The direct connection between nature, national security and you

freshwater pump in Yemen

In Yemen, fuel shortages and damaged pipelines have disrupted major water supply networks. In this and other countries across the planet, competition for increasingly scarce resources is leading to tension and placing global and U.S. national security at risk. (© UNICEF/Flickr Creative Commons)

Nature. You may not give it much thought. You may take it for granted that it will always be there for you. You may not realize that there is a direct connection between nature and you, but there is. None of us can survive without the services that nature provides for us: food, fresh water, fertile soil, pollinators, life-saving medicines. The simple fact is that nature doesn’t need people; people need nature.

Recently, I met with a bipartisan group of 13 members of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee. Joining me at this meeting were my colleagues from Conservation International’s Board of Directors — Harrison Ford, Rob Walton and Wes Bush. We discussed the direct connection between resource scarcity, international conservation and America’s economic and national security interests. We were encouraged by the strong recognition of the role that nature plays in our security and well-being as well as of the need to make strategic investments today that help prevent the need for making much larger expenditures in the future. Just a small fraction — far less than 1% — of the federal budget is spent on international conservation, and the return on investment is significant.


A rhino in South Africa (© Rod Mast)

© Rod Mast

Further reading

Follow the story: This year, you helped to urge the U.S. House to pass the Global Anti-Poaching Act. Stay informed about the bill — and of CI’s efforts to fight wildlife trafficking: Sign up for email updates here.


The planet is going to survive with or without us. The question before us is, Will we take action now to ensure that nature is able to provide for us? Our focus at Cl is on taking action to protect nature for the well-being of people. When I first founded the organization, we were focused on protecting nature for nature’s sake. But something happened: We began to see that nature is the foundation of our prosperity and security and that it is at risk.

We currently consume twice nature’s capacity to meet our needs. This demand will continue to increase as the world’s population grows from 7.3 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050. Global demand for food is expected to increase by 35% by 2030, and the demand for water and energy is expected to grow by 40% and 50%, respectively, in this same time period.

Fish, water and crime

We are already seeing the effects of resource scarcity — piracy in the Horn of Africa due in part to diminishing fish stocks, and water scarcity contributing to tensions in the Middle East. Competition for increasingly scarce resources leads to conflict, regional instability, radicalization and, in the worst case, failed states. This places U.S. national security at risk.

We are also seeing the dramatic rise of wildlife trafficking, which has become a US$ 8 billion-10 billion illicit enterprise. Some of the money from wildlife trafficking is funding terrorist organizations and criminal networks. An estimated 100,000 African elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012, and ivory is selling at nearly US$ 1,000 per pound.

A policeman holds an elephant tusk as confiscated ivory from the Philippines stockpile is destroyed by an excavator in Manila in 2013. (© The International Fund for Animal Welfare/photo by Alex Hofford)

Security risks are growing with the increasing demands for the natural resources that are basic to human survival. Protecting nature is much more than a priority for those of us who love nature. The direct connection between resource scarcity, international conservation, and U.S. economic and national security is staring us in the face. Continued leadership and support for international conservation programs from the U.S. government are crucial in order to address the growing threats from resource scarcity.

We understand the uncertainties of the current fiscal environment. We encourage Congress in the new budget deal to recognize the need to address the international conservation challenges that are facing the United States and the world.

The pressures on nature have never been greater; the stakes have never been higher. Protecting nature’s assets is of strategic importance to our economy, our national security and our well-being.

Peter Seligmann is the chairman and CEO of Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

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