Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Middle East riots for food, interventions for oil?

It's a historical truth that when food prices rise, conflict increases. So it's no wonder that the spike in the cost of agricultural commodities in recent months has been a contributing factor to revolution in the Middle East. As the map below shows, people in relatively poor countries--including Egypt, Tunisia and others in the developing world--spend a much higher percentage of their incomes on food.
© 2011 Time Inc. Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture. The percentage of household consumption expenditures going to food is one indicator of riot prone countries.
"We're in Libya because of oil. And I think both Japan and the nuclear technology and Libya and this dependence that we have upon imported oil have both once again highlighted the need for the United States to have a renewable energy agenda going forward. [The US is right to intervene] but it all goes back to the 5 million barrels of oil that we import from (the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) on a daily basis."
- Ed Markey, Democrat.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pollution, corruption, business as usual... and corporate charity in Nigeria

February Nigerian militant groups were scrambling for "surveillance jobs" - wanting to get paid for making sure what they use to steal will not get stolen?
FIVE thousand pipeline surveillance job slots intended for former militants to secure oil facilities in Delta State has pitched former militants in the state against one another, even as members of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Urhobo chapter, have vowed to make the state ungovernable if the job slots allotted to them were not increased and given to militant leaders of the area for distribution.
See MEND threatens war over pipeline surveillance job in Delta.

Whatever the precise outcome of those negotiations they haven't been entirely successful. Oil companies spend millions on charities and advertising to stay popular and when showing journalists around they did a helicopter tour of outlaw camps for refining stolen crude:

See photos at Oil firm projects showcased ahead of Nigerian poll.

Posters show smiling students posing after receiving university scholarships. New roads appear on formerly potholed mud tracts. Millions of dollars are promised to improve the lives of the desperate poor. These campaigns by oil company Royal Dutch Shell PLC and other foreign firms make it seem they are running for office in crude-rich Nigeria, which will hold crucial presidential, federal and local elections in the coming weeks. The multinational firms have spent hundred of millions of dollars toward projects they advertise as improving the life of those living in the country's troubled Niger Delta. [...] Some estimate as much as 550 million gallons of oil have spilled in the delta from failing pipes and attacks since production began — at a rate roughly comparable to one Exxon Valdez disaster per year. Shell flew journalists in a helicopter over a cleared area in the delta where locals ran makeshift refineries turning stolen crude tapped from pipelines into diesel and kerosene. The company blamed nearly all of its oil spills in 2009 on sabotage from thieves and militants. Environmentalists and community activists routinely blame Shell for the spills, pointing at the company's aging pipelines and poor cleanup efforts.
See AP / Oil firms showcase giving ahead of Nigeria poll, but many blame them for environmental damage.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Asia: Oil, climate, conflict

A British company has been surveying for oil by Philippine request in waters China says is theirs.

Energy & Capital / China's Next Oil War:
China’s energy demand is insatiable. The country's state-owned oil firms are on an international buying spree and a disputed group of islands in the South China Sea could be the catalyst for the next oil war. [...] Learning from the West, China is picking up a big stick and enforcing its territorial claims... After all, the West has a long history of military adventures regarding rebels who sit on oil patches. [...] Today, China warned against any oil exploration without its consent in waters it claims in the South China Sea. This comes after a Philippine announcement that Forum Energy had completed a seismic survey for a piece of ocean near the Spratly Islands. The next step would be drilling. The oil-rich Spratlys are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and China. [...] The Spratlys are a group of 100 islands that cover 410,000 square kilometers. Some 45 of these islands are occupied by small military units. In recent years, various countries have been building airstrips and bunkers to protect their claims — which, up until recently, have been used as fishing stations and scuba Meccas. But battles have been fought in the past..., a historical military website, writes: "In 1988, China and Vietnam fought a naval battle, off the Spratly islands. The Chinese victory, in which a Chinese warship sank a Vietnamese transport carrying troops headed for one of the disputed islands, was followed by Chinese troops establishing garrisons on some of the islands. In 1992, Chinese marines landed on Da Lac reef, in the Spratly Islands. In 1995, Chinese marines occupied Mischief Reef, which was claimed by the Philippines." It is clear China intends to defend its claims over the Spratly islands. It is unknown how these conflicts will be resolved. [...] Oil is the lifeblood of the world economy. Eight of the last nine recessions in the U.S were preceded by high oil prices.

Elsewhere: AFP / China warns against S. China Sea oil exploration, Philippine Star / China's military dominance over Spratlys affecting international trade.

In slightly related news, I just updated my collection of climate change and COP-15 related cables in the Wikileaks "cablegate". This time a headline from a Japanese agenda dated 26th of June 2009 read: "Japan-U.S. Sea Power Dialogue [...] Study the possibility of the security environment worsening due to climate change."

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Columbian Gold

No, it's not the latest trend in South American marihuana. Unfortunately, it's the latest in guerrilla warfare funding.

January it was reported how a laptop captured from left wing rebels FARC by the Colombian government had contained information about how the group had started business in gold mining. (Colombia Reports / 'FARC use illegal mining to finance war')

Last week The New York Times published In Colombia, New Gold Rush Fuels Old Conflict with more details. It turns out it's not just FARC but multiple sides in the conflict that are turning their eyes on gold as cocaine becomes harder and harder to produce while more gold mines are located and gold prices are up. Paramilitaries related to right, left or apolitical outlaw groups launder the profits through, for example, cattle ranching.

One city, Antioquia, has the highest mercury pollution levels found anywhere according to one United Nations investigation. Lawless miners use the liquid form of the toxic heavy metal without restraint or concern and an estimated 67 tons are released every year. About 30,000 miners take part in the gold rush, shrugging at the danger of working in waters thick with mercury.
"All I can say is that he who has the gun gives the orders."
 - miner in Anorí, Octaviano Hernández

Conjunto de piezas de oro y esmeralda , Museo del Oro Bogotá Colombia

Monday, March 07, 2011

"Climate Change and National Security" - presentation by US Navy Admiral David Titley (video)

Oceanographer for the U.S. Navy, RADM David Titley discusses the hot topic of climate change, and its impending ramifications on national security. Listen as he details some of the top facts and figures you should know about climate change and your future, explained in terms that even the most unfamiliar with science would be able to understand.

Disposition / key points of his speech:
  1. How he changed from skeptic to concerned.
    • "We are operating in nature's casino. I intend to count the cards."
    • A number of the most obvious explanations: not the sun, better models etc.
    • Funny comparison between carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to alcohol in the blood.
  2. [From 15:47] Why the army cares about climate change.
    • "Changes in the opening of the Arctic. [...The Bering Strait could get] the importance of the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Hormuz [combined] because we have fossil fuels coming out and we [USA] and Russia together control that strait - that's a big change."
    • "What's gonna happen to the sea level rise?" The IPCC under-estimates sea level rise. "We're the navy. We tend to build our bases at sea level. [...] But it's more than that; it's the US infrastructure. Look at where our oil refineries are. [They are in Houston, New Orleans, Oakland] it's all at sea level."
    • Ocean acidification could become a food security issue for one billion people.
Found via Peter Sinclair (thanks). (He also cut up the video in the two parts so go there if you prefer that.)

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