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.

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