Name: Alexander Verbeek
Employer: Institute for Planetary Security
Education: MSc Human Geography
Current Job Title: Founder
Fun Fact: A lifelong fascination for islands (and increasingly seeing our planet as an isolated island in the universe)
Contact information: Alexander.Verbeek@gmail.com
GCSP: Why did you choose to enter this field?/What got you into this field?
I would never have predicted in high school that I would someday become a voice to warn against the destruction of the planet. The Club of Rome had published its first report, but not many people lost much sleep over its dire predictions. In those days, I often read about small, insignificant islands in faraway places. I was fascinated by their history, geography, the rise of island cultures as well as the many examples of their social-economic-environmental collapse.
I also loved studying old maps, especially from times when nobody was sure which islands actually existed. I therefore decided to study historical cartography, which meant that I had to start with geography. However, during my studies, I changed course and focused increasingly on development studies and did field work in Indonesia. Later on, I became a naval officer which increased my knowledge about security. Then in my role as a diplomat, I had the chance to combine these early interests in geography and security.
In my lifetime I have seen how the geography of many areas has increasingly been changed by environmental degradation, and this often impacts security. Today, much of my work is on this nexus between environment and security.
GCSP: What is your role at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy?
I teach about climate change and security, as well as on related issues. As an Associate Fellow of the GCSP, I am also in touch with the staff about the development of new plans and initiatives.
GCSP: Tell us more about the courses you run?
This autumn I will be teaching on solutions for climate change, but I also speak in other places on resources and security, climate and security and work on new initiatives that are needed in the field of environment.
GCSP: How do you see environment and security shaping the future?
Suppose it is the year 2500, and a historian writes a book about the history of human civilisation. I guess chapter 21 of that book, about the 21st century, will have the impact of the destruction of our planetary ecosystem as its central theme. I just wish I could have a one-day sneak peak into that age, and then come back to warn our leaders and the public to take the right decisions now. Will there be a human civilization left? Will books still be written? Will deep-sea diving tourists swim through the ruins of my house, 70 meters below sea level? Was there a centuries-long struggle for land and resources? Or did we just in time manage to change course and avoid runaway climate change?
I fear that an overwhelming majority of us underestimates the impact of climate change. It already has its fingerprints all over the events we are witnessing, but it will become so much worse in the second half of this century and beyond. We can still avoid the worst impact and many of its security implications. However, that means we all need to decisively act now. What I see is too little and too late, but that is not to say that we should give up. There is so much hope; like new technologies, increasing awareness, and better knowledge. The key challenge is governance, including the need to change the economic structures which have given us both our welfare as well as the destruction of our habitat.
GCSP: What have you learnt from the participants in your courses? What is your biggest takeaway?
The participants give me hope for new collaborative approaches to tackle these planetary challenges. The next generation seems to be much more aware of the need and urgency to change our course
GCSP: What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed it has been the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
GCSP: What’s the next challenge for the environment and security nexus?
Awareness raising, governance, tackle inequality, breaking down the silos, prepare for a new economy, but most of all the challenge is one of imagination.
GCSP: What should readers stay tuned for in the environment and security field?
There is so much, perhaps start by reading the daily news through a planetary-security lens. Just to quickly mention some trends: anything water related; climate migration; sustainable urban development; political polarisation in times of growing environmental challenges; resource tensions; small communities trying out new ways of sustainable living; pressure on meat industry; rising inequality between and within societies; technological progress in the field of renewables, slow adaptation of economy to new challenges.
GCSP: Why are you passionate about this subject? Why does it make a difference for you personally or professionally?
I am passionate about this topic because I have a 16-year old daughter. She, and all of the billions of other kids, deserve a good life on a healthy planet. It is our responsibility to make such a future possible.