Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Polly Higgins: Ban 'ecocide' - crimes against nature and peace

Catching up on emails marked 'to do' today I realized I really needed to take a look at the work of one Polly Higgins, barrister, author and activist. Just peek at her website: THIS IS ECOCIDE. Looks like I have another book to read but for now here's (some of?) her YouTube videos:

Polly Higgins wrote a guest article at TreeHugger: COP16: Cancun - Corporate and Complicit and The Ecologist helped her kick-start her campaign earlier 2010: Ecocide: making environmental destruction a criminal offence.

Ecocide she defines as "the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished" - which initially looks like just a call for tighter pollution control and doesn't connect to conflict. But throughout the videos above that link is mentioned several times.

Examples of ecocide are cases such as the destruction from tar sands oil extraction, Amazonian logging, oceanic plastic pollution, damage from oil extraction in the Niger Delta, the Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah which Higgins claims "account for the death of more people than all forms of violence including war". A fifth chapter could be added to the Crimes Against Peace currently handled by The International Criminal Court (ICC) right after Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Crimes of Aggression: Ecocide.

To follow: Ecocide is a crime' on Facebook | Polly Higgins on Twitter.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Read "Crude World" by Peter Maass

News about the oil business, campaigns against it's foul play, news about pollution incidents, academic studies dealing with the many implications of the importance of oil and similar reports are not infrequent. Quite a few entries at this present blog deals with oil. But how about a first hand account of visits to the oil business hotspots of the world? From an acknowledged journalist with a critical approach and an open mind. About 220 pages telling the stories of the people living from or in the shadow of oil extraction... that's Crude World.

Chances are you'll gobble it up like a SUV does gasoline but there's plenty in its ten creatively titled chapters to digest more thoroughly. Scarcity, introducing with the stories of a poster-boy whistleblower from inside the number one consuming nation, USA; Plunder, about the disturbingly overlooked textbook case of Equatorial Guinea; Rot, taking us down the polluted rivers of the Niger Delta; Contamination, continues with stories from the misery of the Ecuadorean jungle; Fear, dives into the psychology of the oil business and the ignorance and innocence of its workers; Greed, is composed of a handful of stories about the callousness of the oil business even when operating inside the West; Desire, is a bit of the impossible to ignore story of the Gulf Wars; Alienation, has the perhaps most scary story of the ghost country called Saudi Arabia; Empire, is a peek below the surface of the apparently feel-good story of Russia; and Mirage ends off the book with a similarly critical look at the naive story of the Boliviarians in Venezuela.

Around the world indeed. Plenty of facts but served in dishes of true stories. Warmly recommended.

Can't help quoting a few good quotes about the US relation to the Middle East:

“Let our position be absolutely clear. An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
- US President Jimmy Carter, 1980

“Access to Persian Gulf oil and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to US national security. The United States remains committed to defending its vital interests in the region, if necessary through the use of military force, against any power with interests inimical to our own.”
- US President George Bush in “National Security Directive 54”

“Armed with an arsenal of these weapons of terror, and seated atop ten percent of the world's oil reserves, Saddam Hussein could then be expected to seek domination of the entire Middle East, take control of a great portion of the world's energy supplies, directly threaten America's friends throughout the region, and subject the United States or any other nation to nuclear blackmail.”
- Dick Cheney, August 2002

Democracy Now! interviewed Peter Maass during the BP oil "spill" in the Mexican Gulf:

Also, he's talking for hours on YouTube! About the book in general...

...about Russia...

...about Nigeria...

...about Iraq...

...and about related subjects in many more recordings.

Regarding the Iraq War... was it about oil then? To Maass it turns out it's not whether the war was about oil - it's how it was about oil.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mexicans march in support of drug cartel

Perhaps you thought the year 2029 scenario mentioned in my summary of Gwynne Dyer's Climate Wars was a bit far fetched? Granted, Mexican states being ruled by warlords is a bit imaginative. So is reality.

Read Narco Blog / Mexicans March in Support of “ La Familia” Drug Cartel:
In an unprecedented event, on Sunday citizens of the Apatzingan community expressed support for La Familia drug cartel by organizing a march.  In recent days life has become so dangerous in Apatzingan that people have had to remain locked in their homes and losing their freedom to come and go. The recent Government coordinated attack was on the La Familia Michoacana Drug Cartel.  One of the clashes resulted in the death of Nazario Moreno, considered the leader of La Familia Michoacana.

Nazario’s death has provoked reactions from members of the drug cartel that have led to retaliation on some of the Michoacan local authorities.  The community of Apatzingan organized a march to protest the violence and over 500 people participated. The message was clear, showing outrage against federal forces that “attacked “ the town in recent days, leaving 11 people dead, including innocent bystanders.

