Inextricably Linked
lIlustrations by Israel Vargas
Inextricably Linked

The challenges of the 21st century are marked by their interconnectivity. Migration, national security, climate change—today’s global issues are almost impossible to tease apart. What impact does their enmeshed nature have on potential policy solutions? Three Batten professors attempt to answer that question.

Climate Change

The scope and scale of climate change is extraordinary. The benefits and costs of climate change interventions are truly global, and they have the potential to affect everyone living today. In order to understand the benefits of action on climate change, we need to understand the consequences of doing nothing. As such, it’s imperative that we think about interconnectivity. If climate change will lead to violence, instability, displacement, and so on, the damages from climate change will be greater than we might initially suspect. 

Within countries, effective and cost-effective policy will almost surely require the coordination that comes with federal oversight. As a practical matter, local and state governments acting unilaterally will have limited impacts on climate change. Nevertheless, state and local governments can serve as laboratories for exploring policy successes and failures. State and local governments can develop best practices for bringing together the private sector, NGOs, and public agencies. State and local governments can also develop relationships that can work across borders, boundaries, and ideologies. In short, state and local governments can be innovators and leaders. But I don’t expect them to have the final word on effective and efficient climate change policy.

Along those same lines, since the scale of climate change is global, appropriate solutions will need to be global in the long run. Effective public policy will eventually require cooperation between the global North and the global South.

Professor Jay Shimshack is the Batten School’s Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. He teaches courses on economics and benefit–cost analysis. He has advised the EPA, FDA, USDA, DOL, and other federal agencies and has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives. His areas of interest include environmental regulation, environmental economics, corporate social behavior, and applied microeconomics for public policy.


In a political environment seemingly ruled by sound bites and 90-character policy positions, it is difficult, if not impossible, to articulate and explain a comprehensive and sustained approach to a multifaceted problem. Consider the case of Venezuela: The crisis in that country is part political, part economic, and part environmental. 

Any one policy choice will necessarily involve a tradeoff once it is linked to another policy. If we intervene in Venezuela in order to change the regime, for example, that will drive people out of the country and into Peru and Colombia, to name but a few destinations. This will then have effects on the demand for aid and other assistance to those countries. Climate change is also related: As the climate changes, food production becomes more volatile, and one of the key reasons that people leave their homelands is to provide for their families. Some of this migration becomes politically disruptive, which can drive violence and conflict.

When we do policy analysis to move toward addressing these issues—whether in the classroom, in service of a research question, or for a client—we begin with the premise that all predictions are wrong but that some are more correct are others; in other words, that predictions contain some errors. If I want to predict the effect of military intervention on migration, I build a theoretical and empirical model to capture those dynamics and then generate a prediction. The quality of that prediction is conditional on the quality of the model and the quality of the data that go into the model. Critical to our ability to understand the policy implications of the prediction is our ability to generate statements about what the world would look like both with and without the military intervention. That is the key to developing early warning systems and predictive models: being able to answer the question, “What if the event in question doesn’t occur?”

Professor David Leblang holds dual appointments in the Batten School and the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics. He is a senior fellow at the Miller Center and is also the director of Batten’s Global Policy Center. Leblang’s scholarship focuses on migration, specifically on how and why people leave their homes.

National Security

Any significant social challenge has the potential to translate into a national security challenge, and we need to plan for that contingency. Climate change, in particular, is putting additional pressure on many countries. Highly developed countries are generally more resilient, but more fragile societies (or elements within them) can be tipped over the edge by heat, drought, desertification, sea-level rise, or any other change to conditions that upsets existing ways of life. A changing climate also means that some areas of the globe are going to become less desirable and others more so, which will inevitably lead to conflict. 

We need to view these challenges as interconnected because they shape our policy response. To take one example, current alignments in American politics are such that those who are most concerned with migration are least concerned about climate change, and vice versa. Understanding that these two policy challenges are deeply intertwined opens the way for reimagined policies that can break through impasses. 

From a national security standpoint, I think it comes down to our capacity to develop strategy. Failure to recognize the connections among our various security challenges means that we miss the full picture that we need in order to plan for current and future threats. Predicting sudden breakdowns is notoriously hard, but we’re a lot better at planning for such contingencies when we have a full sense of the range of interconnected issues and actors. 

Professor Philip B. K. Potter holds dual appointments in the Batten School and the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics. He is the founding director of Batten’s National Security Policy Center, and his research focuses on foreign policy, international security, and militant violence.