Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The blog is now a book, long live both

Dear reader, You may already have noticed the orange graphic in the right sidebar? Yes, I have self-published a book based on this blog. And I'm literally giving it away, the price barely covers printing. What will happen to the blog now? Why self-publishing? What is up with that site? Answers in the tale below...

After many emails back and forth between publishers, experts and I as well as personal considerations I finally decided to self-publish with Books on Demand. Communicating with publishers is a job in itself and not one I could find the energy to do. At the same time, those publishers and experts who appears to have taken some time to look at my script did offer a bit of praise and encouragement.
"[...] a real pleasure receiving your book. It's very interesting! Most of it is so very relevant today [...]"
"[...] very interesting and significant [...]"
"[...] is extremely well written and interesting [...]"
"[Interlude A about a Neanderthal family] makes exciting reading [...] this might be one way of waking the current generation up to the fact that if we do not solve our ecological problem we could become past history."
The greatest loss of self-publishing with Books on Demand compared to a regular publisher is in marketing, I think. I'll have to fund and mail copies to reviewers myself and no copies will sell themselves from simply standing on a shelf in a store. At the end of the day, I find the message to be what's important to me. Not sales. That being said, it would be nice to sell a couple of hundreds of copies to break even.

To aid the "marketing" of the book I bought the URL "" (not .dk because it's not a Danish project, not .com, .net, .info or .org because those have been taken by others or have been cybersquatted) and set up a Google Plus page (please encircle). For now it simply presents the book. But check back later, I may go through with a few of the ideas I have. This blog here,, will stay were it is so don't unsubscribe or remove your bookmark.

Posting frequency will most likely drop, however. At least for some time. That doesn't mean my research stops. I'll still get my fine-tuned news alerts and I'll still bookmark using Diigo and still share whatever news deserve some buzz via my Twitter (using #ecowar when I remember) and/or the Google Plus page. And write new articles here every now and then.

So, wish me luck. And buy the book, please. Currently it's available at the following vendors:

More vendors to come. Also available via me, the author (email "benno" at The price is just ~85 DKK / ~11 € / ~15 US$.

Do you have experience in self-publishing? Do you have creative ideas for what I should do with the book, the blog and the site? Any kind of question or request? Bring it on...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Trouble in Kazakhstan oil city

Oil industry workers have been protesting layoffs and demanding raises. Authorities have answered with a crackdown: reports of dead and injured, mobile network and internet censored. International networks of hackers are providing dial-up internet communication just like they did in Egypt early 2011.
"The protesters blocking the railway refused to leave the area and the clashes started. I am now in the hospital. One 25-year-old young man was shot in the head and died. Eight men were wounded and the number of the wounded is increasing." - Bauyrzhan, local

Read about Kazakhstan in Ecowar - Natural Resources and Conflict (the book) pages beginning 57, 104 and 114.

Via /. read Kazakhstan says it has restored order in oil town where 10 were killed in riots, Kazakhstan Disables the Internet, Situation Remains Tense In Western Kazakhstan After Deadly Clashes.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

War for territory - World tour November 2011

We live in peaceful times. Conflicts being linked to something as mundane as natural resources is a conspiracy theory. Just kidding...

Cambodia: Villages razed to clear land for sugar plantation
Amnesty International and other organisations have exposed the Cambodian authorities' systematic failure to protect people from forced evictions. Forced evictions in the name of economic development now occur regularly across Cambodia, as local elites and foreign investors seek to capitalize on a newly privatized land market and take control of the country's natural resources.

Colombia: Tribes flee civil war and gold miners

About 10% of the hunter-gatherer Awa tribe have fled their ancestral mountain homes in the past decade. Some now survive as subsistence farmers on small lots provided by the government.

The tribe has been fighting palm oil plantations encroaching on their land for about 16 years, the civil war between leftist FARC and the government has produced an extremely dangerous territory including indigenous grounds littered with landmines and lately gold mines have taken away even more land and polluting its surroundings.

Read: BBC / Colombia's indigenous peoples face uncertain future, SOS Childrens' Villages / Dealing with the threat of landmines in Colombia.

Peru: Indigenous tribes protest planned gold mines

Several protesters were injured on November 25th when police dispersed anti-gold mine demonstration with tear gas. The US-based Newmont Mining Corporation plan to reconstruct local water flows used in farmers' irrigation. Locals protest mining projects throughout Peru and injuries are not uncommon.
"Companies come here, take the gold and then go away - just like in colonial times. People feel cheated." - Jorge Rimarachin

Read: AFP / Peruvian gold mine, locals clash over resources , MercoPress / Peruvian peasants clash with police to protest against gold mine in the Andes.

Sudan - South Sudan border: Ethnic cleansing?

After a brief spell in international media as a success story, newly founded South Sudan is now fighting a "war by proxy" paramilitaries with Sudan. The latter appear to currently be evicting certain ethnic groups.

SAF Aircrafts at El Obeid Airbase
DigitalGlobe imagery shows the presence of Antonov An-26's and other aircraft at El Obeid Airbase on 14 November 2011.

The Sea: The race for off-shore resources intensifying world wide

One third of oil production is now off-shore and the rate is climbing. Resources are found in the Arctic, in the South Chinese Sea, in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Chinese and Turkish warships circle Vietnamese and Israeli drilling ships and platforms in each their own gunboat diplomatic efforts. These countries as well as the US, Russia and others are investing in new aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers.

Read: The New York Times / A New Era of Gunboat Diplomacy.

All just one big hoax. All of the above from the month of November 2011.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Grease is the new copper

Materials and resources once common, inexpensive or just non-existing pop up in a new league of the craved for or expensive. Copper and solar panels have been new objects of theft in recent years. Now grease is getting locked up to protect it from thieves. Yes, grease.

