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close this book Human Security and Mutual Vulnerability
View the document INTRODUCTION
View the document Acknowledgements
View the document Chapter 1: A Framework for Analysis
View the document Chapter 2: Environmental Insecurity
View the document Chapter 3: Economic Insecurity
View the document Chapter 4: Social Insecurity
View the document Chapter 5: Political Insecurity
View the document Chapter 6: Cultural Insecurity
View the document Conclusion
View the document Bibliography

Chapter 2: Environmental Insecurity

The existence of a world-wide environmental crisis has become commonplace. The Stockholm Conference of 1972, the Brundtland Report (1986) and the Rio Summit of 1992 are clear testimonies to a growing environmental awareness as well as to the emergence of an environmental point of view. Yet this is not to say that an environmental agenda has become part of concrete policies and actions, beyond the level of often sophisticated rhetoric. The fundamental fact of the current environmental crisis is that it is overwhelmingly and unequivocally manmade. Two aspects of environmental insecurity will be examined. The first is the systemic character of the present problems; the second is the nature of the existing global environmental regime through which these problems are managed.

Reciprocating Dysfunctions

Environmental deterioration includes a long and expanding list of major and multiple dysfunctions that feed on each other (White 1993), increasing the chain of vulnerabilities. For instance, deforestation leads to land degradation, which makes agricultural production nonsustainable. This affects both staple exports (and the balance of payments) and food security. Food insecurity brings about a deterioration of health standards and social cohesion, often resulting in political turmoil. The latter enhances authoritarianism, violence, and political disintegration and creates forced displacements of population. We will examine some of the environmental dysfunctions below.

The Death of Forests

Deforestation is "one of the most widespread and visibly shocking forms of environmental degradation" (Ryan 1991). The loss of rainforest, especially in tropical regions of the Third World such as Brazil, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Central America is one of its most publicized manifestations. Extensive subtropical deforestation has also affected parts of Africa, with devastating human costs. To a lesser extent, North America and the Pacific coast of South America (Nef 1995) have been ravaged by overexploitation of their natural forests. Every year, the imbalance between natural growth and deforestation costs the planet about 17 million hectares of tropical forest alone. Canada is "losing 200,000 hectares a year, as cutting exceeds regeneration by a wide margin" (Brown 1993).

The impact of deforestation on climate appears to be significant (White 1993). Massive defoliation and forest devastation has wide implications for the ecosystem and for life on the planet. Part of it has resulted from overexploitation, but also a smaller, yet not insignificant, part is a consequence of purposeful destruction. For instance, in Brazil deforestation has been the result of unrestricted growth policies. Ecocide can also become part of military strategy, as in the Vietnam war when US forces resorted to extensive and intensive spraying of highly toxic chemical agents referred to as "orange," "white," and "blue" to clear the jungle. The full impact of deforestation on a planetary scale has yet to be fully assessed. It is well known to affect oxygen regeneration, rain and river systems, topsoil retention, drought and desertification; all with profound consequences for the quality of life of populations.

The Thinning of the Ozone Layer

An environmental dysfunction, the awareness of which is quite recent, is the damage to the protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere. This has been the outcome of the uncontrolled use of PCBs and other industrial and household substances. Since the 1950s, the ozone shield in the upper atmosphere has been depleted by 2% worldwide. This reduction has led to increased levels of surface exposure to solar and cosmic radiation, interference with natural photosynthesis in crops, damage to fauna, depletion of ocean plankton - the primary source of the marine food chain - health risks and climatic alterations (Head 1991). The most affected areas have been those around Antarctica and the Arctic, although the full long-range impact is still being researched.

Air Pollution and Acid Rain

Carbon monoxide and sulphuric acid emissions are another major technologically induced problem affecting air quality, especially in major cities. The pollution results from a combination of combustion-engine technology and the extensive use of carbon-based energy sources and the smoke stacks characteristic of industrial civilization. The examples of Los Angeles, Tokyo, Bangkok, Mexico City, and Santiago are well known, although practically all major cities are affected by it. Since the 1970s, worldwide atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal greenhouse gas, has gone up by 9%.

