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.

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​The proposition that environmental scarcity causes violent conflict attracts both popular and academic interest. Neomalthusian writers have developed theoretical arguments explaining this connection, and have conducted numerous case studies that seem to support the view that scarcity of biological assets such as land and other renewable resources causes conflict. So far there have been few systematic quantitative or comparative studies, and the few that exist have focused on particular forms of environmental degradation or on a small subset of resources, particularly mineral wealth. We test a more general argument about the effects of resource scarcity by examining the most widely-used measure of environmental sustainability: the ecological footprint. Contrary to neomalthusian thinking, we find that countries with a heavier footprint have a substantially greater chance of peace. Biocapacity and the ecological reserve also predict to peace, but these results are more fragile. Separate tests for smaller conflicts, for the post-Cold War period, and with additional control variables do not yield stronger support for the scarcity thesis. On the whole, the neomalthusian model of conflict receives little support from this analysis. We cannot exclude that erosion of the earth’s carrying capacity can increase conflict in the long run, but an empirical analysis with the ecological footprint measure does not provide any support for such a position.
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