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New UN Report Is Cautious On Making Climate Predictions by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360

New UN Report Is Cautious On Making Climate Predictions by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360.

24 MAR 2014: ANALYSIS

The draft of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the world faces serious risks from warming and that the poor are especially vulnerable. But it avoids the kinds of specific forecasts that have sparked controversy in the past.

by fred pearce

Batten down the hatches; fill the grain stores; raise the flood defenses. We cannot know exactly what is coming, but it will probably be nasty, the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will warn next week. Global warming will cause wars, displace millions of people, and do trillion-dollar damage to the global economy.

But careful readers will note a new tone to its discussion of these issues that is markedly different from past efforts. It is more humble about what scientists can predict in advance, and far more interested in how societies can make themselves resilient. It also places climate risks much more

IPCC cautious predictions

Rob Elliott/AFP/Getty Images
The draft IPCC report cites sea level rise and storm surges among eight “key risks.”

firmly than before among a host of other problems faced by society, especially by the poor. That tone will annoy some for taking the edge off past warnings, but gratify others for providing a healthy dose of realism.

The study, the result of a five-year review of published papers, is from the IPCC’s scientists working on the impacts of climate change. It complements an IPCC study late last year on the planetary science and will be followed next month by another that will focus on what we should do about it.

A leak of the final draft prepared by scientists at the end of October 2013 is circulating. It is not the final version, which will be a summary for policymakers that will be released on March 31, though there is unlikely to be much change. And, since government delegates at international talks in Japan this week will scrutinize the final draft before signing off

Hopes that better science and greater computer power would allow more precise forecasts have often proved wrong.

for publication, what we have is effectively “the scientists’ cut.”

Past impacts reports from the IPCC were based around attempts to produce detailed forecasts of local climate in future decades and somewhat mechanistic assessments of what this would mean for society. But the new report is much more wary, especially of putting numbers on likely changes. Many previously firm-sounding forecasts have disappeared since the last major IPCC climate-impacts report in 2007, such as spreading droughts and crop losses in Africa and more violent hurricanes in the Atlantic.

The reason for avoiding precise forecasts is twofold. First, overly precise predictions got the authors of the 2007 report into trouble. The most famous faux pas was the claim that Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035, when 2350 is a more likely date. But there were other unsubstantiated forecasts, such as that “projected reductions in [crop] yield in some countries [in Africa] could be as much as 50% by 2020” — a misinterpretation of a paper, which was not peer-reviewed, that looked at rain-fed agriculture in just three North African countries.

The hundreds of authors of the draft report have been silent for some time, following IPCC rules by refusing to discuss their draft with journalists. But their chairman, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution in Stanford, California, told me soon after taking on the job in 2009 that he recognized serious mistakes had been made last time and that he was “committed to sufficient checking and cross-checking to ensure a truly error-free product next time.”

Another reason for the more measured tone is that hopes that better science and greater computer power would allow more precise forecasts than seven years ago have often proved wrong. For parts of the world, model forecasts of regional climate change are diverging rather than converging. The more we know, it seems, the less we know for sure.

Caution is the watchword. Take the treatment of Africa. Last time, the chapter on that continent began with a declaration that up to a quarter of a billion Africans “are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due

The draft report lays out eight ‘key risks,’ including sea level rise and storm surges that could affect hundreds of millions.

to climate change.” This time, the leaked draft states simply that while “a reduction in precipitation is likely over North Africa … projected rainfall change over sub-Saharan Africa is uncertain.”

The draft agrees that “climate change will amplify existing stress on water availability in Africa” and will “very likely” reduce cereal crop productivity. But this time the discussion is not about how big or small those reductions might be, but on how African farmers might cope with less water, through terracing and agroforestry for instance.

