Dot Earth had a good post recently about one US family’s quest to reduce their energy consumption by 80% (to around 2000 watts per person), without radically decreasing their standard of living. A 2000 watt target (based on a Swiss target called the 2,000 Watt Society) would mean that their energy output would equal the world average per capita output — helping them to contribute to their goal of insuring that families in the developed world would be consuming the same amount of energy as those in the developing world.

The [Hager Family] seek to prove that personal choices matter. Here’s their query to you:  Hello from Oregon — We’re a family of five in Eugene, involved in rehabbing an older, inner-city house for maximum energy efficiency. We were inspired by the 2,000 Watt Society in Switzerland, and are hoping to cut our per-capita energy use down by 80 percent or so, to a globally sustainable level — without losing a lot of quality of life. I guess you could say we’re … seeking single-family, real-world contributions to big environmental problems. Please let us know if you’re involved in similar efforts (you can track our family blog at ).

Could you do it?  Use the ECo2 calculator here to determine your own energy consumption.  I roughly estimated my family’s to be around 7000 watts per person (air travel was a real killer for us), so we too would have to reduce by about 70-80% to hit the 2000 watt mark.  Could we do it?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  2000w might not be possible, but 4000w certainly would be.  It would be expensive in the short run to “retool” our lives to make this shift, but over the long run I think it might improve our overall quality of living.

Is this the best path to follow?  According to the American Enterprise Institute’s calculations here, it would be economically devastating if everyone in the US economy engaged in such massive energy reductions.   While I find their quality of life arguments to be weak (living in smaller houses/flats, driving/ flying less, reducing mindless consumption would improve quality of life in my view), I do worry about the impact on employment opportunities if overall consumption dropped dramatically.  Yes, a “green new deal” might help restructure the economy to maintain sustainable rates of growth and employment over the long run, but in the short run it could be economically very painful and the short run could very well coincide with much of your your own life.   Rather than cutting our own consumption to benefit the next generation, are we better off simply saving a chunk of money for the next generation to use as they see fit (i.e. building typhoon-proof houses on stilts)?



The human security model, while noble in aim, remains fundamentally flawed in definition and implementation.

Supporters claim that its “cultivated ambiguity” allows human security actors to overlook individual disagreements and will bring more participants onto the bandwagon of a particular human security threat, as was seen with the Ottawa Convention’s ban against landmines. Moreover, they claim that it allows a wider paradigm of threats to individual security to be addressed—for instance, infectious diseases, terrorism, nuclear technologies, and environmental threats.

Yet, the actions of the United States in the post-911 ‘war on terror’, and its subsequent wars in Iran and Afghanistan, is sound proof of the danger of the human security model’s ambiguity since it was used in this case to legitimize the US’s own foreign policy agendas.  Indeed, the US war on Iraq points to the vulnerability of ‘human security’ in becoming little more than a puppet in the hands of powerful nations. A Christian Aid study has concluded that “the year 2004 saw $1 billion in aid was diverted to the war on terrorism at the expense of poverty and Millennium Development Goals.”

While it is perhaps too early to see the effects of the economic downtown, the economic climate does not bode well for human security’s development agenda.  In view of the the current worldwide economic fiasco, governments will prioritize saving their economies and well-being of their newly-impoverished citizens over championing the right to clean water in some developing nation.   Moreover, we can also expect that the sentiments of populations will shift from placing priority on human security violations across the globe, to trying to pay their own mortgage.

Optimists have pointed out that there is still hope for the human security model in the current political climate. Indeed with the fast-growing media, more worldwide attention can be brought to human security violations around the globe. The exposure of the hypocrisy of nations manipulating the human security model and the resultant public censure may change the course in which it will play out in the future. And the growth of non-state actors, such as NGOs, INGOs and even the UN, may offer hope for the human security paradigm.

However, even under the most optimistic conditions, human security requires a tighter definition. Without it, as David Chandler has pointed out, human security runs a risk of descending into a mere ad-hoc, short term foreign policy formulation used to legitimize the global policy interests of powerful states.