Biofuel producers are now buying used cooking oil from restaurants. What was once foul waste is today a resource for the non-fossil energy sector. In this crisis struck economy the temptation of containers filled to the brim with valuable grease left unguarded behind restaurants is too much for some.
"It's become the new copper. [...] It's difficult to get law enforcement people to spend a lot of time on somebody who's stealing grease."
- Tom Cook, president of the National Renderers Association
The grease sells at 3 USD per gallon (0.6 € per liter) - five times its price a decade ago.
"It's a big deal. There's a huge underground out there for this stuff."
- Bobby Tessler, owner of St. Louis Wing Co., who had about 2,000 USD worth of grease stolen since April.
One of the rare cases of grease thieves getting fined is from a town called Springfield. Grease theft was "predicted" in a 1998 episode of The Simpsons.

Sources: Two Alleged Grease Thieves Arrested in Arlington, Restaurant Grease As Good As Gold To Biofuel Thieves, Grease becomes a hot commodity for thieves, Two Missouri brothers facing charges for grease theft.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

America vs Europe trade war over carbon looming

The European Union is about to take two small steps on the long journey of combating climate change: A small "tax" on air travel and another small tax on fossil fuels based on exactly how polluting the specific type of fossil fuel is. Both could ultimately end up in WTO courts; the former brought there by the US, the latter by tar sands would-be super-power Canada.

The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011

The Republican majority US House of Representatives voted to bar US airlines from paying the tax on carbon emissions ("European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011"). The airline tax is part of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) from 2008; it hands out 85% of the industry's emissions to them for free, lets them buy the remaining 15% on a free (dirt cheap) market. The industry estimate the tax would cost US airlines about $3.1 billion between 2012 and 2020.

"This bill could ignite a trade war that would put tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in jeopardy. [...] By barring U.S.- based airlines from complying with applicable law for flights traveling to EU airports, this bill would compel those airlines either to drop their EU routes or become scofflaws."
- Annie Petsonk, Environmental Defense Fund

Pause for a second to consider the opposite situation: The EU or other countries prohibiting their corporations to comply with a US environmental law. Not to mention the facts that the Republican's arguments - that the EU law is a "competitive disadvantage" and in "violation of international law" are both simply wrong. Dear Obama, please archive this law in your paper recycling bin.

Sources: Bloomberg / U.S. Vote on EU Aviation Plan May Start Trade War, Environment Group Says, Think Progress / House Could Start Trade War With Europe Over Airline Greenhouse Pollution, Green Economy / Republican-Majority House Votes Trade War against Europe, Center for American Progress / House Airline Bill Risks Diplomatic Fallout and Disaster to U.S. Industry.

The Fuel Quality Directive

A tax based on the relative environmental harm done by different kinds of fuel doesn't sound that bad an idea does it? Well, Canada, currently projecting the billions it plans to make from transforming huge swaths of forest into polluted gravel deserts, consider it a European political attack on them. Elsewhere this would file under "conspiracy theory".

"We have the knowledge and the fact that the oil sands are more CO2-polluting than other kinds of fuel [...] And therefore we say it should have a specific value. It's nothing targeted against this particular fuel. We are doing that with all our different biofuels. It's the same methodology that we are applying for different things in the same directive [...] And now we are discussing this also with our member states, with the Commission, which has proposed this."
- Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard

"Canada's plans for tar sands will put the world on track for 6 degrees of warming, way past the globally accepted limit of 2 degrees [...] Six degrees would be game over."
- Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace

The Fuel Quality Directive ranks...
  • coal-to-liquid: 172 grams of carbon per megajoule
  • oil shale: 131.3 grams
  • oil sands crude: 107 grams
  • conventional oil: 87.5 grams

Greenpeace is blaming Britain (Canada ally) and Estonia (having oil-shale resources) of delaying the legislation.

Sources: The McGill Daily / Canada opposes EU's labelling of tar sands, Reuters / EU climate chief: science shows Canada oil sand risk, EurActive / Britain accused of stalling EU tar sands regulation.

Occupy Wall Street? Occupy Earth! Nature is in the 99%

Remember how Bill McKibben of gave a short speech at Wall Street lately? He's not the only one connecting the dots between the socially unjust financial crisis and the environment. When I went to Occupy Copenhagen last time I think most of the speakers were mostly going on about the bank bailouts - but I was chatting to the guy next to me about... socially unjust exploitation of natural resources.

In case you missed Bill's speech, here are some highlights for you:
"[...] the company building that ["Keystone XL"] tar sands pipeline was allowed to choose another company to conduct the environmental impact statement, and the company that they chose was a company was a company that did lots and lots of work for them [... in his campaign Obama said] "It’s time to end the tyranny of oil.” [...] “I will have the most transparent government in history.” We have to go to DC to find out where they have locked that guy up. We have to free Obama, because there is some sort of stunt double there now. [...] The reason that it’s so great that we’re occupying Wall Street is because Wall Street has been occupying the atmosphere. That’s why we can never do anything about global warming. [...] The sky does not belong to Exxon. They cannot keep using it as a sewer into which to dump their carbon."