Asia has fallen into a similar forecasting limbo. Last time, the IPCC warned that there would be less water in most Asian river basins and up to a billion people could experience “increased water stress” as early as the 2020s. This time, “there is low confidence in future precipitation projections at a subregional level and thus in future freshwater availability in most parts of Asia.” Last time the IPCC predicted “an increase of 10 to 20% in tropical cyclone intensities” in Asia. This time it reports “low confidence in region-specific projections of [cyclone] frequency and intensity.”

Some certainties do remain. The leaked draft suggests growing agreement among climate modelers that Scandinavia and much of Canada will see more precipitation and that the southwestern U.S., southern Australia, the Middle East, southern Europe, and North Africa can expect more droughts and emptier rivers.

Southern Europe looks set to fry, with crops shriveling in the fields, reservoirs emptying, deserts spreading, tourists staying away, and demand for air conditioning going through the roof. Even its vineyards will suffer, though a reference in a March 2013 draft to Venice being “lost forever” beneath the waves has since been removed.

Globally, the draft report lays out eight “key risks”: sea level rise and storm surges in coastal areas that could affect “hundreds of millions… by 2100”; food insecurity for the poor from warming and drought; inland flooding of cities; loss of access to water for drinking and irrigation; breakdown of infrastructure due to extreme events; loss of fisheries, due to a “global redistribution of maximum catch potential”; loss of terrestrial ecosystems such as

The idea that climate change is of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world has been rooted out.

“forest dieback … in the next one to three decades”; and extreme heat, especially for the poor in cities.

But it asks us to be grown-up about the uncertainties involved in what plays out when. “Responding to climate-related risks involves making decisions and taking actions in the face of continuing uncertainty about the extent of climate change and the severity of impacts in a changing world,” the draft report says. Or as Field put it to journalists in 2010: “Most people spend their lives making decisions under uncertainty, and that’s what dealing effectively with climate change demands — the same kind of decisions you make when you decide to buckle your seatbelt.”

The 2007 report was almost all about the impacts of climate change. Most of this report, and in particular most of the summary for policymakers, is about resilience and adaptation to inevitable climate change.

Central to that new take is setting climate change in a context of other risks, uncertainties and mega-trends such as poverty and social inequality, urbanization, and the globalization of food systems. What some call “climate exceptionalism” — the idea that climate change is something of an entirely different order to other threats faced by the world — has been rooted out. Here climate change is painted as pervasive, since nobody can avoid it wholly, but as usually only one among many pressures, especially on the poor.

“Climate-related hazards constitute an additional burden to people living in poverty, acting as a threat multiplier,” it says. “Vulnerability is rarely due to a single cause.” Even for someone living on a sand spit in coastal Bangladesh, at constant risk of being washed away by rising tides and

On food security, the report is markedly more gloomy than the previous assessment in 2007.

superstorms, the country’s pervasive land inequality may be a bigger threat.

Thus climate will exacerbate and amplify pre-existing problems. The report notes how a drought in Australia in 2007 sent global food prices soaring in 2008. But it cannot answer whether we should blame climate change or a dysfunctional food system.

Food security is, nonetheless, one area where the report is markedly more gloomy that its immediate predecessor. The 2007 assessment argued that increases in crop yields in mid-latitudes could offset losses in hotter climates, at least for the next few decades. “Globally,” it said, “the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of 1-3 degrees C.” But that optimism has faded. The leaked draft forecasts that “local temperature increases of 1 degrees C or more… are projected to negatively impact yields.”

Average yields of major grains could fall by up to 2 percent a decade from here until the end of the century, it predicts. With demand for food crops likely to rise by 14 percent a decade, that sounds a daunting prospect — though it also suggests that climate change is only a small element in the emerging 21st century crisis over global food security.

