Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tennessee, USA: Activists Detained For Taking Ash Spill Photographs

Two environmental activists were detained by the Tennessee Valley Authority police for photographing the site of last weeks ash spill. While it does not appear that they will be charged with crimes, they were unable to document the ash spill’s effects on the area and its water supply.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Martial law of the jungle - When defending the environment means calling in the military

some green thinkers are now coming to a surprising conclusion: In exceptional circumstances, they say, the only effective way to protect the environment may be at the barrel of a gun. [...] in certain cases of severe ecological harm, the international community may be justified in mustering troops to intervene, with or without the permission of the host country. [...] "If you consider how people fight over oil and other resources, I don't see any more noble cause than to fight over the preservation of the planet," says Alex Cornelissen, director of Sea Shepherd's Operation Galapagos.


In South Africa, a college for rangers, established about 20 years ago, offers military-style training to park rangers from around the continent. In recent years the urgency has grown. Many contemporary poachers form heavily armed, well-organized gangs, often from neighboring countries. [...] According to estimates, about 1,000 rangers worldwide have been killed in the line of duty in the past 10 years, 130 of them in just one national park, Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. [...] After taking office last May, Brazil's new environment minister, Carlos Minc, sent the military to seize cattle on illegally deforested land, and he has suggested that army regiments patrol the Amazon's nature reserves.


possible scenarios in which armed intervention might be called for on ecological grounds [...includes...] an imminent environmental disaster [...] in which spillover effects to neighboring countries were foreseen [...] would be consistent with existing international law, because the goals would include protecting citizens from the repercussions.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fiddling with words - Climate-change diplomacy

IMAGINE that some huge rocky projectile, big enough to destroy most forms of life, was hurtling towards the earth, and it seemed that deep international co-operation offered the only hope of deflecting the lethal object. Presumably, the nations of the world would set aside all jealousies and ideological hangups, knowing that failure to act together meant doom for all.

At least in theory, most of the world’s governments now accept that climate change, if left unchecked, could become the equivalent of a deadly asteroid. But to judge by the latest, tortuous moves in climate-change diplomacy—at a two-week gathering in western Poland, which ended on December 13th—there is little sign of any mind-concentrating effect.

All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means.
- Chou En-Lai

Monday, December 22, 2008

How Eta went to war over the environment

Eta has declared war on a high-speed rail link to be built through the heart of some of the most beautiful countryside in Europe. Two weeks ago the new cause claimed its first victim - Ignacio Uría, 71, a businessman shot dead by two Eta gunmen as punishment for his involvement in the railway project. Eta has gone green, in characteristically deadly fashion.

I suspect "fraud ecowar". The rebels could be taking nature's case hostage to continue their fight for independence. Wouldn't a high speed railway be a good thing for the environment!?

"Eta is not interested in ecology. The social movement around Eta is strongly left-wing, anti-globalisation and so on, but Eta itself does not have any ideology that is not strictly pro-Basque independence" - Anna Garbati, a veteran Bilbao reporter

However, there are two previous examples of such activism: the campaigns against a local nuclear power plant in the 1980s, in which five died, and a motorway in the 1990s, in which four were killed. Both are seen as historic victories for the movement.

Somalia's agricultural region faces dire future

Somalia's humanitarian situation has been deteriorating in recent months, amid an increase in attacks on the country's transitional government by opposition fighters.

People living in the country are losing hope as politicians in the government, which was once seen as the best possible chance for Somalia, argue among themselves.

In Somalia's agricultural region the situation could not be more dire, as Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow reports.

The fight against dirty energy

December 2008: Activists pledge 'all-out war' to block power plant
Environmentalists are vowing to block a proposed $6 billion coal-fired power plant in Surry County, saying it would increase air pollution, would contribute to global warming and is not needed.

Late September 2008: Gore urges civil disobedience to stop coal plants
Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmental crusader Al Gore urged young people on Wednesday to engage in civil disobedience to stop the construction of coal plants without the ability to store carbon.

Early September 2008: Climate Change a Viable Defense in British Court
A group of Greenpeace activists dubbed the “Kingsnorth Six” were found not guilty of criminal damage by a British jury earlier this month, despite fessing up to defacing a coal-fired power plant in an attempt to shut it down. Their creative legal team argued that the damage was justified under a law that excuses property damage inflicted to prevent greater property damage, which the defense said would occur as a result of climate change.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

In Niger, a war for what's beneath the desert

A battle is unfolding on the stark mountains and scalloped dunes of northern Niger between a band of Tuareg nomads, who claim the riches beneath their homeland are being taken by a government that gives them little in return, and an army that calls the fighters drug traffickers and bandits. screenwriter badly needed... this plot won't make another news block buster!

Niger's northern desert caps one of the world's largest deposits of uranium, and demand for it has surged as global warming has increased interest in nuclear power. Growing economies like China and India are scouring the globe for the crumbly ore known as yellowcake. A French mining company is building the world's largest uranium mine in northern Niger, and a Chinese state company is building another mine nearby.

Uranium could infuse Niger with enough cash to catapult it out of the kind of poverty that causes one in five children here to die before their fifth birthday.

Or it could end in a calamitous war that leaves Niger more destitute than ever. Mineral wealth has fueled conflict across Africa for decades, a series of bloody, smash-and-grab rebellions that shattered nations. The misery wrought has left many Africans to conclude that mineral wealth is a curse.


The hardships of global warming and desertification, which eats away grazing land, further impoverished the Tuareg, forcing many to abandon herding. Yet as its fertility degraded, their land became increasingly sought after as the global price of uranium rose steadily. This paradox would prove explosive.

"Conflict over resources could reemerge"


"Aging populations in the developed world; growing energy, food, and water constraints; and worries about climate change will limit and diminish what will still be an historically unprecedented age of prosperity.


In terms of size, speed, and directional flow, the transfer of global wealth and economic power now under way — roughly from West to East — is without precedent in modern history. [...] First, increases in oil and commodity prices have generated windfall profits for the Gulf states and Russia. [...] If current trends persist, by 2025 China will have the world’s second largest economy and will be a leading military power. It also could be the largest importer of natural resources and the biggest polluter.


Resource issues will gain prominence on the international agenda. Unprecedented global economic growth—positive in so many other regards—will continue to put pressure on a number of highly strategic resources, including energy, food, and water, and demand is projected to outstrip easily available supplies over the next decade or so. [...] Lack of access to stable supplies of water is reaching critical proportions, particularly for agricultural purposes, and the problem will worsen because of rapid urbanization worldwide and the roughly 1.2 billion persons to be added over the next 20 years. [...] Climate change is expected to exacerbate resource scarcities. Although the impact of climate change will vary by region, a number of regions will begin to suffer harmful effects, particularly water scarcity and loss of agricultural production. [...] Agricultural losses are expected to mount with substantial impacts forecast by most economists by late this century.


Types of conflict we have not seen for awhile — such as over resources — could reemerge. Perceptions of energy scarcity will drive countries to take actions to assure their future access to energy supplies. In the worst case, this could result in interstate conflicts if government leaders deem assured access to energy resources, for example, to be essential for maintaining domestic stability and the survival of their regimes. However, even actions short of war will have important geopolitical consequences. Maritime security concerns are providing a rationale for naval buildups and modernization efforts, such as China’s and India’s development of blue-water naval capabilities. The buildup of regional naval capabilities could lead to increased tensions, rivalries, and counterbalancing moves but it also will create opportunities for multinational cooperation in protecting critical sea lanes. With water becoming more scarce in Asia and the Middle East, cooperation to manage changing water resources is likely to become more difficult within and between states.

