Zombie Concepts and Boomerang Effects: Why Climate Change is So Difficult to Act On

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Focusing on the challenges of environmental change and human impact, the authors consider how different mindsets or mental maps lead to alternative risk responses and, consequently, alternative prioritizations of different kinds of security. The uncertainties associated with environmental change are difficult to quantify, yet the impacts may be severe. We argue that we cannot so reduce the uncertainty of the science that can definitively end debate about appropriate policy. Instead, we must learn to integrate uncertainty into decision making processes and consider how our near-term actions enable or constrain future options. Presenting a critical approach to defining human and environmental security, we also distinguish between threats and vulnerabilities and their impact. To examine the relationships among security and risk, we draw on two central metaphors. First, the tenets of traditional security are critiqued vis-à-vis Ulrich Beck’s “zombie concepts” of modernism which emphasize the state and thereby fail to engage the multiple and interdependent processes of change we now face. In this context, we discuss broadly how new solutions beget increased risk and how new knowledge yields greater uncertainty. Second, using P. H. Liotta’s “boomerang effect,” we look more narrowly at how policies intended to address some specific dimension of security can undermine other dimensions. When these metaphors are considered as a set of related ideas, it becomes apparent that the world is confronted with socially-produced and human-centered vulnerabilities. Further, the potential for local and localized risk has mutated into systemic risk that affects both the ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ parts of the world. Responses to climate change, in particular, must therefore accommodate thinking in terms of multiple facets of security


Keywords: Risk, Uncertainty, Environmental Change, Policy, Human Security, Environmental Security
Stream: Politics, Public Policy and Law
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. P.H. Liotta

Executive Director, Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy
Newport, RI, USA

P. H. Liotta is Professor of Humanities and Executive Director of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island. He is responsible for setting the vision and leading and implementing programs that reflect U.S. Senator Claiborne deBorda Pell’s decades of public service: enhancing international dialogue to achieve a more peaceful world and preparing individuals for an informed and active role in local, national and world affairs. Established by an Act of the United States Congress on September 28th, 1996 the Pell Center focuses on five areas that reflect Senator Pell’s vision and life-long commitment: •Applying multilateral solutions to international problems•Examining the influences and consequences of globalization•Responding to the changed nature of security and conflict resolution•Enabling global resource stewardship and environmental protection
•Supporting the arts, humanities and education Prior to assuming directorship of the Pell Center in 2004, Dr. Liotta served as the endowed Jerome E. Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security at the U.S. Naval War College. He served for two decades in the U.S. Air Force, and piloted T-38, KC-135, UV-18, C-12 and (with the Hellenic Air Force) the Mirage 2000. He also served as Fulbright lecturer and poet-in-residence (Slobodan umjetnik, 1988-1989) in former Yugoslavia. He has travelled widely throughout the former Soviet Union, particularly the Caucasus and Central Asia—to the Altai region of Siberia, Tajikistan, the Afghan front, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia and Iran. The author of seventeen books and numerous articles in fields as diverse as poetry, criticism, education, international security, intervention ethics, and foreign policy analysis, Liotta has also published a novel, Diamond’s Compass, about Iran. Recent work includes The Exile’s Return (published in the Macedonian language) as well as the co-authored The Fight for Legitimacy: Democracy versus Terrorism, A Fevered Crescent: Security and Insecurity in the Great Near East, and Gaia’s Revenge: Climate Change and Humanity’s Loss. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Politics and Environment Series for Praeger Books, a division of Greenwood Publishing. His research interests include the study of geography and geopolitics (particularly in Southeast Europe, the Euro-Mediterranean, and Central and South Asia) as well the re-examination of environmental, human, and demographic security issues in the contemporary environment. Since 2004, Dr. Liotta has regularly lectured on demographics, migration, and security at the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy. In 2005, he was appointed Adjunct Professor in Comparative Politics and International Relations in the Department of Social Sciences, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York; became an associate of the Global Environmental Change and Human Security (GECHS) project of Oslo, Norway; and joined Working Group II (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability of Climate Change) of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

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