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Why I’ve Joined the Council on Strategic Risks as Head of its Ecological Security Program

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By Dr. Rod Schoonover

We are in the midst of an ecological crisis. Biodiversity loss is quickening, ecosystems are collapsing, mass die-offs are rising, zoonotic spillovers are escalating, and populations of harmful organisms are booming. In a January 2021 article titled Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future, 17 of the world’s leading ecologists argued “the scale of the threats to the biosphere and all of its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

Both connected to—and separate from—the climate emergency, ongoing ecological disruption has portentous implications for human, national, and global security. We should expect concomitant risks to political stability, social cohesion, human health, and economic stability.

Surprisingly sparse comprehensive analysis exists in this nascent field of ecological security, however.

That’s why I’m pleased to join the Council on Strategic Risks as head of the Ecological Security Program in the Converging Risks Lab.

The Ecological Security Program’s work plan spans several pillars:

Pillar I: Deepen Research, Analysis, and Foresight. This work, which I will be leading, builds on the analytical framework developed in CSR’s recent, seminal ecological security report The Security Threat that Binds Us. Topics for further investigation include ecosystem services degeneration, ecological regime shifts, irruption of harmful ecological agents, and the role of ecological forecasting in security analysis. Overall, the ESP’s research will focus on risks in three analytic domains: 

  • Degradation of ecological benefits, such as risks to soil, water, fisheries, forests, wildlife, and ecological services such as pollination; 
  • Emergence of ecological harms, such as zoonotic spillover, agricultural pests, insect swarms, harmful algal blooms, and antimicrobial resistance; and 
  • Environmental crime, such as illegal fishing, illegal logging, and wildlife trafficking.

Pillar II: Establish a Community of Practice. With an eye towards driving transformative policy change, we – led by Andrea Rezzonico – will establish a community of practice aimed at navigating ecological disruption and strengthening cooperative efforts to address ecological security. The community will be drawn from scientists drawn from pertinent fields as well as security experts, policymakers, nongovernmental experts, and other stakeholders. We hope to benefit from CSR’s well-established history of breaking down silos and assembling communities that previously did not exist.

Pillar III: Develop a New Generation of Leaders. We will work to identify and develop new leaders from different disciplines and geographies in order to address the complex and converging risks arising from ecological disruption. We plan to establish an Ecological Security Fellowship program for rising leaders in the security field. This program, led by Erin Sikorsky, will be modeled on CSR’s successful Climate Security Fellows and the Fellowship for Ending Bioweapons programs. 

Pillar IV: Communications and Outreach.  In this pillar, led by Dr. Natasha Bajema, we will work to educate and socialize ecological security with a broad audience. Utilizing multiple forms of creative content such as podcasts and videos we will seek to raise awareness of ecological security issues among current policymakers, thought leaders, informed non-experts, and the interested general public. 

Although the challenge is daunting and the subject matter leans grim, I’m excited to get started on this work.. It is also an honor to be formally part of CSR as my fruitful association with CSR’s Center for Climate and Security dates back well over a decade. 

Dr. Rod Schoonover began his role as CSR’s Head of the Ecological Security Program in August 2021, following his role as an advisor to CSR and a decade of government service as a senior analyst and scientist in the U.S. intelligence community. Rod has served on the Center for Climate and Security’s and Council on Strategic Risks’ Advisory Board since 2019.

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