the immediate aftermath of the devastating terrorist attacks in
New York and Washington, over ninety percent of the U. S. public
favored some kind of military action against the alleged perpetrators.
The President calls the events an act of war. Some
in Congress were ready to suspend a sizeable part of U.S. civil
liberties in order to combat the threat of terrorism. There can
be no question that those guilty of committing atrocities should
be apprehended and punished. That much is clear, but little else
is. This is a good time to reassess the underlying structure of
political discontent that leads to terrorism, the vulnerability
of modern societies, global poverty, and the relationship between
these things and a deteriorating global environment. Why do so
many of the poor around the world hate Americans? Why is the U.S.
so vulnerable? Most important, what can be done to break the cycle
of violence and lay the foundation for global security in the
largest sense? That answer, whatever it may be, requires that
we place the events of 9-11 into a meaningful context.
it is clear that the acts of 9-11 were remarkably cost-effective.
For perhaps no more than a few hundred thousand dollars, the perpetrators
used our equipment and facilities to cause hundreds of billions
of dollars of damage and seize control of western media for months.
They have imposed a tax of billions more to pay for remedial actions
and subsequent economic losses. We know that more devastating
options throughout the U.S., Europe, and Japan are available to
determined terrorists and to the merely deranged. The next round
of terrorism could involve suitcase nuclear weapons, chemical
or biological materials, or just the sabotage of basic services,
communications networks, roads, and industrial infrastructure.
In such cases high-technology weapons are worse than useless.
They create a false sense of security at a huge expense while
preempting smarter options that promote real security.
conflicts in northern Ireland, the Balkans, the Middle East, and
dozens of other places we know that there are points of no return
where memory becomes myth, martyrs are deified, enemies demonized,
positions harden into bitterness and disputes become perpetual.
Inevitably, the political discussion narrows in ways that prevent
long-term solutions to the underlying problems that created the
conflict in the first place. Human affairs have their own laws
of action and reaction that displace logic, reason, and justice,
which is to say that it is probable that a response in kind will
trigger further violence. In such situations there is no possible
victory for either side . . . ever.
any effective response to the events of 9-11 requires that we
comprehend, too, the larger context beginning with the fact that
the global economy has become highly stratified with a small number
of very wealthy at the top and several billions, including some
future terrorists, living in the desperation of extreme poverty.
We know that the U.S. is the worlds largest vendor of weapons
and that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein once received U.S.
military support and training. For fifty years the US. has engaged
in political manipulation, trained and financed death squads,
and funded repressive dictatorships. It has, thereby, contributed
to a global pattern of violence and hostility which is not improved
by the fact that the present U.S. administration has chosen to
ignore, violate, or abrogate international agreements about climatic
change, arms control, and chemical/biological weapons, but now
it demands international cooperation. The U.S. cannot have it
both ways. Either it is part of a global community or must act
alone. If the latter, it will lose and lose tragically even if
it can win a war with a particular terrorist.
global corporations with help from compliant governments have
created a tightly coupled world in which ecological, economic,
political, and technological effects of actions anywhere sooner
or later touch everyone. It is a world vulnerable to disruption
from a thousand sources. It cannot be sustained politically or
ecologically. For all of the hype about freedom, the emerging
world system is neither very free nor very democratic. It is,
rather, governed by a plutocracy of distant and unaccountable
corporations, global agencies like the World Trade Organization,
and willing governments. But in the end it is a world ruled by
ironies of the sort that what goes around, comes around. The U.S.
aimed to be rich and powerful, but has succeeded in making itself
a very large bulls eye, more vulnerable and despised than
most care to admit.
events of 9-11, in short, dramatically underscore the clash between
two kinds of fanaticism. On one side are those wishing to stop
all change and freeze societies into extreme male dominated and
violence-prone theocracies ruled by the likes of the Taliban.
On the other, are the free market fundamentalists who intend to
change everything for everyone, everywhere, all the time. The
one is a rear-guard protest against the modern world and westernization
in particular. The other is a global juggernaut driven by financial
markets, technological dynamism, and global capitalism. It is
easy to see the insanity in the former. But in more reflective
times the latter, perhaps, will be seen as the more sweeping kind
of derangement. In the no-mans-land between the acolytes
of two fundamentalisms, good possibilities can be lost and the
possibility of building a just world society that can be sustained
ecologically could recede into the background making for a future
ruled by fear, vengeance, and reprisal. If we are not to acquiesce
in that dark future, it is time to re-examine old myths about
globalization, economic growth, and national security.
do those of us in the conservation community have to offer to
such an effort? What powerful and unifying ideas do we have that
might clarify the situation and help forge better policy? Failing
to announce better possibilities we risk becoming irrelevanta
quirk of historyin an increasingly militarized world divided
into garrison states, fundamentalist sects, terrorist cells, drug
lords with their armies and addicts, and global corporations with
we need not and should not be silent. In fact, we have a great
deal to offer beginning with a more coherent and accurate view
of the world that could provide the foundation for more effective
and humane governance and smarter solutions to seemingly intractable
problems. In an ecological perspective, for example, there are
few accidents or anomalies, only outcomes based on system structure
and dynamics. Climate change and glittering malls, calcuttan poverty
and sybaritic wealth, biotic impoverishment and economic growth,
militarism and terrorism, global domination and utter vulnerability
are not different things but manifestations of a single system.
