• University of Leeds

Environmental Challenges: Scarcity and Conflict in the Natural Environment

War and conflict can severely disrupt the governance of the environment. What is the impact on both people and the environment?

22,932 enrolled on this course

Environmental Challenges: Scarcity and Conflict in the Natural Environment

Human conflict has both short and long term effects on the natural world. The environment is directly impacted by pollution and explosions; and can be used as a weapon of war. In the longer term, sustainable environmental management is disrupted when conflict destabilises social systems and people are denied access to natural resources. As resources become scarcer, it might be expected that people come into conflict about access to natural resources.

This course explores three aspects of conflict and resource scarcity, and applies these to explore decision making and negotiation skills.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds Every time we look at the news, it seems to be full of conflicts that are taking place in one part of the world or another. News reports are, of course, a biassed representation of what’s happening on our planet as bad news is good news from a journalist’s perspective. But nonetheless, there are huge environmental consequences. Firstly, there is the destruction and pollution caused by the conflict itself. But secondly, and perhaps more significantly, it’s the disruption to social systems and governance of the environment.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds I’m professor Jon Lovett, Chair in Global Challenges at the University of Leeds. My role is to guide you through this course. We start by exploring three basic principles, the economics of the coming Spaceship Earth, scarcity in conflict, and the environment as a weapon of war. These principles will then be applied to a case study, where we consider two different approaches to international relations. We close the course with a discussion. I’m joined via Skype by three colleagues from Balamand University in Lebanon, where we discuss vulnerability, gender, and the confessionalism system in Lebanon. So in the midst of human suffering, do we take the environmental consequences of war seriously enough?

Skip to 1 minute and 40 seconds I look forward to hearing your thoughts and joining your discussions on the course.


  • Week 1

    The principles of scarcity and conflict

    • Welcome

      Welcome to Scarcity and Conflict in the Natural Environment. This course explores three basic principles when considering the relationship between conflict and natural resource management.

    • The economics of the coming spaceship Earth

      This principle explores Ken Boulding’s case for moving to a closed economic system – the 'spaceman economy' – characterised by a cyclical ecological system.

    • Scarcity and conflict

      The second principle examines how scarce resources can lead to conflict between different users of the same resource.

    • The environment as a weapon of war

      As people need natural resources to survive, it is possible to subdue populations by denying them access to natural resources. This third principle examines how the environment can be used as a weapon of war.

    • Revision

      This revision activity is optional and is designed for those signed up for the Environmental Challenges Program.

    • Summary

      To close this week of this course, Jon will reflect on the week through a textual summary of discussions, questions and comments.

  • Week 2

    Applying the principles

    • About week 2

      This week we explore the basic principles in context through a case study and topical discussion.

    • Case study: International relations

      In this activity we consider the different approaches to negotiation and trade between nations.

    • Discussion: Environment and conflict

      In this debate we discuss environment and conflict in Lebanon.

    • Focusing on – Conflict resolution and negotiation skills

      As promised at the beginning of the course, you now have the opportunity to explore strategies involved in conflict resolution and negotiation.

    • Revision

      This revision activity is optional and is designed for those signed up for the Environmental Challenges Program.

    • Summary

      Jon reflects on the week through a textual summary of discussions, questions and comments. There is also an opportunity for you to test your understanding and find out more about the other courses in the program.

Who is this accredited by?

The CPD Certification Service
The CPD Certification Service:

This course has been accredited by the CPD Certification Service, which means it can be used to provide evidence of your continuing professional development.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Compare the ‘cowboy’ economy with the circular ‘spaceman’ economy, through technological advances and resource exploitation.
  • Discuss the extent that resource demands can lead to conflict between different users.
  • Explore the way that conflicting forces subdue populations by denying them access to environmental resources.
  • Develop understanding of conflict resolution and negotiation techniques.

Who is the course for?

The course is suitable for anyone with a general interest in conflict and environmental decision-making; no previous knowledge or experience is required.

If you are working in environmental management, or wish to learn more about it, this course is designed to support you as a professional. By completing all aspects of the course you will have achieved 14 hours of CPD time.

Who will you learn with?

Jon Lovett is Chair in Global Challenges in the School of Geography at the University of Leeds and works on institutional economics.

Who developed the course?

University of Leeds

As one of the UK’s largest research-based universities, the University of Leeds is a member of the prestigious Russell Group and a centre of excellence for teaching.

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