Tiffany Lam


Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh, “Human Security: The Seven Challenges of Operationalizing the Concept,” paper delivered at UNESCO conference entitled “Human Security: 60 Minutes to Convince,” Paris, September 13, 2005

Roland Paris, “Human Security: Paradigm Shift or Hot Air?”, International Security, vol. 26, no. 2, Fall 2001, pp. 87-102

David Chandler, “Human Security: The Dog that Didn’t Bark”, Security Dialogue, vol. 39, no. 4, August 2008

Neil S MacFarlane, Carolin J Thielking, Thomas G Weiss,The Responsibility to Protect: Is Anyone Interested in Humanitarian Intervention?Third World Quarterly, vol. 25, no. 5, (2004) pp. 977-992

On September the 11th 2001, the world was issued a wake-up call to the lingering threat of global terrorism. The symbolic attacks on the world’s greatest power’s core institutions of finance and military highlighted the vulnerability of the even the strongest nation to this emerging form of violence. Subsequent attacks on Bali, Casablanca, Madrid and London demonstrated that this threat was to continue, and it was not confined to one nation.

Some questioned the effectiveness of this threat, dismissing its feasibility to persist in the long-run. This has been dismissed with the swift withdrawing of Spanish troops from Iraqi soil following the Madrid train bombing. The persistence of Al Qaeda to fight in Iraq and now the redeployment of Al Qaeda to Afghanistan demonstrate that there is no sign of this problem evaporating.

However a more poignant question to ask is whether inter-state warfare, focusing on nations and high politics is the right response? We have had correspondents telling us that if we do not fight them there, we will have to fight them at home. However this is only looking at half the picture. The inter-connectedness of these groups and their presence in certain safe-havens does partly require a multi-national militaristic approach.

But this does not mean that going to war with every country that harbours terrorists is always the solution. In terms of eradicating a problem, the Iraq War increased the presence of al Qaeda. Staying in Afghanistan and fending off the Taliban would have done more to help the situation.

The other half of the picture described is tackling the roots of terror with a long-term deterrence approach. Taking the 7/7 bombings in London into account, the bombers were not necessarily directly linked to the culprits of 9/11, and possibly not ideologically the same. New security approaches, focusing on the psychological, financial and social factors that breed radicalism need to be addressed more stringently to eliminate future occurrences of terror.

Looking at the recent terrorist attacks on Mumbai;  they were the result of a myriad of intermingling financial sources, actors and interests. There exists the alleged role of elements within Pakistani intelligence services (ISI) and Indian criminal groups based in Pakistan conspiring with the Taliban and Islamist tribal groups to de-stabilise India’s Kashmir region. Military responses alone cannot address these issues. Instead increased regional co-operation is needed to tackle criminal elements, and paving the way for democratic reform in Pakistan by empowering society will help eliminate agitating forces within the intelligence services. The majority of Pakistanis want greater democracy, albeit an Islamic form, which is greatly at odds with the Islamist factions within the government which do not reflect public opinion.

A step forward in initiating this dualistic approach is the Obama administration’s new policy towards Afghanistan. There will be an increased presence of American troops, but at the same time a bigger focus on increasing human security through ‘lite nation building.’ This in turn will make Afghanistan a more tolerable country to live in where civilians will not turn to radical elements as their means for survival. The danger here is to insure that the mistakes of ‘humanitarian war in Iraq’ are not repeated. The Iraqi people felt threatened by the humanitarian message as soon as they saw their living standards deteriorate. An effective management of allocated resources must be overseen to improve relations with locals and to build a sustainable infrastructure.

— Peshko

Long Time No Sea

April 1, 2009

This case study shows that the cause of climate change is not limited to emissions of greenhouse gases; it is also highly related to our attitude and the way we treat natural resources. The Kyoto Protocol has spotted out the main causes of climate change, but reducing emission of greenhouse gases alone cannot solve the problem of global climate change. Over the past few weeks, we saw that over-exploitation of natural resources can result in important threats towards human security, potentially in the form of violent conflicts: “As the world population grows, its escalating resource needs place ever-increasing pressure on land. This creates conflicts among competing user groups, and often results in adverse impacts both to the land and to its living and non-living resources.” But over-exploitation can also lead to climate change, a truly global phenomenon.

We have discussed water scarcity two weeks ago, and we are discussing climate change this week. But did you know that  water itself can have an impact on climate change? This week, we are going to share a real story on climate change, called “Long time no sea”. The “sea” we are talking about is the Aral Sea in Central Asia, an inland sea lying between southern Kazakhstan and northwest Uzbekistan. Once the world’s fourth largest lake, the Aral Sea has been shrinking for the last 40 years because of diversion of its two sources, the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya Rivers. By 2007, the Aral Sea had declined to 10% of its original size and split into three separate lakes. Please click here to see how the size of the sea decreased from the 1960s. 


