Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Zeitgeist & the eco-military

I watched a movie called Zeitgeist Addendum yesterday after months of having had it recommended from people. I recommend it: Download the DVD from the project website for free or watch it on YouTube. Here's some notes and comments...

It starts out criticizing elements of the economic system - boring to many by definition but perhaps a little more interesting here in the financial crisis? - and moves on (about 21 minutes into the movie) to discuss examples of how financial tools are preferred by the West (the US) before using the military to gain cheap access to 3rd world natural resources. It's essentially John Perkins, former NSA associate, talking about the topics of his book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man [Official site | Wikipedia | Google Books].

This video is the 10 last minutes of John Perkins talking:

What he says about Iraq:

"Iraq, actually, is a perfect example of the way the whole system works. We economic hitmen are the first line of defense: We go in, we try to corrupt the government and get them to accept these huge loans which we then use as leverage to basically own them. If we fail [...] then the second line of defense is we send in the jackals. The jackals either overthrow governments or they assassinate. And once that happens then a new government comes in and they'll toe the line because the new president will know what will happen if he doesn't. In the case of Iraq both of those things failed [...] so, in '91 we send in the troops and we take out the Iraqi military [...assuming] Saddam is gonna come around. [...] So the economic hitmen go back in in the 90ies... without success. If they'd had success he'd still be running the country, we'd be selling him all the fighter jets he'd want [...] the jackals couldn't take him out again [either] so we sent in the military once again and this time they did the complete job [...] in the process creating for ourselves some very, very lucrative reconstruction deals."

Very much not surprising. But nice to hear from an insider. His conclusion makes me think of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire. Regarding Iraq specifically, we've had some hard-to-believe right wing postulates that the war-for-oil theory is left wing propaganda pointing at non-US (yet Western) companies getting many contracts. First of all, it really doesn't matter as long as these companies supply for the (so called "free") world market. Second, recently U.S. Companies Join Race on Iraqi Oil Bonanza.

Towards the end the movie sums up in some more philosophical discussions (including some hippie stuff). Some of it is undeniable Ecowar cornerstones.

"The most important issue at hand is the intelligent management of the earth's resources. [...] Our true problems in life are technical, not political. [...] Society today is backwards. With politicians constantly talking about protection and security rather than creation, unity and progress. The US alone now spends about 500,000,000,000 dollars annually on defense. That is enough to send every high school senior in America to a four year college. In the 1940ies the Manhattan Project produced the first true weapon of mass destruction. This programme employed 130,000 people at an extreme financial cost. Imagine what our life would be like today if that group of scientists, in stead of working on a way of killing people, worked on a way to create a self-sustaining, abundant world. [...] It is time to unleash something much more powerful: weapons of mass creation."

Of course, just like America is addicted to oil (George W. Bush's own words) it's also addicted to war. At least, shutting down the military would be a mega-shock to the financial system. That is why I enjoyed it very much when in Kim Stanley Robinson's Science in the Capital series the US military is literally battling climate change. Also a topic discussed in the new copy of Ode Magazine: Jim Channon: Mobilizing the military to clean up the earth.

The true battle in the future is not between nations; it’s about repairing the damage we’re doing to our planet. [...] the army must set about reforesting the Earth, planting billions of trees and cleaning up the fresh water reserves. [...] The Marines will protect and restore the dying coral reefs and coastal wetlands while the Air Force monitors carbon emissions, ozone depletion and air pollution. [...] The Navy, Channon says, should be tasked with measuring rising ocean temperatures and melting polar ice as well as policing illegal dumping and overfishing of the seas. [...] siphon excess water from the oceans and channel it into the desert basins of the planet to create enormous salt water lakes [...] transport thousands of refugees from the Pacific Islands to these areas, where they may tend giant new fishponds

These quotes are the visions of retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Jim Channon - who's portrayed by Jeff Bridges in The Men Who Stare at Goats which appears to be a lot more fun than Zeitgeist Addendum.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Africa's Cup of Nations bus attack part of oil conflict

Today Togo should have played Ghana at Africa Cup of Nations 2010 in Angola. Separatists rebels, Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (FLEC), attacked Togo's team bus Three people were killed and nine injured. Togo has left the tournament.

"Unfortunately, the situation [in Cabinda] is not stable because there is a separatist movement. They are trying to gain independence and they have been carrying out the struggle for several decades. [...] I really don’t understand the logic behind having [matches] there, knowing that the political situation there is not stable, that the separatists will take advantage of having these foreign teams coming into Cabinda and try to make a statement."
- Mohamed El-Khawas, professor of history and political science at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) in Washington, DC

"The worst is that every time FLEC attacks, the army responds by attacking civilians and, in some cases, routing entire villages. These are blatant human rights violations which are largely ignored."
- Rafael Marques, Angolan human rights activist

"[We're] a bit bitter, we are a little disappointed with the Confederation of African Football [CAF] … which couldn't arrange for a postponement of our first match so we could bury our dead"
- Thomas Dossevi, Togo and Nantes defender

Whether the claim to independence is legitimate or not it is also connected to the occurrence of oil and minerals in the region. Cabinda is "ethnically and linguistically distinct" from the rest of the country but offshore oil fields talk. More than half of Angola's export earnings are from Cabindan oil. The government says it has spent more than 1 billion $ on improving local infrastructure and wanted to display Cabinda to the world as a safe place to invest.