And that's just from the summary. Chapters 4: Scarcity in the Midst of Plenty? and 5: Growing Potential for Conflict no doubt has plenty more for Ecowar. The report appears rather US centric and conservative though.

Also see...
BBC / US Global Trends report: Key points
Global Trends 2025, a new report written by the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) ahead of President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration, envisages a future world marked by diminished US power, dwindling resources, and more people.

The NIC, an independent government body, emphasises that its report is not about "crystal-ball gazing" but offers a range of potential futures, including the following key trends.

Blog "Tragedy of the Commons" / Global Trends 2025
Reports like these really cause me concern. This is not some crazy doomer on a wacko peak oil message board. This is a consensus of top American Intelligence Community officials.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Highlights: CNN's Planet in Peril - Battle Lines

CNN has been so kind to produce the Ecowar TV-series: I have been watching a bit of their Planet in Peril - Battle Lines series lately.

World's most valuable resource, a curse for most Nigerians
Hundreds of billions of dollars has been made from the Niger Delta's oil reserves and many people have gotten very rich. Conversely, the average Nigerian has suffered as a result of the country's oil prosperity. [...] there have been more than 6,000 oil spills in the Niger Delta -- that is equal to more than 10 times the amount spilled from the Exxon Valdez in 1989. Yet, there is no international outcry and rarely are the spills reported

Surveying elephants with jubilation and horror
over the last four decades, the number of Central African elephants has dwindled from nearly two hundred thousand to several thousand: the pace of the loss has been hugely shocking and disturbing. The global demand for ivory combined with war in neighboring Sudan has nearly killed off the Central African elephant.

Polar bears resort to cannibalism as Arctic ice shrinks
"The Arctic sea ice melt is a disaster for the polar bears," according to Kassie Siegel, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. "They are dependent on the Arctic sea ice for all of their essential behaviors, and as the ice melts and global warming transforms the Arctic, polar bears are starving, drowning, even resorting to cannibalism because they don't have access to their usual food sources."

Legal battle over forest is victory for Paraguayan Indians
A small tribe of Indians in Paraguay who have had virtually no contact with the outside world won a legal battle this week when rights groups stopped a Brazilian company from continuing to bulldoze the forest to clear land for cattle ranches.

Global warming could increase terrorism, official says
Climate change "will aggravate existing problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions," Thomas Fingar said. "All of this threatens the domestic stability of a number of African, Asian, Central American and Central Asian countries."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

100 nations ban cluster bombs

Amnesty International / Landmark cluster bomb treaty signed in Oslo
Ninety two states signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions - which bans the production, stockpiling, use and export of cluster bombs during a ceremony in Oslo on Wednesday.

100 nations ban cluster bombs
The first steps have been taken to banning cluster bombs, a weapon which kills and maims sometimes years later. Representatives of 100 countries gathered in Norway to sign a treaty calling for cluster bombs to be outlawed all over the world.

Afghanistan Says It Will Sign Cluster Bomb Treaty
In a surprising last-minute change of policy, the government of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan agreed Wednesday to join about 100 nations signing a treaty banning the use of cluster munitions, Afghan officials said.

The decision appeared to reflect Mr. Karzai’s growing independence from the Bush administration, which has opposed the treaty and, according to a senior Afghan official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, had urged Mr. Karzai not to sign it.

Cluster bombs... essentially a cheap and deadly pollution of enemy territory.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lawyers call for international court for the environment

A former chairman of the Bar Council is calling for an international court for the environment to punish states that fail to protect wildlife and prevent climate change. [...] "The time is now ripe to set this up and get it going [...] Its remit will be overall climate change and the need for better regulation of carbon emissions but at the same time the implementation and enforcement of international environmental agreements and instruments."

To begin with we could enforce the Geneva Conventions.

Another Darfur Casualty: Trees

On top of the human toll, the conflict in Darfur is afflicting the environment [...] on Mount Marra, the highest peak in the area, there were about 100 trees for each acre of land in the 1990s, on average; by 2001 that was down to 50, and it is now about 20.

Desertification helped spark the war in Darfur in the first place. To boil it down in its simplest terms, the mostly nomadic Arab tribes began clashing with the settled African clans over shrinking grazing lands and scarce water in Darfur

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pirates and oil

November 17 Somali pirates captured Saudi oil tanker Sirius Star carrying over 2 million barrels of oil destined for the USA. This is probably a record bounty as well as the farthest from their home shores the Somali pirates have boarded a ship.

At first I didn't even think of posting it here. Although it is so obviously ecowar relevant. Fortunately, I just discovered a very interesting blog - Oil and Glory by Steve LeVine - that I will surely be visiting in the future and his latest post - Pirates and Oil.

But this story is a lot deeper than just criminals extorting oil and shipping companies. The shores of Somali used to be rich with fish that provided the livelihood for many fishermen and food for the country's citizen. Torn apart by civil war the Somali government is unable to protect it's waters which is being looted by foreign trawlers. From Europe too.

Consequently, fishermen have turned pirates. Read more at Protecting Somalia's Fishing Grounds and Somali Fishermen Support Somali Pirates.

Muslim militias have vowed to fight these pirates to have the 'Muslim oil' released (Militants, pirates may fight over Saudi oil tanker). More likely, they are in it for the US$25 million ransom - these militiamen have been less worried in the past.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Congo fighting is about water, timber and diamonds

"The natural environment enjoys protection under Protocol 1 of the Geneva Conventions. But this protection is often violated during war and armed conflict. Water wells are polluted, crops torched, forests cut down, soils poisoned, and animals killed, all in order to gain military advantage.


We have seen how environmental damage and the collapse of institutions are threatening human health, livelihoods and security. These risks can also jeopardize fragile peace and development in post-conflict societies. The environment and natural resources are crucial in consolidating peace within and between war-torn societies.

The United Nations attaches great importance to ensuring that action on the environment is part of our approach to peace. Protecting the environment can help countries create employment opportunities, promote development and avoid a relapse into armed conflict. On this International Day, let us renew our commitment to preventing the exploitation of the environment in times of conflict, and to protecting the environment as a pillar of our work for peace."

Quote United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. My emphasis. Said on the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, which is observed each year on November 6 while on his way to negotiate peace in Congo.

Since the outbreak of fighting in August 1998, the conflicts have been rooted in struggles for control of natural resources such as water, timber, diamonds and other minerals as well as various political agendas

Via Environment News Service.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Seminar discusses poverty reduction in areas of conflict

The seminar aimed to address poverty reduction for communities affected by a legacy of war debris such as bombs, mines and other explosive remnants of war.
33 years after the war that dropped - afaik - more bombs on their country than were used in the entire 2nd world war - the Vietnamese appears to have some expertise in dealing with living amidst craters.

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Drought land 'will be abandoned'
"In many ways [water] is the most dramatic expression of mismanagement of natural or nature-based assets [...] The day a person or a community is bereft of water is the day that your chance of even the most basic life or livelihood is gone and economic activity seeps away. Unchecked climate change will mean that some parts of the world will simply not have enough water to sustain settlements both small and large, because agriculture becomes untenable and industries relying on water can no longer compete or function effectively. This will trigger structural changes in economies right through to the displacement of people as environmental refugees. [...] In rich countries, there's always the potential of channelling water from one river basin to another. But even there people are hitting the limits of what we can do with money and infrastructure because there simply isn't enough water any more."
- Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (my emphasises)

Some of the most dramatic examples of water shortages this year include conflict-stricken Sudan, the dramatic drying of Lake Faguibine in Mali on which 200,000 mostly nomadic people depend, fatal clashes over drying boreholes in northern Kenya, and economic and social crisis on the sparsely populated border between Bolivia and Argentina, according to Unep. Oxfam has estimated that 25 million people have been affected by the most recent drought in Ethiopia.