Some nightmare scenarios are robustly defused. Past IPCC reports have warned that there might be as many as 50 million “climate refugees” around the world, who will flee drought, rising tides and spreading deserts. This report is set to dismiss that idea. “The current alarmist predictions of massive flows of so-called ‘environmental refugees’ are not supported by past experiences of responses to droughts and extreme weather,” the draft

MORE FROM YALE e360

Has the U.N. Climate Panel
Now Outlived Its Usefulness?

sea level rise

Some scientists are saying the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is overly conservative and fails to mention some of the most worrisome possible scenarios. The panel, they contend, is no longer fulfilling its mission of informing policy makers of the risks of global warming.
READ MORE

says. “Predictions for future migration flows are tentative at best.” It also points out that migration is a good “coping strategy,” often to be encouraged rather than feared.

The report may irritate politicians in poor countries who look to blame climate change caused by the rich world for the ills of their people and want to demand reparations. But it may also dismay those who want to cite other factors to “prove” that climate change is never to blame. The world is more complicated, the scientists who prepared the draft conclude. The lesson of their report is that climate change will be implicated in a vast array of global ills, but it will rarely be the sole cause.

Climate change skeptics may want to characterize the report as debunking what they regard as the scaremongering of past reports. They may latch onto statements such as that “for most economic sectors,” factors such as changing demography, technology, lifestyles, and governance “will be large relative to the impacts of climate change.” And the report is, on the face of it, more optimistic than the famous review of the economics of climate change by Britain’s Nicholas Stern in 2006.

Stern put the likely cost to the global economy of warming this century at 5-20 percent of GDP. The new IPCC draft says that a global average temperature increase of 2.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels may lead to a global loss of income of between 0.2 and 2 percent.

But if Americans think this puts them in a good position, they are wrong. While the report is silent on whether there might be more or stronger hurricanes hitting North America from the Atlantic (and “Katrina aside,” saw no trend in U.S. hurricane deaths since 1970), it states that “much of North American infrastructure is currently vulnerable to extreme weather events.”

The message is clear. We may not be able to make hard and fast predictions, but prudency requires that we prepare for the worst.

Poland Is Quietly Mobilizing Its Army Reservists | Zero Hedge

Poland Is Quietly Mobilizing Its Army Reservists | Zero Hedge.

It seems the words of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk warning that “the world stands on the brink of conflict, the consequences of which are not foreseen… Not everyone in Europe is aware of this situation,” are a little more real than some (US equity buyers) might suspect. As The Week’s Crispin Black reportsat least 7,000 Polish workers in Europe have received call-up papers as army reservists in the last few weeks. Polish authorities dismiss it as “routine” but the men note this has never happened before.

As The Week’s Crispin Black goes on to note,

At least 7,000 reservists have been recalled to the colours for immediate exercises lasting between 10 and 30 days.

They’re told by the Polish authorities that the call-ups are “routine”: but the men say they haven’t been asked before and they’re well aware of the growing alarm in Warsaw at President Putin’s aggression.

Three weeks ago, their Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, called a press conference to warn that “the world stands on the brink of conflict, the consequences of which are not foreseen… Not everyone in Europe is aware of this situation.”

My own view is that Putin was initially more concerned with righting a specific historical wrong in Crimea than starting a new Cold War.  This is still probably the case despite thedawning truth that the EU/Nato Emperor really has no clothes at all. 

But in the worst case scenario of a truly revanchist Russia, Poland certainly has the borders from hell.  Starting from the top, it abuts Kaliningrad (the Russian exclave on the Baltic carved at the end of the war from East Prussia), Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.

None of these borders relies on any natural barriers like rivers or mountain ranges – they are just lines on a map drawn by Stalin in the full flush of victory.  No wonder the Poles are feeling vulnerable.

Read more here

Poland Is Quietly Mobilizing Its Army Reservists | Zero Hedge

Poland Is Quietly Mobilizing Its Army Reservists | Zero Hedge.

It seems the words of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk warning that “the world stands on the brink of conflict, the consequences of which are not foreseen… Not everyone in Europe is aware of this situation,” are a little more real than some (US equity buyers) might suspect. As The Week’s Crispin Black reportsat least 7,000 Polish workers in Europe have received call-up papers as army reservists in the last few weeks. Polish authorities dismiss it as “routine” but the men note this has never happened before.

