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The Security & Sustainability Guide

Posted on 13 December 2018 by John Hartz

A Guest Post by Michael Sales, Ed.D., Michael Marien, Ph.D. and David Harries, Ph.D.

The Security & Sustainability Guide


The Security & Sustainability Guide is an online resource that seeks to map out the rough contours of a vast system of more than 3,000 organizations attempting to bring rationality, valid data, and positive energy to climate change mitigation and adaptation, and broader issues related to security and/or sustainability.

It is constructed around a core hypothesis: security and sustainability are at risk and often difficult or impossible to achieve when either is vulnerable or missing.An additional core hypothesis is that there is little or no appreciation of the growing number of S&S organizations—mostly NGOs, but also academic institutes, government agencies, action groups, consultancies, etc. This includes:

  • more than 100 organizations focused on climate change,
  • more than 100 organizations concerned with the necessary energy transition away from fossil fuels, and
  • more than 120 associations, coalitions, consortia, and networks.

Very few of these organizations have the resources or political clout to influence planetary or national decision-making. Security and sustainability are profoundly affected by climate change, and, as urged by the October 2018 IPCC Special Report, Global Warming of 1.5 C, it is in everyone’s interests to reflect the near-term prospects of climate change in decision-making—a matter of national and global security. The S&S Guide is intended as a rough map for those within this emerging mega-system, so that they can be better informed about where their efforts exist within it, and for those outside of the system, so they can appreciate this growing force, roughly doubling in size over the past 15 years.

The new frontiers of security and sustainability concerns have both expanded in scope and range.  Overlaps are acknowledged in titles of such organizations as the U.N. University’s Institute for Sustainability and Peace, the Institute for Environmental Security in The Hague, and the Center for Climate and Security in Washington. The mission statement of many organizations, such as Earth Charter International and Kofi Annan’s Future World Foundation, note the intersection of the two broad realms. The still-relevant book, Climate Change and National Security edited by Daniel Moran (Georgetown University Press, 2011), clearly makes the case for addressing the impacts of climate change in nearly all of the 19 nations and regions analyzed. These impacts include increasing frequency and intensity of floods, droughts, extreme storms, and wildfires, as well as sea-level rise threatening major cities. This is just one study reinforcing NATO’s conclusion in 2015 that climate change is a “major threat multiplier.”

A transition to “sustainability” is underway, but still at an early stage of development. The progress that has been made (e.g. wind and solar energy installations) is being offset or outmatched by continued global warming and environmental damage. Security and sustainability are threatened everywhere not only by climate change, but by a variety of military and para-military groups, criminal organizations, fossil fuel interests, world population growth (a 30% increase is projected by 2050), human displacement, obsolete and deteriorating infrastructure, government incompetence, citizen [and media] ignorance of emerging complexities, and showy expenditures of huge sums on largely unnecessary military hardware, such as F-35s. Notably, the hope for nuclear disarmament is fading, and all nuclear states are devoting vast resources to upgrading their arsenals; the US alone plans to spend $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years (data not disclosed for other countries). Detonation of one or more nuclear weapons—by design or default—remains an ominous possibility whose likelihood is amplified by costly cyber-insecurity. Economic instability, rising inequality, emergence of bioweapons, and potentially devastating pandemics are among other concerns that can aggravate “negative sustainability.”

Optimistically, it is encouraging to learn how many S&S organizations have been and are being created and expanded. Without them, human affairs would be in a worse state than it is. But, on the negative side, little if any overall progress seems to have been made toward either security or sustainability, despite the laudable ambitions of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, which encompass both security and sustainability. Greater progress might be made if the plethora of S&S organizations were better known to society in general and to each other. Redundancy could be reduced as action learning networks expand, and the S&S Guide offers resources that could accelerate action.

The Guide encourages individuals and organizations to learn who is thinking and doing what.  It includes profiles of 40 individuals who have made and are making a difference in S&S thinking, profiles of 60 notable organizations, a guide to some 150 information portals, and a listing of some 150 recent online reports such as the 2018 IPCC Special Report on global warming.

Organizations described in The S&S Guide are global in their operational reach (e.g. Greenpeace, International Union for the Conservation of Nature), nation-oriented but working on global concerns, or selected regional or local groups focused on original research or effective activism that might be utilized or replicated in other countries (e.g. Bay Area Eco-Tours). Most of the organizations are non-governmental: large or small, old or new, mainstream or anti-establishment, reflective or action-oriented, systemically focused or specialized single-purpose.Some are attached to governments or universities; others supported by governments, corporations, foundations, or wealthy individuals.

This “meta-system” could be constructed in several ways. The decision was taken to be reasonably generous in defining what is important to security and to sustainability. Organizations are thus included that focus on the many frontiers of law, greening business, cities, schools and universities, finance, publishing, philanthropy, oceans, forests, food security, water security, Arctic warming, cities, indigenous people, women’s groups, religious groups, youth groups, peace, human security, green jobs, rethinking economics for the 21st Century, etc.

The three Principals developing The S&S Guide have very different educational and career backgrounds, although we were all members of the former World Future Society, and have spent our working lives thinking in transdisciplinary ways about probable, possible, and preferred futures. Dr. Michael Marien conceived of the Guide, and was later joined by Dr. David Harries and Dr. Michael Sales. For 30 years, Marien edited Future Survey, a 24-page overview of books, reports, and articles on a wide range of subjects, published monthly by the World Future Society.  Harries is a retired Canadian military officer trained as a nuclear engineer, and a practitioner of Strategic Foresight; he has lived or worked in 113 countries, and served as recent Chair of Canadian Pugwash, one of the largest affiliates of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. Sales is a former co-chair of the MIT-based Society for Organizational Learning. He has provided strategic leadership advice across a wide variety of economic sectors, and is co-author of Life-Sustaining Organizations: A Design Guide.

As the unpolished state of the S&S website attests, the Guide is very much a work in progress, and will likely remain so as new information rapidly becomes available. After something of a false start, the site is now under the management of Brian Pennington, who oversees the StarTalk podcasts for Neil deGrasse Tyson, and we are excited about its future.

We invite interested researchers and activists to suggest ways to advance the guide, including sources of potential financial support.  Specifically, the Guide requires 2-3 additional Associates to assist in writing abstracts, indexing keywords, updating existing organization information, and publicizing the Guide. For further information, please use the Contact tab provided at the top of the Homepage of The S&S Guide website.

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  1. Article says: "A transition to “sustainability” is underway, but still at an early stage of development. The progress that has been made (e.g. wind and solar energy installations) is being offset or outmatched by ....( long list of daunting problems) . "

    This is a good paragraph. There is some evidence the younger generation are more environmentally aware than the older generation. Millennials are prioritizing 'experiences' over owning stuff. Family sizes are falling quite significantly, so population growth might decline faster than the quoted estimates. But obviously none of this will be fast enough to solve the climate problem so we need support for renewable energy, a carbon tax and dividend and related policies.

    The older generation are set in their ways, and get conservative and have memories of the cold war and communism , and associate environmentalism with creeping communism. The single greatest challenge might be to convince them that they are wrong, and that environmentalism is really just commonsense, and can be part of a free market private ownership economy.

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