Is water the new oil?
as the population keeps growing and getting richer, and global warming changes the climate, experts are warning that unless something is done, billions more will suffer lack of water - precipitating hunger, disease, migration and ultimately conflict. [...] Ultimately, lack of water is seen as a threat to peace. From genocide in Darfur to rows between states in India and the US [...] Intuitively it is obvious people will fight over their most precious resource, but so far few conflicts have broken out. [...] water is often an underlying cause of tension, but has only identified one water 'war', between Egypt and Sudan


California water shortages could lead to rationing, officials say
Water agencies could get as little as 15% of their allocations next year unless rain and snowfall return to normal levels in the coming months. [...] The overall water storage is roughly 70% of the average for this time of year. [...] a voluntary conservation program [by one water supplier] has reduced water use by 8% to 10%.

Tiny village threatened with loss of its water
Brunswick, pop. 6,000, city leaders were close to issuing an ultimatum: If Rosemont, or the county or somebody somewhere didn't take over the dilapidated pipes that carry water to 80 homes in Rosemont, the city would turn off the village's water May 25. Just like that: Off. [...] This is hardly the first time water has divided two communities. In Western Maryland, past disputes have turned on a scarcity of supply during times of drought. In this case the supply is not the issue; distribution is.


Clashes over water kill 4 in drought-hit Kenya
Fighting over boreholes in arid northern Kenya has killed at least four people as competition for resources mounts in the drought-hit region, the Kenyan Red Cross said on Friday.

Drought threatens child health and survival in northern Kenya
Turkana district in northern Kenya is on the brink of disaster. There's been no rain for months, the forecast is grim and thousands of children are at risk.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Iraq scarred by war waste

"War destroys countries' environments, not just their people. War and its effects have led to changes in the social, economic and environmental fabric [...] It will take centuries to restore the natural environment of Iraq. [...] Most of the infectious diseases and cancer are environmental diseases. When we talk about the environment we mean health."

- Iraqi Environment Minister Nermeen Othman

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Atlas of hidden water may avert future conflict

Now, for the first time, a high-resolution map shows where underground aquifers store vast amounts of water.

[...The map project] has identified 273 trans-boundary aquifers: 68 in the Americas, 38 in Africa, 155 in Eastern and Western Europe and 12 in Asia.

Each trans-boundary aquifer holds the potential for international conflict – if two countries share an aquifer, pumping in one country will affect its neighbour's water supply.


In many parts of the world, around the Mediterranean for example, but also in the US and the Middle East, water tables are falling and aquifers are being infiltrated by seawater as agricultural practices pump water out faster than it can be replenished by rain.

When aquifers fall between countries, sustainable management requires international agreement. Yet, historically, many agreements have been weighted towards the richest or more powerful country.

Deeplink to map Groundwater resources of the world (4½ MB PDF).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pollution, poverty, war, lights, camera... action!

As I prepared myself to write this post, I realized zero of my entries were tagged 'poverty'. But it's clear how this blog has always circled the subject.

Poverty is obviously causing various types of violence, conflict, crime, migration and malnutrition. Playing a pivotal role in a web of factors weaving a vicious downward spiral poverty in turn is also caused by many of these problems. As well as - obviously - by the reduced ecosystem services and agricultural outputs caused by gradual environmental degradation through desertification, drought, reductions in wildlife stocks et cetera, pollution and also more immediate disasters.

A simplified graphical representation of the "ecowar issues" circling poverty. These issues are connected directly too, not at all just through poverty. Many would argue I left out some orange arrows (go ahead and add your comment). But I have chosen to just include the most obvious connections. Images are Creative Commons by mitch2742, kevindooley, Taras Kalapun, IRRI Images, Goosemountains and Erik Starck.

Putting poverty at the centre of the issues of this blog for a day makes a lot of sense. So far, I have focused on the relatively rare occations when the correlation from nature to war has been particularly strong and causally obvious. But most of the time, the connection goes through several other issues before manifesting.

In this light the Permaculture slogan makes even more sense...

Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share

To steward Earth sustainably it is essential to also assure certain levels of equitability. Call it socialism or what ever, it's necessary. Only a tiny minority of hard-line neo-liberals believes inequality and poverty is necessary. The vast majority of Earths population thinks it's unfair. And it is also in conflict with ecological sustainability. One pressing danger is for our politicians to buy into the lie that curbing climate change and solving similar environmental issuse is now to be put on hold due to "the financial crisis" (see yesterdays post).

The whole climate change situation is a chapter on causes and effects on it's own. I'll leave it for now, but in a system as complex as Earths biosphere any large scale change is bound to cause a crisis somewhere. It is, of course, particularly linked to the above mentioned problems with deforestation and drought as well as industrialized cultures addiction to oil and the resulting disruption of the carbon cycle.

However, in stead of continuing some litany in agony, let us finish by listing some policies to halt this vicious circle around poverty:
  • Reforestation, conservation, organic agriculture
    Let nature provide us with its services, curb the greenhouse effect and provide sources of income in "the third world".
  • Promote pacifism, eradicate motivations for crime, negotiate conflicts
    Any act of aggression aggravates this vicious circle. Promote peace on all levels. Wars pollute insanely, violence sows seeds of hatred.
  • Educate everyone
    To help people live off their land, avoid diseases, prosper and innovate.
  • Face migration realistically
    Stop listening to the fear mongering politicians. Inspire positive aspects of immigration.
And actually, as I tried searching for Ecowar and poverty related news the other day I quickly found stories about a recently agreed deal to try and plant forests to fight both poverty and climate change at the same time. (My first post tagged poverty.) Great. I hope to see a lot more stories like that one in the future!

To paraphrase The Freak Brothers: "Ecosystem services will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no ecosystem services".

This post is part of the Blog Action Day 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The financial crisis: nothing special

Even the relatively progressive newspaper I subscribe to (Danish Information) has been front page worried about the financial crisis bringing an end to environmental initiatives. Although it's probably going to be true in many cases I have thought of it as fossilized thinking that going green should equal spending green. The key is to try and think of what we have to accomplish in terms of what investments will take us there.

Today ENN has two articles that agree:

US focus on climate could ease financial crisis
"My very strong belief is that we need to reorient our investments toward this transition to a clean energy economy, and it will be the engine of growth for getting us out of the doldrums that we've gotten in right now" - Cathy Zoi
Cost of deforestation is vastly greater than that of the current financial crisis
"Whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today's rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year" - Deutche Bank economist
Also remember that the financial crisis has left few physical marks. All that has suffered are the capitalist fantasies of some investors (and of course some everyday dreams of common people too who have been more or less forced into the financial fantasies by the resulting market changes - my apologies to you for being cynical on behalf of the environment).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"The Role of Forests in Climate Change"

Forest conservation can fight climate change and poverty
"For the first time on this unprecedented scale, forest leaders, business representatives, donors, and community groups not only agreed on the pivotal role that forests can play in mitigating climate change but also mapped out a consensus action plan on concrete next steps. We now ask the world to work with us in putting these guiding principles into action"


Of all the options for responding to climate change, forest-related mitigation measures are, in the short to medium term, among the most practicable and cost-effective. They also have very low opportunity costs and can make an immediate and direct contribution to sustainable development and rural livelihoods.