As The Week’s Crispin Black goes on to note,

At least 7,000 reservists have been recalled to the colours for immediate exercises lasting between 10 and 30 days.

They’re told by the Polish authorities that the call-ups are “routine”: but the men say they haven’t been asked before and they’re well aware of the growing alarm in Warsaw at President Putin’s aggression.

Three weeks ago, their Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, called a press conference to warn that “the world stands on the brink of conflict, the consequences of which are not foreseen… Not everyone in Europe is aware of this situation.”

My own view is that Putin was initially more concerned with righting a specific historical wrong in Crimea than starting a new Cold War.  This is still probably the case despite thedawning truth that the EU/Nato Emperor really has no clothes at all. 

But in the worst case scenario of a truly revanchist Russia, Poland certainly has the borders from hell.  Starting from the top, it abuts Kaliningrad (the Russian exclave on the Baltic carved at the end of the war from East Prussia), Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.

None of these borders relies on any natural barriers like rivers or mountain ranges – they are just lines on a map drawn by Stalin in the full flush of victory.  No wonder the Poles are feeling vulnerable.

Read more here

Is an Economic War Replacing the Cold War?: Video – Bloomberg

Is an Economic War Replacing the Cold War?: Video – Bloomberg.

Would America Go to War with Russia?

Would America Go to War with Russia?.

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March 22, 2014

Vice President Biden was in Warsaw last week to reassure our eastern NATO allies that they have the support of a “steadfast ally.” But if Russia moved against Poland or the Baltic States, would the United States really go to war? Or would we do nothing and effectively destroy the NATO alliance?

President Obama has ruled out a “military excursion” in Ukraine. America is not obligated legally to take action against Russia for annexing Crimea. We would not go to war if Russia mounted a large-scale invasion of Ukraine to restore the ousted, pro-Moscow government of Viktor Yanukovych, currently under U.S. sanctions. And we would not even send troops if Ukraine was partitioned, or absorbed by Russia. Americans have no interest in such a conflict, and no stomach for it.

NATO allies are a different matter. The North Atlantic Treaty is a mutual-defense pact, and Article 5 says that an armed attack against one member state “shall be considered an attack against them all.” This is a clear red line. The only time Article 5 has been invoked was in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and most NATO allies sent troops to support the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Could the current crisis expand to touch NATO? The developing situation in Ukraine has been compared to Germany’s absorption of Austria in 1938, or the subsequent partition and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Hillary Clinton compared Russian president Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler, which by extension puts President Obama in the role of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who famously failed to achieve “peace in our time” at Munich.

Push the analogy further. The Second World War was sparked by Warsaw’s resistance to Berlin’s demand to annex the Polish Corridor, a small stretch of land—smaller than Crimea—separating the German provinces of Pomerania and East Prussia. Hitler responded by invading Poland and partitioning it with the Soviet Union. Britain and France had pledged to defend Polish independence, and two days after Germany invaded, they declared war. In his war message, Chamberlain explained that Hitler’s actions showed “there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force.”

This may or may not describe Mr. Putin, as Mrs. Clinton alleged. But if similar circumstances arise in the near future, will the United States honor security guarantees made to Poland and the Baltic States when the Russian threat was only a theory?

Mr. Biden stood with Estonian president Toomas Ilves Tuesday to “reconfirm and reaffirm our shared commitment to collective self-defense, to Article 5.” He wanted to make it “absolutely clear what it means to the Estonian people” and that “President Obama and I view Article 5 of the NATO Treaty as an absolutely solemn commitment which we will honor—we will honor.” Shortly thereafter, Moscow “expressed concern” about the treatment of ethnic Russians in Estonia. Mr. Putin justified his actions in Crimea as “restoring unity” to Russian people. Estonia’s population is 25 percent ethnic Russian, compared to 17 percent in Ukraine, mostly in the north and east part of the country. Suppose anti-Russian riots “spontaneously” broke out in Estonia. What would the United States do if Moscow invoked a “responsibility to protect” these people and bring them “back” to the Motherland? Would President Obama take military action against Russia over a small, secluded piece of a tiny, distant country? Would it be like the Polish Corridor in 1939? This is highly doubtful—highly doubtful.