More dots are connected in Chip Ward's How the 1% Pillage the Environment:
"[...] when there’s money to be made, both workers and the environment are expendable [...] If you are a CEO who skims millions of dollars off other people’s labor, it’s called a “bonus.”  If you are a flood victim who breaks into a sporting goods store to grab a lifejacket, it’s called looting. If you lose your job and fall behind on your mortgage, you get evicted.  If you are a banker-broker who designed flawed mortgages that caused a million people to lose their homes, you get a second-home vacation-mansion near a golf course. If you drag heavy fishnets across the ocean floor and pulverize an entire ecosystem, ending thousands of years of dynamic evolution and depriving future generations of a healthy ocean, it’s called free enterprise.  But if, like Tim DeChristopher, you disrupt an auction of public land to oil and gas companies, it’s called a crime and you get two years in jail. [...] The 1% are willing to spend billions impeding democratic initiatives, which is why every so-called environmental issue is also about building a democratic culture. [...] Tearing apart wildlife habitat to make a profit and doing the same at a workplace are just considered the price of doing business. Clearcutting a forest and clearcutting a labor force are two sides of the same coin. [...] The desperate effort to grow the economy to solve our economic woes is what keeps Timothy Geithner at the helm of the Treasury and is what stalls the regulation of greenhouse gasses.  It’s why we are told we must sacrifice environmental quality for pipelines and why young men and women are sacrificed to protect access to oil, the lubricant for an acquisitive economic engine. [...] we have built an all-encompassing economic engine that requires unending growth.  A contraction of even a percent or two is a crisis, and yet we are embedded in ecosystems that are reaching or have reached their limits. [...] Like so much else these days, the crash, as it happens, will not be suffered in equal measure by all of us. The one percenters will be atop the hill, while the 99% will be in the flood lands below swimming for their lives, clinging to debris, or drowning. [...] Degrading the planet’s operating systems to bolster the bottom line is foolish and reckless. It hurts us all. No less important, it’s unfair. The 1% profit, while the rest of us cough and cope. After Occupy Wall Street, isn’t it time for Occupy Earth?"

And finally: According to Grist / Green issues and greenbacks: Occupy Wall Street connects the dots [VIDEO] the #OWS themed environmentalism Sunday!
"Every bank which you are down here protesting finances extreme energy -- fracking, tar sands development, mountaintop removal, deep water drilling."
- Gasland documentary director Josh Fox
[Update 31st December 2011 via Naomi A. Klein] Occupy sustainability: the 1% are blocking the transition to a renewable energy economy
"To make our society sustainable, we have to deal not just with environmental issues and climate change, but with the economic crisis, and resource depletion. The most effective responses will deal with all three aspects at once.  While climate change response has mostly been blocked, Occupy has gotten traction, channeling public outrage at the bailouts, the debt crisis, and rising unemployment. Occupy supporters should think about putting the transition to a renewable energy economy, which addresses all three aspects of sustainability, at the core of their agenda. The 1% absolutely does not want us to realize how urgently this transition is needed.  Their power depends on keeping the unsustainable fossil fuel economy running as long as possible. They’re heavily invested in it. Of the 10 largest global corporations, 6 are oil companies. To continue making as much money as they can, they would have us wait until it’s too late to make a successful transition."
Follow links to read the full articles.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Climate change and the new geography of violence

One of the unpleasant effects of climate change is its tendency to incite further conflict where such already exist and in some cases war is already looming. Sociologist and writer Christian Parenti is blaming "pathologies of neoliberalism" and Cold War leftovers that converge with climate change effects for inciting further conflict where it already lingers. Already by now large parts of the political landscape are out of the target group of Parenti's message but he supports his assertion by way of his good storytelling based on personal experiences and interviews - and he finishes with an almost pro-capitalism conclusion.

Chapter 2 is pretty much a summary of some of the military reports I have linked to in Ecowar posts tagged 'military' plus a few other. Chapter 3 is a brief history of the US military which at first seems a bit thorough for a climate change book but actually shows how it has been on a long journey from conventional "European" warfare to guerrilla warfare inspired by North American Indian tribes and Ernesto "Che" Guevara. And ends up with a grim forecast (p. 36) of "the essence of militarized adaption to climate chaos: dirty war forever." In part, global counter-insurgency is an adaption to climate change that most of us wouldn't agree to if given the choice.

Part 2 is about Africa and describe how the Cold War proxy-wars have left unresolved conflicts now to converge with climate change effects, mostly via Parenti's own experiences visiting the areas. Most notably the stories from northern Kenyan herders who increasingly arm themselves to defend and raid cattle as droughts kill off livestock. Chapter 7 details the Cold War prequel to the current desert anarchy in Somalia. Chapter 8, the last of part 2, is a brilliant description of what a failed state is exactly.

Urban herd
I traveled in Kenya January/February 2011. This photo is from the suburbs of Kisumu. I enjoyed the view over the Rift Valley and Lake Victoria. It is a bit chilling to read Parenti's stories from Kenya - in fact the book begins and ends with the corpse of a cattle herder left to rot under a tree and the questions of and answers to who killed him. All of the brutal incidents and trends in drought and plunder play out some kilometers away down the great valley.

Part 3 is about Asia and observes how in Afghanistan "the poppy economy and its armed defense are local adaption mechanisms" (wheat use six times more water than poppy which is worth 50 times the price). Chapter 10 is a rare insight to the conflicts in Kyrgyzstan - a lot more interesting than it may sound! Parenti then moves on to the India-Pakistan conflict of declining river flows, provoking dams, mass-murderous droughts, devastating floods, cross border state terrorism, suicide by pesticide Monsanto farmers and Maoist guerrillas. Very complex and under-reported in Western media yet clearly fueled by climate change.

Part 4 is about Latin America and the US. On page 181 Parenti's main message is summed up:
"catastrophic convergence: policies that create poverty and violence are now colliding with the new realities of climate change, and together these three forces are creating socially destructive forms of adaption."
Brazil and Mexico receive treatment in each their own chapters. Not just the always shockingly brutal gang violence is described, so too are more positive examples of coping: an example of organic agriculture and Keynesian economics. The efforts by Bolivia are hailed before the US is described in less than praising terms.

