For decades, scholars and policy-makers have disputed whether environmental degradation caused by human-induced climate change needs to be addressed and reversed in order to prevent conflict, or whether the instabilities generated by such degradation (resource scarcity, reduction of arable land, mass migration of so-called environmental refugees, etc.) provides a compelling new rationale for preparing militarily to fight the "climate change conflicts" of the future. Exploring the tension between these perspectives, the paper argues that any effective practical response implies and requires a change in the conceptual climate of the debate sufficient to discredit a literally devastating circular argument: that environmental problems, caused in part by the multiple impacts of industrial militarism, can be adequately addressed by new military strategies and spending, a "war reflex" only serving to exacerbate political tensions, widen and deepen already chronic inequalities, and inflict further ecological harm. The paper contrasts the state-centric status quo with the human-centric agenda of sustainable peace, a concept with the potential – if defined with sufficiently radical, transnational rigor – to disrupt and transform the sovereignty paradigm. The paper concludes by drawing on both Western and Indigenous political theory to ask what we think we mean by – or have come to accept as – "peace" and "power."

Author Bio(s)

Lee-Anne Broadhead is Professor of Political Science at Cape Breton University in Canada. She is the author of International Environmental Politics: The Limits of Green Diplomacy (Lynne Rienner, 2002) and has published widely on peace and security issues as well as on the social and political consequences of globalization.


I would like to thank Dr. Sean Howard for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Special thanks also go to the anonymous reviewers whose thoughtful comments and probing questions have helped strengthen this article enormously.

This article is based on a paper presented at Canadian Pugwash’s 2017 conference, Canada’s Contribution to Global Security Halifax, NS, July 2017.


Climate Change, Insecurity, Conflict, Militarism

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