The developed economies, with slightly over 15% of the global population are and have been the major contributors to carbon emissions, with over 46% of total output. The major sources are the burning of fossil fuels and cement manufacturing, both strongly correlated to urbanization and industrialization. It was estimated that in 1989, for every million dollars of GDP, an additional 327 tons of carbon was released into the atmosphere. On a per capita basis, this meant an average of 0.5 tons for the low and middle-income regions of the planet and 3.36 tons in the advanced economies. The world average is 1.12 tons per capita. When population is factored in, industrial economies produce over six times the per capita carbon dioxide pollution of the rest of the world. However, as industrialization and urbanization expand in poorer regions, pollution there has tended to increase at a faster rate than in more developed areas. While Europe North America, Japan and other industrialized economies, although generating a much larger amount of CO2, are increasing air contamination by roughly 0.5% per year, the less-developed economies are doing so at an annual rate of 3.8%: 7.6 times faster (Table 3). The combined world average increase of these atmospheric pollutants is 1.8% per year (World Bank 1992). The immediate result is greater health risks, such as respiratory diseases, and damages to flora and fauna, not to mention the long-range catastrophic implications of global warming.

Air pollution forms the basis of another environmental hazard, acid rain. Sulphur emissions, the main contributor to acid rain, have grown steadily throughout the globe, correlating strongly with carbon dioxide. It has been estimated that nearly 75% of Europe's forests are experiencing damaging levels of sulphur depositions. The effects of water hyperacidity on flora and in the death of freshwater lakes has been devastating. In Canada alone, 14,000 lakes are reportedly unable to sustain aquatic life as a result of high acidity. Northern Europe and newly industrializing countries have also experienced the destructive effects of acid rain, not only on the natural habitat, but in buildings, transportation systems, and in the corrosion of metallic structures.

Freshwater Contamination and Depletion

A related area where inappropriate technologies and natural fragility converge is water quality, including pollution and depletion. Industrial and sewage discharges into streams extend damage far beyond the original sources of contamination, threatening health and altering delicate environmental balances in river beds and coastlines. Water-related problems vary considerably from areas where water is scarce (and also becoming scarce) to those where extensive contamination makes it dangerous for consumption or irrigation, to regions where a high water table makes flooding and refuse discharge a constant danger. Annual water consumption per capita for 1990 was about 676 m³, with low-income countries consuming about 498 m³, middle-income 532 and high-income 1,217. Low and middle income regions used nearly 85% of their water for agriculture, 8% for industry and 7% for domestic consumption. The OECD group used 39% of the water consumed for the irrigation of crops, 47% for industry and 14% for domestic use.

Out of the proven 40,856 km³ of fresh water worldwide, sub-Saharan Africa possesses about 9%, East Asia and the Pacific 19%, South Asia 12%, The Middle East and North Africa 0.67%, Latin America and the Caribbean about 26%. The OECD countries, in turn, contain within their territories over 20% of the world's fresh water (World Bank 1992), while the remaining 13% is in the Eastern European region, including the former Soviet Union.

Control over water resources is a vital and strategic human security issue. It relates directly to health, energy, and food security. Water is an unevenly distributed resource, but distribution alone is not the main question. The central problem for most of the world population is access to clean water. This is where the quandary lies. Consumption increases with urbanization and industrialization, yet, on the whole, irrespective of its availability, water quality has declined with increased use. Therefore, who controls the resource and for what use is extremely important.

Transnational water disputes may provide in the future the basis for confrontation. Issues of siltation, flooding, and water-flow diversion in the Nile have pitched Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan into conflict. Reduced water flow and salinization of the Tigris and the Euphrates have increased tensions among Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Syria, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon are confronted with questions of water flow and diversion of the Jordan and Yarnuk Litani. These are just a few of the more than a dozen disputes affecting major river systems (Renner 1989). What is important here is that such disputes occur not only among nation states but they are taking place in areas of ethnic, regional, and subnational tensions, where competing loyalties and sovereignties make politics extremely volatile.

Land Degradation

The issues of soil erosion, desertification, and salinization are three main problems in a long chain of environmental dysfunctions. (The worst cases of salinization (in 1987), measured in terms of percentage of irrigated land affected, were: Egypt: 30–40 %, Syria: 3–35 %, Australia: 15–20 % and the USA: 20–25 %.) Their impact on human security entails the loss of arable land, which is directly connected to crop failure, famine, and forced migration. East Africa and the Sahel countries have been among the most severely affected. There, the combined impact of desertification, drought, poverty, population pressures, internal strife, fuel scarcity, and political inefficiency have strained already fragile ecosystems, bringing about millions of casualties and massive displacements of people. Yet deserts and soil erosion are also expanding all over the globe in regions exhibiting fewer dysfunctions than those mentioned above.

