Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Natural Security for a Variable and Risk-Filled World

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Natural Security for a Variable and Risk-Filled World

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Fish don't try to turn sharks into vegetarians. Living immersed in a world of constant risk forces the fish to develop multiple ways to live with risk, rather than trying to eliminate it. The fish can dash away from the shark in a burst of speed, live in places sharks can't reach, use deceptive coloration to hide from the shark, form schools with other fish to confuse the shark, it can even form an alliance with the shark, and all of these things may help the fish solve the problem of how to avoid getting eaten by the shark. But none of these adaptations will help the fish solve the general problem of predation, and they don't need to. The fish doesn't have to be a perfect predator-avoidance machine. Like every single one of the countless organisms it shares a planet with, the fish just has to be good enough to survive and reproduce itself.

The world in which we spend our daily lives is also full of risk. Acts of terrorism that seem to come out of nowhere. Wars that have carried on too long and show little progress toward resolution. Catastrophic failures of supposedly fail-safe oil rigs. Intensifying natural disasters fueled by global changes in climate. A distribution of food that leaves billions undernourished and millions of others facing an obesity epidemic. A cyber infrastructure that we've become increasingly dependent upon that also has become increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic attack. New diseases and new mutations of old diseases that threaten to become global pandemics. The major threats society faces today are ominous and complex interplays of human behavior and environmental change, global politics, and local acts of cruelty or carelessness, historical accidents, and long-simmering tensions. Some of these threats have plagued us as long as we have been human and yet we've made little progress against them, others are becoming more dangerous in synergy with rapid climatic and political changes, and still others are just now emerging.

Yet the responses we been offered or forced to accept by the experts we've entrusted to solve these problems often seem frustratingly ineffective, naïve, or just plain ridiculous. When increased body screening of airline passengers was implemented after 9/11, Richard Reid attempted to destroy an airliner with a bomb in his shoe. When shoes began to be screened in response to Reid's attack, al Qaeda plotted to use a liquid explosive attack. When liquids were banned, Umar Abdulmutallab used a powdered incendiary hidden in his underwear in an attempted attack. A wall constructed between parts of the U.S. and Mexico border at a cost of between $1 million and $10 million per mile, slows down illegal immigrants by an estimated twenty minutes, even in its most fortified areas. 1 And on a tiny island in the tiny town of Beaufort, North Carolina there is a tiny outpost of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that studies fish populations and coastal ecology. There is little reason to suspect this outpost is on any terrorist's list of desirable targets. Yet when the NOAA coastal scientists wanted to renovate and add some space a few years back, they were forced by the Department of Homeland Security to install enormous Wal-Mart style parking lot lights on their facility as a required security measure. This was ironic, since the scientists working at the lab know full well that nighttime light pollution is a major threat to the ecology of the same coastal marine environments that they are paid by taxpayers to study. 2

The most famous line of the 9/11 Commission report was that 9/11 represented a "failure of imagination," 3 and this was certainly an apt description of the security situation up until 9/11. However, now that we imagine almost anything to be a threat to our security, a more pernicious problem faces all of our security systems: a failure of adaptation. Adaptation is the process of changing structures, behaviors, and interactions in response to changing conditions in the environment. …

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