The security implications of the American lifestyle

We should be giving more consideration to three major security frontiers: Religious, food and climate security.

So far, 2012 has been the hottest year on record and possibly attributable to climate change [GALLO/GETTY]
So far, 2012 has been the hottest year on record and possibly attributable to climate change [GALLO/GETTY]

The riots across the Muslim world give warning to something much direr than a diplomat’s death, however deplorable the Benghazi tragedy. What we say, do, and eat has global implications, and on these three major security frontiers we must do better: Religious, food and climate security. Each of us has a role to play, and each of us is capable of making a difference.

On religious security, when are we going to prioritise co-existence over intentionally blatant expressions of free speech? This is for Europe’s Dutch and Danish press and for America’s Google and YouTube and the powers that can prevent “a clear and present danger” (the clause that allows companies to pull offensive content in order to avoid crises).

We must do better at respecting, not enabling the denigration of, religion, while preserving rights and liberties. All religions have experienced extensive persecution, some longer than others, some more devastating. Now, thanks to the internet, it is quite easy to offend and then defend the offence by citing freedom of expression. There must be a better way to balance this, and leaders must find a way to legislate responsible parameters lest this continues.

On food security, America’s summer drought – which devastated food crops – highlights a trend that will become prevalent. We keep kicking this food security can down the road by reassuring ourselves that we have enough food supply and that it’s merely a matter of distribution. The answer is sustainable agriculture: Ensuring that people have an opportunity to pursue it (see Africa’s underdeveloped farmland) and that those who have access to agriculture use it sustainably.

To the first point, we have all but forgotten Africa, reneging on donor pledges, letting impoverished countries, like Somalia, get poorer unless they have a terrorism connection. Case in point: Libya. The invasion was all we cared about. We employed excessive force but little focus on post-Gaddafi institutions. We distributed weapons to opposition groups, but did little to develop necessary long-term democratic infrastructure for sustainable governance.

To the second point, the West doesn’t do sustainability well. As meat-eaters, our diets are heavily energy- and- environmentally intensive. When a pound of meat consumes 10 to 15 times the water, land and grains that a pound of vegetables/legumes consumes, this is not smart or sustainable. We do not have ample amounts of water, land or grain to sustain meat diets. Resource wars are happening and will become more frequent as resources become scarcer, polluted or privatised.

On climate security, since 2000 we’ve witnessed the hottest nine years on record (2012 was the hottest ever), an unprecedented Arctic ice melt, and more extreme and erratic weather patterns. We are in radically different times and yet few seem ready to do things radically different. With Americans emitting some of highest carbon per capita, at 20 to 25 tonnes of carbon per year, and the rest – notably China and India – playing catch-up on western-style consumerism, we will have a serious problem on our hands in the next decade.

While China and India’s per capita carbon contribution is only at 5 tonnes and 1 tonne, respectively, their populations have the potential to triple the damage that America did. Before adaptation becomes our recourse, producing galactic mirrors that reflect sun rays and cloud-producing machines that cool the planet, we must find ways to do more with less, to conserve and to be cognizant of the security implications of lifestyle choices.

This is not a moral imperative; this is a security situation. All of these are security situations, from religion to food to climate, and it is time we do something about it. Collaborating on the real and lasting security quagmires of this century is exactly how we should be spending our time and energy. We must think at least 50 to 100 years out with everything we do today, because if we don’t, there won’t be a tomorrow to write or worry about.

Michael Shank is an adjunct professor at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, on the National Peace Academy’s board of directors, and a senior fellow at the French American Global Forum.

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