The Duck of Minerva

6+1 Questions

Name Of The Book… And Its Coordinates?

Joshua W. Busby. 2022. States and Nature: The Effects of Climate Change on Security. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

What’s The Argument?

Climate change is most likely to generate negative security consequences in countries that have limited state capacity to deliver services, exclusive political institutions that reward some groups and not others, and where foreign assistance is blocked or delivered in a one-sided manner.

  • Capacity reflects a government’s power to deliver services to prepare for and respond to climate hazards. Governments with weak (or low) capacity should have more trouble preparing for and responding to climate hazards.
  • Political inclusion reflects the representation of groups and their interests in government. Countries with high political exclusion should have worse outcomes after hazard exposure with favored groups receiving assistance and others being ignored or deliberately discriminated against.
  • Foreign assistance can partially compensate for weak state capacity by delivering resources and technical assistance to reduce risk before or respond after emergencies. States where aid is blocked or delivered in a one-sided manner are likely to have worse outcomes after exposure to climate hazards.

Tell Us Why We Should Care

Climate change will exacerbate many of the political, social, and economic forces that generate conflict and insecurity – with enormous consequences for humanity. Understanding the conditions that make climate change more or less dangerous should help policymakers take steps to address threats before they get out of hand.

Why Should We Believe Your Argument?

The book is grounded in three comparative case studies from different regions around the world – South Asia, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa – demonstrating the broad geographic applicability of my argument. For each of the parameters – exposure, capacity, inclusion, and government assistance – I identify multiple indicators, including full-color maps and tables from different sources, to demonstrate that my expectations are supported.

I also am able to explain different negative security outcomes, including civil war and humanitarian emergencies. I also use within-case comparison to show how changes over time in countries have affected the likelihood of negative security outcomes in the wake of exposure to climate-related hazards.

For example, I compare Ethiopia to itself over time and show how low government capacity, high political exclusion, and lack of access to foreign assistance in the 1980s translated into famine. By 2015, Ethiopia’s improved state capacity and greater political inclusion – supported by foreign aid – meant that a severe drought resulted in almost zero deaths.

Each chapter includes a narrative section “putting the pieces together” that weaves a coherent narrative to explain how the combination of capacity, inclusion, and aid in the wake of hazard exposure leads to negative security consequences in some states and not others.

Finally, each chapter includes a section on alternative explanations to entertain and interrogate how others might explain the same outcomes with a different approach.

Why’d You Decide To Write It In The First Place?

“Climate security” emerged as a vibrant field of inquiry over the last fifteen years. But most work on climate security focuses on the question of when climate change will lead to violent conflict. This struck me as far too narrow. There are many ways in which climate change can generate insecurity that do not involve violence.

In particular, I wanted to look at the relationship between climate and security in ways that encompass what Morgan Bazilian and Cullen Hendrix call “actorless threats.”

Climate change and pandemics aren’t made up of agents who are intentionally trying to harm people. This makes them different kinds of threats than what we usually study under the rubric of security; both can kill a lot of people without anyone engaging in violent conflict.

When I started the project in the early 2010s, there were no academic books on climate and security – or at least none that I was aware of. Most of the work appeared in journal articles, and much of it was quantitative. I thought that, in contract, book-length treatments favored qualitative methods.

I also wanted to respond to a methodological critique that Marc Levy had made with respect to the first debate on environmental security in the 1990s. At that time, qualitative studies largely relied on single case studies to trace the connection between environmental change and conflict. Marc wrote in International Security that:

I hadn’t seen anyone take Marc up on his call for paired cases and thought that would make a good book.

What Would You Most Like To Change, And Why?

I had a young child at home when I started this project. It wasn’t possible for me to pursue extended periods of field work, particularly given the potential dangers associated with some of the places that I elected to study.

If I had to do it over, I’d like to visit some of the countries in question. Doing so might surface some additional detail and granularity on causal pathways, which would be particularly valuable in the Syrian case.

I’d also love to extend the argument to other cases, particularly to farmer-herder violence in West Africa, as well as explore application to Central America and the Caribbean. This would help extend the geographic and substantive scope of the argument to communal conflict and migration studies.

The +1: How Difficult Was It To Get The Book Published?

I have previously published books on two occasions with Cambridge University Press and worked closely with the editor John Haslam and his team. John showed immediate interest in the project. It probably helped that I was an already established author with Cambridge.

When I heard that Michael Ross was editing a new series on the politics of climate change, I reached out to see if if my project might be interest to them. I was delighted that Michael and the series editorial board considered my book a great way to begin the series.

That said, this book was harder to finish than the others, in part because of the pandemic but also because I had a vision for the project with the paired cases. This proved challenging to execute to my liking. I used a series of presentations in Europe and the United States as forcing devices for me to complete some of those empirical chapters.

The other challenging aspect was just the production process as this book, more than any of my others relied on charts and maps that were challenging to reproduce with a consistent style and accuracy throughout. We had some teething issues in getting those formatting and designed properly, but I’m pretty happy with the way they turned out.

Joshua Busby is an Associate Professor in the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin. He is the author of Moral Movements and Foreign Policy (Cambridge, 2010) and the co-author, with Ethan Kapstein, of AIDS Drugs for All: Social Movements and Market Transformations (Cambridge, 2013). His main research interests include transnational advocacy and social movements, international security and climate change, global public health and HIV/ AIDS, energy and environmental policy, and U.S. foreign policy. He also tends to blog about global wildlife conservation.

Posted on 20 June, 2022