By Renee ODonnell

Climate change has fundamentally and permanently altered our perception of home. Even the newest generations have witnessed novel changes in our planet’s land, air, and sea. Once-flourishing crops are now wilting in the heat or never even escaping seedling. Wildfires engulf larger swaths of land each year. The number of environmental refugees is growing exponentially. As our hurt home planet descends deeper into instability, our presumed birthright sense of comfort and security begins to falter as well. Humans, and all other species we’ve coerced into this crisis with us, can no longer depend on Mother Earth to provide for our most basic needs. 

Our sense of homeland security transcends borders and boundaries, and we must recognize that the only true common ground we share is our planet. By failing to accept this, we’ve missed the chance to work with nature to preserve our ways of life. The frequency and strength of climate crises destabilize cultural, economic, and religious identifiers. Without these concrete social structures to establish a sense of self and home, the potential for climate chaos only grows. Given the magnitude and interconnectedness of natural systems, a more global concept of what a functioning planet requires is needed to address the challenges we have now and will soon face.

How are we to feel safe again? 
The unpredictability of complex systems is a humbling, sometimes wildly destructive concept. As much as models can predict, the only certainty about our climate’s future is that it’s grim. Similarly to how conservationists mitigate ecosystem collapse, and how preservationists race against the clock to strengthen resilience, humans must begin building up our capacity to cope with the consequences of our own actions. The denial of hope and of reality runs so deep that we’re spending billions to explore Mars as a Planet B. The sad truth is that many have given up on Earth as our one-in-a-billion find, looking for any solutions that don’t involve working together to preserve and protect our common home. 

Enter environmental security 
This new interdisciplinary field creates socially-secure frameworks to ensure the stability of our planet. Experts from diverse but overlapping backgrounds explore answers to problems of national and international security through the perceptual lens of long-term planetary sustainability. Environmental security relies on a broad base of collaborative minds, all utilizing the trades of human ingenuity and groundbreaking technology. 

Environmental security proactively manages the environmental challenges derived from anthropogenic and natural hazards. The success of this endeavor is the future of international guardianship. This budding field encapsulates the ecological aspects of national security, the ethical considerations of war, and the strength of collaboration through crisis. Safeguarding our once-assumed position of security will build our global resilience as we enter the unknowns of climate change.

The future of security and of humanity
The pedagogy of environmental security transcends environmental concerns, as environmental harm directly affects our social structures, trade, cultural boundaries, and political ties. The solutions derived from environmental security are where innovation and interdisciplinary thought will thrive—and where future generations must be prioritized.

Students are deeply invested in the preservation of our planet, for this generation is burdened with the largest responsibility of change and with the most dire consequences of inaction. From Greta Thunberg’s choice of boat instead of air travel to COP25, to Xiye Bastida’s inclusionary Fridays for Future initiative, we’re witnessing a youth-led revolution in the fight against what previous generations have inflicted upon them. To best prepare our planet for success, students need to learn what role they play in the functions—and dysfunctions—of our world, followed by how to leverage that position for good. This lesson is paramount to the ambitions of effective and inclusive environmental security. 

The upcoming Environmental Security graduate program offered through Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment will equip the next generation of leaders with the skills necessary to identify, create, and lead this paradigm shift in human survival. As a current student in the Master of Natural Resources program, I am galvanized by Virginia Tech’s commitment to educating future leaders and addressing issues of global, intersectional concern. 

Unpredictable climate change may be our present, but students educated on addressing the consequences of such are our future. The Environmental Security program will give us theoretical and applied knowledge to tackle the most wicked challenges yet to come.

Renee ODonnell

Renee ODonnell is a student in the Virginia Tech Online Master of Natural Resources program, slated to graduate in December 2021. Her focus is on the role humans currently play in the future of a sustainable biosphere, and how every individual can use their passions to participate in environmentalism. She’s interested in actionable solutions to environmental issues of efficiency and inclusion. Renee plans to use her degree to elevate interdisciplinary communication, believing every human across every profession has a role to play in the pursuit of a sustainable world.