably met by the source and sink functions of the Earth’s ecosystems. But in this section we focused on social and political sustainability, specifically of forms of governance — and here, too, the emergence of undemocratic or antidemocratic popular movements raises the question how politically sustainable democratic systems will turn out to be in the Anthropocene.

In order to turn this trend around, the authors of this book suggested numerous measures that we summarised in this concluding chapter. It is unclear how much time or latitude remain in order to avert a catastrophic crash that would endanger much of what we value as civilisation. This renders the problem even more important. While much of the challenge of sustainable human security can be described in economic terms (i.e. the allocation of scarce resources), it does include many non-economic issues such as how to evaluate determinants of ecosystem health or how to allocate the right to reproduce in the midst of a population explosion. In this context the question is, to what extent can these issues be solved at the present time through democratic means? (See Extension Activity 5.)

Discussing the limitations of democratic principles is never a comfortable undertaking within the context of Western liberal tradition and its epistemology. Yet we suggest that a genuine effort to ensure human security cannot succeed without questioning the ideological cornerstones that influence human security, and democracy is one of them. Raising those important questions, beyond merely transmitting information, has been among the unifying agendaof this book’s authors. It is our fervent hope that the reader will have developed the habits of raising pertinent questions and of challenging dominant assumptions throughout their future professional endeavours.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • Many of the most pressing challenges to human security in its various dimensions arise from the lack of environmental security.
  • At the global level, environmental security can only be ensured if humanity manages to extricate itself from the condition of overshoot. Two major challenges arise from this imperative: (1) increasing the equity of environmental impact and (2) halting (and then reversing) population growth as quickly as possible.
  • The lack of international consensus and political will, as well as ideological blind spots, render timely success against overshoot unlikely at the global level.
  • At the regional, national, and local levels impressive progress in all pillars of human security is evident in some cases; in other cases the lack of progress causes apprehension.
  • Opportunities are more numerous and realistic at those levels because the obstacles are more manageable and solutions more feasible. They fall into the four categories of efficiency gains, restraint measures, adaptation and structural flexibility.
  • One essential requirement for sustainable human security is that new educational policies and practices lead to a restructuring of the cultural foundations that inform people’s ideas about progress and modernity.
  • Some important challenges and opportunities towards human security arise independently of sustainability issues. They include many aspects of health security, political fragmentation and unification, limitations to the rule of law and the crisis of governability in democracies.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. Consider a concept map summarising the book. Incorporate as many chapters as possible. Where do you see agreement? Where do you see possible disagreement?
  2. In the impoverished island nation of Haiti, 58% of the population lacked access to clean water even before the 2010 earthquake. Determine the number of people that could sustainably live in Haiti, based only on the availability of fresh water. You will need to find data on annual precipitation and the minimum per capita requirement. Compare your finding with the existing population (estimated by the CIA World Factbook’s page on Haiti at 9,801,664 for July 2012) and propose some major agenda for sustainable development in terms of adaptation, efficiency, restraint, and structural changes. Explain why the import of potable water is not part of those agenda but other technology (of what kind?) might be.
