Climate Change and Resource Scarcity – A threat to National Security

We may not like to think about recycling our waste beyond putting our dustbins out for collection, but it doesn’t take much to focus our minds – such as when there is a dustbin strike or there is a sudden shortage of our favourite food. But waste recycling is an intrinsic part of the climate change story and the consequences of climate change, some now fear, are a potential threat to national security.

General Tom Middendorp who served on more than 20 international missions for the Dutch Army, put it succinctly when speaking on a podcast for the Global Recycling Foundation:

“Within the International Council on Climate and Security we use our global network of senior security experts to assess the impact of climate change through the security sector and all our security environments. To us climate change is much more than just an environmental issue it is also a matter of national security, and that climate change is probably the biggest game changer of this century. It affects our geopolitical environment, it brings all kinds of natural humanitarian disasters, and it has a disruptive effect on societies because food and water security leads to migration flows, to internal and potentially even regional conflicts, and provides a breeding ground for extremism and organised crime.

We need to look at climate change in the context of a growing gap between demand and supply of water, food and all kinds of rare minerals. Climate change increases that gap between demand and supply, since it further reduces the availability of water and affects the fertile parts of our planet. Bridging that gap requires us to develop new concepts for the production of our food and goods.”

Mr Ranjit S Baxi, Founding President – Global Recycling Foundation said that there are three primary reasons for this scarcity & increasing demand. Firstly, we have a growing world population – 1 billion in the 1880s have risen to 7.9 billion today. Secondly, we have a growing middle class who all want to enjoy the goods and services that everyone else has acquired. Thirdly we have to contribute together harnessing the benefits of modern technology and our ability to transform the Waste sector with our Global partners if we are to succeed in meeting our ambitious net zero targets.

When there is not enough food to eat, when we suddenly realise that flour is no longer readily available, when water is in short supply as heatwaves increase and the rising population in our towns are all demanding more to drink and the reservoirs dry up, then the well-to-do will start complaining. The less fortunate facing droughts and flooding will do more than complain, they will set off for safer lands and pastures new. And that is when the resistance to the new migrants will erupt. Everyone would want to help a desperate refugee, but what about an economic migrant in search of a better life in the West? Should they all be welcomed with open arms, or do they represent a further drain on resources, another mouth to feed, another thirst to quench?

Commodore Sujeet Samaddar, founder of the Society for Aerospace Maritime and Defence Studies in India, warned: “The ecosystem which exists in the oceans is precious. Every second breath you take is thanks to oceans and if you don’t look after them, we’re heading into big danger.”

We cannot continue abusing our planet and wasting our precious resources. Indeed, we ignore the oceans and the seas at our peril. We have a duty to protect our forests and our oceans, not destroy them by senseless felling or pollution. The oceans provide 50% of the oxygen we breathe, but we pollute the seas and sail away without a second thought.

Mr Unico van Kooten European Secretary for the Dutch Waste Management Association pointed to the growing need for waste not to be landfilled but recycled to ensure that we continue to produce the most valuable resource – The Seventh Resource – to help mitigate the risk of scarcity of raw materials.

But there are still reasons to be optimistic. It is important to involve new generations in the search for solutions. As Tom Middendorp says: “I have a rock-solid confidence in our ability to survive with our innovative strength. We can and should all make a difference within our own capabilities. And we can all be part of the solution. Think big, act small and start somewhere: many drops together form a large river.”

Link to podcast:

Source: Global Recycling Foundation (London, August 11th, 2022)