Aren’t we obligated by treaty to intervene? Mr. Biden mentioned the “absolutely solemn commitment which we will honor.” It was so important he said it twice. However, Article 5 says that NATO members pledge to come to the assistance of the attacked state using “such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force.” It doesn’t take a White House lawyer to see the gaping loophole—President Obama can simply deem that the use of U.S. force isn’t necessary. He can walk back the red line, as he did with Syria. Stern talk and minimal sanctions would follow, but Estonia would lose some, if not all of its territory. And in practical terms it would mean the end of NATO, which is one of Moscow’s longstanding strategic objectives. Mr. Putin’s chess game does not end in Crimea.

James S. Robbins is Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.

Ukraine Official Warns “Chance Of War With Russia Growing” As Mike Rogers Calls For Sending Weapons To Ukraine | Zero Hedge

Ukraine Official Warns “Chance Of War With Russia Growing” As Mike Rogers Calls For Sending Weapons To Ukraine | Zero Hedge.

Concurrently with out post on what the odds are of a war between the US and Russia over Ukraine, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, and war hawk, appeared on TV this morning saying that the United States ought to provide weapons to the Ukrainian army “so it could defend the country from a Russian invasion.” This is the same Mike Rogers who last August did everything in his power to perpetuate the lie that Syrians had used chemical weapons against “rebels” (who subsequently turned out to be mostly Qatari-funded Al Qaeda mercenaries and other Islamic extremists) “There are things that we can do that I think we’re not doing. I don’t think the rhetoric (from Obama administration officials) matches the reality on the ground,” he said.

Seemingly oblivious that all Russia desperately wants is further escalation in the conflict, which can then immediately be seen as a provocation for further incursions into either the Ukraine and/or other former Soviet counteries, Rogers said that, while ruling out the deployment of U.S. military forces in Ukraine, he called for sending small arms and radio equipment that the Ukrainian military could use to “protect and defend themselves. And I think that sends a very clear message.”

Absolutely it does: the message it sends is that US foreign policy has just hit rock bottom in terms of game theoretical escalation cluelessness. At least in Syria someone put some effort in fabricating YouTube videos and at least putting together a media campaign demonizing Assad. And still failed.

More from NBC:

Speaking from Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, a country that Russian forces invaded in 2008, Rogers said on NBC’s Meet the Press that the Ukrainians “passionately believe” that Russian President Vladimir Putin “will be on the move again in Ukraine, especially in the east.”

He said both Ukrainian and U.S. intelligence officials “believe that Putin is not done in Ukraine. It is very troubling. He has put all the military units he would need to move into Ukraine on its eastern border and is doing exercises.”

If Putin orders Russian forces into the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – which are NATO member states and which the United States is obligated by the NATO treaty to defend — then “we (will) have allowed people who want to be free, who want to be independent, who want to have self-determination, and we’ve turned our back and walked away from them.”

In an apparent allusion to the seizure of Czechoslovakia which was a prelude to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Rogers added, “The world did that once – and it was a major catastrophe.”

The full clip:

And while US neocons are warmongering, Ukraine is all too happy to raise the tension level just a bit more, hoping that NATO will finally intervene and present Putin with at least some hurdle to overrunning all of East Ukraine, using exactly the same template as already show in Crimea. From WSJ:

Ukraine’s top diplomat warned Sunday that the chances of war with Russia “are growing” due to the buildup of Moscow’s forces along his country’s eastern border. In an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia said Kiev “is ready to respond” should Russia–which has already seized the Crimea–move further in Ukrainian territory.

The situation is becoming even more explosive than it was a week ago,” Mr. Deshchytsia said.