However, although being very critical of neoliberalism and in favor of state run initiatives to halt pollution and force clean technologies forward, Parenti is distancing himself from radical approaches involving revolutionary changes to the economy and society as we know it. First of all for a simple reason: There is no time. We need to start solving the climate problem now, thus we need to start doing it with tools known to work within the capitalist system. And it can be done, Parenti argues, because we have both the technology and the money. Fossil energies probably only have a lead right now because it has been so heavily subsidized for decades. And if there is money now for blowing up bubbles (housing, food etc) to create poverty as prices go up, unemployment and riots as the bubbles burst then, surely, that money could be redirected towards sustainable development.

Christian Parenti's Tropic of Chaos is a great book. Concise, well written and fair in reasoning. It isn't exhaustive as many conflicts from around the world are left untold of. It isn't academic as it assumes basic understanding of the climate, the economy and world affairs and simply move on with its stories from there while it doesn't dig into recent scientific results either. At times, perhaps, it's a bit too much a book of stories as Parenti shares many details of the converging issues. It is brave as it is critical of both the far-right media environment as well as of Bill "350" McKibben. Tropic of Chaos is the third book about how (not if) climate change is causing increased conflict I have read. If you want to read only one book about climate change and war this book should probably be it. (Alternatives are the more imaginative and dystopic Climate Wars by Gwynne Dyer reviewed here December 2010 and the scientifically precise and short Climate Conflict by Jeffrey Mazo reviewed here April 2011.)

Further reading/viewing for you right now: Large parts of the book can be read at Google Books. Also, Christian Parenti has given interviews on the book and its topics...

From Foreign Policy in Focus / Interview with Christian Parenti:
"The military runs scenarios of what the future will bring. What they see is not so much an increase in conventional warfare between states as an increase in humanitarian crisis, civil war, banditry, religious wars, state breakdown. And they realize that the armed forces will be called on to respond with various forms of low-intensity conflict: counter-insurgency, direct intervention, humanitarian intervention, shoring-up allied states, as well as increased training and advisory roles in these conflicts. [... In international negotiations] The United States has played a non-productive role, a destructive role. It has not taken the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations seriously, and as a result they have broken down. We are the largest economy in the world, and until recently we were the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world before China overtook us. The world looks to the United States for leadership but U.S. actions, especially at Copenhagen, were really depressing. [...] What will change the U.S. position? Protest, clearly. There has to be a movement that forces the Obama administration to do this. The Obama administration is proving itself to be very right-wing on many issues, including this one."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Biofuel demand and CO2 quotas drive violent land grabs in Honduras

To the country whose history coined the term "banana republic" land grabs is not a new phenomenon. The European Union funding it by buying carbon credits and biofuel from the perpetrators is, however.

In the case of Honduras, the global rush for production of biofuel and access to carbon credits is making it profitable for national and international business to maintain the unequal distribution of land between Honduras' poor and the elite. It also makes it possible for international institutions, corporations and donors to support domestic land grabbing or the
status quo of unequal land ownership where serious human rights abuses occur. To this date, there is no global human rights mechanism incorporated in the global carbon market that can prevent countries from buying carbon credits from CDM-projects in developing countries, which include land grabbing tactics or land issues where human rights are violated.
- "Stolen Land, Stolen Future", p. 4

The Bajo Aguan valley on the north coast is a hot spot for not just land disputes but drug trafficking and crime in general. The elite owns most of the land which is increasingly used for production of internationally subsidized biofuels and other export crops. During year 2011 about 40 people were killed in conflicts between security forces and landless peasants. October 2011 about 45 people were killed in a clash between poor squatting peasants and authorities.

"There are worrying signs that the Honduran government is moving 1200 police officers and military personnel into the area [...] That has previously been a source of conflict."
- Toni Sandell, human rights worker with Aprodev, a coalition of Christian NGO's

The Green group in the European Parliament demand of Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard that the EU stop buying carbon credits via the CDM project from the Honduran palm plantations.

Sources: Stolen Land, Stolen Future (1.26 MB PDF), Inside Costa Rica / Honduras: Nearly 44 People Killed in Aguan, EurActive / Carbon credits tarnished by human rights 'disgrace'.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Obama intervenes in Ugandan oil trouble zone

Oil have been found in the underground below Lake Albert on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Western companies are working with the Ugandan government to get development under way but a myriad of issues seem to delay the project: Criminal and rebel activity is up and rising, Ugandan democracy is struggling for control with the shady closed door negotiations and now US troops enter the picture. Al Jazeera summed up the situation in less than two minutes, October 14th:

Recipe for an oil war

Heritage Oil and Tullow Oil are guessing the 2.5 billion barrel or larger field is the largest onshore field found in sub-saharan Africa in more than two decades. Production of 150,000 barrels of oil per day by 2015 place Uganda among top 50 oil producing nations is planned. The latter company, Irish Tullow Oil, is now accused of having bribed three Ugandan ministers with 100 million USD in July 2010 in return for concessions. The ministers resigned October 2011. Tullow denies allegations, maintain an anti-bribe image and have funded a lake rescue station which they claim have already saved the lives of more than 70 local fishermen. Also in the deal are French Total and Chinese Cnooc. Those corporations are expected to claim 2/3 of the 3-4 billion USD hoped to be made annually.

A leaked US embassy cable (Wikileaks, #08KAMPALA393) reveals Uganda have been asking for help stepping up security in and around the oil rich area. John Morley of Tullow Oil is quoted for saying that as oil activity on Lake Albert increase a security presence would be vital. The cable mention "several clashes on Lake Albert between oil companies and entities from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) demonstrate that oil production has increased local tensions and exacerbated cross-border hostilities". In 2007 a British drilling platform worker was killed by Congolese soldiers who claimed the barge had strayed into Congolese waters. Although the Ugandan and Congolese governments are talking and are in agreement concerning the precise geography of the border the armed forces on the Congolese side of the border are not always government-related.

An intervention overdue?

