CSCW: Environmental Factors in Civil War (2003-2012)

CSCW - Environmental Factors in Civil War

This group defines the environment in the broad sense of physical factors that condition human affairs, such as distance, mountains, rivers, forest cover and availability of natural resources. Environmental factors play an important role in assessing neomalthusian vs. ‘cornucopian’ theories of conflict. What are the effects of resource scarcity and abundance? Is climate change associated with conflict? What role does cooperation play vs. conflict in a situation of scarcity? We also consider the demographic aspect of neomalthusian concerns, as well as ethnic distinctions as potential causes of conflict and as convenient ways of organizing conflicts.

Key issues for the group ahead:

  • How climate change is associated with conflict
  • Look at cooperation as well as conflict
  • GIS data with regard to environmental and demographic (as well as ethnic, linguistic, and religious) factors will be a high priority
  • Resource scarcity and resource abundance will be viewed as complimentary rather than competing perspectives

Environmental factors play an important role in neomalthusian theories of conflict. Population pressure creates resource scarcity and environmental degradation and in turn violent competition for resources, particularly over such vital resources as territory, food, water, and energy sources. Territory has been shown to be the single most important conflict issue in interstate conflict. It obviously plays a key role in intrastate conflict as well, although it is difficult to separate the role of territory in conflict initiation from its role as an organizing principle of warfare.

The neomalthusian perspective is contrasted with a cornucopian view that argues that technological progress, human innovation, and market pricing can overcome scarcity. Resource abundance is increasingly regarded as potentially harmful because it leads to rent seeking and looting, with natural resources such as oil or diamonds funding incompetent governments as well as ruthless rebel movements. Under some circumstances resource abundance may be more likely to lead to conflict than resource scarcity. In many poor countries, abundance and scarcity coexist, creating individual motivations to join rebel groups as well as means to fund them.

We develop general theories of environmental conflict and test them in large-n empirical investigations, although we also draw on exploratory case studies for the purpose of enriching the overall theoretical perspectives.

We study the effects of population pressure in internal conflict, including the role of ‘youth bulges’, large cohorts of youths that may serve as recruiting grounds for rebel movements if society is unsuccessful in integrating them. Total population size is also known to affect the probability of the onset of civil war.

Conflict researchers have developed several measures of interstate distance (intercapital distance, contiguity by land and over water, minimum distance, etc.) and we have created two new measures - the distance between the centre of a rebellion conflict and the country’s decision-making centre and the length of land boundaries. Both have been used in empirical studies of armed conflict in the post-World War Ii period.

We consider how political and economic factors influence the relationship between the environment and conflict. While environmental problems in democracies are given a great deal of public attention, the worst man-made environmental disasters have occurred under authoritarian rule.

Although mainly composed of social scientists, the group also include scholars with competence in geographical information systems, hydrologists, and others with a relevant background for cross-disciplinary studies of resource conflicts.

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