He said Ukraine’s first approach to the Russian threat on the frontier would be diplomatic. But, he said, “people are also ready to defend their homeland.”

Meanwhile, Putin is sitting back in his chair and smiling, since everything so far continues to unwind precisely according to his plan.

Ukraine Official Warns "Chance Of War With Russia Growing" As Mike Rogers Calls For Sending Weapons To Ukraine | Zero Hedge

Ukraine Official Warns “Chance Of War With Russia Growing” As Mike Rogers Calls For Sending Weapons To Ukraine | Zero Hedge.

logo

Concurrently with out post on what the odds are of a war between the US and Russia over Ukraine, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, and war hawk, appeared on TV this morning saying that the United States ought to provide weapons to the Ukrainian army “so it could defend the country from a Russian invasion.” This is the same Mike Rogers who last August did everything in his power to perpetuate the lie that Syrians had used chemical weapons against “rebels” (who subsequently turned out to be mostly Qatari-funded Al Qaeda mercenaries and other Islamic extremists) “There are things that we can do that I think we’re not doing. I don’t think the rhetoric (from Obama administration officials) matches the reality on the ground,” he said.

Seemingly oblivious that all Russia desperately wants is further escalation in the conflict, which can then immediately be seen as a provocation for further incursions into either the Ukraine and/or other former Soviet counteries, Rogers said that, while ruling out the deployment of U.S. military forces in Ukraine, he called for sending small arms and radio equipment that the Ukrainian military could use to “protect and defend themselves. And I think that sends a very clear message.”

Absolutely it does: the message it sends is that US foreign policy has just hit rock bottom in terms of game theoretical escalation cluelessness. At least in Syria someone put some effort in fabricating YouTube videos and at least putting together a media campaign demonizing Assad. And still failed.

More from NBC:

Speaking from Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, a country that Russian forces invaded in 2008, Rogers said on NBC’s Meet the Press that the Ukrainians “passionately believe” that Russian President Vladimir Putin “will be on the move again in Ukraine, especially in the east.”

He said both Ukrainian and U.S. intelligence officials “believe that Putin is not done in Ukraine. It is very troubling. He has put all the military units he would need to move into Ukraine on its eastern border and is doing exercises.”

If Putin orders Russian forces into the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – which are NATO member states and which the United States is obligated by the NATO treaty to defend — then “we (will) have allowed people who want to be free, who want to be independent, who want to have self-determination, and we’ve turned our back and walked away from them.”

In an apparent allusion to the seizure of Czechoslovakia which was a prelude to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Rogers added, “The world did that once – and it was a major catastrophe.”

The full clip:

And while US neocons are warmongering, Ukraine is all too happy to raise the tension level just a bit more, hoping that NATO will finally intervene and present Putin with at least some hurdle to overrunning all of East Ukraine, using exactly the same template as already show in Crimea. From WSJ:

Ukraine’s top diplomat warned Sunday that the chances of war with Russia “are growing” due to the buildup of Moscow’s forces along his country’s eastern border. In an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia said Kiev “is ready to respond” should Russia–which has already seized the Crimea–move further in Ukrainian territory.

The situation is becoming even more explosive than it was a week ago,” Mr. Deshchytsia said.

He said Ukraine’s first approach to the Russian threat on the frontier would be diplomatic. But, he said, “people are also ready to defend their homeland.”

Meanwhile, Putin is sitting back in his chair and smiling, since everything so far continues to unwind precisely according to his plan.

Oil, War and the Future Prospects for Peace – Our World

Oil, War and the Future Prospects for Peace – Our World.

A British firing party provides cover for Royal Engineers building a temporary bridge near Ramadi, Iraq, 1 June 1941. Public Domain photo: UK Government.

A British firing party provides cover for Royal Engineers building a temporary bridge near Ramadi, Iraq, 1 June 1941. Public Domain photo: UK Government.