Several militias fight in the area and in just recent months thousands have had to fled their homes, hundreds have been kidnapped. Adding to the Congolese militias the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels as well as the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony add to the insecurity. FDLR is a Hutu group whose two top leaders are held in France and Germany on charges of crimes against humanity yet whose troops raped at least 154 civilians from July 30 to August 3, 2010, in the town of Luvungi. LRA is the Ugandan theocratic militia of self-proclaimed prophet Joseph Kony, who claims to be acting on orders from spirits sent by God, and whose ranks have been inflated by an estimated 66,000 children abducted for soldiering. October 2005 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants on Kony and four other leading members of LRA; the 33 charges include murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement and pillaging.

Recently, the Ugandan presiden spent US$780 million on six Russian jet fighters. A decision that raises eyebrows in a country with a GDP of less than 500USD per capita.
"We don’t live in an enemy-free neighbourhood. So, don’t look at the purchase in terms of cost. The Great Lakes region is one of the most unsafe regions."
- Ugandan presiden Yoweri Museveni

Since 2008 the US have donated more than 40 million USD on supporting the Local counter-militia efforts. And now 100 Green Berets have been sent as military advisers for the governments of the region. They are receiving a warm welcome.

"For 20 years, the government of Uganda has been pleading with our American and European friends to help in the LRA problem, because these are international terrorists. We wanted our friends to help in providing technical support — such as intelligence — because they have the best."
- Uganda's acting foreign minister Henry Okello Oryem

"Any support to tackle the LRA is a good move [...] South Sudan is already working with Uganda's army in operations against the LRA, and we will be pleased to work with anyone who can help us combat the threat [...] We have large communities whose lives are ruined by these rebels, so the sooner we can end this once and for all will be something we will look forward to."
- South Sudan army spokesman Philip Aguer

"The Central African Republic today more than needs external assistance like that of United States [...] Many hundreds of our people have been killed, others kidnapped or displaced, their homes ransacked, destroyed, their possessions looted. It is unbearable."
- CAR Deputy defence minister Jean-Francis Bozize

Thus, the link between the US troops and the oil is still a "conspiracy theory". Obama and the US is simply making friends while helping the world get rid of monsters. Human Rights Watch has advocated for intervention for years.

Yet at home knee-jerk reactions are dominated by right-wing isolationism/grudges and left-wing anti-war sentiments.

The enemy within

A recent report, "Oil Extraction and the Potential for Domestic Instability in Uganda", warns about other dangers than cross-border guerrilla warfare: the possible side-effects of a sudden large scale resource industry entering a developing economy. President Museveni, who first seems to have orchestrated the addition of a third presidential term to the constitution then won a low turnout election disputed by international observers, is already speaking of "his" oil.

"If Museveni gains access to substantial oil revenue, the combination of considerable oil funds and strong presidential powers could increase the ability of his government to remain in power indefinitely. [...] Increases in corrupt behavior would essentially require secrecy in government dealings. A reduction in government transparency in oil and tax revenue management would then incentivize Museveni’s government to become increasingly autocratic in its relationship with the public and political opponents, as has so often been the pattern in other oil producing states."

Also, susceptibility to the Dutch Disease should be considered:

"If the government does not reinvest revenues into public works to soften the blow of economic change, domestic instability may ensue [...] The poor and disaffected youths are the most likely to turn to violence in order to redress socio-political grievances. A young, growing, and increasingly urban population indicates the potential for civil strife in Uganda. The added stress of urban migration associated with oil production may only exacerbate the dynamics behind civil strife. [...] If Museveni’s government makes its decisions public and is held accountable, it is more likely to choose anti-corruption policies that are favorable to the public interest."

The report estimate the risk of civil war in Uganda as 1.96% if the new found resource wealth is handled wisely, 14.05% if not. Dutch Disease effects could be both mitigated and worsened by the fact that multiple industries are likely to boom: in 2010 firms from Russia, China, India, Australia and South Africa started operating in Uganda after finds of copper, iron ore, cobalt, tin, gold and platinum.

"We must be Africa’s Norway. We must manage our oil resources in the stellar manner in which Botswana has managed its wealth from diamonds."
- Bank of Uganda Governor, Emmanuel Mutebile

We haven't heard much from the hopeful Iraqi politicians who once voiced similar intentions with their oil. However, it does seem Obama is at least trying to do better than his predecessor(s). And if a US president can't even go to war against someone as evil as Joseph Kony he truly can do nothing at all - yet, who knows if the Tea Party will side with Kony and his lunatic army?

View Larger Map

Sources include: The Independent (Uganda) / Oil could cause war, Capital News (Kenya) / Uganda welcomes US troops to hunt rebel leaders, Sunday Monitor (Uganda) / Here is what is at stake with Uganda’s oil, The Atlantic / Why Is Obama Sending Troops Against the Lord's Resistance Army?, / Uganda: Scramble for Minerals Begins.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Free book: "Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa the Tragedy of Endowment" by Abiodun Alao

Abiodun Alao Natural Resources and Conflict in Africa the Tragedy of Endowment Rochester Studies in African...
From the conclusion:

"the tendency to see natural resources either as a “curse” or a “blessing,” or the conflicts emanating from them as being rooted in “scarcity” or “abundance,” is inherently flawed" [...] neitherscarcity nor abundance has been a consistent factor as a cause of conflict [...] oil has, to a large extent at least, beena blessing to Libya while many Nigerians consider the same resource as acurse [...] The prevalence of violent conflicts over natural resources in Africa is due largely to the management of these resources.


despite the euphoria surround-ing the ongoing calls for transparency and good governance in Africa, theseefforts, though commendable in themselves, will not put an end to conflictsover natural resources in the continent. Although some of the conflicts arerooted in corruption and lack of democracy, a far greater percentage of theseconflicts have emerged because these resources are not distributed and man-aged in ways that benefit the population, especially the resource-producingcommunities, even in so-called democratic countries.


virtually all conflicts over natural resources in Africacan be linked to the governance of the natural resources sector [...] African countries do not have structuresto manage natural resources in ways that can prevent conflicts.

