Changes in the environment can impact international relations theory, despite enjoying only a limited amount of attention from scholars of the discipline. The sorts of influence that may be identified include ontology, epistemology, concepts, and methods, all of these being related to varying perspectives on international relations. It is likely that the most profound implications arise at the ontological level, since this establishes assumptions about, for example, whether the world we wish to understand is both political and ecological. However, more recently the recognition of the practical challenge presented by the environment has become widespread, though it has not yet translated into a significant impact on the discipline of international relations, even when theoretical implications are noted. It is now almost obligatory to include the environment in any list of modern international relations concerns, as over time it has become necessary to include peace, underdevelopment, gender, or race, as they quite rightly became recognized as significant aspects of the field. Moreover, the environment, as a relatively novel subject matter, has naturally brought some critique and innovation to the field. However, studies of the environment are also subject to such descriptors as “mainstream” and “radical” in debates about how best to tackle the subject. As is often the case, the debates are sharpest among those with the greatest interest in the subject.
Juliann Emmons Allison
Ecofeminism can be described as both an ecological philosophy and a social movement that draws on environmental studies, critiques of modernity and science, and feminist critical analyses and activism to explicate connections between women and nature, and the implications of these relationships for environmental politics. Feminist writer Françoise d’Eaubonne is widely credited to be the founder of ecofeminism in the early 1970s. Ecofeminists embrace a wide range of views concerning the causal role of Western dualistic thinking, patriarchal structures of power, and capitalism in ecological degradation, and the oppression of women and other subjugated peoples. Collectively, they find value in extending feminist analyses to the simultaneous interrogation of the domination of both nature and women. The history of ecofeminism may be divided into four decade-long periods. Ecofeminism emerged in the early 1970s, coincident with a significant upturn in the contemporary women’s and environmental movements. In the 1980s, ecofeminism entered the academy as ecofeminist activists and scholars focused their attention on the exploitation of natural resources and women, particularly in the developing world. They criticized government and cultural institutions that constrained women’s reproductive and productive roles in society, and argued that environmental protection ultimately depends on increasing women’s socioeconomic and political power. In the current postfeminist and postenvironmentalist world, ecofeminists are less concerned with theoretical labels than with effective women’s activism to achieve ecological sustainability.
Rodrigo G. Pinto
Social science research on environment and activism with a cross- or transnational scope (REACTS) is described as a consolidated but confused, stagnant field of scholarship, one which has yet to surpass the comparable state of international studies at large. Previous reviews of the literature in this growing and interdisciplinary research domain have gone so far as so divide it into either its cross-national or its transnational branch, respectively associated with cross-national and environmental social science (CESS), or transnational and environmental social science (TESS). As evidence of stagnancy, once the CESS and TESS branches of REACTS are combined, changes in the cross-national research agenda have been merely the reverse of the transnational one. From 1969–75, REACTS literature covered the themes of population, catastrophic limits to growth, interstate conferences and organizations, North–South relations, survivalist/lifeboat ethics, resource and land conservation, and the social movement organization/non-governmental organization/"third sector." From 1977–91, the issues covered shifted to emphasize violence/conflict, counter environmentalist backlash, seal hunting, whaling, rural energy (improved bioenergy cookstoves), and possibly baby foods, though the earlier concerns with population, (nature) conservation, interstate conferences and survivalist/lifeboat ethics continued. The resistance literature was considerably consolidated and there was a quantitative change in the attention that environmental activism itself received within the pre-existing orientations. In the post-1992 era, the thematic array of transnational REACTS expanded even further as additional issues made it to the agenda in international and environmental studies.
Environmental justice brings together two of the most powerful social movements of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, environmentalism and civil rights. Despite the success in reducing pollution and improving environmental quality in many areas, the reduction of race- and income-based disparities in environmental conditions, such as the levels of pollution to which individuals are exposed, has seen limited progress. Minority and low income communities continue to bear the brunt of environmental burdens. The idea of environmental justice also helps clarify the ethical issues underlying climate change and compels action to reduce the threat even in the face of uncertainties and to help poor nations with the costs of adapting to disruptive climate change. A major challenge in environmental justice is deciding how to define the problem. Five options for framing the issue of environmental justice capture most of the approaches taken by advocates and scholars. These are the civil rights framework; theories of distributive justice, fairness, and rights; the public participation framework, social justice framework, and ecological sustainability framework. These frameworks are not mutually exclusive. They overlap considerably and proponents of one primary framework may rely on elements of others as they frame the issues. Advocates of environmental justice will find that elements of each can contribute to their goal. No one framework is sufficient, but in recognizing where those with other views are coming from, we can develop opportunities for creative solutions that bring together alternative approaches.
Resources have become part of the larger discussion on environmental security, not only because they are sometimes the object of conflict but also because the use of fossil fuels and the deforestation of the planet are key contributors to increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, the main cause of climate change. In the last few decades, scholarly literature has integrated the environment into discussions of war, conflict, and specifically security. Initial formulations of conflict research in what became the discourse of environmental security were anchored on the assumption that shortages of renewable resources would likely be aggravated by various kinds of environmental degradation. There are lessons to be learned from the history of the environmental security debate that have a direct bearing on the discussion of climate change and how this might affect security in coming decades. One crucial lesson is disciplinary, and another concerns questions of how the social, economic, and physical locales in which insecurities happen shape both the patterns of violence and the opportunities for peacebuilding. It is important that we think very carefully about the appropriate geopolitical contexts in which the relationship between environmental security and climate change is addressed. The military appears to be the institution most suited to alerting governments and publics about the need to tackle the issue of climate change issue, but diplomacy and development cooperation are also required.