The demonstration showed the support for La Familia Michoacana, in the Central Plaza by carrying signs that read messages like “Viva La Familia Michoacana”, “Nazario lives in our hearts” and “Get Out PFP.”
 Even the town mayor is in:
"The insecurity is not caused by the delinquent groups. It is the federal police, who, pardon me, but they go into houses, in almost the entire municipality."
 - Mayor Genaro Guizar
"[La Familia started as] a vigilante group to counter local street crime and law enforcement corruption. Now, La Familia Michoacana uses drug proceeds to fuel their agenda that encompasses a Robin Hood-type mentality — steal from the rich and give to the poor."
 - anonymous DEA officer

More sources: Los Angeles Times / Michoacan peace march turns into rally for La Familia drug lord, AP / Mexicans march in support of 'Craziest' kingpin.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ecowar - The Movie

A compilation of video clips from three years of blogging about the links between natural resources and conflict. Watch environmentalists get beaten up, wars for oil, repression for diamond profits, over-consumption and pollution causing natural disasters and more.

Contains raw footage from French Greenpeace, Palestinian farmers and Australian tree huggers. Contains two short clips from Al Jazeera news reports (Palestine and Somalia). Also contains some short clips from documentaries that are copyrighted but included in 'Fair Use': "A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash" (trailer), "The Age of Stupid" and "When the Water Ends". These movies are great and should be watched in their entirety:

Thursday, December 09, 2010

"Climate Wars" by Gwynne Dyer (a review / rip-off)

With a title like Climate Wars this book looks "alarmist" even to someone sick and tired of being called just that. But actually, it is far less dramatic than the action paced science fiction that may come to mind. Written by a veteran soldier with academic degrees in military history and years of experience in journalism. Based mainly on the projections made by army analysts of the world from the prognoses in the IPCC 2007 report.

For those of us with academic backgrounds in ecological science and/or a couple of years of climate debate behind us several of its chapters are climate change science and policy repetition. But for me - working on mapping the links between natural resources and conflict - chapter 1 is a great summary with extra insights to the geopolitics of predicted climate change impacts.

And the factual chapters are interspersed with scenarios which are great and briefly outlined below. Being eager to dissect the book for information I find the structure of the factual / non-scenario chapters a bit too mixed up to help make the book as a whole more of a page turning thriller. COP15, for example, is summarized in chapter 6, Real World Politics. Perhaps I could have done with the part about the Copenhagen Accord [p. 209]:
Only a last minute intervention by the British, Americans and Australians, who called for an adjournment and used it to bundle the hapless Rasmussen out of the chair [My emphasis. I have a thing about the obvious incompetence of the Danish prime minister], prevented the 'Copenhagen Accord' from being formally rejected at the plenary session. During the recess, they managed to negotiate a last minute compromise in which the accord was neither accepted or rejected. It was simply 'noted'. And with that, everybody went unhappily off to bed and thence to the airport.
But not only is that entire chapter about COP15 - the topic is mentioned several other places in the book. Similar little issues with, for example, the necessary scientific explanations which come and go in different chapters. Exactly where they are needed, perhaps, if you don't know them already and isn't a "book dissector" like me. And underlining the fact that diplomacy and war are each others extensions.

The Dyer scenarios

The future scenarios are not predictions. They are more like not unlikely cases told with some necessary filling from Dyer's imagination. The longer into the future one tries to imagine the more uncertainty is in play - but the first scenarios are quite imaginable. Although summed up in chronology below they are not necessarily interlinked while also not mutually exclusive.

