Much of the existing environmental security literature examines the causal linkages between environmental scarcity and violent conflict. Such research is clearly useful for exploring the causes of violence but less useful for exploring the causes of peace. This article adopts a theoretical approach to the environment-conflict nexus that considers a range of local variables that shape the ways in which actors socially construct resource use competition. The basic approach is to accept that any resource use competition can be constructed in ways that engender either cooperative solutions or unproductive forms of conflict, including violence. The local variables that shape actors’ constructions of conflicts are, therefore, viewed as the determinants of the kind of outcomes that result from a resource use conflict. This theoretical approach is developed with reference to environmental conflicts in areas hosting refugees. The variable of resource management regimes is explored in more detail, illustrated by a case study from an Ethiopian refugee camp. The article finds theoretical and empirical evidence to support the view that participatory and inclusive resource management regimes may enable communities to construct resource use conflicts in ways that help to prevent unproductive conflict. Such forms of governance can potentially be initiated in places where the state is failing to mitigate conflict through its own institutional resources. Thus, there may be an opportunity to respond to the ‘ingenuity gap’ that Homer-Dixon identifies as a key linkage between scarcity and conflict.