Haven't read it yet but it looks like a thorough overview of natural resource conflicts in Africa up to year 2007 although a bit simplistic in playing down the role of natural resources because other factors appear more important. Also, the Libya argument is kinda outdated...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blood and soil!? Scarcity and conflict re-revisited

Inspired by the growing body of literature linking natural resource scarcity to conflict, dating back at least to the 1960s but gaining momentum in recent years, Norwegian Ole Magnus Theisen published a review of the statistical literature on this link in 2008. In short, his conclusion was that large scale violence was generally not linked to scarcity of natural resources; but in stead to poverty and poor governance.

The literature reviewed have argued resource scarcity was the main cause of the Rwandan genocide, violent local clashes in Kenya, South Africa, Assam, Chiapas, Sudan and elsewhere. With varying significance land degradation, freshwater scarcity, population density (growth), deforestation, youth bulges, deviations in precipitation and similar factors have been shown to increase the risk of violent civil conflict. The problem is: when updating and expanding the datasets of two of the previous studies, Theisen was unable to replicate the statistical results.

Performing a re-computation of two statistical studies Theisen found most links previously found to be significant now fell out of traditional intervals of interest (P<0.1, at least). In the first evaluation high levels of land degradation still set off the alarm bells as it appears to significantly increase the risks of conflict onset. In the second evaluation the existence of oil resources were confirmed to increase conflicts. (The two studies didn't test for the exact same links and did also show links to non-natural resource causes, i.e. political stability.)

Theisen points out some of the problems with the studies he revisit (and with his own): Statistics have problems with investigating complex interactions such as those from natural resource scarcity to conflict, ecological fallacies are easily committed when calculating on national averages, which area is degraded and which is a rich land is sometimes determined by the eye of the beholder.

Since 2008...
Much has happened and much has been written in the three years since Theisen published in Journal of Peace Research. He himself have co-authored a chapter, Implications of climate change for armed conflict, in the book Social dimensions of climate change: equity and vulnerability in a warming world, in which he calls the warnings of climate change possibly leading to more conflict "alarmist" (as "exaggerated"). The point is, climate change and/or resource scarcity caused by climate change or other factors are never the primary cause of conflict. But it may add yet another unbearable burden to already struggling societies and through complex social and political pathways it can contribute to conflict risk.
Global warming linked to conflict - not really. Post Cold War dynamics are clearly different. Social dimensions of climate change, page 80.

In climate change related political news (not academic research) the CIA has established a climate change office from which all research is top secret, Russia is expanding with two Arctic brigades of marine infantry and the notion of climate change already causing conflict is spreading. And that's just some recent reports, much more is to be found here at Ecowar.

Early 2011 the risk of riots was statistically linked to food prices. A food price spike in 2008 led to many food riots which in turn inspired increased "land grabs" - multinational corporations or corporations from non-poor countries buying up land in poor countries with the intention of growing food products (and biofuel) for the world market. In fact, since 2008 areas about seven times the size of Germany have been scooped up. In Guatemala hundreds of indigenous villagers have been chased from their rural homes, their huts burned as the military clear the area for richer farmers or agricultural businesses. In Nigeria, some villages have just clashed over disputed lands. Again, just some recent news.

I suspect Theisen's 2008 study would come out a bit different if done today just three years later?

ResearchBlogging.orgMagnus Theisen, O. (2008). Blood and Soil? Resource Scarcity and Internal Armed Conflict Revisited Journal of Peace Research, 45 (6), 801-818 DOI: 10.1177/0022343308096157

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Watch 'The Ambassador' first chance you get

Mads Brügger - whose last documentary consisted entirely of ultra rare recordings from deep inside North Korea - is releasing a new documentary; this time about corruption in the Central African Republic (CAR). Not posing as a diplomat, but having bribed his way to actual diplomatic immunity, Mads travels to the capital Bangui to set up a consulate and mingle with shady businessmen and poor, clueless locals.

Check out the 2 minute trailer...

A lot of the footage has been captured with hidden cameras, hence of less than perfect quality, the rest with a Canon 5D which no-one in the entire country recognized as a film camera. Real life crooks exposing themselves include European dealers of diplomatic passports, local criminals / businessmen, the now dead chief of the CAR secret service and some international diplomats.

It appears corruption is more widespread than most would assume. Illegal trading in diamonds is much more widespread than most could imagine. And that France, the former colonial master, is still meddling in affairs there - in a completely amoral fashion.

A must-see for anyone interested in foreign aid, blood diamonds, international diplomacy, the exploitation of Africa or just how to do a documentary. Genre-wise it is related to the works of Michael Moore and Sacha Baron Cohen, I'd say. Don't miss it.

Listen to Mads Brügger talk and answer questions for half an hour - in Danish:

You need these links: The Ambassador at IMDb, Wikipedia entry about the Central African Republic.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

As on Helgoland, so in Cambodia

Once upon a time...
Forsete, son of Balder and Nanna, grandson of Odin, was a Norse and Frisian god of justice. The isle of Helgoland off the coast of what is now Schleswig-Holstein, Germany was sacred in his name. It was customary to settle disputes of all kinds by arranged battle on islands; the term for this, holmgang, means "walk on the isle". But Helgoland could have been the historical site of Glitnir, home of Forsete, a sacred spring and/or an ancient court. The Northumbrian missionary saint Willibrord (born year 658, dead 739) destroyed numerous "pagan" sites, including any related to the worship of Forsete on Helgoland.

