There is a Pattern Here: The Case to Integrate Environmental Security into Homeland Security Strategy

By Jonathon Marioneaux

Recent reports of extreme weather related events, massive industrial catastrophes with hazardous materials, and critical resource shortages have begun to highlight the need to incorporate climate change as part of the national security strategy and its effects on emergency preparedness.  In their article, Dr. Ramsay and Dr. O’Sullivan argue that changing climate and human influences are becoming more important to homeland security and must be increasingly factored into national and international security assessments. The authors argue that the term ‘Environmental Security’ should be placed among homeland security factors because of its immense reach and potential impact upon the nation and its infrastructure.  However, the role of environmental security is not simply localized to a region or country; the global impact of climate change, resource scarcity, and certain industrial disasters have global impacts that will disproportionately affect less developed nations who are not able to cope as quickly or efficiently.  Finally, these impacts must be incorporated into strategic planning more effectively in order to cope with future global security challenges.

The authors begin by laying out the factors that might impact regional security such as rising sea levels, increased storm intensity, increased droughts and floods, and increased spread of disease and explain why they are a security threat.  For example, the authors state that global sea level rise has increased from 0.02 inches per year from 1950 to 2009, however it has increased 0.08 inches per year along the Atlantic Coast.  This is a security concern as large numbers of people and pieces of critical infrastructure are located in close proximity to coastlines with little to no protection.  To provide further evidence, hurricane Sandy smashed into the Northeast and the above discussed increased sea level helped make it the most expensive natural disaster in modern history. A second example is drought that has plagued the Southeast and Western parts of the nation pushing water resources to record lows.  The result has been increased State and Municipal tensions over increasingly scarce water supplies in regions with rapidly growing populations. The resulting experiences have shown the need to increase local, regional, and federal preparedness to weather related disasters, which will continue to worsen in the future.

The authors also explain why industrial accidents and resource shortages should be factored into the national security equation.  Certain industrial accidents—such as the BP New Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico—have the power to influence the economy and, by extension, the physical security of regions or nations by rendering an area inhabitable or economically unsustainable. Increased resource scarcity has already been identified as a factor for political instability and will continue to be so in the future.  The authors referenced food scarcity that triggered some Arab Spring revolutions in certain Middle Eastern countries and pushed existing politicians from power and installed new regimes. Finally, increasing environmental concerns have the potential to lead to increasing levels of regional instability and failed states that will only be exacerbated by continuing climate change.

Some steps are already being taken to address these issues such as the Quadrennial Defense Review and intelligence assessments; however more still needs to be done to fully implement environmental security into the national security apparatus. Recent events have shown that increasing environmental security is imperative to increasing both national and international security because global climate changes are not limited by borders and neither are the outcomes.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons


Ramsay, J., & O’Sullivan, T. (2013). There’s a Pattern Here: The Case to Integrate Environmental Security into Homeland Security Strategy. Homeland Security Affairs, 9(6).

In-depth: Defending against Chemical Weapons

As the death toll continues to mount from Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons on the Syrian rebels, we thought it’s high time for a refresher on our own chemical weapons defense. What would the US do if a terrorist group released toxic gas on American soil? Before you dismiss it as unlikely, remember that nearly twenty years ago the Japanese cult and terrorist group Aum Skinrikyo released the chemical agent sarin on the Tokyo subway, killing thirteen, injuring nearly 50, and causing temporary symptoms in a thousand other rush-hour commuters. The Japanese health system successfully processed the 5,500 people who rushed hospitals on the day of the attack, and the contaminated subway line was up and running by the next morning. Would we be as well prepared?

Read our CBRN Policy Brief, “Is the US Prepared for a Chemical Attack” and understand our current mechanisms of response. The Brief is written by Dr. Alexander Garza, GMU Biodefense Affiliate Research Scientist and former Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs and Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Homeland Security. Dr. Garza’s Policy Brief analyzes federal government preparedness, in terms of prevention, detection, and response, to a chemical weapons attack on US soil.

Full brief available here

(image courtesy of Bernd Daub/Flickr)