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Posts Tagged ‘national security’

When environmental issues collide with rival policy concerns, the environment has long been the likely loser.   Even in America, with its agency dedicated to keeping the nation’s air and water clean, the planet too often loses when environmental push meets the shove of wealthier, more entrenched political interests.

A case in point is the recent decision by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security to wave the normal Federal requirement that its actions don’t cause environmental harm and go ahead with a plan to build a 700 mile fence between the USA and Mexico — straight through vast areas of huge ecological sensitivity.

As today’s New York Times editorializes, the plan “will be a disaster on the ground.”

And as the Times also points out, the fence won’t even stop that many illegal immigrants.   But its symbolism plays to a powerful national constituency.   Clearly, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff feels that throwing a symbolic bone to the anti-immigrant lobby buys him more political capital than taking a position that would prevent far-from-symbolic harm to a large chunk of one of the nation’s most sensitive ecological areas.

The outrage that Chertoff’s decision has provoked, in Congress and elsewhere, suggests that the political value of deciding against the environment when it conflicts with other policy priorities is decreasing.  But it also shows that politicians still feel they won’t be asked to pay too big a political price for trashing the planet — even when the reasons they give for allowing that destruction make no sense.

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That’s apparently the idea behind British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s new project.

Oliver’s idea, explains today’s Guardian,takes “inspiration from the Ministry of Food’s campaign to encourage families to Dig For Victory, grow their own food and make the most of their wartime rations.”

While it’s a gimmick, the notion also makes some sense.  Second World War rationing famously limited Brits to tiny portions of meat, butter, milk and eggs, but it also resulted in a population that was remarkably healthy.  Plus it got people growing their own food right in their own backyard ‘Victory Garden.’  It many ways you couldn’t find a diet and lifestyle more likely to warm Michael Pollan‘s heart.

But can we persuade people to voluntarily impose war-like conditions on themselves — even if they stand to benefit?

For Americans one answer is that, of course, the country is at war right now.  So why can’t the nation ask such a sacrifice of its citizens today?

Another, more global approach might argue that the lifestyles of even the richest of us aren’t (on the whole) doing us a lot of favors when it comes to our collective health and happiness — let alone that of the planet.  So surely we could be doing better.

It sounds like Jamie Oliver recognizes that people are busy and don’t necessarily yearn to feel tied to their kitchens or gardens.  As he told the Guardian:

“This isn’t about me wagging my finger at people, here or anywhere else, it’s about finding out what problems people are facing with time, budget and cooking know-how,” said Oliver. “Then we can see what help and support they need. Yes, people should take responsibility for their own health, but they need help and the tools to fix it.”

We’ll look forward to seeing what tools the energetic and talented Mr. Oliver will come up with.

If it starts receiving serious educational and even heavy-hitting policy support worldwide, perhaps there’s real potential for a return to the ‘victory garden’ model — beyond Mr. Oliver’s pitch for his next TV show.

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Europeans now feel that climate change is the world’s biggest security threat, reports the Christian Science Monitor this week.

Correspondent Nicole Itano writes from Italy that the EU sees it as a “threat multiplier” that “intensifies existing trends, tensions, and instability.”

The report — written by Javier Solana, EU foreign-policy chief, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations — warns of ‘environmental migrants’ flooding the EU and of instability and collapse in both energy-producing and weakly-established states.

It’s a striking contrast with the American national perspective.  In the USA, where so much money is spent and so many lives expended in the name of national security, climate change appears to make only the faintest blip on the Federal government’s national security radar.

Not all Americans agree with that, of course.  Even many high-ranking former US officials have publicly stated that they think this is a mistake.  Another recent Monitor story references John Podesta and Peter Ogden’s article on the threats posed by climate change in the Winter 2007-’08 issue of The Wilson Quarterly.

And last year a group of retired US military officers warned of the security dangers that can attend rapid climate change.  The impact of such efforts on US national security policy seem to be meager so, far, however.

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