Tag Archives: Human security

Part four: Energy security as human security

Reblogged from Saving humans:

Not only are current patterns of energy exploitation a key contributor to climate instability, they also affect human security directly. First, we have the ‘indirect’ side-effects of fossil fuel burning: the impact of climate change on human health. According to the World Health Organisation, ‘global warming that has occurred since the 1970s caused over 140 000 excess deaths annually by the year 2004’. This includes not only deaths from pollution related illnesses, but also deaths from extreme heat, increase in the rate and range of weather-related natural disasters, increasing risk of floods and droughts from variable rainfall patterns (both of which increase risk of diseases, particularly in developing countries – including diarrhea, dengue fever and malaria). Changing weather patterns will also affect food security, which in turn increases the risk of malnutrition and undernutuition, particularly in the developing world (see WHO climate change and health factsheet).

Secondly, the energy extraction process has a more direct impact on human security. There are no accurate figures on how many die in coal mining accidents globally, though some estimate mining accidents alone kill around 12,000 annually. Coal miners also suffer a high risk of developing black lung disease from inhaling coal dust, as well as lung cancer and other lung diseases. Climate change is also likely to increase the ‘occupational health hazards’ associated with coal mining. Oil drilling and extraction carries it’s own hazards. The impact on local communities can be devastating. When accidents occur, such as the BP Deepwater Horizon 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it causes a huge amount of damage to ecosystems, marine and wildlife habitats, as well as local fishing and tourism. Both residents and those involved in the clean-up also suffered long-term health consequences.

BP oil spill

Many people volunteered to help with the clean up operation after the BP oil spill, to minimise wildlife damage. Little did they know that they risked serious long-term health consequences in the process

Fracking, which is used to extract both shale gas and oil and which has so far been most popular in the United States, has been lauded for its climate benefits as shale gas is seen to be more environmentally friendly than coal. However, fracking releases methane into the atmosphere – a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Other pollutants released by the drilling are known to cause ‘short-term illness, cancer, organ damage, nervous system disorders and birth defects or even death’. Groundwater pollution has been another big side-effect in areas near big shale-plays, and there is an as-yet unclear link between fracking and an increase in earthquakes.

Clearly, extracting fossil fuels has a serious impact on human survival, health and well-being, and these are all issues largely overlooked in political discussions on energy security.

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Protecting ‘national security’ in the UK: the MI5 and the difference between ‘citizens’ and human beings

As someone who studies ‘security’ in the United States and China rather than the country where I actually live, coming across the following information from the MI5 discussing how they understand ‘national security’ in the UK was particularly interesting. 

They note the lack of a clear definition of ‘national security’ in either UK or European law, while adding that this has been a deliberate and consistent practice of successive UK governments and parliaments to ensure flexibility. The discussion that follows is both thoughtful and reflexive – features academics often make careers out of claiming governments lack.

The piece also states that government policy is taking the term national security to mean ‘the security and well-being of the United Kingdom as a whole’. This is then extended to emphasise not just the survival of the physical state itself but also its ‘citizens’ – wherever they are, and the system of government itself.

The discussion shows much needed recognition that the meaning of ‘security’ remains contested and is far from clear cut or obvious. It also shows an awareness of the role of political actors in constructing security threats. Of course, as it comes from the MI5, the focus is on more traditional notions of security. While the focus on citizens is encouraging, particularly alongside the growth in critical academic work emphasising the need to move away from military security to secure human beings, it also raises a number of questions.

What does it mean to protect UK ‘citizens’ rather than human beings more broadly defined? What does this mean for the rights, security and well-being of individuals living in the UK who do not have the protection of citizenship? What about the security and well-being of migrants and asylum seekers?

And lastly, what are the moral and ethical implications of a security policy that distinguishes between the security of  ‘citizens’ and human beings?