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Project Statement, IX 2010

There have been some excellent recent studies of the global effects of climate change, including the Human Development Report 2007/2008, the Fourth Assessment Report on Climate Change of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review. These studies have been influential in shaping a strong, although still contested, consensus in the scientific community on the following propositions: harmful patterns of climate change are taking place largely as a consequence of carbon emissions due to human activities; projected trends suggest a steady worsening of this reality with a variety of detrimental effects on societies depending on their geographic and material circumstances (with some beneficial effects due to increasing rainfall for some areas of the world, e.g. far North); the longer that deep adjustments are postponed, the more costly and difficult it will be to avoid truly catastrophic and forms of climate change; and finally, although there is a growing awareness of these dangers throughout the world, the political will needed to construct an encouraging collective response has not yet formed as was evident at the 2009 Copenhagen conference. These issues are further stressed by the rising demand for hydrocarbon fuels relative to supply, the prospects for steeply higher energy prices due to the imminence of peak oil, a rapidly increasing reliance on coal, and the lead time required for alternate energy on a large scale. These concerns are further aggravated by the prospect of increasing fresh water scarcities, especially among the poor.

In light of these considerations, many dangerous developments can be expected to occur in the decades ahead including severe drought, coastal flooding, polar melting, ocean acidification, and increased rivalry over scarce resources of arable land and fresh water. The breakdown of ethnic relations and the rise of political violence has been sometimes attributed to global warming in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, in Darfur; additional  ecologically generated political conflicts are a virtual certainty in the next twenty years although causal chains are difficult to establish in any particular case. Access to hydrocarbon reserves has become a strong component of national strategy of leading states, and partially accounts for a variety of diplomatic and military moves in recent years, including in all probability the 2003 attack on and occupation of Iraq. Such conclusions are controversial as energy and other strategic motivations for war and intervention are rarely, if ever,  acknowledged in the post-colonial world.

What has received little attention so far is the political fallout that can be anticipated as a result of these trends and associated pressures. This is particularly true with respect to prospects for human security and democratization in the developing world. We will consider climate change and ecological balance from the perspective of democracy and human rights, and more broadly, human security. One part of this consideration would involve concern about the tendency of governments under pressures to move toward more authoritarian models of governance. Another part would involve exploring whether an accelerated program of development of alternate energy might reduce, or even eliminate, these pressures. This kind of project depends on a combination of knowledge about the underlying material circumstances and informed, enlightened assessment, as well as wide public discussion of the spectrum of anticipated policy responses, given the unevenness of national and regional circumstances.

The project would consist of relevant sponsored research, preliminary meetings, a series of workshops and conferences held throughout the world followed by publication of reports and occasional papers, and culminating in the publication of two books: an edited volume bringing together various experts on the trends as well as persons with policy and leadership experience, either on a global or regional basis and a single-authored or collaborative overview of challenge and proposed best practices to surmount the political dimensions of the crisis.

The project was formally launched on March 8, 2010 at a reception hosted by Henry Yang, the Chancellor of the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) at which Moulay Hicham and Richard Falk discussed the undertaking by reference to its rationale and goals. The first substantive event was a workshop with the title “Geopolitics and Global Climate Change,” held at UCSB, June 24-25, 2010, in collaboration with the United Nations University and the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies. The project is administered under the auspices of the Orfalea Center, and its initial funding has been secured from a private donor.