The reason for “long time no sea” was the over-pumping of water for cotton and rice production, causing the remaining water to become highly salinated. As a result, not only did the “sea’s” 24 species of freshwater fish die out, even fishing boats found themselves marooned in the middle of a desert !! The Kazakh and Uzbek had to say goodbye to their beach, harbour and fishing industry. But there is more to it.


As water plays an important role in regulating the climate system,  over-pumping has resulted in distortions in the climate: “with the reduction of the Aral Sea’s size, the surrounding climate has changed, becoming more continental with shorter, hotter, rainless summers and longer, colder, snowless winters. The growing season has been reduced to an average of 170 days a year, while dust storms rage on more than 90 days annually.” The IPCC also suggests that the drying off process and subsequent desertification and salinization of soils resulted in a temperature increase of 1.5 C within 100-150 km of the edge of the sea.  The reason behind this is that “The temperature of ocean helps regulate the amount of carbon dioxide released or absorbed into the water“. Although we may think that 1.5 C is minimal, it can cause serious impacts to the ecosystem including human lives – e.g. the dust storms which are undoubtedly threats towards human security. 


You may be wondering: “Where was the international community?”. Actually, the international community did take actions, but it was too late already: “There have been international and worldwide studies done on the Aral Sea and many different organizations and people have tried various ways to keep the flow of water directed into the Aral Sea. However, it comes down to the fact that it seems it is too late for anything to be done“.


Therefore, Human Security advocates should not limit themselves at pressuring the USA to sign up the Kyoto Protocol in the coming climate change conference; they also work to ensure that our natural resources are properly used. It undoubtedly requires collaboration within the international community. While poorer developing countries rely heavily on natural resources to produce primary commodities and maintain their living standard, they may not have enough knowledge and technology to manage their natural resources. Action should be taken as early as possible by the international community or other cases of “long time no sea’ will keep repeating, resulting in an accelerated rate of climate change…


By Tong Yui Wa Andy & Yu Wai Yan Becky

If you would like to know more about how Aral Sea is going on, you can look at this article for the recent projects to save the sea! 

The international community has so far failed to adequately address the problem of climate change. Although there is still a case for mitigation efforts, it is clear that climate change is already under way. If states ever find it beneficial to join a concerted global effort on emissions cuts, it is likely to be for economic rather than humanitarian reasons. By committing themselves to climate change mitigation, states may earn income from existing and potential emission markets, gain advantages in the emerging fields of green technology and energy, and maybe more importantly,  enhance their chances of long-term economic growth and stability. Therefore, a human security approach is not likely to be influential, effective or even needed in the area of global climate change mitigation.

Instead, human security advocates could help by concentrating on the people affected by climate change and on decreasing its negative impacts.  This can be done through two broad strategies: disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. While the former diminishes the impacts of natural disasters and decreases the occurrence of human-induced ones, the latter concentrates on helping societies adjust to new circumstances brought about by climate change. Together, they may enable people to live with the changes they are facing. 

One example of a successful local implementation of these strategies is found in Nepal’s Jugedi stream watershed, an area suffering from climate change-related disasters in the form of prolonged droughts and floods. Since 2004, the INGO Practical Action has implemented a project in cooperation with local NGOs and poor rural communities aiming at climate change adaptation and resilience through livelihood diversification, environmental protection, and disaster prevention. The measures have included climate change and disaster awareness campaigns, emergency preparation and early warning systems for floods, as well as the introduction of new crops and landslide-resistant agricultural methods such as hedgerow technology. Also, simple systems to measure precipitations and other climate variables have been installed at schools, helping produce accurate place-specific predictions for future adaptation strategies.

This is a more realistic and practical approach than campaigning for international mitigation, since risk reduction and adaptation initiatives can concentrate on this type of narrow-scoped, local programs. Risk reduction and adaptation strategies should, as in Nepal, be closely linked to local development. They should address local needs, and empower people to improve their own lives rather than make communities dependent on aid. The main role of governments and IGOs should be to provide support for community and NGO initiatives and to develop policies that enable and facilitate local action. With the active involvement of local communities, application of local skills and knowledge, and implementation of locally controlled projects with limited scope , solutions under this approach are more likely to be both cost-efficient, well-targeted, and sustainable.

The projects in Nepal have been well received on both governmental and local levels, and the methods developed are being incorporated in regional and national strategies. On the whole, these projects have left communities more educated, less vulnerable, and better equiped to cope with the effects of climate change.