The causes of desertification are complex, often involving a synergistic and destructive mixture of nature's own cycles and human intervention. The most direct of these causes are overcultivation, deforestation, overgrazing, and unskilled irrigation. These causes are, in turn, conditioned by alterations in the three interlocking factors: population, climate and socioeconomic conditions (Grainger 1982). While drought could trigger a chain of events leading to desertification, the former is a consequence of climatic change and the latter is the consequence of social behaviour. Desertification in the mid-1970s affected directly one-sixth of the world population, 70% of all the drylands and 25% of the land mass of the world (Spooner 1982). Every year potentially productive territories the size of a small country are lost to erosion. Since land reclaination is a slow and costly exercise, and with population increasing and water resources shrinking, the amount of land available for cultivation on a per capita basis diminishes steadily. Desertification, combined with the exponential growth of cities which encroaches upon prime agricultural soil and natural reserves is reducing the availability of a vital resource for food production. Land degradation manifests itself in decreased productivity and eventually the creation of wastelands. In the last 20 years, while population has increased by 1.6 billion, close to 500 billion tons of topsoil have been lost through soil erosion (Brown 1993).

Food Insecurity

The above is connected with food insecurity, whose principal manifestations are malnutrition, scarcity, and hunger. (A comprehensive treatment of food security and insecurity can be found in Hopkins et al. 1982; Moore Lappe et al. 1979; Kent 1984; Murdoch 1980. On the strategic use of US "food power" to countervail "oil power" and commodity cartels, see Brown 1974.) As reported in the State of the World 1993:

Amidst uncertainty, food scarcity in developing countries is emerging as the most profound and immediate consequence of global environmental degradation, one already affecting the welfare of millions. All the principal changes in the earth's physical conditions - eroding soils, shrinking forests, deteriorating rangelands, expanding deserts, acid rain, stratospheric ozone depletion, the buildup of greenhouse gases, air pollution, and the loss of biological diversity - are affecting food production negatively. Deteriorating diets in both Africa and Latin America during the 1980s, a worldwide fall in per capita grain production since 1984, and the rise in world wheat and rice prices over the last 2 years may be early signs of the trouble that lies ahead (Brown et al. 1993).

However, the root causes of food insecurity are more social and political (i.e., associated with poverty, inaccessibility, turmoil, government policies, and indifference) than related to purely "technical" or physical factors, such as inappropriate farming, drought, or overpopulation. Food insecurity is a combination of many social and environmental factors other than simply the direct result of food production. Famine is the most striking expression of food and human insecurity. "The great famines in the 20th century have been caused by deliberate strategies (the Ukraine in 1921 and 1928, China from 1958 to 1961), serious drought and inadequate aid (Bengal in 1943, the Sahel in 1973), conflicts (Biafra in 1968), and often a combination of these factors (Sudan in 1988 and Ethiopia in 1985)" (Jean 1992). At present, depending on the source or the method of calculation, it is estimated that anything between 40 and 115 million people are directly affected. Undernourishment, however, is a much wider problem. Although the proportion of the world population affected has steadily declined, the total number of people going hungry has actually increased and is currently above the 500 million mark (Table 4).

Damage to the Oceans

The abuse of oceans and seabeds presents a very serious and likely irreversible environmental problem. Uncontrolled dumping of human and industrial waste and, in general, the discharge of contaminants threatening ocean life, health, and food supplies has been one of its manifestations. Maritime spills from oil tankers or cargo ships, such as the much-publicized Exxon-Valdes accident off the coast of Alaska, and defence-related catastrophes, such as nuclear submarines sinking in the Baltic, have become frequent occurrences. Until the signing of nuclear test-ban treaties, extensive nuclear testing was carried out over the oceans and nuclear waste found its way into seabeds. Practically no place in the world is safe from these major threats.

Added to the above, there is the problem of overfishing and uncontrolled commercial exploitation of natural stocks. The "Blue Revolution," from allegedly holding the key to feeding the world scarcely 40 years ago, has become a principal cause of ocean depletion by means of gross mismanagement of the sea commons. After expanding at nearly 4% annually, from mid-century to the late 1980s, catches have actually declined both in relative and absolute numbers. A per capita decline of worldwide fish availability of 7% for the next four years has been estimated (Brown et al. 1993). As the cases of the disappearance of cod off the Canadian Maritime Provinces and of various fish varieties, crustacean and molluscs off the coast of southern South America, ecological problems evolve into major dysfunctions in the food chain and the entire regional ecosystem. It results in loss of sources of traditional livelihood, severe unemployment, large involuntary migration and the demise of communities.


