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Shared borders and the paradigm shift

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Rosario Sanchez
Senior Research Scientist at Texas Water Resources Institute.

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  • Shared borders and the paradigm shift

Borders, fences, limits. The parameters that govern our conception of security and the long-term prevalence of the world as we know it, or at least, as we imagine it is. If we open the door too much for too long, our status quo changes, anxiety takes over and blaming of outsiders, whatever the outsider might be, occurs. Climate, water, and our environment are testing our very cherished paradigms of security. It is established in our mindsets that borders put a line between differences, qualities of life, freedoms and values. Borders have historically built walls between peace and war, black from white, good from bad. This paradigm might have been true at some points in history, but I doubt it is useful anymore. Climate, water and the environment, the most important threats to the world in modern history, could care less about our diminished conceptions of security: borders. I am inclined to say that the biggest threat we are facing is not climate change, not even water scarcity, but the destruction of our paradigm of power security driven by the establishment of imaginary lines. This is not to say that this change is dangerous, on the contrary, I think the shift is necessary; however, there is a cost associated with it.

Environmental, and particularly, shared water systems, have restrained our capacity to set limits, preferences, and even priorities

World discussions over current environmental threats and how little has been accomplished by countries tend to concentrate on issues associated with financing, the inclusion of stakeholders, building social capital, commitment, and leadership. Very few or none address the issue of the potential shift of paradigm towards the “sharing” of risks and opportunities, which is really what keeps countries from commitments that transcend their borders. How should countries understand now that borders do not play a role anymore in preserving our security, and if fact, seem to be an obstacle for addressing our most pressing world challenges? What should be now and how do we establish those imaginary limits that provide us with security to avoid social anxiety coming from external threats? What does external mean now? Is there anything in the natural system not connected to itself that sooner or later will have an impact to some degree on every place on the planet? These are the questions that countries find difficult to address because the priority now seems to relay outside their constrained realm of influence, power, and decision-making. We have all become outsiders. Environmental, and particularly, shared water systems, have restrained our capacity to set limits, preferences, and even priorities. We have lost power. We have lost control. And this is the biggest unsaid threat facing the current power and international relations paradigm: power balance is shifting, shrinking towards …what? Individuals? Communities? Transborder regions? Planet? Not sure. What priorities should we focus on now? How do we define “domestic threats” when we all know they are not domestic anymore? Moreover, how do we execute our decision-making power effectively if the risk transcends our borders?

Europe has shown some success in adapting to sort of porous borderlines with more “shared” commitment to the “union”. However, it took them at least 1,500 years and two world wars to understand the need for an “outside” perspective rather than a limited countrywide perspective driven by borderlines. This has not been the case nor the history of the Americas, Asia, Africa. The environment is not only testing the resilience capacity of our natural systems and human systems, but our own conception of power security among countries, and most of all, among ourselves. The test is evaluating our true commitment to an overall well-being without guarantees that the overall well-being will be good enough to justify investments in lieu of other domestic priorities. The paradigm will shift, the question is how long it will take for the international community to adapt to a world where its greatest threat cannot be constrained by our traditional delineated comfort zones.

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