By providing adaptability and supporting livelihoods, sustainable forest management offers an efficient win-win solution. It can ensure healthy and productive forests, underpin robust rural livelihoods, and deliver a wide range of products and ecosystem services that societies demand. It can also be an economically, environmentally, and socially effective way of addressing climate change globally.

Forest CO2 storage plans should aid poor
Forest protection can help fight climate change but any UN-led projects must also ease poverty and safeguard rights of indigenous peoples


"Forests have a unique ability to simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions, capture carbon and lessen the vulnerability of people and ecosystems to climate change"


By some estimates, destruction of the natural world represents losses of a staggering $2-$5 trillion a year.

"A few billion dollars is a very good buy. The costs are marginal compared to the benefits"

Mining conflict: Farmers claim company seized their lands

on August 9, 2008, around 200 residents from barangays Cagusuan and Pagbabangnan raided the barracks of Cambayas Mining Corp. in Homonhon, eastern Samar.


The attack was staged mostly by farmers who claimed that the mining company seized the lands awarded to them by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through a certificate of stewardship agreement in 1992.

Forty Years After The Tlatelolco Massacre, The Mexican Army Attacks Civilians In The Indigenous Town of Xoxocotla

On Wednesday, October 8th, Morelos Governor Marco Adame called out more than 1,500 police personnel from the State Police and from the Paramilitary Federal Police force to the indigenous town of Xoxocotla. Law enforcement agencies were instructed to dismantle a series of road blockades along the Alpuyeca-Jojutla highway. Residents of Xoxocotla [...] had set up the blockades to show solidarity with teachers who have been on strike in Morelos for nearly two months.

The teachers of Morelos and the townspeople of Xoxocotla are united in a common struggle to stop the rapid privatization of public resources. Teachers on strike in Morelos are trying to halt a new set of educational reforms they say would open the doors to the participation of private capital in the public education system. Xoxocotla, on the other hand, is desperately trying to save the aquifer which feeds its municipal water system from being sucked dry from private condominium developers who skirt local zoning laws.

(My emphasis.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Climate change could force millions from homes

The Environmental News Network has a Reuters story on future climate changed induced migration and it's associated problems. It's essentially an interview with Janos Bogardi of the UN University (profile).

Experts estimate that by 2050 some 200 million people will be displaced by environmental problems

Already today an estimated 25 to 27 million migrants are believed to have fled their homes predominantly due to environmental issues or disasters.

Environmentally-motivated migration is expected to feature poorer people, more women, children and elderly, from more desperate environmental situations

Today most people on the run are "economic migrants" - mostly young men.

One serious concern is that criminal networks will systematically prey on migrating women - this is already happening in Bangladesh where women whose men have been killed by cyclones are trafficed for slavery, prostitution, smuggling etc.

Also see my recent Three cases of migration and conflict: Hurricane Katrina, Bangladesh and The Dust Bowl for some academical and historical perspectives.

Monday, September 22, 2008

More on mining

I don't exclusively trawl the Internet for free content to act smart about. Occasionally I have to take the train and buy a paper copy of something to entertain me. Exactly the case of New Scientist's August 16 2008 issue which had an interesting cover story on climate change (including a denial forecast!). Page 16 is a "Comment and analysis" article by William Laurance: "The real cost of minerals" taking a look at a current mining boom.

Of course, I have been meaning to quote it a bit here. Now that I finally started punching my keyboard, the first thing I see is someone else did already. Of course. Check out / High mineral prices drive rainforest destruction by Rhett A. Butler and the selection of back posts they link to below the main text. Also, someone put the actual article online - don't know if it's alright copyright wise but it's there (PDF).

The short, short version: Mineral prices are up, incentive to mine follow. 3rd world countries struggle to (or give up) handle the pollution, illegal miners, conflicts with indigenous people etc. etc.

As miners move into remote areas, lawlessness, prostitution and armed clashes often follow

Mining is also something Jared Diamond writes about in his latest master piece Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail Or Succeed, a book everyone not wanting to help destroy our habitable biosphere should consider reading. It's chapter 15: Big businesses and the environment: Different conditions, different outcomes (pages 452-468 in my edition).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Georgia about oil too

Not only about oil, of course. (To the US Republican John McCain it's about "some of the oldest churches in Europe" too - sic!) But check out this Polish article: The true price of war in Georgia

The conflict in Georgia has resulted in a serious undermining of the supply route for energy resources from the Caspian basin. [...] Governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan recently signed agreements with Gazprom on intermediation in sale of natural gas to external markets. On the other side of the Caspian Sea, the very same Gazprom is holding negotiations with Azerbaijan. The threat of a lack of supplies is real enough for Azeri Socar to stop the expansion of a gas storage facility outside of Tbilisi, which had been planned for a year.

With regards to oil, the Kazakh company KazMunajGaz is giving up on its plans to build a new refinery in its oil terminal in Batumi. [...] Bombs also fell mere metres away from the BTC oil pipeline. The Russians missed, but the threat was a clear one.

The article also discusses Georgian and Russian national economics right now.

A glance at the map will illustrate the country's strategic importance...

Vis stort kort

...but obviously the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline [Wikipedia] is what tips the scales in economic favor of military intervention.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Spy Agencies to Warn New President of Warming’s Dangers

Population explosions in poor regions were also labeled a top threat recently by [the CIA]. One way to avoid the economic dangers in places where population is aging and shrinking is to foster immigration. Here, Mr. Fingar sees European countries and Japan as fighting the very influx of people that could help avert turmoil.

I can attest to my country (Denmark) being "on a good day, highly chauvinistic" as the CIA guy puts it.

New York Times' whole Dot Earth thing is a recommended RSS feed for your reader.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Poison Fire: Oil in Nigeria

"Since oil was discovered in the Delta people have known no peace."
- Israel Aloja, Environmental Rights Action

Oil, which could potentially have allowed Nigeria to be one of the wealthiest countries in Africa has instead led it to become one of the poorest.

A series of repressive and corrupt governments in Nigeria have been supported and maintained by western governments and oil corporations, keen on benefitting from the fossil fuels that can be exploited.


According to Human Rights Watch, “multinational oil companies are complicit in abuses committed by the Nigerian military and police.”

- background article Nigeria and Oil at

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Three cases of migration and conflict: Hurricane Katrina, Bangladesh and The Dust Bowl

"Environmental change can trigger large out-migration, which can cause violent conflict in areas receiving migrants."

A peer reviewed article on environmental migration would fit right into my little project here, right? As I realized Reuveny's Ecomigration and Violent Conflict: Case Studies and Public Policy Implications was a look at only three incidents and that two of these were from the USA my expectations dropped somewhat. Most of this is supposed to be going on in Africa, right?

Well, when the cases from the world's most affluent nation only confirms what speculation you have on the third world... this is a rather interesting article. The three cases are the 1930'ies US Dust Bowl [Wikipedia], Bangladesh since the 1950'ies especially the Farakka Barrage situation [Wikipedia] and August 2005's Hurricane Katrina [Wikipedia]. It's main conclusion you have already read above. But I'll look into a few details...

The theory

Standard migration theory operates with economic, political and other forces - not environmental. Doing so could have serious implications as governments have signed treaties to accept political refugees, not "environmental". However, already in 1985 a paper on droughts and land degradation in sub-Saharan countries concluded these problems caused "population movements".