Sources: Africa Cup of Nations 2010 at Wikipedia, Angola’s Cabinda Province Poor Choice for Football Tournament, says Analyst, Angola shooting shatters peaceful façade, Why the World Cup rehearsal went so wrong.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Thinking back: Climate change and conflict through the ages

The past three months I've been so busy writing for (and winning) the European Journalism Centre's TH!NK ABOUT IT #2: Climate Change blogging competition that stories I'd usually post here at Ecowar asap have lingered in my various link collections. But here's an excerpt of two of these.

A history of water wars

A very long list of conflicts over natural resources have been on my to-do list for some time. November 2009, however, the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security made available a very neat looking database on Water and Conflict online. Currently it lists 203 conflicts over water. My "top 10" so to speak:

  • Around 3000 BC: "Ancient Sumerian legend recounts the deeds of the deity Ea, who punished humanity for its sins by inflicting the Earth with a six-day storm. The Sumerian myth parallels the Biblical account of Noah and the deluge, although some details differ." Sorry, couldn't help it.

  • Around 2500 BC: "Lagash-Umma Border Dispute: the dispute over the “Gu’edena” (edge of paradise) region begins. Urlama, King of Lagash from 2450 to 2400 BC, diverts water from this region to boundary canals, drying up boundary ditches to deprive Umma of water. His son Il cuts off the water supply to Girsu, a city in Umma (present-day Iraq)." Here, water supply is used as a military tool. There are plenty of examples from the Fertile Crescent BC.

  • 605 - 562 BC: "Nebuchadnezzar builds immense walls around Babylon, using the Euphrates and canals as defensive moats surrounding the inner castle." OK so the guy they named a "ship" after in The Matrix trilogy invented the moat.

  • 1748: "Ferry house on Brooklyn shore of East River burns down. New Yorkers accuse Brooklynites of having set the fire as revenge for unfair East River water rights." Original terrorism from the USA. The US and Canada provides many examples of civilians sabotaging dams and reservoirs to the list and at least one murder.

  • 1870s to 1881: "Recurrent friction and eventual violent conflict over water rights in the vicinity of Tularosa, New Mexico (USA) involving villagers, ranchers, and farmers."

  • WWII: "Hydroelectric dams routinely bombed as strategic targets" and at least eight other specific incidents mentioned.

  • 1947 onwards: Pakistan, India and Bangladesh in disputes over the Ganges and Indus.

  • 1951-1953: "Jordan makes public its plans to irrigate the Jordan Valley by tapping the Yarmouk River. Israel responds by commencing drainage of the Huleh swamps located in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria; border skirmishes ensue between Israel and Syria. [...] Israel begins construction of its National Water Carrier to transfer water from the north of the Sea of Galilee out of the Jordan basin to the Negev Desert for irrigation. Syrian military actions along the border and international disapproval lead Israel to move its intake to the Sea of Galilee." This was just the beginning - several more examples on the list.

  • 1963-1964: "Creation of boundaries in 1948 leaves Somali nomads under Ethiopian rule. Border skirmishes occur over disputed territory in Ogaden desert where critical water and oil resources are located; cease-fire is negotiated only after several hundred are killed."

  • 1978-1984: "Demonstrations in Juba, Sudan in 1978 opposing the construction of the Jonglei Canal lead to the deaths of two students. Construction of the Jonglei Canal in the Sudan is forcibly suspended in 1984 following a series of attacks on the construction site."

  • 1982: "177 civilians killed in Rio Negro [Guatemala] over opposition to Chixoy hydroelectric dam."

From history to forecast

I've also been thinking about writing a summary of the history of climate change and conflict for both Ecowar and TH!NK (although it'd probably be better suited for a bigger project). But when someone else does just that and does a good job, all I do is link. Such is the first link here: A brief history of climate change and conflict by James R. Lee. Most of its examples are also discussed in detail in Jared Diamond's Collapse. One isn't: The extinction of Neanderthals which seems to have been caused by a combination of cooling climate and Sapiens' expansion northward.

First, the article re-emphasizes the fact that climate change causing conflict isn't a simple cause and effect relationship. It cannot be said often enough: Both sociology (which would be the social science to predict and explain conflict) and ecology (the natural science accounting climatic impacts) are complex areas of understanding. Looking at mainly the impacts of the medieval warm period and the Little Ice Age on such civilizations as the Mayans, the Vikings and the Anasazi principles and trends are boldly extracted. These I'll further simplify (re-hashed quotes) for conciseness.

Historical case studies suggest three paths from climate change to conflict:

  • Sustained trends: conflict has the potential to emerge after a sustained period of divergent climate patterns

  • Intervening variables: climate change alone won't cause conflict but, along with other factors, will contribute to and shape it

  • The need for conflict triggers: an assassination, extreme natural event, or random act of group violence--is usually required to ignite violent conflict

Current climate change conflicts are crudely lumped in two categories:

  • Hot areas: Between smaller groups (tribes, cities) fighting in desperation for access to resources mainly made scarce by changes in precipitation and increased evaporation ("water wars")

  • Cold areas: Between states seeking the opportunity to exploit resources made available by warming temperatures

These principles are suggested as guidelines for preparing for the wars and fights of the future.

Search This Blog