It’s official: the era of resource wars is upon us. In a major London address, British Defense Secretary John Reid warned that global climate change and dwindling natural resources are combining to increase the likelihood of violent conflict over land, water and energy. Climate change, he indicated, “will make scarce resources, clean water, viable agricultural land even scarcer” — and this will “make the emergence of violent conflict more rather than less likely.”
Although not unprecedented, Reid’s prediction of an upsurge in resource conflict is significant both because of his senior rank and the vehemence of his remarks. “The blunt truth is that the lack of water and agricultural land is a significant contributory factor to the tragic conflict we see unfolding in Darfur,” he declared. “We should see this as a warning sign.”
Terms and phrases like “moonbat” and “tinfoil hat” will be forthcoming from the climate change naysayers, no doubt, but Klare notes that Reid’s speech represents an important step forward in thinking about environmental issues:
Although speculative, these reports make one thing clear: when thinking about the calamitous effects of global climate change, we must emphasize its social and political consequences as much as its purely environmental effects. Drought, flooding and storms can kill us, and surely will — but so will wars among the survivors of these catastrophes over what remains of food, water and shelter. As Reid’s comments indicate, no society, however affluent, will escape involvement in these forms of conflict.
We can respond to these predictions in one of two ways: by relying on fortifications and military force to provide some degree of advantage in the global struggle over resources, or by taking meaningful steps to reduce the risk of cataclysmic climate change.
I fear that messages like these will continue to be relegated to the status of voices in the wilderness, even as we watch events ranging from the Darfur genocide to hurricanes like Katrina and Rita. I also fear, as does Klare, that many of our leader will believe that we can “win” these struggles through military might. While I think we have to be careful about promoting doomsday scenarios, the concept of increasing violence over natural resources could be a potent tool in demonstrating the breadth of challenges we’ll continue to face if we choose to keep our heads in the sand.