I think it's pretty much stating the obvious: If you live from the land and suddenly you can't, you're a lot more likely to simply leave the area. It's a different type of border you seek to cross though: While "traditional migrants" would seek to cross a cultural or political border, environmental migrants just wish to leave the stricken area.

The mechanics of "ecomigration" issues is described in four non-exclusive parts:

  • "the in-migration can burden the destination's economy and resources, promoting native-migrant competition for jobs and other resources"

  • "the arrival of in-migrants may upset the existing ethnic balance"

  • "in-migration can enable ploys to exploit the situation and induce suspicions about such ploys"

  • "the conflict may follow existing fault lines"

In-migration is more likely to cause trouble in poor receiving counties than in rich. And migrating women, children and elderly having family ties in the receiving area are least likely to cause conflict. Trouble risk is also correlated to migration mass and period: the more and the faster the more problematic.

Reuveny finishes his theoretical stuff with a pinch of optimism:
"Migration can benefit the receiving area through several channels, including increasing the labor force and tax-base."

The cases

In the 1930s the US Great Plains were stricken by droughts and storms while the area's agricultural practices were far from geared towards the situation. Massive soil erosion and obvious declines in life quality resulted. The area was now called The Dust Bowl. Close to 2.5 million people out-migrated.

Most went to neighboring states but about 300,000 traveled to California. They were received as "ignorant filthy people", called "Okies", some argued Bible in hand that they were "inferior" and it was even suggested to pay them to be sterilized. They were beaten, their shacks burned and they were accused of "communism". In 1936 Los Angeles police stopped migrants at the state border. Welcome to California.

The Bangladesh case is a bit more typical. A small less developed country with a huge and growing population strains it's natural resources to a breaking point. It's geography happens to make it particularly vulnerable to both accumulated environmental stresses (soil erosion etc.) and periodic natural disasters (namely floods).

Then in 1975 the neighboring country builds a barrage, diverting water away from Bangladesh. Salt water intrudes the sinking fresh water resources and land productivity plummet. 35 million people were directly affected.

Some 12 to 17 million Bangladeshis have migrated illegally to India and about half a million to other areas in Bangladesh. Migrants have since clashed with residents over social, ethnic, religious, national and other proximate issues. Countless people have been killed in clashes.

Reading about Hurricane Katrina is particularly weird as this is fresh from TV memory. But as it turns out the case fits right in.

A combination of human and natural factors combined to aggravate a disaster situation: the Mississippi River had been turned into a maritime highway destroying natural sedimentation, land clearing and draining of swamps eliminated natural coastline protection, compromises led to levee building only protecting from hurricanes level 3. The false sense of security from the levee only led to more risky development.

80% of the population fled the area when weather forecasts told of the impending hurricane. Including 100,000 elderly and poor who were evacuated by the government. Shortly after Hurricane Rita hit too and US government estimates a total of nearly 2 million people were displaced.

As we all remember, New Orleans was smashed. One year after Katrina hit 2,180 people had died as a direct consequence of the storm, more than 200,000 people lost their jobs, about 335,000 homes were destroyed and only about 40% of New Orleans' population had returned.

Across the river from New Orleans the city of Gretna [Google Maps] had police block the entry of displaced people firing warning shots in the process. Rhode Island, South Carolina and West Virginia insisted more than half the evacuees they'd accepted were violent criminals. The city of Houston reported a rise in homicides of 70% in November and December 2005 and 28% in February 2006 compared to normals. March 2006 75% of Houston residents answered a poll they felt "strained" by the 150,000 migrants living there.

Reuveny sees three main similarities: The three societies all depended on their environments for livelihood, human actions or lack thereof exacerbated the disasters and political, economic, sociological and psychological factors overlapped with environmental ones. A number of obvious differences are mentioned too.

Climate change is expected to cause a wide array of disasters and stresses on our ecosystem. Sea level rise is just one of them. Flickr Creative Commons image is "Climate Change Refugees" by ItzaFineDay.

Can climate change cause migration and conflict in the future?

Reuveny says "yes". The evidence of impact scale is worrying already; history is there to suggest it will repeat itself.

If sea levels rise by just 1 meter more than 260 million people will be exposed to flooding. (Yes, that was two hundred and sixty million individual humans) Most of these Asians but at least some 14 million Europeans too. These people will have to move somewhere. Imagine something like 130 Katrinas but with permanent land loss and in countries less able to cope with the situation. Bitterly ironic since climate change is largely caused by rich, developed countries.

A set of initiatives for alleviation or solution is also proposed, but I dare not post it uncensored in the mere blogosphere. But Reuveny feels it's safe to assume...
"[...] the expected cost of climate change-induced ecomigration and conflict will likely rise quickly [...]"

Reuveny, R. (2008). Ecomigration and Violent Conflict: Case Studies and Public Policy Implications. Human Ecology, 36(1), 1-13. DOI: 10.1007/s10745-007-9142-5

Expert: Climate Change causes wars

Jürgen Scheffran, a research scientist in the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security and the Center for Advanced BioEnergy Research at Illinois, is among those raising concerns that climate-change-related damage to global ecosystems and the resulting competition for natural resources may increasingly serve as triggers for wars and other conflicts in the future.

Jürgen Scheffran identifies four climate change trends that will destabilize countries:

  • degradation of freshwater resources,

  • food insecurity,

  • natural disasters and

  • environmental migration.

Darfur is mentioned as an example this is already happening.

"Large areas of Africa are suffering from scarcity of food and fresh water resources, making them more vulnerable to conflict."

Far from the stereotypical doom-sayer as often described by right wingers and science deniers this expert is more of an optimist:

"Although climate change bears a significant conflict potential, it can also transform the international system toward more cooperation if it is seen as a common threat that requires joint action. [...] the seeming conflict between environment and the economy will be best overcome with the recognition that protecting the climate in the best interest of the economy."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Arctic Map shows dispute hotspots

A team from Durham University compiled the outline of potential hotspots by basing the design on historical and ongoing arguments over ownership.

Deeplink to map.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Environmental degradation kills 62 million people each year

Do you think the headline figure sounds a little bit too high? Perhaps you are right because the year 2007 study I just read includes such causes of death as AIDS and second hand smoking. But rather than being just a look at the body count it's actually an assessment of the relationship between population growth and escalating degradation of the environment and how both factors kill people.

This blog usually deals with typical conflict caused or inspired by natural resources. Population growth is essentially only a problem because of the limited space available hence I think it's fair to say the problems it causes are also 'environment problems'. The closer we live the more we expose each other to our diseases and the various toxins we produce, consume and waste. The more people we are the more food we need - the more biosphere we consume and industrialize, the closer we keep our livestock and the more of us go hungry. And the more hazardous the environment we live in, the more likely we are to kill our neighbor and run off with his.

The top three killers

#3: Tuberculosis
Blowing soil can contain many different pathogens - tuberculosis (TB), anthrax et cetera. Industrialized agriculture and deforestation are the main reasons for erosion by wind of contaminated soil. Just an example of how the various issues are intrinsically linked. Right now about 2 billion people (absurd) are infected with TB and 3 million people will die each year.

#2: Diarrhea
Hastily erected housing and slum suffer from bad sanitation. Bad sanitation - or none at all - will cause various health issues. But 2.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation. Proper sanitation could have hindered most of the 4 billion annual diarrhea infections as well as most of the 2.1 million deaths. Totally, lack of sanitation is estimated to kill more than 5 million people each year by various means.