The spread of disease constitutes another real and present danger. Epidemics involve a complex pattern of interaction rooted in pathogenic conditions, demographic dynamics, cultural practices and public policies, the result of which is health insecurity. The current global predicament is that of a dysfunctional juxtaposition of "traditional" epidemic manifestations coming back with a vengeance and relatively "new" strains of morbidity, in particular those presenting a threat to natural immunities. Diseases considered in frank decline a few decades ago, such as tuberculosis, cholera, malaria, and typhoid, are making a comeback, as public health expenditures everywhere fall to the axe of structural adjustment. More serious, however, is the fact that the strains of many diseases that had been successfully controlled with antibiotics over the last 50 years are beginning to show signs of resistance to medication. The following tables (Tables 5 to 7) show the incidence of diseases, the impacts of which are closely correlated with poverty and the presence of inappropriate social policies.

While the virtual eradication of smallpox over a decade ago could be regarded as a triumph of technology, combined with international cooperation and modern medical practices, the resurgence of other forms of pestilence points in quite the opposite direction.

In 1991, cholera cases had been reported in 68 countries. Diarrheal diseases are still the major cause of mortality and morbidity in children and infants in the less affluent parts of the planet. This translates into 1.5 billion episodes of illness and 3 million deaths of children under 5 years of age.

In turn, malaria had spread and its incidence increased in comparison to the previous decade. About 2 billion people, nearly half of the world population, are exposed to the disease in nearly 100 countries.

In 1991, 1.5 billion people, one quarter of the world's population, had no access to primary health care. Three million children and about half a million women die each year from preventable causes related to lack of clean water, information, immunization, and proper health care during pregnancy, childbirth (UNDP 1991) and infancy. Declining living and sanitary conditions, as well as the abovementioned drastic reduction in health expenditures, are closely related to soaring levels of pestilence. So are water, atmospheric, and soil contamination. Relatively new strains, such as HIV have wreaked havoc in parts of Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and North America.

Perhaps more than other manifestations of human insecurity, the AIDS epidemic illustrates the nature of today's mutual vulnerability. Although the horror scenarios about the spread of the disease developed in the mid-1980s have failed to materialize, the fact remains that reported AIDS cases have multiplied at an alarming rate. According to the World Health Organization, the official cumulative total number of people with AIDS was 182,463 in late 1989, spread over 152 countries. In 1989, "AIDS was estimated by the World Health Organization... to have affected more than 260,000 persons worldwide. The HIV virus, which at present advances in virtually 100 per cent of cases to full-blown AIDS, is present in an estimated 5–10 million additional people" (Head 1991). About 2.5 million of these cases were in Africa, 2 million in the Americas, 500 thousand in Europe and about 100 thousand in Asia and the Pacific (WHO 1988, 1990).

Given the social stigma and prejudice attached to the pathology, it is highly probable that most cases go unreported. Because it is a disease mainly transmitted through bodily fluids and there is no known cure, ever larger segments of the world than those officially reported are at serious risk.

Threats to the Genetic Pool

The loss of genetic variability, biodiversity, and resistance of plant and animal species is a point of great concern. Growing genetic homogeneity, a consequence of technological advances and hybridization, tends to reduce the gene pool to fewer and fewer species. Instead, strains that are unable to reproduce and varieties that are unexpectedly vulnerable replace "traditional" ones. Production and reproduction have become overly affected by the necessities of the marketplace rather than those of natural genetic codes (which can also be subject to alteration). Biodiversity is now not only a genetic condition, but also a legal and economic issue related to the patenting and proprietary rights of transnational corporations in the biochemical business. This is particularly the case with "high-yield varieties" of the Green Revolution and the present "biotechnological revolution."

The Dangers of the Green Revolution

While the phenomenal increase in yields in worldwide agricultural production can be traced back to a "modern" technological package, there are numerous problems associated with it. Green Revolution technology includes heavy use of pesticides, fertilizers, hybrid seeds, high energy inputs, machinery, and costly irrigation projects to increase yields and profits. The logic of agricultural production changes from growing food crops that produce profits to growing profits directly. Capital-intensive agriculture prevails over labour-intensive peasant production and the family farm. In fact, the latter, a crucial factor in food security, tends to be displaced by large scale agribusiness. Heavy reliance on pesticides and fertilizers increases the dangers of persistent contamination of food and water supplies, putting populations of producers and consumers at risk. The most publicized case of massive death by toxicity resulting from agricultural chemicals was the "environmental massacre" following the explosion and release into the atmosphere of lethal substances at a Union Carbide's agrochemical plant in Bohpal, India, in 1984. Over 3,500 people died and 500,000 suffered serious health effects. However, there are innumerable less-dramatic but equally serious instances of persistent poisoning of land, water, air, and the food chain, affecting millions of people.