Incident scenarios:
  • Scenario 2, Russia 2019: The Colder War. The oil and gas revealed beneath the melting North Pole and the new trade routes opening between fewer and fewer icebergs does not lead to war between Russia and the USA. Of course. But it does lead to a lot of discussions on interpreting traditions for drawing sea borders as well as incidents of alleged violations of said disputed borders. Not just regarding drilling but also with incidents of detained fishermen. After years of non-violent conflict - during which the negotiations under UNFCCC has suffered greatly - Russia comes out much stronger: Its northern shores have benefited most from new sea routes due to their head start with a strong fleet of sea ice capable ships and well settled infrastructure, they have strong claims for some of the new resources and it's all coupled with some positive climatic impacts on the nations agriculture.
  • Scenario 3, United States 2029: The US-Mexican border is finally sealed off forcefully and completely after surges of refugee influx caused by runaway desertification in a country whose farmers are already struggling financially. The United States of Mexico collapses and several northern regions are effectively ruled by warlords. Inside the USA a strong ethnic group of Mexican heritage is increasingly in opposition to the rest of the country.
  • Scenario 4, Northern India 2036: India and Pakistan have shared glacier fed rivers for their water supply for decades although otherwise having a periodically hostile relationship. Droughts worsened by climate change, growing populations and increasing consumption have tempted governments to blame the hardships of their peoples on externalities - the neighbours - and forced Pakistan to ration food. After years of fragile peace a military coup and an attack on a dam escalates into an exchange of nuclear warheads. The result is hundreds of millions of casualties and two devastated countries still ruled by the same governments.
  • Scenario 7, China 2042: During the '30ies two kinds of terrorist groups are added to the ones previously known to be desperate enough: some from disgruntled oil exporting countries experiencing unforeseen financial losses and some from within the West made up of "leftists" furious at their governments for doing much too little of what they have been asking for (renewable energy etc.) while stepping up efforts on what they have been arguing against (geo-engineering, nuclear power etc.). The former cannot attack inside the West and instead aim at those of their neighboring countries who have begun exporting, for example, sunlight generated power. The latter accomplishes some minor attacks on airlines and even a more serious one on a nuclear power plant. While the world heats and the people of the West become increasingly divided over geo-engineering suddenly China and Indonesia acts without anyone's agreement. The Earth is dimmed by "artificial volcanic sulfur" being released into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, shortly after the project has begun working a real mega-size volcanic eruption triples the effect. The following years harvests fail world wide: hundreds of million of people die from starvation and almost as many from the armed conflicts, local genocides and mass-migration it incites.
  • Scenario 1, The Year 2045:The EU has collapsed and the Northern Union of Scandinavia, Poland, Germany, Benelux and France is fending off hordes of immigrants while the north of Italy has separated itself from the south of Italy. Russia is enjoying relative prosperity due to positive effects on its agriculture but is also facing some trouble over disputed Siberian territories eyed by a re-united China. Britain and Japan is guarding their shores fiercely while stacking nuclear arms. Temperatures are up and still rising.
  • Scenario 6, United States and United Kingdom 2055: The American people never learned to understand the problem of climate change. Peak oil hits hard and the globalized food trade largely collapses: "in this new and unforgiving world, self-sufficiency was the sole basis for security" [p. 182]. Gulf Coast states are devastated by hurricanes and floods, California's agriculture collapses from perpetual drought. A third party - called "The Goddies" - gains major political influence and the borders are shut tight. Similarly in Europe, the northern countries are getting overrun by people leaving the southern EU states. European Union collaboration starts to strain as food aid is sent south and northern borders tighten despite treaties. Increasingly, the border patrols sealing off Africa and the Middle East is made up of soldiers from northern Europe but eventually these countries decide to pull back and guard only their own territories.
Multi-year scenarios:
  • Scenario 5: A Happy Tale: Sincere and determined action is taken to combat climate change - but only after conversely harsh shocks from peak oil causing price leaps, a series of brutal natural disasters around the world and a Bangladesh threat a radical geoengineering initiative on their own if the rest of the world does not cooperate in combination shake up humanity. Global diplomacy works - but too late and too little. A green society keen on geoengineering is created but only some are fortunate enough to survive with it.
  • Scenario 8, Wipeout: 150-200 years into the future the average temperature has climbed by about 9 degrees from failure to curb climate change. Two groups of civilized settlements survive along the Arctic shores and small, more primitive societies here and there where conditions allow. Inland territories on continents suffer complete desertification. Increasingly, the oceans start to smell like rotten eggs. A process is being initiated in which hydrogen sulfide is being released to deteriorate the quality of air for all breathing forms of life while also breaking down the ozone layer. Which in turn will help scorch the remaining life in ultraviolet radiation. Only the harshest and luckiest life forms will make it to the other side of the "greenhouse extinction" event. A phenomenon that was known to paleontologists, not climatologists. The progress of which no human will live to experience, only few will recognize as it starts.
So, Dyers book is really good. But my own will be even better ;-)

Related info
Video interview with transcript: Democracy Now!, July 2010 / Gwynne Dyer on "Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats", Gwynne Dyer at Wikipedia, Gwynne Dyer's website. Plus the following video interviews / speeches:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It is that time of the year when...

...some group, country or person cease the opportunity to call for stronger environmental protection during conflict. This year Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggest the UN adopt a convention to ban destruction of forests or pollution to reduce the pressure on the environment and natural resources. The occasion is, of course, International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

The time of the year when I note the Geneva Conventions already does address the environment:

Methods or means of warfare that are intended or may be expected to case widespread, long-term and severe damage to the environment are prohibited.
- (Protocol I, Art. 35, Sec. 3)

Attacks against crops, livestock and agricultural areas needed for food production for the civilian population are prohibited. [...] Attacks against civilian drinking water installation and irrigation works are prohibited.
- ( Protocol I, Art. 54 , Sec. 2)

(Quotes from genevaconventions.org)

But should the convention be stricter? Should it be more often enforced? Yes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What does climate change have to do with conflict?

Rebecca Sargent at a piece of conflict has been reading CLIMATE CHANGE, CONFLICT AND FRAGILITY - Understanding the linkages, shaping effective responses, a report by Dan Smith and Janani Vivekananda of International Alert. (It's from November 2009 and a copy of it has been waiting on my hard disk for me to read it for quite a while now. But why not check out Rebecca's take on it right away?)

Part one - Exacerbation of conflict in fragile states during climate change
One needs only see the example of the Haitian earthquake, the current flooding in Pakistan or even the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in the southern US to know that extreme weather can have an effect on peace and security in an area. [...] Current international negotiations on reducing global warming and responding to climate change almost entirely ignore the aspect of this heightened risk of conflict. [...] Managing water supply is vital. Not only is it necessary for human life, but water shortages also affect agriculture causing increased food insecurity, especially for the poor. [...] Water shortages and food insecurity often lead to violent conflict where poverty, weak governance, political marginalization and corruption reign supreme. [...] Migration of people increases the likelihood of conflict, as newcomers are seen as an unwanted burden that compound social pressures or even transfer conflict from one location to another. Attempting to block immigration with regulations and physical barriers may exacerbate the conflict risk.
Part two - Policy and adaptation recommendations for reducing conflict risk
Good governance means increased resilience to violent conflict or poverty. [...] Many rich countries will be simultaneously shifting to low-carbon economies to meet demands on climate change adaptability. This shift must be peace-friendly and supportive of the adaptive development happening in poorer countries. For example, a switch to bio-fuel in richer countries caused food prices to rise by 30% in 2008, which directly caused violence in over 30 countries.
Rebecca's final comment isn't from the report:
If these crises are compounded and not isolated to one location within a nation, or result in large-scale destruction of entire areas, even rich states may be unable to deal with the crises that emerge. The expectations in richer states for action is higher, therefore state failure may be reacted to with all the more intense violence.