Effective action requires, in Wendell Berrys felicitous
words, solving for [a] pattern that is now global.
There is no good way to separate policies for the economy, trade,
energy, and security from those effecting land-use, climate, forests,
and soils. But to unify these requires the willingness to see
connections and the ability to comprehend how a complex global
system works. Eventually all actions of governments, including
those to promote economic development and national security, effect
natural systems and biogeochemical cycles either compounding our
problems or resolving them at a higher level.
world community faces growing conflicts over access to freshwater,
declining oceanic fisheries, climatic change, access to oil, and
the mounting effects of the loss of natural capital. The challenges
of global poverty, feeding another 1 to 3 billion people, arresting
climatic change, preserving biotic diversity, and maintaining
world peace will become more and more difficult especially given
the spread of the means of violence. In the 21st century no nation
on its own can be secure and no narrow definition of security
will provide a foundation for safety. The idea of security must
be broadened to include security against hunger, pollution, ecological
degradation, poverty, ignorance, and direct physical assaults
for everyone. Anything less will not work for long. Meeting human
needs for food, shelter, sustainable livelihood, environmental
preservation reduces the sources of conflict and the dissatisfaction
that feeds terrorism. Real security will require a larger vision
and the development of the capacity, international and local,
necessary to solve problems that feed violence, hatred, and fear.
an ecological perspective could help to dramatically decrease
our vulnerability. The way we provision ourselves with food, energy,
materials, and water increases or decreases our vulnerability
to system failures, terrorists, acts of God, and ecological degradation.
A society with many nuclear reactors is vulnerable in ways that
one powered by decentralized solar technologies is not. Similarly,
a society fed by a few megafarms is far more vulnerable to many
kinds of disruption than one with many relatively smaller and
widely dispersed farms. One that relies on long-distance transport
of essential materials must guard every supply line, but the military
capability to do so becomes yet another source of vulnerability
and ecological cost. In short, no society that relies on distant
sources of food, energy, and materials or heroic feats of technology
can be secured indefinitely. An ecological view would suggest
more resilient and cost-effective ways to provision ourselves
that create fewer targets for terrorists while buffering us from
other sources of disruption. An ecological view of security would
lead us to rebuild family farms, local enterprises, community
prosperity, regional economies, and invest in the regeneration
of natural capital. And we know how to design and build energy
efficient buildings, utilize current solar income, farm sustainably,
rebuild greener cities, and manage resources for the long-term.
The challenge is not know-how but one of political will and leadership.
I believe that we can help expose the lie in the assertion that
the American way of life is not negotiable. No way
of life based on inequity, waste, economic exploitation, military
coercion, and a refusal to account costs fully is non-negotiable.
Terrorists on 9-11-01 unilaterally negotiated the American way
of life downward by several trillion dollars and they could continue
to do so. The question before the U.S. is not whether we can maintain
a way of life based on imported oil and resources, great environmental
damage, and climatic change. We cannot. Rather the question is
whether we can
summon the intelligence to create a just, secure, and sustainable
prosperity that no terrorist can threaten and that threatens no
other nation. The ecological and security costs of military power
are high and growing. But real security is more complicated. It
has to do with connections between the health of democratic institutions,
the fair distribution of wealth, military power, and the protection
of soils, forests, and biological diversity. There would be no
better first step to ensure our security and that of others than
a resolute announcement by President Bush that we will end our
dependence on foreign oiland all fossil fuelsby tapping
the technological ingenuity to increase our energy efficiency
and to harness solar energy. Thereafter our engagement in the
politics of an unstable region might be by choice not permanent
necessity. In the meantime we would have lowered our balance of
payments deficit, reduced air pollution, created many new jobs
along with the technological basis for a solar-hydrogen economy,
reduced the emission of greenhouse gases, and dramatically reduced
A., Lovins, H., 1982. Brittle Power. Andover, MA: Brick House.
slightly different version of this article will appear in a spring
2002 issue Conservation Biology.
Orr is Professor and Chair of the Environmental Studies Program
at Oberlin College. He is the author of Earth in Mind (1994),
Ecological Literacy (1992) and a forthcoming book on ecological
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