  3. On 17 October 2018 the cultivation, possession, acquisition, and consumption of cannabis was legalised in Canada. What would the legalisation of some (or all) recreational drugs do for human security? Would it endanger more users to a greater extent and facilitate their progression to ever harder drugs? On the other hand, could it help eliminate gang violence, assure quality control of the products, allow users to openly access medical care, facilitate taxation of the industry, free up resources for other areas of law enforcement? In your view, to what extent is current drug legislation in your country influenced by considerations of human security?
  4. (Refer to Section 21.3.3.) Common examples representing this moral grey zone include someone stealing food because they feel unable to feed their family by other means; soldiers deserting their units because they consider their orders inhumane; a passer-by feeding water to cattle on a parked truck, and trespassing in the process; and demonstrators defending themselves against police brutality. In such situations it does not seem so clear with whom the moral authority rests. But if we concede that at least in some cases both the moral authority and the weight of IHL rests with the individual and not with the state, as in the case of the holocaust examples, then the authority of the state becomes subject to ad hoc confirmation by the individual citizen. Where should we draw the line between what is acceptable and unacceptable?Beginning with the examples mentioned above, create some criteria, discuss them with peers, then compare your ideas with the endnote.[22]
  5. The challenges for human security under the present circumstances call for drastic policy changes at all levels. The necessary measures could be enacted by a democratic government or by a benign dictator, but to what extent is each side up to the task? In other words, what we are asking you is the following: Will democracies necessarily lose out in favour of ecologically benign dictatorships — or are they indeed the only form of government that has any hope of surviving in the long run? Or might the answer depend on the scale (global / regional / national / local)?Two opposing viewpoints exist on this question.Their main points are represented in the two text boxes below, in the form of an organised moot debate. We encourage you to compare them and decide which side appeals to you more; we suggest that you do this in teams. You might also wish to consult Chapter 14. Discuss your view with your peers.If you would like to follow a discussion among academics on the future of democracy, read M’Bokolo, Touraine & Walzer (2001).
  6. George W. Bush’s first executive order after taking office was to stop all funding for programmes designed to put a break on the explosive population growth in Third World countries. This amounted to cancelling all US development aid, as well as US participation in international aid, that was in any way associated with family planning. This single decision noticeably hindered international efforts to help African women reduce their reproductive rates (which are still among the world’s highest) in subsequent years. Taking into consideration the definition of crimes against humanity given in Chapter 7, discuss the pros and cons of a hypothetical prosecution of G.W. Bush for crimes against humanity.
  7. “In My Canada …” Compile a wishlist of developments that you would like to have seen happen in your country, state or province in order to facilitate a Great Transition towards sustainable human security. Our suggested examples, naturally biased, are:
    • Our newly elected prime minister would have returned from the Paris COP21 summit with an explicit plan for the phased disappearance of all recreational fossil fuel-driven motor vehicles.
    • None of our remaining old growth forests will ever see another chain saw again.
    • No billionaires should exist in my country — what little good they contribute to the commons is arbitrary and unaccountable. Taxation should take care of it, won’t it?
    • The packaging industries and the recycling industries would have been amalgamated by law shortly after many plastic consumer articles appeared on the market in the 1950s.
  8. The two statements below argue in favour of democratic governance and in favour of benign autocracy, respectively. Take issue with their arguments and choose sides, if you feel so inclined. Be prepared to propose further arguments to support your position and/or to refute the alternatives.