"This report explores the complexities of responding to climate change in fragile and conflict affected contexts. It highlights the interaction between the impact of climate change and the social and political realities in which people live and stresses that it is this that will determine their capacity to adapt. To be effective, the goal of policy responses must be to address the political dimension of adapting to climate change, and the underlying causes of vulnerability where the state is unable to carry out its core functions. The report sets out five policy objectives and some key observations on getting the institutional structures right in order to achieve this goal. The reports findings urge policy makers to look beyond technical fixes and to address the interlinked political, social and institutional constraints to effective responses."
Figure 1, page 10, chapter 2.3 "Climate change in fragile states".
The report exists in a context of development aid hence to some degree focus on how foreign aid from rich countries should change. From the Conclusion:
It is wrong to imply that henceforth there will be old-style development with adaptation on top. [...] it seems likely that much and probably most expenditure on adaptation will simply be indistinguishable from expenditure on development because the activities will be fused.
The over all conclusion is summed up in five bullet points:
  1. Adaptation to climate change needs to be conflict-sensitive.
  2. Peacebuilding needs to be climate-proof.
  3. A low-carbon economy must be supportive of development and peace.
  4. Poor countries’ social capacity to understand and manage climate and conflict risks must be strengthened.
  5. Climate-related migration should be planned for and coped with peacefully.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Yes Men adbusts Chevron greenwash

A day-long comedy of errors began when the Yes Men, supported by Rainforest Action Network and Amazon Watch, pre-empted Chevron's enormous new “We Agree” ad campaign with a satirical version of their own. The activists' version highlights Chevron's environmental and social abuses - the same abuses they say Chevron is attempting to “greenwash.”

From the Punk Chevron Ad Contest gallery:

The Ecowar Special:

A personal favourite:

The ecologist's version:

The UN MDG / TH!NK3 edition:

One from the American political fringe:

For you and me?:

The Yes Men even spiced up the Chevron press release:
“Chevron does not take this attack lightly,” said Hewitt Pate, General Counsel for Chevron. “We invest extremely heavily in our campaigns, and we take them extremely seriously. Such actions can never be tolerated.” Though the exact cost of “We Agree” must remain confidential, Chevron routinely spends $90 million per year on US advertising alone.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Water wars!... or climate peace?

Two climate change stories: one driving African tribes into new conflict and another leading old foes on a shared diplomatic course.

The conflict

For thousands of years, nomadic herdsmen have roamed the harsh, semi-arid lowlands that stretch across 80 percent of Kenya and 60 percent of Ethiopia. [...] As temperatures in the region have risen and water supplies have dwindled, the pastoralists have had to range more widely in search of suitable water and land. That search has brought tribal groups in Ethiopia and Kenya in increasing conflict, as pastoral communities kill each other over water and grass.
Watch the video at yale.edu / When The Water Ends: Africa’s Climate Conflicts.

The diplomacy

Israel and the Palestinian Authority are among 15 Mediterranean nations who have just signed a historic agreement to work together to combat the effects of climate change, one month ahead of the next United Nations conference on climate change, meeting at Cancun in November. [...] Both Israel and Palestine are acutely aware of their vulnerability to climate change, which is expected to make water resources even more scarce for what is already the most water-stressed highly populated area in the world. The region faces a potential 4 degree rise in average temperatures and a 70% drop in precipitation. Sea level rise is expected to further contaminate nearby aquifers such as the coastal aquifer of Gaza that provides water to 1.5 million Palestinians. The annual decrease in rainfall is already raising farm prices for fruits and vegetables, and creating a two-tiered class system for water: those who can afford to pay, and those who can’t.

Check out the Mediterranean Climate Change Initiative website (via Green Prophet).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Rebel access to [natural] resources crucially shapes armed civil conflict"

How does rebel access to natural resources affect conflict? "How". Not "if". That is the question investigated by Päivi Lujala of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, recently published in the Journal of Peace Research.

Or rather: Where previous research has either suggested a link or sought to explain it by an indirect effect through resource abundance tending to corrupt weak governments Lujala sets out to look closer at the influence of the more exact locations of the resources (something I believe for example Le Billon did already).

Lujala is confident enough to state in the introduction that "new data on localities of hydrocarbon fields throughout the world, shows that crude oil and natural gas directly affect rebel movements [...] easily extractable resources, such as gemstones, have an effect on rebel groups." The relationship is quantified - for example:
  • "If resources are located inside the actual conflict zone, the duration of conflict is doubled." And...
  • "oil and gas reserves have this effect on duration regardless of whether there has been production or not."
  • Regarding the initiation of rebellion "onshore [not offshore] oil production increases the risk of conflict onset by 50%."
  • And "secondary diamond production increases the risk of conflict onset by more than 40%."

