Michael Klare: Finite Resources And The Geography of Conflict

Ukraine. Iraq. Nigeria. Libya. Tunisia. Syria. All are hotspots of conflict in different regions of the world, yet the same underlying cause behind each can clearly be seen when looking through the lens of finite resources.

In this week's podcast, Chris talks with Hampshire college professor Michael Klare, author of The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for World's Last Resources and Resource Wars.

Resources are critical, and if you read enough articles and search hard enough you see hints of that in each of the major current world conflicts. Take ISIS the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria the rebel group that’s taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq. We hear a lot about their professed Islamic intentions to create a caliphate in that part of the world. But if you read enough dispatches from the front, you find out that they are taking over one oil field there after another and refineries throughout the Middle East. Why? It's because they need the oil to run their operations they have the aspirations of becoming a body of fully-functioning Islamic states.

Now whether that's a practical reality or not, we don't know. But in the meantime, they intend to create a functioning state and a state is expensive. It needs revenues and therefore a primary function of their military conquests is to capture oil fields throughout this region so that they have the revenue to operate their system. And moreover, they sell their oil to the Assad regime in Syria in order to get a certain degree of freedom from a tax by the Assad regime. The Assad regime would tax the other rebels but not ISIS – supposedly they’re enemies, but in fact they happen to have a mutually beneficial system where ISIS is their oil supplier.

So oil is a crucial factor in what's happening there, and the same thing is true in all of these other conflicts. Resources are crucial and they're crucial in two dimensions: one is as a motive for war, as a motive for attacking another place to gain control over resources; and the other is as sustenance.  You cannot fight a war without income or without revenue, and all of the wars that we are seeing are partly driven by need to capture the resources needed to generate revenue to keep on fighting.

As a general rule I would agree the more resources a country has, the more peaceful it is. But you don't just need 'resource plenty', you also need equitable distribution. Nigeria is blessed with vast resources, it could be a wealthy country. It could be one of the wealthiest countries in the world. But the resources are captured by selfish elites that keep it for themselves. A lot of that money from the oil wealth and agricultural wealth winds up in Swiss bank accounts, whereas the majority of the population lives on one or two dollars a day. So even though the resources are abundant in Nigeria, most Nigerians do not see the benefit of it. What they see is official corruption and wealth concentrated in the hands of the few.

And this is what provides the tinder, the fodder, for groups like Boko Haram, who can point to the poverty on one side and the wealth the conspicuous wealth of the elites in Abuja the capital, and say This is a dishonest, un-Islamic, unspiritual regime that needs to be overthrown. And people flock to its banner even though they do terrible things. It's not just an abundance of resources but its equitable distribution. You don't see that problem in Norway, which also has an abundance of wealth -- but where the wealth is allocated in a equitable fashion. So, you have to have both resources and a transparent equitable distribution of that wealth for peace and stability.

Here’s what’s going to happen. We started out talking about resources and because of a combination of scarcity and the fact that the cost of production of resources is increasing and it’s going to increasingly into the future. It's because they’re more difficult to reach -- they're in the Arctic, they're in the deep oceans. The cost of resources will rise. They’re going to rise no matter what and whether it’s CCS or something else, the cost of resources will become higher and higher for everyone. And what that will do is to force efficiencies upon us not as a moral choice, but as an economic choice

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Michael Klare (43m:52s):

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://peakprosperity.com/michael-klare-finite-resources-and-the-geography-of-conflict/

Excellent, a geo-political professor.
I wonder if Prof Michael Klare  could run through the geo-political implications of a cheap, portable, safe nuclear energy?


One of my favorite documentaries, Blood and Oil, is based on a book by Michael Klare (I believe the book has the same title). It is available on youtube.
Thanks for having him as a guest, Chris.

I still find it remarkable that the term population-growth didn't pop-up in the discussion. Its almost like there is a hard-wired blind spot in the human brain when it comes to population numbers.
The future may well force people to re-think the size of the family, like they rethink their energy usage and that coupled with a decline in longevity due to famine, disease from the effect of increased pollution may help, at the cost of great suffering.  In which case the system will balance out eventually. But will it be enough soon enough ?

Like any complex system there is going to be a lot of hysteresis, residual energy such that that even if everyone in the world right this minute agreed to have no more children there would still be 65 million new bodies in the world 9 months later - the population of a large European country (based on a 2010 birth rate of 228,000 people per day and 9 months worth of pregnant women).

I doubt word is going to spread that quickly nor attitudes change at any pace other than dead slow. Thus if it takes several years to effect control there could be close to a billion more people pouring in even after crisis becomes official. Technology is going to have to become magical to prevent war and famine and governments are going to have to become rich to pay for the needed infrastructure changes.

The latter seems unlikely during what looks like a 2014/15 deficit death spiral so the people will continue to wear the responsibility and cost of applying renewable energy and sourcing new food and water supplies which means change its going to be SLOOOOOOW and extremely painful.

Lets just see how long it take to produce solar powerered (or renewable) desalination plants (built with what energy ?), enough to undo California's water problems. I just don't see how that kind of "turn around" in almost every aspect of planning, economy and attitudes will prevail before people actually start dying.

Given how well the economy has been managed (the pursuit of infinity) it doesn't seem likely that our current eco-political structure will be able to do enough before wide spread famine, death and atrocity takes root in the west. We can hope for technological breakthroughs, we're absolutely going to need one to prevent looming disaster all round.

I can't imagine how cities are going to continue growing in the face of resource scarcity.  66% of the worlds population living in the cities by 2050?  Astonishing is one way of putting it.  I know where I won't be in 2050, and thats in a city.  All those people in the city better have something I want or need in exchange for my produce, though I can't imagine what they will all be doing, starving I assume.  The circle jerk economy only works with resource abundance, not scarcity.