Would it be better to concentrate on adaptation rahter than on mitigation, as climate change is already a threat to human security? Or should we focus on emissions cuts in order to prevent an even larger impact in the future?


The new age of security in our generation will recount the efforts by our world to fight a threat defined as terrorism. What is terrorism? Terrorism is an act of violence and destruction intended to create a psychology of fear and terror against its target. These acts are commonly used for ideological reasons and used against non-combatants. They are an international unlawful means of violence and not condoned by just war principles.

Following the September 11th attacks, the government of the United States responded with the launch of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Since then, our perceptions from the west of terrorists have been Islamic fundamentalists or ethnic separatists targeting western countries that have deemed them as ideological or religious enemies. CNN and other western media have flashed images of Arabs holding AK-47s with buildings exploding in the background, insinuating that our greatest enemies are of specific backgrounds and beliefs.  However, what has been less publicized is the involvement of certain governments sponsoring these acts of terrorism, as well as state terrorism.

Richard Falk in his book, Revolutionaries & Functionalities, approaches the definition of terrorism with simplicity – “violence directed against innocent victims is terrorism, whether carried out against the state or by the state.“

By this definition, the United States themselves have been engaged in acts that could be deemed state terrorism.  Some of these might include:

1. the bombing of Libya in 1986.
2. Aiding the Contras against the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s.
3. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (although many have argued that this was necessary to end the war).

In fact, state-sponsored terrorism is arguably more dangerous than terrorism by organizations alone as they have easier access to lethal weapons.   With resources provided by governments, they become well equipped with intelligence and material resources to continue carrying out their actions.  When one looks at the role of the US in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, we doubt that the US can effectively combat terrorism when their own agents may be linked to many of the terrorist acts committed in these regions.

Is the global war on terrorism truly global or is it targeted at a specific kind of terrorists? Is terrorism a threat to human security around the world or is it a projection of US security concerns? If one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, how do we tell them apart?

In our view, the ability to filter out friend from foe in this fight for security has become increasingly difficult.

Weldon & Michelle


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on-going since 1947 if not before, is perceived by the Arab world, to be one of the most defining conflicts of our time.  Hamas, from a Palestinian perspective, is a democratically elected party responsible for governing this region, but has not been officially recognized by Israel or the US among other states. The Israeli government addresses Hamas as a form of ‘terrorist’ threat to the security of Israel.   Labeling Hamas as a terrorist group rather than as a democratically elected form of government is at the core of the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

Human Security does not exist for either the Israelis or the Palestinians since both parties are constantly living in fear. The issue of security boils down to state security versus civilian security — both of which are necessary but have not yet been feasible. This is because neither side is willing to give up what they believe is rightly theirs and this ‘belief’ is being nurtured with time and an unwillingness to compromise.

Being a stateless nation for more than forty years has taken a toll on Palestinian psychology — leaving them feeling like they have nothing left to lose. Palestinians are not recognized as resisting military occupation and are subject to being treated like ‘terrorists’ on what they believe is their own land.  Moreover, the international legal legitimacy accorded to Israel as a state, provides Israelis with a “non-terrorist” military advantage.  A prime example would be UN negotiations with the Israeli government on the use of prohibited weapons – the justification being that international law does not apply to Palestine since it is not an identified state.   Terms like ‘terrorist’ and ‘martyr’ signify the ever growing political-culture gap among ‘us’ and ‘them’ that infuses this conflict.

For Palestinians, their lack of human security in Gaza is attributable to Israeli actions.  Palestinians have been dealing with an Israeli military occupation in every sense of the word — Israeli checkpoints are a prime example of the kind of control is exercised over Palestinian civilians on a daily basis.  The Israeli government’s control over water, food, electricity and medical aid during the conflict, as well as the closing down of borders aroused suspicion and caused on outcry from Arab media –mainly because the Palestinians had no way out of what was a death ground for them.

So far, peace has not been a reasonable option for either side.  But peace talks are always in the works- not necessarily for the acquisition of peace but more as a political strategy whereby it is easier just to blame each other for the prolonging of the conflict until one day, someone gives up.

In the end, a Human Security diagnosis of this conflict describes an unwillingness from both parties to either recognize or respect one another’s presence in the region.  The unfair use of the “terrorist” label serves to exacerbate this mutual hatred and will ultimately prolong the conflict.

Ghadir Mahdy & Luis Esteban Arellano Salinas