Green Giant or Straw Man? Environmental Pressure and Civil Conflict, 1961-99

Peer-reviewed Journal Article

Binningsbø, Helga Malmin; Indra de Soysa; & Nils Petter Gleditsch (2007) Green Giant or Straw Man? Environmental Pressure and Civil Conflict, 1961-99, Population and Environment 28(6): 337–353.

The argument that environmental scarcity causes violent conflict attracts both popular and academic interest. The awarding of the Nobel Peace prize to the Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai in 2004 was applauded by many who believe there is a strong relationship between environmental degradation, resource scarcity and conflict. Neomalthusian writers have a well-developed theoretical argument explaining this connection, and have conducted numerous case studies that seem to support such a view. So far there have been few systematic quantitative or comparative studies and the few that exist have focused on a small subset of resource indicators. In order to test a more general argument about the effects of resource scarcity, we look at the relationship between environmental scarcity and internal armed conflict using three different indicators of environmental sustainability: the World Bank?s Genuine Savings index, the Ecological Footprint index and the Environmental Sustainability index. We find little, if any, relationship between violent conflict and environmental degradation as measured by these sustainability indicators. Rather, and contrary to the neomalthusian argument, we find that the more resources a country consumes (i.e. the larger the ecological footprint), the lower the likelihood of conflict. This is probably because the ecological footprint is highly correlated with the level of development, known to be robustly associated with lower levels of civil conflict. General measures that claim to measure sustainable development, in spite of their prominence in the policy literature, are problematic when it comes to predicting conflict.

Authors

Helga Malmin Binningsbø

Helga Malmin Binningsbø

Senior Researcher

Indra de Soysa

Indra de Soysa

Professor of Political Science at NTNU

Nils Petter Gleditsch

Nils Petter Gleditsch

Research Professor; Professor Emeritus of Political Science, NTNU