Nature's Pitchfork

The sky is falling, really.

Issue: Summer 2000

Thomas F. Homer-Dixon, Environment, Scarcity, and Violence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999).

You may thrust nature out with a pitchfork, so the tag from Horace goes, but she will quickly return. No doubt this was meant to apply to garden weeds but it equally accords with the study of international relations. There is a subtext to the social sciences, in which every so often an attempt is made to show that human affairs are in the grip of powerful natural agencies, or at least that they are strongly influenced by them. Thomas Homer-Dixon's Environment, Scarcity, and Violence follows in this vein. Homer-Dixon sets out to re-establish what he calls "nature-social" explanations of possible threats to national and international security. Although his thesis proves more nuanced than bald environmental determinism, the purpose of the volume is to trace various paths by which the natural world may give rise to intra- or inter-state conflict.

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