Industry is generally acknowledged to be the major contributor to the present environmental crisis. Undoubtedly industrial practices do play a central role in environmental degradation. Yet, despite widely held beliefs to the contrary, agricultural practices are, by-and-large no more environmentally friendly than those of industry. In this, the Brazilian small farmer in Amazonia and the large agribusiness conglomerate share a common unecological posture, with the greater risks posed by the more advanced and large-scale forms of production.

Hazardous Waste

Last, but not least, in this list of environmental threats to human security is the problem of waste. Waste is those "materials that have no further value for human society" (White 1993). These include industrial refuse (such as heavy metals, chemical abrasives, PCBs, and radioactive byproducts) and household garbage. While the former are generally managed by national jurisdictions, the latter has been mostly a responsibility of local govermnents worldwide. With hyperconsumerism, the quantity of household disposables has skyrocketed, reaching unmanageable proportions. In many poor regions of the world, precisely on account of extreme scarcity, a great deal of household waste, especially containers, glass, metal, plastic, and packaging, is recycled. But that is not enough and garbage keeps stockpiling at nearly exponential rates.

A more serious threat is posed by biological refuse and, of course, industrial and radioactive toxic waste. Nonnuclear industrial refuse, including many noxious and dangerous substances that are difficult to dispose of constitutes a growing and often unwieldy problem throughout the globe. One of the most paradigmatic cases was that of the Love Canal dumpsite in upstate New York in the 1970s, but there are hundreds of such sites in Mexico City alone and thousands upon thousands on a worldwide scale that go unnoticed.

Nuclear contaminants remain the most technically difficult and costly waste to handle. The disposal of radioactive materials is essentially a North-generated problem with global effects. However, today's poorer countries - with the help of nuclear technologies from the North - have also become producers of radioactive wastes. Global nuclear waste has proliferated rapidly, fuelled by reactors and the arms race. It illustrates the dangerous discontinuity between the use of a technology with wide energetic, military, industrial, and medical applications and its impact. Accidents such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are grim reminders of the dangers involved in mishandling the technology.

The nuclear pollution problem, as mentioned above, has to be seen as part of the larger issue of disposal of massive and expanding waste: garbage, sewage, and industrial refuse. To further complicate matters, the end of the Cold War has added the question of safe disposal of thousands of warheads. A good number of nominally defused payloads still remain scattered in the territories of the former Soviet Union. Moreover, extremely toxic weapons-grade radioactive materials are finding their way out of the Eastern European region as part of an expanding nuclear black market. In perspective, the USSR and most of Eastern Europe appear as case studies in environmental mismanagement, with nuclear waste and lack of safety being a major concern.

Still, the problem of waste is seen by many in positions of power at the core as a question of transferring dangerous substances among countries or regions rather than as a global affair. For instance, apparently within the World Bank bureaucracy there were suggestions to use Third World countries as dumping grounds for industrial, including radioactive, refuse: a sort of "debt-for-waste swap." This poses insidious and grave environmental hazards. Many countries either strapped for cash or with corrupt governments, or both, have seriously considered this option. Others have quietly already gone this way. Since these operations are generally conducted in secrecy and without regard to proper safeguards, the global consequences could be truly calamitous.

The Global Environmental Regime

From the preceding analysis, four major characteristics of the environmental crisis can be highlighted. The first is that the crisis is global and widespread. The second is that, given the nature of technology and population pressures, the present rate of exploitation of resources threatens the sustainability of development itself. The third is that there is a significant increase of the danger of toxicity throughout the planet, resulting from the current style of development. The fourth is that there is a persistent and even expanding trend in morbidity. The common denominator of all these traits is entropy. Although environmental problems have affected first the more industrialized societies of the West and the former Second World, they appear more dramatic in the midst of poverty. In the less-developed regions of the globe the rate of environmental deterioration is faster and more difficult to control than in the West. The root causes of that deterioration lie primarily in "modern" practices generated in, and driven by, the ruling elites in the developed centres. One could argue that, all things considered, the greatest threat to environmental security does not come from poverty, but from wealth.