Democracy and Human Security: Two Opposing Viewpoints

The much acclaimed spread of democracy around the world is mostly a matter of superficial appearance, much less one of substantial democratisation. In fact, the globalisation of markets and finance hinders democracy everywhere. Democratic states are obliged to facilitate their citizens’ exercise of their rights as individuals and in associations. However, this does not allow effective and timely policy changes as are necessary at this time to ensure a sustainable future. Those new policies will include a new understanding of progress in terms of efficiency, restraint and adaptation, and follow the precautionary principle. In other words, democracies are powerless to prevent the kind of environmental vandalism that is endemic in many countries. Therefore they are doomed. It is the very capacity of democracies to persist ‘at the edge of chaos’ that alone allows for sufficient flexibility in a future characterised by rapid and sudden environmental change. This capacity is thought to arise from a propensity of truly democratic societies to spontaneously reorganise and adapt in response to external challenges. We have seen this confirmed in recent history since the authoritarian regimes in South America were replaced with democratically elected ones. Once that happened, those countries were able to develop; there is no true development without the democratic participation of all groups of society. In other words, only democracies can live up to the challenges ahead that demand a new kind of development and resilience.
In contrast, a benign dictatorship could succeed where democracies failed. A benign dictatorship in this context is one that pursues as its ultimate goal not its own perpetuation but the sustainable well-being (‘acceptable survival’) of humanity in terms of ecological limits (but not in terms of human rights) and the ‘creation of wealth’ as described in Chapter 14. If it helps African countries, why not others? It is a dictatorship insofar as it does not consult with its citizens on whether or how they wish to be governed. But most people prioritise their day-to-day quest for survival and for happiness over issues of government. A democratic government by definition engages in periodic consultation with the citizenry, usually through elected representatives. Even though the mechanisms of consulting may be indirect and include delays, any substantially new policies will thus have to be approved by the electorate sooner or later, either directly or through delegates. This is the central principle of political representation. It makes governmental decisions defensible.
A global market economy in the current undisciplined form is unlikely to allow for such drastic changes in a timely fashion. One reason lies in the counterproductive definition of progress that this system relies on. The free market model may serve humanity much better under a radically reformed world order with equitable distribution of resources. But radical redistribution is unlikely to come about by a democratic consensus unless a majority is moved by the certainty of impending cataclysm, by which time it would be too late. Dictatorships tend to be encumbered by many handicaps. Firstly, any authoritarian system is likely to elicit non-compliance to a greater extent than a system based on consensus. Many of those citizens who disagree with a particular policy, seeing no way to influence it, would be moved towards civil disobedience. The likely outcomes are black markets, an illicit ‘shadow’ economy, widespread apathy, and possibly more deliberate environmental vandalism. People feel disempowered because local authorities do not represent local governance, only an extension of the central authority. In other words, the door towards liberalism remains firmly closed.
This consensus handicap is the main reason why a dictatorial system would be better able to restrain capitalism and to curb individual freedom to the extent necessary to maintain ecosystem health. While democracies can legislate to impose limits and incentives (e.g. render fuel cells economic by taxing alternatives, fix the price of eco-toilet paper, etc.), their dependence on consensus renders them evidently ill-suited to impose unpalatable but necessary reforms on a consumption-drunk public. This includes problematic decisions about non-economic variables in the crisis, such as population growth. A dictatorship could impose a system of parent licensing without it becoming watered down through a parliamentary process. Secondly, in order for the required policies to have their beneficial effect they would have to be enforced and perpetuated globally. That requires an Orwellian degree of complexity, reach and thoroughness unprecedented in dictatorial regimes. Few prospects of the future seem as daunting to the humanist as that of a single global dictatorship leaving no place for the dissident to escape to. The consolation lies in the likely inherent instability of such a system. Dictators tend to claim that dictatorial measures would only be necessary for the brief historical interlude until the citizenry recognise the beneficial outcomes, whereupon they would cease to object and begin to actively support the regime, which in turn would no longer necessitate dictatorship. However, this argument often flouted by communist rulers was never borne out by history. Invariably those dictatorships toppled before they could convince enough of their citizens.
Another handicap of democracies lies in their disposition towards political see-saws. Any radical initiative that does manage to pass through the parliamentary process is likely to elicit opposition from powerful lobby groups who perceive it as threatening their interests, economic or other. Those lobbies might well succeed in getting an opposition party elected into government which would promptly reverse those reforms — the net effect being no political change. That would not happen under a dictatorship. We cannot afford to remain stuck within the confines of the Left–Right continuum and its squabbling. The real strengths of democratic decision making lie at the local and regional levels, where a centralized power would likely err out of ignorance. Therefore a push to decentralise democratic structures may help. The challenge of a democratic regime then becomes the proper coordination of many local initiatives. This is where educational reform could make a crucial difference. The currently dominating value system that prioritises the maximisation of personal property and consumptions is entirely counterproductive. The transition from this value system to one that facilitates sustainability will have to rely on formal and informal education which focuses on values directly.
Thirdly, democracies in their present forms appear ill-suited to meet the challenge because of the almost obligatory short term view of elected decisionmakers focusing on legislative periods. Even if they manage to introduce and enforce benign but radical laws (e.g. on packaging or advertisement) they are frequently obliged to rely on short-term crowd-pleasing measures to survive into the next legislative period. A more ideal democracy where long-term benefits are openly and widely prioritised might do better but we no longer have the time to build it. Dictators, on the other hand, are free to act on the long term view (as illustrated by Lenin’s reforms), and their benignity would dispose them towards that view. A dictatorship is only truly sustainable if the possibility of effective resistance not ever emerges, which means it cannot last forever (keeping in mind Wilmer’s points about conflict resolution in Chapter 19). This leaves us with the likely prospect of a temporary dictatorial regime enacting the necessary changes towards a sustainable future for humanity, whereupon they are promptly overthrown and democracy takes over. Can’t you just see the movie now?
A transition to a benign dictatorship may be easier than is generally believed as in many respects the present systems of governance already resemble more a dictatorship (of corporations) than a democracy. Such a transition can be furthered through the universal influence of electronic media. A sufficiently catastrophic global environmental event might provide the last straw.  






