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Tomgram: Michael Klare, Are Resource Wars Our Future?

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com.

These days, all you have to do is look around if you want your hair to stand on end on the subject of our future on this planet. Here's just a little relatively random list of recent news on climate-change-related happenings.

Mexico was recently hit by the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, average global temperatures for September ran off the rails. ("This marks the fifth consecutive month a monthly high temperature record has been set and is the highest departure from average for any month among all 1,629 months in the record that began in January 1880.") It was the seventh month of 2015 to be "record shattering" and the year itself looks as if it might cumulatively be the same. (By now, this story is considered so humdrum and expectable that it didn't even make the front page of my hometown newspaper!) The cataclysmic civil war, terror war, and international conflict in Syria is being reclassified as the first climate-change war based on the staggering drought that preceded it. That, in fact, has been called "the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago." Turning to colder climes, ice in Antarctica is melting so unexpectedly quickly that, according to the latest research, the continent's ice shelves might be heading for collapse by 2100, guaranteeing a future rise in sea levels of potentially staggering proportions. Meanwhile, last week you could go online and watch dramatic video evidence of the melting of Greenland -- rivers of water raging across a dissolving ice shelf that, one of these decades, will raise sea levels by an estimated 20 feet globally. And oh yes, for those of you curious about the hotter regions, a new study indicates that heat waves in the Persian Gulf may be so fierce before or by the end of this century that, in some of parts of the oil heartlands of the planet, they might quite literally endanger human survival.

Need I go on? Need I mention why the upcoming climate change confab in Paris in a few weeks matters big time? Need I add that, whatever agreements may be reached there, they are essentially guaranteed not to be enough to bring global warming truly under control. And in that context, if you think that a Greater Middle East with five failed states in it since 2001 is already a nightmare, consider TomDispatch regular Michael Klare's vision of a resource-war-torn planet in a "record-shattering" future of abysmal heat and climate tipping points. If you want to know what's at stake for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, read this article. Tom

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Why the Paris Climate Summit Will Be a Peace Conference
Averting a World of Failed States and Resource Wars
By Michael T. Klare

At the end of November, delegations from nearly 200 countries will convene in Paris for what is billed as the most important climate meeting ever held. Officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the 1992 treaty that designated that phenomenon a threat to planetary health and human survival), the Paris summit will be focused on the adoption of measures that would limit global warming to less than catastrophic levels. If it fails, world temperatures in the coming decades are likely to exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees Fahrenheit), the maximum amount most scientists believe the Earth can endure without experiencing irreversible climate shocks, including soaring temperatures and a substantial rise in global sea levels.

A failure to cap carbon emissions guarantees another result as well, though one far less discussed. It will, in the long run, bring on not just climate shocks, but also worldwide instability, insurrection, and warfare. In this sense, COP-21 should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference -- perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history.

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To grasp why, consider the latest scientific findings on the likely impacts of global warming, especially the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). When first published, that report attracted worldwide media coverage for predicting that unchecked climate change will result in severe droughts, intense storms, oppressive heat waves, recurring crop failures, and coastal flooding, all leading to widespread death and deprivation. Recent events, including a punishing drought in California and crippling heat waves in Europe and Asia, have focused more attention on just such impacts. The IPCC report, however, suggested that global warming would have devastating impacts of a social and political nature as well, including economic decline, state collapse, civil strife, mass migrations, and sooner or later resource wars.

These predictions have received far less attention, and yet the possibility of such a future should be obvious enough since human institutions, like natural systems, are vulnerable to climate change. Economies are going to suffer when key commodities -- crops, timber, fish, livestock -- grow scarcer, are destroyed, or fail. Societies will begin to buckle under the strain of economic decline and massive refugee flows. Armed conflict may not be the most immediate consequence of these developments, the IPCC notes, but combine the effects of climate change with already existing poverty, hunger, resource scarcity, incompetent and corrupt governance, and ethnic, religious, or national resentments, and you're likely to end up with bitter conflicts over access to food, water, land, and other necessities of life.

The Coming of Climate Civil Wars

Such wars would not arise in a vacuum. Already existing stresses and grievances would be heightened, enflamed undoubtedly by provocative acts and the exhortations of demagogic leaders. Think of the current outbreak of violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories, touched off by clashes over access to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (also known as the Noble Sanctuary) and the inflammatory rhetoric of assorted leaders. Combine economic and resource deprivation with such situations and you have a perfect recipe for war.

The necessities of life are already unevenly distributed across the planet. Often the divide between those with access to adequate supplies of vital resources and those lacking them coincides with long-term schisms along racial, ethnic, religious, or linguistic lines. The Israelis and Palestinians, for example, harbor deep-seated ethnic and religious hostilities but also experience vastly different possibilities when it comes to access to land and water. Add the stresses of climate change to such situations and you can naturally expect passions to boil over.

Climate change will degrade or destroy many natural systems, often already under stress, on which humans rely for their survival. Some areas that now support agriculture or animal husbandry may become uninhabitable or capable only of providing for greatly diminished populations. Under the pressure of rising temperatures and increasingly fierce droughts, the southern fringe of the Sahara desert, for example, is now being transformed from grasslands capable of sustaining nomadic herders into an empty wasteland, forcing local nomads off their ancestral lands. Many existing farmlands in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East will suffer a similar fate. Rivers that once supplied water year-round will run only sporadically or dry up altogether, again leaving populations with unpalatable choices.

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As the IPCC report points out, enormous pressure will be put upon often weak state institutions to adjust to climate change and aid those in desperate need of emergency food, shelter, and other necessities. "Increased human insecurity," the report says, "may coincide with a decline in the capacity of states to conduct effective adaptation efforts, thus creating the circumstances in which there is greater potential for violent conflict."

A good example of this peril is provided by the outbreak of civil war in Syria and the subsequent collapse of that country in a welter of fighting and a wave of refugees of a sort that hasn't been seen since World War II. Between 2006 and 2010, Syria experienced a devastating drought in which climate change is believed to have been a factor, turning nearly 60% of the country into desert. Crops failed and most of the country's livestock perished, forcing millions of farmers into penury. Desperate and unable to live on their land any longer, they moved into Syria's major cities in search of work, often facing extreme hardship as well as hostility from well-connected urban elites.

Had Syrian autocrat Bashar al-Assad responded with an emergency program of jobs and housing for those displaced, perhaps conflict could have been averted. Instead, he cut food and fuel subsidies, adding to the misery of the migrants and fanning the flames of revolt. In the view of several prominent scholars, "the rapidly growing urban peripheries of Syria, marked by illegal settlements, overcrowding, poor infrastructure, unemployment, and crime, were neglected by the Assad government and became the heart of the developing unrest."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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