As mentioned earlier, the worldwide environmental debate has expanded dramatically since the Stockholm meeting of 1972. Likewise, there is a growing awareness of environmental issues and perspectives in understanding development, to the point that the current discourse links development with sustainability. The paradox is that increased environmental sensitivity goes hand in hand with destructive policies and practices. As much as the notion of sustainability is part of the current vocabulary of development, "pragmatic" considerations tend to override it. This contradiction is entrenched in our technological age in which successive human tinkering to control the unintended and undesirable consequences of the application of previous knowhow have become synonymous with progress. Today's environmental crisis is linked to abuse of the natural setting resulting primarily from the application of intensive technology and its implicit cultural codes. Its impact is multiplied by population, with the highest probability of damage related to level of affluence.


Until now and with few exceptions, "economic trends have shaped environmental trends" (Brown 1990). Most importantly though is the fact that the modern economic ethos toward the environment is imbued with a predatory, engineering-like stance where nature is unquestionably translated into a resource to be exploited (Shiva 1987). Nature is understood as valuable only if it can be used as a means to yield measurable benefits for its collective or individual owners. In this, classical liberals, Marxists, Keynesians, and neoliberals, despite their apparent fundamental differences, share a common credo regarding agency, history, and the use of nature; one rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of dominion. True, there is an environmentalist culture emerging, but this culture is at best an alternative one, confined to international organizations, intellectuals, and the NGO community. The potential of environmentalism in providing a counterhegemonic discourse to the business-as-usual stance has withered away in recent years as the conventional neoclassical posture has been cloaked in "green." This is not to say that premodern attitudes toward nature are necessarily environmentally friendly. The record of ecocatastrophes in human history is quite telling. What is new today is the scale of destruction. Traditional values, when combined with highly effective extractive technologies, economic imperatives, and heavy population pressures may prove to be far more destructive than productive rationality.


The material structure of the global environmental regime is the Earth itself: a unified, complex, and interacting whole of air, water, land, and living organisms. Nature is systematic both in terms of functions and dysfunctions. The global environmental regime, however, is highly eccentric and fragmented. It lacks a recognizable, let alone effective, structure of governance. Although it has identifiable levels of operation - international, regional, national, and local - its constituent parts do not configure a system to deal with environmental insecurity. At the international level, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has been in existence for some time, but despite wide recognition that the problem and its solutions require concerted transnational management, UNEP is mainly geared toward providing a forum for the analysis of environmental issues. The most recent opportunity to create a global environmental regime was missed at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992. This was the largest gathering of political leaders in history, with over 35,000 participants, including 106 heads of state; however, the meeting fell disappointingly short of expectations. A tiny but powerful minority of leaders representing corporate interests in the core, led by then President Bush insisted that a global environmental regime be stripped of any real "teeth." Important protocols were sidestepped or shelved. Regional efforts, with the exception of the European Community, are weak and unfocused, not to mention understaffed and poorly financed. In recent years most countries have established national ministries of the environment as well as environmental commissions and agencies. Environmental state and provincial institutions have been also created. Yet the authority and resources at the disposal of these first- and second-tier departments are exceedingly limited. Therefore, by default the management of the global commons - air, oceans, water, soil and the biosphere - are generally left to scattered and weak local decision-making structures with extremely narrow jurisdictions that are unable to enforce existing regulations.


Environmental processes such as depletion and regeneration are eminently physical processes conditioned by a complex social, cultural, and political matrix. They are affected not only by economic and political decision-making but by the processes of technology generation and utilization. Since all the social components of the process, especially the instances of public representation, are fragmented, problem solving tends to be incremental, conservative, and minimalist. Under these conditions, the correlation of forces between "developers" and "environmentalists," irrespective of the quantum of support or popularity of the latter's cause, has a built-in bias favouring those espousing deregulation and market mechanisms - in other words, the status quo.


The nonsustainable exploitation of the environment at the national and international levels resulting from nondecisions has catastrophic effects on a scale hard to envision. Environmental destruction is nurtured by inappropriate technologies, the velocity of modern transportation and communications, the declining value of exports of primary commodities and the debt crisis. On one side of the equation of environmental insecurity, the poverty trap creates an entropic environmental trap. At the other side of this vicious cycle, the logic of wealth creation and accumulation generates its own self-reenforcing system of environmental degradation, while simultaneously fuelling the contradiction between poverty and environment. However, the environmental regime is also about learning; anything from popular experiences to scientific research. The conscientization of ever wider sectors of the population about the direct connection between them and their environment can create the conditions for altering the present destructive course. Environmental homeostasis, like entropy, is not automatic but mediated by human intervention.