The invention of bronze around year 3500 BC in the Middle East reached Western Europe and Scandinavia around 2200 to 1800 BC. Bronze consist of 90% copper and 10% tin - and one of the main sources of copper was the isle of Helgoland where the cliffs have a high copper content. People all over Scandinavia would pay in dear for bronze knives and jewelry with mined flint stone, collected amber and animal hides.

Perhaps the dispute between Forsete and Willibrord might not have been a religious one only. Perhaps it was Christians claiming both judiciary supremacy as well as mining rights? During the about 900 years following Willibrord's raze of Helgoland the island shrunk to a tiny fraction of its original size as copper mining accelerated.
Helgoland shrinking. Maps from year 800 (largest, white area), year 1300 (darkened) and year 1649 (two small isles, white areas) superimposed.
Helgoland today. Satellite photo via Google Maps shows remaining isles even smaller than in 1649.

Helgoland Acantilado 2

Right now in Asia...
Singapore, the success story of Asia, is growing. Not just economically: its land area has increased by about 20% in recent years and a further 100 square kilometers are already in planning. This is possible only by importing vast amounts of sand - 14.6 million tons in 2010. Malaysia banned sand export already in 1997. Entire Indonesian islands have been deleted from the world map so they too banned exports in 2007 but smuggling is said to continue. Vietnam followed with a ban in 2009.

Today sand companies have their eyes on Cambodia. Although sand export being partially banned since 2009 both corruption and poverty allows plenty of exports to continue. Nearly 800,000 tons a year is said to move from the area of Koh Kong to Singapore alone. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars the local governor (and businessman) is currently defying a temporary government ban to allow further research.

Besides the coastal lines being weakened, leading to loss of land, the destruction of the sea bed has caused about 85-90% drops in catches of fish, crab and lobster and a near 100% drop in tourism where digging machinery and sand carrying boats ruin the atmosphere day and night. An NGO had just successfully established a culture of catering to ecotourists, to discourage locals from poaching.

Koh Kong, Cambodia.

Singapore prides itself in environmentally responsible city planning. Cambodians joke about going there to plant a Cambodian flag.

 Sources: Nordiske guder og helte, Politiken; Illustreret Danmarkshistorie for folket, 1. del, C. Deleuran; Wikipedia (multiple entries), Forbes, August 2011 / Sand for sale; environment ravaged, / Cambodia: Controversial Sand Dredging on Tatai River Continues.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Three degrees warming doubles risk of civil war

Global patterns of civil conflict are directly associated with planetary-scale climate change. Specifically in tropical countries, the risk of civil war have just been shown to double in warmer El Niño years (to about 6% risk per country per year) compared to cooler La Niña years (when the risk is about 3%).

"When you think about it, car accidents happen all the time. But they become more likely based on some environmental conditions, like when it's raining or icy. [...] What we found is quite a bit stronger than a mere correlation."
- Solomon Hsiang

Changes in climate - including anthropogenic global warming - have been linked to conflict by historical analysis (see for example Climate change and conflict frequency), security analysts (see "Climate Change and National Security" - presentation by US Navy Admiral David Titley (video)), politicians (see UN Security Council concerned climate change may aggravate threats to peace) and in reviews of existing research (see Just read "Climate Conflict" by Jeffrey Mazo and What does climate change have to do with conflict?).

According to Solomon M. Hsiang and colleagues, however, all of the above evidence is 'anecdotal'. And it certainly isn't as concrete as their own work: Running a wide selection of statistical analysis methods on on the one hand a data set of occurrences of organized political violence of more than 25 battle-related deaths and on the other climatological records of the El Niño / Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon.

Looking into their analysis, the authors note how some conflicts seem to be re-occurring events and some seem to be merely 'displaced' in time, accelerated by the climatic shifts. Also, low-income countries are most strongly affected - but are they more at risk of climate induced conflict because they are poor and lack the means to mitigate the effects of environmental impacts? or are they poor because their political stability is sensitive to the ENSO cycle, perhaps even inherently unstable, conflict prone and poor because they are located where the ENSO climate pattern is strongest? Or is a third factor, not considered in this study, influencing or guiding the sensitivity to climate and poverty in relation to conflict proneness?

The increase in conflict risk during the about three degrees Celsius warmer El Niño years roughly corresponds to the decrease observed when average income is increased tenfold. So, could climate wars 'easily' be eliminated by raising the incomes in tropical countries by a mere 1000%? Hsiang and colleagues warn against generalization of their results to apply to global anthropogenic climate change without throughout discussions of climate-conflict links. Yet, perhaps they need not look far: weather directly influences the effectiveness of agriculture, the output of which determines food supply; and since food demand is not exactly down the recently identified link from food prices to risk of riots appears to be rather significant in this respect.

ResearchBlogging.orgHsiang, S., Meng, K., & Cane, M. (2011). Civil conflicts are associated with the global climate Nature, 476 (7361), 438-441 DOI: 10.1038/nature10311

This study covered elsewhere: ars technica / El Niño appearances tied to civil conflicts in tropical countries, TIME / Does El Nino—and Climate Change—Really Cause Civil Wars?, International Business Times / El Nino Doubled Chances of Civil War in Tropical Countries, Scientific American / El Nino Ups Conflict Odds, Huffington Post / Does Climate Drive Warfare? A New Study Suggests There's No Question.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Risk of riots linked to food prices

In 19th century Bavaria rye prices correlated to property crime rates (see Correlations from weather to sociology). When food prices spiked in 2008 commentators were smart enough to mention this might have something to do with the riots across the 3rd world (see World's poor are up in arms over food prices). The first half of 2011 has seen many riots in Africa and the Middle East and again it has been pointed out that at the same time we happen to see a food price spike on world markets (see "The Great Food Crisis of 2011" by Lester Brown and Middle East riots for food, interventions for oil?). Now a statistical study of the food price index and the riot frequencies is backing up the link.