List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

  • akrasia
  • Conventional Development Paradigm (CDP)
  • crisis of governability
  • cultural capital
  • kakistocracy
  • natural capital
  • precautionary principle

Suggested Reading

Bendell, J. (2018). Deep adaptation: A map for navigating climate tragedy. Initiative for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS). http://lifeworth.com/deepadaptation.pdf

Bindé, J. (Ed.). (2001). Keys to the 21st century. UNESCO Publishing; Berghahn Books.[23]

Dobkowski, M. N., & Wallimann, I. (Eds.). (2002). On the edge of scarcity: Environment, resources, population, sustainability, and conflict (2nd ed.). Syracuse University Press.[24]

Heinberg, R, & Lerch, D. (Eds.). (2010). The post carbon reader: Managing the 21st century’s sustainability. Watershed Media.[25]

McKibben, B. (2010). Eaarth: Making a life on a tough new planet. Times Books.[26]

Raskin, P. (2016). Journey to Earthland: The great transition to planetary civilization. Tellus Institute. http://www.greattransition.org/documents/Journey-to-Earthland.pdf

Raworth, K. (2017). Doughnut economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. Chelsea Green Publishing.[27]

Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. (2011). The Stockholm memorandum: Tipping the scales towards sustainability. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 40(7), 781–785. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-011-0187-8

Welcome to the Anthropocene. (2012). Welcome to the Anthropocene. http://www.anthropocene.info[28]

World Economic Forum. (2020). The global risks report 2020. https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2020

World Wildlife Fund. (2018). Living planet report 2018: Aiming higher (M. Grooten & R. E. A. Almond, Eds.). http://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/all_publications/living_planet_report_2018/


Aid Delivery Support Initiative. (n.d.). Haiti relief: Key statistics. https://www.lessonsfromhaiti.org/lessons-from-haiti/key-statistics/

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Documents kakistocracy at the federal level in Australia, without mentioning the word, or elaborating on mitigation or resistance, beyond three ethical “lessons” that are fairly obvious. Clearly not a citation. Maybe it’s supposed to be a footnote? Can’t tell which reference it’s supposed to be attached to.