One of the things I have been pondering is the simple distinguishing of states of societies in just two categories: in peace or in war. It is insufficient for intelligent discussion. Lujala is adding words to this argument: "natural resources, especially those that are easily exploited, provide motivation and means for rebel uprisings." In other words, rebellions may just be organized crime with political agendas attached. Of course, even more or less "legitimate" rebel groups could be driven to resource exploitation if their financial resources are exhausted in a prolonged conflict.

Hydrocarbons have traditionally been categorized as non-lootable as production usually requires substantial international industrial activities. But Lujala finds oil reserves even not in production does have effects and explains it by rebels potentially being "willing to engage in a long conflict [...] if the future price is large enough". While regarding reserves in production exceptions are seen in Nigeria where large scale looting occurs and in Columbia where rebels extort oil companies. However, note that regarding gas "production has no effect on conflict onset." Gas probably appears too hard to loot?

A look at the statistical analysis reveals how the data set was checked for influences other than profitable natural resources. The same tests are run for presence of mountainous regions, forest cover, language differences and difficult weather. It is worth noting that separatist conflicts (over territory rather than government power) and conflicts with one or more sides being democratic tends to last longer, while countries suffering from poverty and overpopulation are more prone to conflict onset.


Lujala, P. (2010). The spoils of nature: Armed civil conflict and rebel access to natural resources Journal of Peace Research, 47 (1), 15-28 DOI: 10.1177/0022343309350015

Also see Ross, 2004 which is mentioned by Lujala several times.

Monday, October 25, 2010

How many people can live on Planet Earth? Watch this BBC documentary!

Whether you're discussing water resources, food security, climate change, migration, developing countries or pretty much any geopolitical or human ecological topic there is one other topic often avoided: Overpopulation. Watch this 58 minute BBC documentary on YouTube.

Regarding "Ecowar relevance" the following parts are especially interesting.

14 min: Value of ecosystem services
Doug Hamilton, International Space Station.
"When you see how hard it is to reproduce what Mother Nature does every day for all of us you begin to really appreciate the world that you have."
17 min: Water
Mexican government emergency water truck driver.
"At some time in the future wars are going to be fought over water, not oil. But people don't seem to understand."
27 min: Land grabs
Chinese, Saudi Arabian and British "land grabs". Most are in Africa which already has trouble feeding itself.
In the 29th minute a segment about Rwanda begins... Then there is peak oil, carrying capacity, relative ecological footprints, Indian family planning... almost the entire package.

Thank you David Attenborough and BBC. And thank you EJC for alerting me of this program.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Crude Awakening (four years late)

Predating the first post at this present blog by about 13 months in 2006 the documentary A Crude Awakening warned of the implications of oil soon running out.

From Wikipedia's section "Findings", my emphasis:
overall conclusions were that a global peak was imminent (if not already occurring), more wars would be fought to control access to oil resources, and economies most dependent on oil (or relying on trade with oil-dependent nations) would suffer dire consequences
At IMDb the user cross-45 rates it 10/10 and from his review:
This film puts into perspective and also gives me many answers for the bloodshed carried out in many of the wars of the last century, and continuing into this century
Already in the trailer, a woman says:
Oil is a magnet for war. Oil starts wars. 

Welcome to my Ecowar Movies list (and my 'Must See' list), A Crude Awakening.

See IMDbthe Wikipedia entry and the official site. (Thanks to Lara Smallman for alerting me about this one.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Moscow Arctic Forum promises peaceful exploitation, silent on risks

This week the "Arctic nations" - Canada, Russia, Norway, the United States and Denmark - met in Moscow to agree on territorial claims. (Strangely, I didn't notice any coverage at all in Danish media - while even Al-Jazeera warmed up for it.)

"Serious political and economic interests are indeed crossing over in the Arctic. But I have no doubt that problems, including the continental shelf problem, can be solved in the spirit of partnership. It is well known that it is difficult to survive in the Arctic on your own. Nature itself makes people, nations and states help each other there. Unfortunately we are faced with alarmist predictions of a looming battle for the Arctic. We are monitoring the situation and making responsible forecasts."
- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

"No one problem of contemporary Arctic can be resolved by one country alone. So that's why I think that we are doomed to co-operate in the Arctic. And military confrontation especially is completely counterproductive."
- Russian Arctic expert Lev Voronkov

Russia plans to invest 312.8 billion US dollars on exploration and promise extra tax breaks for oil corporations wanting to do business in the Arctic. They have sent a submarine to plant the Russian flag on the sea bed but complain about NATO's presence.

The Arctic is thought to contain 25% of the planet's undiscovered oil and gas, about 200 billion barrels of oil.

"The industry has been around the world discovering easy oil and gas there are only the more difficult and riskier regions left - and the Arctic is one of them"
- Manouchehr Takin, Centre For Global Energy Studies

"It is a reckless prospecting endeavour, trying to find new oil reserves in this fragile and pristine environment"
- Greenpeace protestor
Sources include: Reuters / Russia's Putin urges Arctic resources dealBBC / Arctic summit in Moscow hears rival claims and BBC / Melting ice opens up potential for Arctic exploitation.

