The lecture was only a few hours away. Chuck Norris was pitching his new book on post at the same hour. In desperation, I turned to Facebook. “I’ve got just 50 minutes with the cadets at West Point today to talk water, conflict, and cooperation. What are the most compelling examples you would use to make both hard security and human security points, both threat and opportunity points? I ask in part because it is proving harder to decide what to leave out than what to put in!”
Within seconds, experts from the Departments of State and Energy, USAID, and National Geographic responded with examples, including the Tibetan plateau and glacial melt, the lower Jordan River, and more. I used these cases and others to break through to an audience that included both those skeptical of “treehugger” issues and those eager to learn. The map of Chinese current and planned hydro projects produced audible gasps and wide eyes among the class of future officers.
While at West Point, colleague Meaghan Parker and I met with geography faculty to better understand how and what they are teaching on environmental security and demographic security. The professors on the banks of the Hudson face similar challenges to their non-military brethren; today’s students have shorter attention spans and lack experience conducting in-depth research (or getting beyond Google).
But some challenges are unique to the service academies: isolation from academic peers; the need to make sure the material is relevant to future military leaders; and most of all, the physical and mental demands on cadets’ time placed by army training. I saw it as a sign of success that I only had three stand up during my lecture, the military’s sanctioned way to keep yourself awake in class. (LTC Lou Rios USAF, one of the faculty members we met with, wrote about teaching environmental security at West Point previously on New Security Beat.)
Video, blogs, and other new media seem like a way to bridge some of these gaps. We’re especially excited that the cadets in at least three courses will be using the New Security Beat as part of their classes by reading posts, commenting, and proposing a post on a topic of their choosing. We’re looking forward to a cadet joining us next summer for internship with ECSP.
All of these outreach efforts are part of our strategy to both understand how all types of actors—including future army officers—come to understand environment and security links while providing insights and analysis to that same diverse group.