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  1. In fact, numerous heads of government insist most fervently, at no cost to their reputation, that further economic growth counts among their most important policy goals. The 2020 pandemic showed how much economic de-growth is actually possible within a short time frame.
  2. This limit, which represented a doubling of the orginal safe limit recommended by the UN Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases, was acknowleged in the Copenhagen Accord. Estimates by UNEP and the University of Oxford’s UK Climate Impacts Programme were 3.5 and 4°C, respectively. These thresholds are placed where scientists suspect critical ‘tipping points’ — such as the entire Western Antarctic Ice Shelf sliding into the sea within a matter of months or weeks. There is a further concern based on a phenomenon called global dimming: During the three days following the 9/11 attack, when all US passenger flights were grounded, the levels of particulate pollution in the atmosphere dropped dramatically, and temperatures increased by 1°C (because more sunlight reached the surface) in addition to the 1°C by which we have already exceeded the preindustrial level (BBC 2005). This could spell a disastrous extent of further warming when the particulate level drops for any reason in the future, e.g. from emission reductions. This is the BBC global dimming programme transcript.
  3. Those scenarios correspond to the ‘Eco-communalism’ and ‘New Sustainability Paradigm’ scenarios described by Raskin (2016), as discussed in Chapter 1.
  4. Narrow definitions of poverty contribute to the inefficiency of this ‘fight’ against poverty. A common definition is earning less than the equivalent of two US dollars a day, and for ‘absolute poverty’ less than one dollar (Bindé & Matsuura, 2001, p. 359). Readers of Hawkins’ Chapter 11 will not miss the irony in the image of a starving person being handed two small pieces of green paper.
  5. A typical definition of food security is “permanent access by all to the foodstuffs necessary for a healthy and active life” (Collomb, 2001). This rightly excludes the kinds of malnutrition that predominate in overdeveloped countries. However, it only hints at the necessary quality of a person’s diet, the lack of which does not lead to starvation but to ill health from malnutrition. The proposed EAT-Lancet diet would be healthier but it remains neither universally affordable nor sustainable (Hirvonen et al., 2020).
  6. See the summary of A Good Life For All Within Planetary Boundaries and read the data published in O’Neill et al. (2018). The authors point to the challenge that countries performing well with respect to the environmental boundaries tend to under-perform in the sociopolitical and cultural areas, and vice versa. The same conundrum is causing some of the SDGs to clash with others.
  7. The unit is global hectares (gha). It is useful to distinguish between two kinds of equity in this context. One is the average per capita footprint in 2008 (2.7 gha); when multiplied by the total 2008 population, it gives the equivalent of 1.5 Earths and thus represents our overshoot in 2008. The other is the average sustainable per capita footprint; its estimates vary about an order of magnitude, around a median of about 3.6 gha (WWF, 2018; Ehrlich et al., 1995). That is the minimum amount of biocapacity that needs to be allocated sustainably to every living person in order for them to survive under acceptable conditions. The Earth’s biocapacity can sustain this for only about 3 billion people.
  8. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo the goal of fertility reduction was dismissed in favour of women’s empowerment. Instrumental in this outcome were the international women’s movement, the US government, and the Holy See (McIntosh & Finkle, 1995). A reference to reproductive rights was deleted from the Rio+20 report.
  9. Relevant chapters are referenced. Data sources: Lautensach, 2010; Homer-Dixon, 1999.
  10. In the US alone, between one and two thousand untreated ‘superfund’ sites of toxic waste deposits are leaking pollutants into the water table with catastrophic consequences for local cancer incidence. In some island states such as New Zealand, water pollution is now considered a primary security threat.
  11. Some publications still measure a country’s ‘development’ by its number of millionaires, simultaneously ignoring the problems of socioeconomic inequity, capital flight, local resource scarcity, and global overshoot, as well as moral objections to the implication that the exorbitance of a tiny elite somehow renders tolerable the squalor among the rest. The trends towards increasing inequity refute all claims about economic ‘trickle-down’ effects.
  12. Widespread denial of moral responsibility is commonly evident in post-genocide situations, e.g. post-WWII Germany (Jaspers, 2001). In many cases of heroic altruism, the acceptance of moral responsibility made the crucial difference (Oliner & Oliner, 1988).