Environmental sustainability is most often discussed in the context of “sustainable development,” a goal-oriented, normative concept that emphasizes the need to reconcile the often conflicting goals of economic development, environmental protection, and social progress. Despite various efforts throughout human history to encourage responsible harvesting of renewable resources such as timber forests, fish, and game, at rates that do not exceed the so-called “sustainable yield,” there is a tendency toward the “tragedy of the commons”—the incentive to overexploit shared natural resources. The challenge of sustainability is how to develop or improve the capability of individuals and communities to foster a high quality of life, without undermining the ecological and natural resource foundations on which all development ultimately depends. This essay also outlines two contrasting energy paths that the United States might follow: the hard energy path, which included rapid growth in energy demand and expansion of large-scale, centralized coal, oil and gas, and nuclear electricity production facilities that were inherently wasteful; and the soft energy path, which relied on decentralized and diverse energy projects designed to meet specific local needs, and a technological and social commitment to conservation. It also discusses policies designed to improve welfare without increasing energy and material throughput—such as investing human resources into alternatives to consumption; for example, innovations in simple living, collective action, nonmaterial personal satisfaction, and needs prevention. These approaches draw from case studies that demonstrate how the logic of sufficiency can lead to improved human welfare at lower environmental costs.
Elizabeth L. Chalecki
The term environment is often used as a short form for the biophysical environment, which refers to the biotic and abiotic surrounding of an organism or population, and consequently includes the factors that have an influence in their survival, development, and evolution. All life that has survived must have adapted to conditions of its environment. On one hand, part of the study of environmental science is the investigation of the effect of human activity on the environment. On the other hand, scholars also examine threats posed by environmental events and trends to individuals, communities, or nations, otherwise known as environmental security. It studies the impact of human conflict and international relations on the environment, or on how environmental problems cross state borders. Environmental security is a significant concept in two fields: international relations and international development. Within international development, projects may aim to improve aspects of environmental security such as food security or water security, along with connected aspects such as energy security. The importance of environmental security lies in the fact that it affects humankind and its institutions anywhere and at anytime. To the extent that humankind neglects to maintain the planet’s life-supporting eco-systems generating water, food, medicine, and clean air, current and future generations will be confronted with increasingly severe instances of environmentally induced changes.
Peter M. Haas
The literature on the political economy of the global environment is a hybrid of political economy, international relations (IR), and international environmental politics, looking at the formal and informal institutional factors which give rise to unsustainable habits. The physical environment has long been the subject of social scientists, who recognized that patterns of social activity might contribute to environmental degradation. One of the most common formulations of environmental issues as a collective action is through the metaphor of the Tragedy of Commons, which argues that overpopulation worldwide would undoubtedly contribute to extensive resource depletion. Following the formulation of the core properties of environmental issues as lying at the interstices of a variety of human activities, implications followed for how to conduct research on international environmental politics and policy. Realist and neorealist traditions in international relations stress the seminal role of power and national leadership in addressing environmental problems. Neoliberal institutionalists look at the role of formal institutional properties in influencing states’ willingness to address transboundary and global environmental threats. On the other hand, the constructivist movement in international relations focuses on the role of new ecological doctrines in how states choose to address their environmental problems, and to act collectively. Ultimately, the major policy debates over the years have addressed the political economy of private investment in environmentally oriented activities, sustainable development doctrines, free trade and the environment, environmental security, and studies of compliance, implementation, and effectiveness.
Various chemicals and heavy metals are released into the environment through industrial and manufacturing processes, agricultural use, the use of industrial and consumer goods, and the mismanagement and dumping of wastes. Such releases can cause major environmental and human health problems, both at the local level and across national borders. International cooperation can be a way of addressing the risks posed by hazardous substances and wastes. States and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) have engaged in technical collaboration and policy-making on these issues for more than a century. Today, a host of IGOs work on policy-making and management of hazardous substances and wastes, including the International Labor Organization, the Intergovernmental Forum on Chemical Safety, and the Global Environment Facility. Multilateral cooperation on hazardous substances and wastes takes place under three separate treaties: the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the 1998 Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, and the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. A substantial amount of scholarly literature covers numerous issues associated with hazardous substances and wastes, such as multilateral and national waste controls, persistent organic pollutants, and regional environmental policy developments. The case of hazardous substances and wastes can be used to further investigate the characteristics of vertical and horizontal institutional linkages and linkage politics, as well as the diffusion of principles, norms, ideas, and regulatory approaches across multilateral forums and national societies.
Chenaz B. Seelarbokus
Over the course of the twenty-first century, international environmental cooperation has been spurred through various new international environmental institutions and programs, and a dramatic strengthening of international environmental law-making. With the burst of environmental treaty-making the corpus of international environmental law (IEL) has expanded to include significant international environmental agreements (IEAs) in the sphere of climate change, ozone layer depletion, biodiversity, and so on; as well as the recognition of important principles such as good neighborliness and the common heritage. IEAs function similarly to international treaties—indeed, the only difference between an IEA and other international treaties lies in the subject matter. IEAs function as the instrument for laying down the principles of international laws binding upon states was established by the 1815 Congress of Vienna. Over the years, IEAs have not simply increased in number, but have also undergone an evolution in their structural design. In the early 1930s, IEAs tended to be simple in terms of their requirements, vague in terms of their objectives, and utilitarian in their ethos for protecting the environment. With time, however, as environmental sciences evolved to incorporate new principles and concepts, the structure of IEAs has followed in tandem to incorporate the new understandings and the new concerns.