Environmental Security

Marie Johnson,
United States Military Academy


This course explores the link between the environment and national security. It specifically focuses on four key drivers: food, water, infectious disease and energy. If a state cannot secure enough food and water for its citizens, effectively respond to infectious disease outbreaks and/or provide energy to drive its economy, it runs the risk of disintegrating socially and politically, becoming a breeding ground for terrorism and violence, and threatening the stability of all other states in our globalized society.

Course Type: Upper Level
Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This course is taken by senior environmental science majors in their last semester. It effectively combines their two interests: the military (because they are training to become Army officers) and the environment (because they chose to major in environmental science). It also serves as an integrative experience in that it requires the students to combine the knowledge they have gained in their major with the knowledge they have gained in a very robust required core curriculum. Thus, the course seeks to have students anticipate and respond to environmental, technological, economic, and socio-political uncertainties in a changing world.

Course Content:

This course starts by defining environmental security and examining how consideration of this field has broadened the duties of the US Army. It then looks at the key triggers of an unhealthy environment: food, water, infectious disease and energy. Particular attention is focused on the issue of energy: electricity generation, nuclear power, and the hydrogen economy are studied in some detail. To ground the course in real world applicability, students are required to make two oral presentations throughout the semester where they highlight a recent news item that relates to course content. At mid-semester, they form teams, choose a developing country, and ultimately devise a strategy to further energy security in this country given its unique mix of environmental, technological, economic and socio-political constraints.

Course Goals:

At the conclusion of this course, a student will be able to:
- Explain the concept of environmental security in his/her own words.
- Describe the relevance of environmental security to U.S. national security.
- Evaluate the available future energy options for the United States given projected technical, economic, and socio-political constraints.
- Evaluate environmental, technological, economic, and socio-political considerations and propose a sustainable energy plan for a developing region of the world.

Course Features:

This course has a term project that requires students to form teams and choose a developing country to study. In the first phase of the project, the teams brainstorm what the key drivers are that will affect how this country evolves in the next 30 years. They are required to break these drivers into four subcategories: environmental, technological, economic, and socio-political. After submitting their drivers and receiving feedback on them, the teams make various assumptions about drivers which are unknown but important and about how the drivers may interact with each other to derive three alternative scenarios describing what their country may look like in 30 years. These two stages are modeled after the Global Trends series the US intelligence community publishes every few years. The students read the latest version of this series and thus see a professional example of drivers and how they interact to create alternative, equally realistic scenarios. For the final phase of this project, students choose one of these scenarios and independently formulate a plan to create energy security for this country given this future. In this exercise, they are senior energy advisors to the US Ambassador to this country. The goal of this energy strategy is to improve the quality of life of the country's citizens and thus create social and political stability which will ultimately increase the national security of the United States.

Course Philosophy:

I chose to incorporate energy into this course because energy is the ultimate vehicle for requiring students to integrate science and technology with economic, political and social constraints. The topic is very real world, very pressing.


Assessment is conducted via written exams, oral briefs, short written papers, and the larger term project. Various aspects of these graded events are linked to different course goals. These graded events reveal an objective measure of how well course outcomes are met. This objective measure is combined with instructor and student subjective input on course outcome compliance to provide an overall assessment of each course outcome.


Environmental Security Course Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 23kB Apr28 09)

Teaching Materials:

Term paper instructions (Acrobat (PDF) 40kB Apr28 09)

References and Notes:

1. Readings in Environmental Security assembled by the instructor which includes non-copyrighted sources from the Department of Defense, United Nations and other relief organizations, and the academic community.
2. Oil and the Future of Energy, the Editors of Scientific American, the Lyons Press, 2007.