  13. The hidden curriculum includes knowledge, beliefs and ideals that are not explicitly addressed or referred to in formal teaching at educational institutions but that students do learn about through informal and implicit channels such as peer interactions during schooling. It represents a powerful driver for the cultural reproduction of dominant patterns of thought and behaviour. The null curriculum consists of themes that are officially taboo or traditionally ignored (e.g. the ethics of reproductive behaviour).
  14. For example, one particular concept that needs to be deconstructed and abandoned is the concept of the environmentalist. It has polarised communities and societies into pro-nature and pro-economy camps, left versus right, conservation versus ‘progress’, and other anachronistic dichotomies that seem quite counterproductive (Scharmer, 2019). It has also provided some influential groups with tools for ‘brownlash’ propaganda (Beder, 2006). Such demonization and dividing the field into ‘us and them’ hinders progress in negotiations and results in stalemates (Haidt, 2012). In truth, anyone who cares for their own long-term welfare, if not the welfare of their family, cannot help but care for the integrity of the requisite ecological support structures. James Lovelock (1995) called this attitude ‘enlightened self interest’. There is no reason for anyone to refer to such a person as an environmentalist, for what should we call the other people — suicidal sociopaths? “We are all environmentalists now.” (Jones, 1993, p. 55)
  15. For instance, economic risks received generally high impact ratings while environmental risks were considered to generally have a low impact. The report does not mention overshoot or imply that it was taken into account.
  16. weapons of mass destruction
  17. See Onishi, N. & M. Fackler. 2011. Japan Held Nuclear Data, Leaving Evacuees in Peril. New York Times (Asia Pacific), 9 August, A1.
  18. For example, the artificial sweeteners aspartmae (a.k.a. Nutrasweet, Equal, Neotame, AminoSweet) and sucralose (Splenda) have been in use since 1981 and 1999, respectively, despite increasing evidence of severe health effects. Aspartame is used by 100 million people worldwide and is present in 5000 products in the US alone. Alleged effects include certain cancers and the mimicking of lupus and multiple sclerosis (Aspartame Consumer Safety Network http://www.aspartamesafety.com/). At the time of writing, the herbicide glyphosate (‘Roundup’) has attracted much public attention for similar reasons.
  19. Under the category of “Insane Trade” Keller (2019) describes practices such as countries simultaneous exporting and importing the same article, or re-importing goods that they previously exported. The associated waste of energy, packaging, emissions, and the destabilising of local climate-resilient agriculture are significant.
  20. A 2012 Gallup poll identified the ten countries with the biggest gap between genders in terms of how personally secure individuals feel when going out in their own communities at night. They are, in increasing order, Finland, France, USA, Australia, Albania, Italy, Cyprus, Malta, Algeria and New Zealand. What is striking about this list is that it includes some very affluent societies, with very high personal security ratings, but also with high incidences of violence against women. We can conclude that the causes for women’s insecurity are cultural and not socioeconomic, and that international monitoring and ‘shaming’ in a globalised world might do some good, as such societies tend to care about their international status. See Countries Where Women Do Not Feel Safe (accessed 8 Sept 2019).
  21. Witness this famous quote on successful moviemaking by Samuel Goldwyn: “If you want to send a message, send a telegram!” Of particular concern to the human security of millions at one time were the numerous incidences of casual US media commentaries about the ‘impending strike on Iran’; equally unsettling to us is the paucity of protests against such blatant warmongering.
  22. Here are some suggested criteria in the form of critical questions that one could ask about a person’s proposed course of action: To what extent could disobeying the law serve the person’s own interests? Are those interests legitimate and strong enough to justify the proposed act of civil disobedience? To what extent could obeying the law result in unjustifiable harm to oneself or to others (human or non-human)? How reliably could such potential ‘harm’ be assessed? To what extent can the disobedience be excused on religious or conscientious grounds?
  23. Although most of its authors are thoroughly ensconced in the CDP, the scope and depth of this book and the range of high-profile contributors is impressive.
  24. This book, as well as its predecessor, The Coming Age of Scarcity, hardly dates; it is what the UN should have heeded two decades ago.
  25. Contains sections on sustainability, climate, water, biodiversity, food, population, culture & behaviour, energy, economy, cities, transportation, waste, health, education, resilience, action plans.
  26. His analysis is proving right.
  27. All of human security in the form of a single ingenious diagram.
  28. This is an excellent educational resource with authoritative academic credentials.


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