#1: Malnutrition
People who don't eat right or just not enough are more susceptible to many other problems. The soil erosion mentioned, caused by industrialized agriculture, is not only spreading diseases and diminishing our arable land area - crop productivity per area is drastically reduced. Causing more malnutrition. 6 million children die from malnutrition issues each year. 2.5 million die from vitamin A deficiency and 9 million from iron deficiency. A staggering total of about 18 million people dies from malnutrition each year.

Honorable mention is deserved in the case of air pollution problems (3 million), asthma (2.1 million), malaria (1.2-2.7 million) and measles (1.1 million).

But we're getting better, right?

On the Bjørn Lomborg show, perhaps. In the real world, no. From 1970 to 2002 the number of cancer cases climbed from 331,000 to 563,000 in the USA alone; mostly caused by chemical pollutants. From 1940 to 2007 women's risk of breast cancer went from 1/22 to 1/7. From 1971 to 1986 malaria increased by 76% in Brazil; mostly caused by deforestation. From 1950 to 2007 the number of malnourished people went from about 500 million or 20% to 3.7 billion or 60%. Iron intake is going down along with the rest of the measures of food quality. Antibiotics go useless as pathogens evolve resistance do to our overuse. I could go on and on...

New problems in a new environment

SARS evolved because people and livestock crowded in China. Almost the same story with avian flu. Neither has killed that many people yet, but they are new problems with high mortality rates.

Construction of dams has increased the number of snails that host schistosomiasis [Wikipedia] and climate change is creating an environment more suitable for them. Schistosomiasis has now spread to areas where it was never seen before, infecting more than 200 million people, killing as many as 200,000 annually. Global warming also helps spread malaria and many other diseases. Our massive consumption of fossilized fuels seems to be at the root of so many of our problems. (And what do we do? Use more of it waging wars over the remaining sources of it.)

Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter microbes infect our increasingly crowded livestock while new diseases evolve in unsanitary industrialized slaughterhouses.

While I think I insist HIV isn't an environmental issue, infected people help spread numerous other diseases. Wars and urbanization undoubtedly help spread both. Our biosphere is a complex system. Any change in a complex system will produce numerous other changes and will always cause crisis somewhere. I wrote it already: I could go on and on...

Pimentel, D., Cooperstein, S., Randell, H., Filiberto, D., Sorrentino, S., Kaye, B., Nicklin, C., Yagi, J., Brian, J., O'Hern, J., Habas, A., Weinstein, C. (2007). Ecology of Increasing Diseases: Population Growth and Environmental Degradation. Human Ecology, 35(6), 653-668. DOI: 10.1007/s10745-007-9128-3

Monday, May 12, 2008

Natural resources and civil war

My third research blogging post takes a real quick look at What Do We Know about Natural Resources and Civil War? by Michael Ross, year 2004. It is a review of several other studies; work by Paul Collier, Anke Hoeffler and James Fearon seems to have been among the most influential and the work of Le Billon - which I blogged about this March - is reviewed too.

The studies vary widely in scope and methodology: Covering from 27 to 262 civil wars, spanning various intervals from 1945 to 2000 and approaching issues such as missing data in entirely different ways. But a set of common issues and conclusions are identified.


Ross discusses causality issues that any investigation on environment-conflict links should pay attention to. I.e. "reverse causality": Years of unrest could drive off manufacturing businesses in turn leading to a higher dependence on exporting natural resources. Which then in turn could fuel outright conflict. Also, we are reminded how both resource dependence and war can be caused by a third variable. Or several variables. Many states dependent on the export of some local commodity have several other issues: poverty, corruption, harsh government etc. All of which could inspire conflict.

Some of the studies reviewed are criticized for using a very broad variable; "primary commodities". Other studies produce more significant correlations using finer definitions; oil, gems etc.

Common conclusions

One conclusion from a Collier & Hoeffler study seems a bit math-naive (which may be why I tend to pay attention):
[...] data suggest that resource dependence has a non-linear effect: it increases the likelihood of conflict until the resource exports-to-GDP ratio is 32%; beyond this point it diminishes the likelihood of conflict.

  • Oil increases the likelihood of conflict, particularly separatist.

  • Lootable commodities such as gems and drugs tend to lengthen existing conflicts.

  • There is no link between legal agriculture and civil war. (Despite most wars being fought in countries with large agricultural sectors.)

In some cases though, it appears diamonds have shortened wars by facilitating military victories.

Ross, M.L. (2004). What Do We Know about Natural Resources and Civil War?. Journal of Peace Research, 41(3), 337-356. DOI: 10.1177/0022343304043773

(pause) by kevindooley

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Climatology Wars

Australian Professor Barry Brook has had enough of the attacks on climate science:
"Some people will attempt to hijack science for political or ideological reasons and in doing so besmirch science's public image [...] They are good at doing this and they often exert a disproportionate influence on policy. Groups with vested interests in business-as-usual will attempt to push so-called scientific evidence to support their claims. In fact they are at best drawing selectively on a small part of the evidence, or at worst relying on junk science - that is, outdated, discredited or fabricated data and ideas."

Climate change deniers 'smear science'
I myself has been about to snap out of it several times. How is it the complex issue of climate change is something everyone seems to feel a right to claim to be experts in? Skeptics? All scientists are skeptics!

For a lot more about my approach to science (judging from the search words leading people here I judge some readers are interested...) and the absurd attacks from "climate change deniers", creationists and others, please read my piece at Newsvine: Let's get smarter here: Reason not faith, please. I'm considering a follow-up on the difference between truth and significance some time.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

New Scientist: Is this the beginning of water wars?

Barcelona and the surrounding region are suffering the worst drought in decades. There are several possible solutions, including diverting a river, and desalinating water. But the city looks like it will ship water from the French port of Marseilles.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers start in Turkey and supply Syria and Iraq. The Turkish government is building dams on those rivers, reducing the flow downstream and stoking long-standing tensions with its neighbours.

Somewhat sensationalist headline perhaps. But none the less... here we go. This situation is expected to worsen and spread. Trade solutions are still possible but as soon as neighboring countries start both thirsting more radical approaches will be attempted.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Biofuel dilemmas

People are realizing biofuels are no magic wand to our global carbon issues. What is quite obvious to anyone with a bit of training in systems ecology was confirmed this February by a study published in Science. I may or may not do a ResearchBlogging entry on it some time, but for now I do with these popularized versions:

In short, sure biofuels draw energy from carbon produced in this cycle as opposed to a fossilized one, hence doesn't contribute directly to the greenhouse effect. But if used as an excuse to keep consuming and clearing forest it's a disaster - corn fields hold just a fraction of the carbon (and numerous other ecosystem services) a forest does, and if it competes with food production in a starving world, well... it's no rocket science.

March saw a number of warnings from people and organizations perhaps having read the above mentioned Science paper: Nestle in minding their (food not fuel) business (Biofuel boom threatens food supplies: Nestle), Professor Bob Watson a.o. (Top scientists warn against rush to biofuel, Biofuels threaten 'billions of lives'), Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram (Indian minister attacks biofuels), US Army veteran and rancher John Carter (The Clean Energy Scam) and many others. The last article is a quite lengthy TIME piece I can only recommend; it portrays the grotesque contrast between Brazil's long standing and relatively sensible and successful biofuel practice and how the US rapidly messes things up globally by their (not so capitalist) biofuel subsidies. I now know 20% of carbon emissions are due to deforestation and that the benefit of biofuel will only level the deforestation emissions in on average 400 years.