I am reminded of George Monbiot's speech at Klimaforum09 (alternative COP15):
"If governments were serious about climate change [...] they would be putting proposals here at Copenhagen this week to determine which parts of carbon reserves would be left in the ground. [...] they would also be proposing a total global moratorium on all prospecting for new reserves of coal, oil and gas."
We have already found more than enough fossil fuel reserves to cause extreme climate change. We don't need the Arctic reserves to do that. A fact so blindingly obvious since they are only becoming accessible because of the melting ice caps.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fresh Peak Oil warnings from German military and British government agency

Spiegel Online / 'Peak Oil' and the German Government - Military Study Warns of a Potentially Drastic Oil Crisis:
A study by a German military think tank has analyzed how "peak oil" might change the global economy. The internal draft document -- leaked on the Internet -- shows for the first time how carefully the German government has considered a potential energy crisis.

The study is a product of the Future Analysis department of the Bundeswehr Transformation Center, a think tank tasked with fixing a direction for the German military. The team of authors, led by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Will, uses sometimes-dramatic language to depict the consequences of an irreversible depletion of raw materials. It warns of shifts in the global balance of power, of the formation of new relationships based on interdependency, of a decline in importance of the western industrial nations, of the "total collapse of the markets" and of serious political and economic crises.
Uofficial translation of actual report: Consumer Energy Report: Leaked Study on Peak Oil Warns of Severe Global Energy Crisis:
1. Introduction
In the past, resources have always triggered conflicts, mostly of regional nature. For the future, the authors expect this to become a global problem, as scarcity (mainly of crude oil) will affect everybody.

2. The Importance of Oil
regional conflicts can always at least partially be attributed to resources, such as in the Caucasus region, the Middle East or in Nigeria, or they fuel conflicts due to the wealth they create (such as in Africa).

The report sees – within a timeframe until the year 2040 – a changed international security layout based on new risks (including transport risks for fuels) and new roles of actors in a possible conflict around the distribution of increasingly scarce resources.


focusing on the key suppliers of oil: Russia, Norway and the U.K. It is noted that both European partners are already past their peak and that Germany is increasingly dependent on Russia, which currently is reliable but not necessarily so in the long term.

3. Possible Scenarios After Global Peak Oil
The Middle East is identified as a very dangerous region with high external involvement from many players and thus a very unstable overall situation.

Overall, the report expects a reduction of the importance of “Western values” related to democracy, and human rights in the context of politically motivated alliances, which increasingly are driven by emerging economies such as China – likely leading to double standards. Emerging economies are equally expected to receive higher recognition in international organizations, particularly those with strength in resources (such as Russia).


New conflicts are potentially arising from oil exploration in international or disputed ocean waters, where multiple issues arise, particularly around the arctic circle, with further geopolitical risks for conflict.

Also, the shift to natural gas is reviewed as an extension of the “oil age”, because it might be able to replace crude oil as a bridging source until new solutions are found. The risks for problems from transporting gas (pipelines) and the related issues (as seen between Russia and its neighbors during the past years) are highlighted.

Equally, nuclear power as a potential source is highlighted – emphasizing the risk for safety and the proliferation of nuclear technology. This would also require an increasing shift towards electricity.


Damaging infrastructure through hostile acts (sabotage, war) might become an attractive target for groups or countries with a tendency to use violence. The same is expected for electricity and natural gas-related infrastructure – they all might require higher protection.

Generally, the focus of risks is expected in the region which the authors consider the “strategic ellipse” (a term used for the region East of Europe reaching from Saudi Arabia in the South to Russia and former Soviet Union countries in the North), because a majority of oil reserves are located in this area.


High oil prices would further affect almost all aspects of society, as it will also influence the cost of chemicals and all products derived from them, which might substantially alter the nature of value chains and make certain things uneconomical – ultimately leading to higher unemployment during a transformational phase away from an oil based economy.


the changes and likely reduction in standard of living might render societies less stable and make them more attracted to extremist political positions and even trigger changes in government systems, as trust into key actors in politics will diminish. This might be a particular risk for the relatively young democratic countries in Eastern Europe.


more expensive transportation and increasing problems “at home” might reduce the ability of larger countries to intervene internationally (politically and/or with military action), and also lower the readiness to provide help to poorer countries. The focus will be more on a country’s egotistic (energy) interest and not so much on an ideal of transferring Western values. The gap will likely not be filled by NGOs, as they will be affected by similar limits.

Overall, international institutions will be weakened, as they will have less resources to provide help and support, and it becomes equally possible that help will be attached to direct (energy) needs of the donors.

4. Challenges for Germany
Armed forces would also be significantly affected by fossil fuel limits, as they are very dependent on oil products. Significant investments in alternative energy procurement technologies (biofuels, coal-to-liquids – Fischer-Tropsch) and applications (electric and hybrid vehicles) would be required, with long transition times. Further, local energy-independence of stationary troop infrastructure (like military bases) using more renewable sources would be beneficial. Long term objective would be to fully convert Germany’s armed forces to only use renewable energy sources by 2100.
[Bold added by me.]

British politicians are considering similar warnings according to The Guardian / Peak oil alarm revealed by secret official talks:
"[Government] public lines on peak oil are 'not quite right'. They need to take account of climate change and put more emphasis on reducing demand and also the fact that peak oil may increase volatility in the market."


