Zombie Concepts and Boomerang Effects

Uncertainty, Risk, and Security Intersection through the Lens of Environmental Change
  • P. H. Liotta
  • Allan W. Shearer
Conference paper
Part of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security book series (NAPSC)

Focusing on the challenges of environmental change and human impact, the Authors consider how different mindsets or mental maps lead to alternative risk responses and, consequently, alternative prioritizations of different kinds of security. The uncertainties associated with environmental change are difficult to quantify, yet the impacts may be severe. We argue that we cannot so reduce the uncertainty of the science that can definitively end debate about appropriate policy. Instead, we must learn to integrate uncertainty into decision making processes and consider how our near-term actions enable or constrain future options. Presenting a critical approach to defining human and environmental security, we also distinguish between threats and vulnerabilities and their impact. To examine the relationships between security and risk, we draw on two central metaphors. First, the tenets of traditional security are critiqued vis-à-vis Ulrich Beck's “zombie concepts” of modernism, which emphasize the State and thereby fail to engage the multiple and interdependent processes of change we now face. In this context, we discuss broadly how new solutions beget increased risk and how new knowledge yields greater uncertainty. Second, using P. H. Liotta's “ boomerang effect,” we look more narrowly at how policies intended to address some specific dimension of security can undermine other dimensions. When these metaphors are considered as a set of related ideas, it becomes apparent that the world is confronted with socially produced and human-centered vulnerabilities. Further, the potential for local and localized risk has mutated into systemic risk that affects both the “developing” and “developed” parts of the world. Responses to climate change, in particular, must therefore accommodate thinking in terms of multiple facets of security.


Risk uncertainty environmental change policy human security environmental security 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. H. Liotta
    • 1
  • Allan W. Shearer
    • 2
  1. 1.Pell Center for International Relations and Public PolicySalve Regina UniversityNewportUSA
  2. 2.Department of Landscape Architecture and Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial AnalysisRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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