On June 25, 2008, ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko addressed the 48 state-level winners of the U.S. Institute of Peace's annual National Peace Essay Contest. For the 2007-2008 contest, nearly 1,000 students from across the country submitted essays analyzing the role natural resources play in instigating and resolving international conflicts. The first-place prize went to Callie Smith of Tennessee for her paper "Resolving Water Conflicts Through the Establishment of Water Authorities." Other essays tackled issues such as mineral conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia.

Starting with images of the devastation wrought by Agent Orange on Southeast Asia's environment, Dabelko guided the students through the history of the environmental security field. After the end of the Cold War, he emphasized, the concept of "security" was gradually redefined to include human security. Discussing today's global environmental challenges, he cautioned the students not to attribute conflicts directly to climate change, as it more often acts as a threat multiplier than a proximate cause.

Dabelko ended his talk with some advice for the future college students:

  • Ignore disciplinary boundaries and work across issues and regions;
  • Do not ignore actors or sectors that you do not agree with; and
  • Go out into the field to explore the many ways natural resources can play an essential role in contributing to sustainable peace.

Dabelko was impressed with what he heard from the students. "I was blown away by the quality of their contributions. The discussion resembled that of a graduate student seminar, not a high school class," he said. "I am confident that the upcoming generation will be making strong contributions to the field of environmental security."

During the students' five days in Washington, DC, they also heard from one of the leaders in environment and security, General Anthony Zinni (Ret.), former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command and former U.S. envoy to the Middle East; visited the Embassy of Indonesia to hear about conflict resolution and post-tsunami reconstruction in Aceh; and learned about the importance of transparency and conflict management at the World Bank.

Photo: ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko with Stephan Serrano of Topeka West High School in Kansas. Serrano's winning paper was entitled "A Proactive Approach to the Peaceful Allocation of Natural Resources."