Last year the Guardian revealed that the IEA [International Energy Agency] was also riven with dissent over the issue with senior staff members privately telling newspaper they thought the official numbers on future global oil supply were over-optimistic.


an internal IEA source said: "Many inside the organisation believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90m to 95m barrels a day would be impossible, but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further. And the Americans fear the end of oil supremacy because it would threaten their power over access to oil resources."


Kjell Aleklett, a professor of physics at Uppsala University in Sweden and author of a report The Peak of the Oil Age, claims crude production is more likely to be 75m barrels a day by 2030 than the "unrealistic" 105m projected by the IEA.

Losses From BP Gulf Oil Spill

Also discussed at New York Times Environment Blog / German Military Braces for Scarcity After ‘Peak Oil’, Peak Oil and the Bundeswehr, Energy Matters / Peak Oil In 2010 - Leaked German Military Think Tank Report, Digital Journal / Secret German analysis warns of peak oil and coming energy crisis, PhysOrg.com / Are some governments taking 'peak oil' seriously?.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Food & War: Highlights from 'An Edible History of Humanity'

Have been reading An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage. Good reading I can recommend!

You will find it interesting too if you, like me, is into Jared Diamond's books, agriculture or the more practical aspects of history. It is written in an accessible form and not quite as academic in nature as Diamond's books. If you, also like me, have already read all of Diamond's books as well as a selection of related literature and journal articles it will be repetitive at places. But at the same time full of great quotes and little stories.

The book tells the history of human civilization through the development of our food production and culture. A highly relevant book to the present blogging project although food is a special type of natural resource or products hereof and history is a wider subject than conflict.
The fate of nations hangs upon their choice of food.
 - Jean-Anthelme Brillant-Savarin
Part I: The Edible Foundations of Civilization

First, the domestication of maize, wheat and rise is retold - essential beginning of the tale. Then the spread of farming discussed. Hunter-gatherer societies have always been and still are much more peaceful than farming societies. Why and how is explored and explained in chapter 2 from reasoning with the needs and circumstances of them as well as the historical conditions.

Chapter 3: Food, Wealth, and Power

Picking up where chapters 1 and 2 left off, now the gradual transition towards hierarchical social order is described. Especially the significance of irrigation is compelling; here are a few of the explanations for the onset of organized conflict:
One theory contends that a big man or leader can become more powerful by coordinating agricultural activity, particularly irrigation. [...] control of the irrigation system would confer power on the leader [...] the irrigation system might also need to be defended, using full-time soldiers funded by the food surplus and placed under the leader's control. [p. 41]
Another theory suggests that the communal storage of agricultural surpluses might provide the leader with an opportunity to establish greater control over his followers. [...] Increasingly elaborate public-works projects then legitimize the leader's position and require a growing number of administrators, who emerge as the ruling elite. [p. 42]
A third suggestion is that competition for agricultural land led to warfare between communities in areas where such land was environmentally circumscribed. [...] When one village defeated another it then appropriated the defeated village's land or forced its people to hand over a proportion of their harvest every year. [...] This all sounds plausible, but there is no evidence that people reached the limit of agricultural productivity in any of the places where stratified societies first emerged. In the event of a drought or a bad harvest, however, it is possible to imagine villages with food reserves coming under attack from neighboring villages where the food had run out. [p. 43]
Part III: Global Highways of Food

Standage delivers a great tale of a near-global multi-millennial trade war over spices (which I must admit I've been mostly ignorant of hitherto). A mostly non-violent conflict that occasionally flared into brutality. And, amazingly, indirectly contributed to the collapse of the Roman empire that spent two digit tonnes of gold on importing spices annually, later helped spread the plague to Italy. The latter includes one of the book's interesting detours: plague infected corpses were used by Mongols as catapult ammunition against slave trading Europeans [p. 80-81].
After the year 1500 there was no pepper to be had at Calicut that was not dyed red with blood.
 - Voltaire, 1756
It is also explained how trade spread Islam by it providing suitable customs and laws. Then how the Portuguese (Pedro Álvares Cabral and Vasco da Gama) finally navigated around Africa to find unarmed trade vessels and immediately exploited it with extreme violence - bombardments of random cities, torture of innocent traders, mass executions, extortion et cetera.

Later in the 16th century the English and Dutch stepped up to compete in spice trade and global violence:
Clove production was concentrated on the central islands of Ambon and Ceram so that it could be more tightly controlled; the ancient groves of clove trees on other islands were uprooted, the clove pickers massacred, and their villages burned down. Where clove production was permitted, the growing of other crops was outlawed, to ensure that the local people would be dependent on the Dutch for their food. [p. 99]
Similar regimes were established to control nutmeg and mace production. Locals were enslaved for workforce, power was ruthlessly enforced by mercenary samurai warriors hired in Japan and problematic villages razed.

Obviously, the slaves-sugar-rum triangle is discussed. And later in the book one of the first consumer boycotts when in the 1790 British wanted slavery free tea.

Part V: Food as a Weapon

Needless to say: this is a central part of the book for Ecowar scrutiny. But it contains only two chapters. Chapter 9 on how food crucially influences warfare and chapter 10 on how some conflicts have been entirely centered around food.