Working with the hypothesis that "widespread unrest does not arise from long-standing political failings of the system, but rather from its sudden perceived failure to provide essential security to the population" Lagi and colleagues correlated food prices to riots. When marked on a graph of the UN food price index riots clearly cluster around price spikes. Most of the riot incidents that fall more or less outside a spike can be explained by additional extraordinary circumstances.

Food price index graphed from 2004-2011. Red lines mark riot incidents. The chance that the "Arab Spring" should have randomly coincided with the price peak is estimated to be less than six percent, even less if riots in each country are considered individually.
The researchers do not conclude "high food prices cause riots". What they say is expensive food could be one factor among others setting the stage for riots. When populations are hungry, it takes lesser trigger incidents to kick-start a riot.
"These observations are consistent with a hypothesis that high global food prices are a precipitating condition for social unrest."
 - Marco Lagi to Technology Review.
Two main causes for recent food price increases are named:
  1. Investor speculation in food prices (US market deregulated)
  2. Cultivation of biofuel crops on arable land (given subsidies)
The researchers are confident enough to predict "food riots occur above a threshold of the FAO price index of 210". If prices are persistently higher than that they speculate global unrest will occur. (Although we're currently above, don't panic yet - it's assumed to be a "bubble" created by investor speculation, soon to bust, driving prices below riot levels for some time.)
Same graph with inflation corrected price graph, trend lines and riot thresholds added. The trends (average price index estimates) are extrapolated to exceed the riot thresholds some time during 2012 or 2013.

The authors sent a warning letter to the US government just four days before Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia.

Sources: Technology Review / The Cause Of Riots And The Price of Food and the original paper:
ResearchBlogging.orgMarco Lagi, Karla Z. Bertrand, Yaneer Bar-Yam (2011). The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East Physics and Society DOI:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

New evidence UN Secretary General was killed by British mercenaries in 1961

This week new evidence that former UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld was murdered on 18th September 1961 has been covered by The Guardian. The Wikipedia entry about him already lists a number of "conspiracy theories".

Who was Dag Hammarskjöld?

Swedish diplomat and economist who worked hard to promote peace tending to favor the independence of nations at a time when the world was locked in cold war and colonialism still characterized the business relationships between western corporations and developing nations. He intervened in the Suez crisis in 1957, angering Britain and France, and in the Bizerte crisis in 1961, angering France again. He morally supported newly independent Guinea, this time infuriating France who then whithdrew support for the UN Congo operation and encouraged French mercenaries to join the Congolese rebels fighting UN forces. Dag Hammarskjöld estabished the armed United Nations Emergency Force and generally strengthened the position of the United Nations considerably.

18 September 1961 the Douglas DC-6 transporting him and his delegation to cease-fire negotiations mysteriously crashed near the copper mining city Ndola (which is now in Zambia). The search and rescue mission was delayed. Official inquiries have failed to conclude on the cause of the crash and are inconsistent in certain details. These investigations were partly managed and influenced by the British military who were also there to protect British mining companies.

Dag Hammarskjöld with Trygve Lie
Dag Hammarskjöld (left), with his predecessor Trygve Lie today at UN Headquarters.
13 April 1953.

The conspiracy theories

Why was the rescue mission delayed? Why were local witnesses sent away, not interrogated? Why were the only survivor allowed to die unnecessarily in a poor local hospital? Why were poor reports on the cause of the crash rubber stamped? Didn't the British troops have conflicts of interest when they arranged the very peace negotiation Dag was to attend even while protecting the mining companies that supported the rebellion?

"... in order to pay a tribute to this great man, now vanished from the scene, and to his colleagues, all of whom have fallen victim to the shameless intrigues of the great financial Powers of the West... the Government has decided to proclaim Tuesday, 19 September 1961, a day of national mourning."
- Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, 1961

"Dag Hammarskjöld was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said, 'when they killed him'."
- Harry Truman, 33rd President of the United States (1945–1953)

Letter from Dag Hammarskjold top aides Conor Cruise O'Brien and George Ivan Smith detailing their version of the story; Guardian 1992.

"[I have] documents purporting to be from an institution called the SA Institute of Maritime Research discussing the sabotage of the aircraft in which the UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold, died on the night of September 17/18, 1961."
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 1998

The new evidence

A metal plate fragment from the DC6, previously unpublished UN telegrams and many interviews with local witnesses have been conducted by Göran Björkdahl and The Guardian the past three years. The telegraphs (cables) reveal anger from the US, British and almost all other major powers on the security council towards the UN military operation in Congo and Dag's support for decolonization. The witnesses all tell of a small plane opening fire on the larger, crashing plane.

"Hammarskjöld's DC6 was brought down [...] the motive was to maintain the west's control over Katanga minerals"
- Göran Björkdahl, Swedish aid worker, writing in Guardian

"It's clear there were a lot of circumstances pointing to possible involvement by western powers. The motive was there – the threat to the west's interests in Congo's huge mineral deposits. And this was the time of black African liberation, and you had whites who were desperate to cling on. Dag Hammarskjöld was trying to stick to the UN charter and the rules of international law. I have the impression from his telegrams and his private letters that he was disgusted by the behaviour of the big powers."
- Göran Björkdahl, Swedish aid worker, speaking to Guardian

Sources (if not as otherwise stated): Guardian / Dag Hammarskjöld unable to overcome Congo's troubled history, Guardian / Dag Hammarskjöld: evidence suggests UN chief's plane was shot down, Guardian / 'I have no doubt Dag Hammarskjöld's plane was brought down', UN cable 11 September 1961: UN frustrations with British behaviour spill over, Top secret UN cable 15 September 1961: Hammarskjöld rejects American criticism.

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