"There are real problems with the unsustainability of biofuels, [...cutting down rainforest to grow the crops is...] profoundly stupid". - John Beddington, UK government chief scientific adviser.

MSN Finance did an article on the market situation (Could we really run out of food?) - advising their readers to invest in agriculture and noting poor rice producing countries have begun imposing limitations to exports. None other than the world bank is in the choir (World Bank Expects More High Food Prices) warning us this is a situation we'll have to deal with in many years ahead and informs they almost doubled their agricultural loans.

"[...] you can now add "peak wheat" to your political and investment lexicon. And it's a lot worse [than peak oil.]" - Jon Markman, MSN Finance.

The number of ways that this situation can lead to conflicts are more than I can count. But don't give up your hybrid yet. Although biofuels are clearly part of the problem, they could be part of the solution as well. I'm thinking the science fiction like news of engineered bacteria and algae producing biofuel or making the existing processes more efficient (Breeding the Oil Bug and many others).

The article that kicked me off putting together this post was The Biggest Green Mistake. It's using hypertext the way hypertext was meant to be used (contrary to most media) meaning it links to tons of sources in the text. It's arguing we need more genetic engineering and radical technical solutions - I'm confident I don't fully agree but they are definitely onto something.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Those Who Control Oil and Water Will Control the World

The scramble for energy is shaping many of the conflicts we can expect in the present century. The danger is not just another oil shock that impacts on industrial production, but a threat of famine. Without a drip feed of petroleum to highly mechanised farms, many of the food shelves in the supermarkets would be empty. Far from the world weaning itself off oil, it is more addicted to the stuff than ever. It is hardly surprising that powerful states are gearing up to seize their share. [...] energy shortage and global warming are reinforcing each another. The result can only be a growing risk of conflict.

One John Gray gives a short, sharp overview of the "ecowar" aka The Great Game as of right now and how it rhymes with our past.

Friday, March 28, 2008

VIDEO: Bee Theft on Rise

As honeybees become scarce in the United States and farmers have to hire beekeepers to import bees to their orchards and farms, theft of the beehives is stinging everyone involved.

(Headline links to 3 min video.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Fertile Crescent ®

On the fifth anniversary of the occupation in Iraq, an old piece of news must be brought to the surface; the war is rapidly destroying traditional farming practices in the area, instating a legal model that calls for a dependency on the seeds of large corporations like Monsanto.

Seeds of False Hope: The Occupation of Iraq’s Farming Economy

That piece reminded me. Amazing how the atrocities of our modern world compete for our attention. Back at the beginning of the war on Iraq I was very concerned about one of it's driving forces really being the eradication of the country's agricultural sector, replacing it with a fully subsidized, franchised, patented and industrialized US model. Specifically, weeding out what was left of The Fertile Crescent's ancient farming and replace it with US Aid funded Monsanto GMO crops for export.

My worst fears of a few years back are now in progress pretty much as planned. Sacks of seeds - US or not - doesn't get bombed, they get eaten or sowed. It's weird how I and a couple of other bloggers put everything we could find about it up at Newsvine tagging it all cpa-81. Yet at this five years "anniversary" I'm practically surprised to see it mentioned somewhere. Depressing really.

Dive in to the links above, you will not be disappointed. That war was not just about securing oil supplies. And the genetics of the agricultural sector is just one battlefield among many. Remember how even Microsoft and, I believe, McDonalds attended the pre-attack loot-planning meeting as shown in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11? Even people who don't like Michael Moore and his movies has to recognize the sponsors of right wing politics were already planning on how to profit. Oil, wheat, whatever. I haven't read Naomi Klein's latest book, The Shock Doctrine, (yet) but from what I understand the "theory of disaster capitalism" explains the CPA-81... crime... perfectly.

Note: CPA-81 doesn't specifically ban the saving of seeds for next season. But it paves the way for the multinational agricultural businesses to come in and seize the whole cycle of crop growing in the wake of disaster. In fact, Iraq's old seed bank was... unfortunately... ruined during invasion. One competitor less. Also note how I was years ahead of Naomi ;-)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ecowar: The political ecology of war

So far this blogging project has been characterized by the Google News Alert I set up way back when I first got the idea and whatever inspiration I got studying for my bachelor's and master's degrees in horticulture, a natural science. But I just did a search using both regular Google (doh!) and Scholar using all fields of science not just the exact ones. There is a lot of texts out there exploring links between conflict and natural resource. A lot. Peer reviewed stuff too.

So, I'm going to seek out the best and put down a couple of notes on it. The first article I feel like mentioning is The political ecology of war: natural resources and armed conflicts by Le Billon - because the author put it on his university server as a file named "ecowar.pdf" (hope I'm not exposing some copyright violation here?). How could I not spend a link on that? On the other hand, it means you don't have to trust me - you can read the original yourself even without a subscription on Poltical Geography.

For me to do a meaningful comment on the paper is limited by the fact that it aims at the very core of my subject. Thus, no borderline discrepancies stick out immediately. So much the more important it doesn't prove me wrong, I guess. Le Billon doesn't waste time like me though: First postulate is that natural resources have motivated, financed and shaped conflicts. Next sentence the main objective is defined: examine theories of relationships between resources and armed conflicts. Within this scope the paper highlights resource dependence, globalisation and peace promotion rather than abundance, scarcity and lootability which must be themes more commonly discussed in political sciences (I don't know).

The introduction mentions a shift from natural resources playing a role in conflicts as a means of financing the conflict to simply inspiring the conflict. A significant increase in importance. Also, an interesting term is mentioned: the resource curse (hello new tag):
most empirical evidence suggests that countries economically dependent on the export of primary commodities are at a higher risk of political instability and armed conflict

Some other authors are criticized for insufficiently taking into account countries with or without resources that have developed peacefully (Norway, Japan etc) and reminds us the parts of nature we call resources are probably resources just because of our cultural ideas. An extremely obvious observation that I haven't really thought of so far - probably why I have managed to completely miss out on conflicts related to diamonds. Also, the influence of the type of resource on the type of conflict is discussed (ie. fights over extracted resources focus on territory control whereas fights over produced resources focus on trade control) - interesting because the influence verifies the link. Table 1, page 573 classifies a number of conflicts in four different categories based on the type of resource as well as it's relative location. A bit interesting how both the Iraq vs Iran and the Iraq vs Kuwait conflicts are put in the coup d'etat (proximate/point) category and are tagged 'oil' - fortunately the article is too old to be politically incorrect by including the USA vs Iraq war. The other three categories of Billon's typology are rebellion/rioting (proximate/diffuse; ie. Israel vs Palestine about freshwater), secession (distant/point; ie. Morocco vs West Sahara about phosphate) and warlordism (distant/diffuse; ie. Afghan quagmire about opium).

Billon claims the literature has had a tendency towards looking at only rebellion/rioting type conflicts as resource conflicts. While probably true it is curious how Zhang found best climate-conflict correlations when looking at rebellions only. Perhaps it's just that governments are better at "wrapping it"? (Another example of this might be the US government and the Iraq war; see Study: False Statements Preceded War.) More likely it's just that the better correlation inspires the more political theories? Scientists of non-exact fields are subject to the underlying mathematical patterns, they just don't really describe these in their texts it seems. While having zero P<0.5 observations, examples are aplenty in Billon's text.