Chapter 9: The Fuel of War

This  chapter explains how Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte won numerous battles thanks to superior logistics. And how the English lost the American Revolutionary War due to inadequate supplies.

The fate of Europe and all further calculations depend upon the question of food. If only I will have bread, it will be child's play to beat the Russians.
 - Napoleon Bonaparte
Starvation destroys an army more often than does battle, and hunger is more savage than the sword. [...] whoever does not provide for food and other necessities, is conquered without fighting.
 - Vegetius, 4th century
If you occupy your enemies' storehouses and granaries and seize his accumulated resources in order to provision your army continuously, you will be victorious.
 - Medieval Chinese military handbook
Besides stories of how food has influenced war we also get the story of how war inspired culinary research: Around year 1800 the French invented canned food for soldiers rations but failed to keep the technology to themselves. And it concludes with the stories of how sabotage of supplies helped settle the American Civil War and how the German General Rommel fought and lost his North African battles over and because of Middle Eastern oil supplies.

Chapter 10: Food Fight
Food is a weapon.
 - Maxim Litvinov, Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1930-39
Beginning with the story of the Soviet blockade of West Berlin in the post-WWII era this chapter moves on to talk of the famines caused by Stalin and Mao. Thus, not a war story but some of the silent brutality of the Cold War.

"Milk... new weapon of Democracy". A 1949 ad for Douglas Aircraft Company.

Chapter 11: Feeding the World

Once fertilizer was invented it became the new limit defining factor in agricultural production. Hence subject of competition and conflict.
[...] huge deposits of sodium nitrate [...] had been discovered in Chile. Exports boomed, and in 1879 the War of the Pacific broke out between Chile, Peru and Bolivia over the ownership of a contested nitrate-rich region in the Atacama Desert. (Chile prevailed in 1883, depriving Bolivia of its coastal province so that it has been a land-locked country ever since.) [p. 204-205]
When Fritz Haber invented nitrogen fixation fertilizer could be produced chemically and natural deposits would not have to be fought over any more. Since then it has only contributed to the demand for fossil fuel as the process is energy intensive. Curiously, Haber also eagerly developed chemical weapons for the German war to use in the 1st World War - which drove his wife to commit suicide and earned him protests when later he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

For a quick view at the book's relevance to development issues please see TH!NK3 / Food & Development: Highlights from 'An Edible History of Humanity'.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Japanese oil tanker hit by suicide bomber in Strait of Hormuz

The United Arab Emirates said Friday that a Japanese oil tanker was hit by an explosives-laden dinghy in the Persian Gulf in what would be the first attack in the strategic waterway where millions of barrels of oil are transported each day.

The report — which came days after an al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility for attacking the vessel — raised fears about the vulnerability of the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for many petroleum exporting countries.

Sources: UAE: Japanese tanker attacked in Persian Gulf, Japanese oil tanker hit by terrorist bomb, say inspectors, Al-Qaeda-Linked Group Claims Suicide Bombing Attack on Mitsui Oil Tanker.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Russia: Unknown People in Masks and Police Attack Environmentalists

As seen on Global Voices: Russia: Unknown People in Masks and Police Attack Environmentalists

From 20 to 40 young people in white masks attacked the camp of the defenders of the Khimki forest park [RUS], Igor Podgorny [RUS] and Novaya Gazeta [RUS] reported. The police intervention didn't help – instead several environmentalists and journalists were detained.

Sounds nasty. By now a couple of main stream international media have picked up the story. Like AP: Police detain Moscow forest activists

Russian police on Friday detained two journalists and 15 protesters at a suburban Moscow forest where they have been living to try to protect the woods from destruction. [...] The forest in Khimki has been the focus of controversy for years over plans to chop down much of it for highway construction. Khimki lies on the increasingly jammed route from Moscow to Sheremetyevo International Airport and St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city. A local newspaper editor who reported extensively on the issue was severely beaten in 2008 and left wheelchair-bound and brain-damaged. [...] The activists called the police at the break of dawn on Friday when a group of some 100 young men who had covered their faces blocked the campsite, thus allowing the [tree chopping in an alledgedly illegal area] work to resume, Moscow Regional police said in a statement.

An associated protest was similarly cracked down upon reports The Moscow Times: 5 Detained in Bid to Give Khimki Timber to Putin

“The police swooped down on us and detained us, acting in a very rude and harsh fashion and turning a peaceful event into a brawl,” [head of the Left Front group, Sergei] Udaltsov said

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fox News too busy to support the troops

According to Politico Fox News rejected an ad linking oil consumption with troop deaths. I'd like to try and make up for (a millionth of) that so here it is:

Fox News, however, are excused as they have been busy reporting other "breaking news":
Must be a tough job breaking a celebrity drug scandal while the ocean is leaking oil!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Climate Change and National Security" parts I & II from Climate Denial Crock of the Week YouTube channel

"If you wait for 100% certainty on the battlefield something bad is going to happen."
- retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn

The boys in Tehran may not like it. The boys at FOX News may not like it. And the boys from BP may not like it.

Climate Change will have profound implications for the security of every nation.
Experienced military experts have come to some conclusions on what's coming.

I highly recommend greenman3610's YouTube channel.

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