Let me finish with a couple of important reminders from the conclusion:
While it would be an error to reduce armed conflicts to greed-driven resource wars, as political and identity factors remain key, the control of local resources influence the agendas and strategies of belligerents.

Beyond motivating or financing conflicts, the level of dependence, conflictuality, and lootability of a resource can also increase the vulnerability of societies to, and the risk of armed conflict. Yet, there is no environmentally deterministic relation at hand.

Le Billon, P. (2001). The political ecology of war: natural resources and armed conflicts. Political Geography, 20(5), 561-584. DOI: 10.1016/S0962-6298(01)00015-4

Finally, let me just mention really quick (now that Billon didn't) that Norway was invaded by Nazi Germany while Denmark was considered a stepping stone only (Norway has iron and other resources, Denmark has farmers supplying Germany) and that Japan were among the very first civilized nations to enforce environmental protection laws namely to sustain their forestry.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

EU assessing climate change security risks

Thursday and Friday this week the top boys and girls of the European Union meet in Brussels. EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Europe's commissioner for external relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, have prepared a report on climate change and security risks in advance of the meeting. Today the conclusion of the report is being quoted in literally every media across the world. Here are a few samples.

BBC / EU warns of climate change threat.
An EU report says climate change will have a growing impact on global security, multiplying existing threats such as shortages of food and water.

Financial Times / Climate ‘threatens’ European security.
Climate change poses serious security risks for the European Union, ranging from sharper competition for global energy resources to the arrival of numerous “environmental migrants” [...] In the Middle East for example, “existing tensions over access to water are almost certain to intensify ... leading to further political instability with detrimental implications for Europe’s energy security and other interests” [...] “A further dimension of competition for energy resources lies in potential conflict over resources in Polar regions which will become exploitable as a consequence of global warming.” [...] “Already today climate change is having a major impact on the conflict in and around Darfur.”

With Canadian perspective: Political Crisis Looms In Arctic, Report Says.
"The United States should not underestimate Canadian passions on this issue [...] Unless Washington leads the way toward a multilateral diplomatic solution, the Arctic could descend into armed conflict."
- former U.S. Coast Guard commander Scott Borgerson. / EU must boost military capabilities in face of climate change.
The EU and member states should further build up their capabilities with regards to civil protection, and civil and military crisis management and disaster response instruments to react to the security risks posed by climate change [...] "Significant decreases [in crop yields] are expected to hit Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia and thus affect stability in a vitally strategic region for Europe," predicts the report, while "water supply in Israel might fall by 60 percent over this century." [...] "Some of these recommendations may well be sensible, but there's no way of knowing until they're fleshed out. The devil is in the detail. It's important to know what powers the EU will assume in the event," said Tony Bunyan, head of civil liberties group Statewatch.

In Danish: / Klimaet truer verdens sikkerhed.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Climate change and conflict frequency

The cornerstone of this blog here is a peer reviewed correlation of climate and war in historical China: see my first post from July 2007. I just wrote a thorough summary of the article at; here's a shorter version and my own take on it.

Short summary

Zhang's study is a thorough mathematical correlation from climate to war frequency done on a macro-historical level. Warfare has already been theoretically described as an adaptive ecological strategy of humankind in situations of limited resources. Zhang provides some empirical evidence to go with the theory. The hypothesis of the study is that climate changes has catalyzed historical events by it's importance for agricultural productivity, and that temperature is the most important climatic factor due to it's very direct effect on growing season lengths, precipitation reliability, summer warmth etc.

The data used for the analysis are comprised of China's extensive historical records literally body counting 3 millennia back in time and a set of five different weather data measurements merged into one. The war data was pruned to 899 wars between year 1000 and 1911. The weather data synchronized with emphasis on the most reliable methods all of which correlate beautifully in regard to oscillations. Population data are available from year 1741 to 1851 "only".

The cold periods are defined by time frames of significantly low average temperatures. The cyclical pattern and the correlation is not just an abstract figure somewhat closer to 1 than 0. It is quite obvious how cold phases coincide with periods of high war frequency. The war periods generally lag the onset of cold phases by 10 to 30 years which makes sense since it would take some time for the reduced agricultural productivity to manifest as resource limitations and overpopulation.

The study goes into more detail; ie correlations are particularly strong for wars of type "rebellion" and stronger in the (wet, warm) south than in the (arid, cold) north. The north-south difference is explained by historical attitudes towards migration. Population growth is seen to rise (to 1.3%) during the 1741-1805 warm phase and drop (to 0.6%) during the 1806-1850 cold phase.

Zhang argues past research has been simplifying history, reducing causes of warfare to financial, political and ethnic ones while largely ignoring the ecosystem. Zhang emphasizes how current global warming is different from the warm phases of his study. However, his last words are that even if the developed world gets by most people still rely on simple farming techniques that are highly susceptible to ecological stress and that shortages of essential resources may "very likely" trigger future conflicts among groups of people.


So, what does Zhang tell Ecowar? "Keep blogging"! Zhang must have been looking at some inconclusive data wondering pretty much the same thing I'm wondering when looking at the news of the world.

I have posted a bit about Jared Diamond who's straight out explaining some violence with what's basically "ecological stress". While Zhang highlights temperature drops, what we're mostly seeing right now is issues sparked from a temperature rise, ie drought. My Darfur: Drought or Islamism? post has the whole issue in it's little nutshell. Just like the Chinese food shortages inspired "rebellion", rising food prices gets today's consumers "up in arms". The UN has read the writing on the wall and has analyzed the Security risk of climate change. Et cetera, click backwards in time on my blog if you like. There are also more peer reviewed research on the subject out there which I plan to blog some time.

My enthusiasm when beginning this blog was fueled by the publication of Zhangs study. Although all I'd read was a journalist's interpretation. That article has now been pulled from the web. At the same time I have grown as weary of pseudo-science and political rants dressed as science in the blogosphere. So what better opportunity to introduce my flashy new Research Blogging icon!?

Zhang, D.D., Zhang, J., Lee, H.F., He, Y. (2007). Climate Change and War Frequency in Eastern China over the Last Millennium. Human Ecology, 35(4), 403-414. DOI: 10.1007/s10745-007-9115-8

This basically means my post is about a piece of peer reviewed scientific work that I have read and understand myself. As well as a number of other criteria you can check out at Research Blogging. Anyway, I hope I just reinserted my cornerstone.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"We Will Abolish War"

This writer discusses the nature of organized violence and how to have less of it.

As far back as anthropologists have peered into human history and pre-history, they have found evidence of group bloodshed. [But] History offers many other examples of warlike societies that became peaceful very rapidly.

A key section is about Jared Diamond's latest book:

In his book, Collapse, the anthropologist Jared Diamond argues that many wars, both ancient and modern, spring from mismanagement of environmental resources. He notes, for example, that ethnic conflicts are only the proximate causes of the conflicts that have ravaged Rwanda, Somalia, and other African nations in the last decade. The ultimate cause is that overpopulation has led to deforestation, overgrazing and soil depletion and, hence, a Hobbesian struggle over dwindling resources.

Obviously there are some examples of wars not directly sparked by a fight over a natural resource. But Jared Diamond's book Collapse [Google Books] is about much more than that and I really don't know how to recommend it thoroughly enough. Watch this 74 minute lecture on it. If you in any way find the contents of this blog interesting, you will worship Jared Diamond's books. This isn't the first nor the last time I have linked to an article mentioning Diamond - try clicking the tag below. After reading John Horgan optimistic anti-war piece.

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