We live in a time of amazing technological, economic and social progress where large segments of global society have attained relative prosperity and improved living conditions. We are interconnected like never before and by historical comparison the world is more peaceful than it has ever been.

At the same time, there are hundreds of millions of people still living in abject poverty and hunger. We have been making a concerted effort to try to alleviate their situation and bring more and more people out of extreme poverty under the framework of the Millennium Development Goals. As we go forward, surely we will not let this progress slip away.

But there is always that niggling doubt. How can we sustain a complex global society in a finite world with exponentially growing numbers of people and an economy that consumes vast resources just to keep running on the spot?

I worry about whether we will allow ourselves to get pushed beyond the limits to growth that Dennis and Donella Meadows warned us about back in 1972. We have done very little to alter that trajectory and my concern is that we will find ourselves fighting over a declining resource base as some like Michael Klare suggest.

Richard Heinberg is one of those rare insightful individuals with foresight and a sound understanding of contemporary affairs. His 2003 book, The Party’s Over – Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, published at the start of the Iraq War, explores the notion of a world without cheap oil and the potential for resource related wars. In response to this possibility, he recommends that the world implement a global programme of resource conservation and cooperation. The alternative is too dreadful to think about since it may represent the breakdown of modern civilization.

But how is it that oil became so strategically important and why is it linked to wars? Why is it that a world with less oil is viewed as analogous with the decline or even collapse of industrial societies? To better understand, we need to look back by around 100 years.

1914–1918 Great War

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Great War and a time that European nations in particular are commemorating those tragic events and the terrible loss of life. It is hard to imagine what the world looked like in 1914. It was a time dominated by European empires stretching across the globe connected by major shipping routes to support the trade in raw materials from the colonies and manufactured goods from the colonizers.

Britain was prosperous and London was a hub of global commerce, connected to the world via wireless telegraphy. The British had not been involved in a conflict on the European continent since the 1853–56 Crimean War, although colonial wars were frequent.

The 1814–1815 Congress of Vienna (precursor to the League of Nations or even the United Nations), where the major powers had come together to redraw national boundaries, had proved successful. The balance of power in Europe had been maintained and prolonged periods of war had been avoided (the exception being the 1870–71 Franco-Prussian War). Some at the time may have hoped that there would never be another war in Europe.

In school we were taught that it was the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serbia on 28 June 1914 that ignited World War I, although we now appreciate that this assertion is too simplistic. Another possibility is that the Germans wanted and had been preparing for this war. We can certainly point to the 1905 Schlieffen Plan that illustrated how Germany could rise victorious from a war fought on two fronts: France to the west, Russia to the east.

But perhaps one of the most provocative recent analyses comes from the British historian, Niall Ferguson. In his 2000 book entitled The Pity of War, Ferguson argues that fear was a key factor in shaping European sentiments at that time. The Russians wanted to reassert themselves after their embarrassing defeat to Japan in 1905. The Germans and Austrians feared a growing Russia, and the French and British feared a powerful Germany.

He also presents another possible explanation. He argues, in an essay entitled “Complexity and Collapse — Empires on the Edge of Chaos” that the Great Powers and empires were complex systems and that they operated in a state “somewhere between order and disorder”.

“Such systems,” he continues, “can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting. But there comes a moment when complex systems ‘go critical’. A very small trigger can set off a ‘phase transition’ from a benign equilibrium to a crisis.” The end result can be war, revolutions, financial crashes and imperial collapse. In this context, our world today is not very different from that of 1914.

The Great Oil Game begins

It was Winston Churchill, then Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty, who made oil the strategically important fuel that it is. Together with Lord John Fisher, he proposed in 1911 that the British Royal Navy switch from coal powered ships to oil. The change was necessary in order to keep pace with the German naval build-up, with oil being viewed as a superior fuel. The conversion took seven years to complete and resulted in the maintenance of oil supplies becoming a strategic military objective.

The first target for investment was the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) that had been set up in 1908 to explore and extract oil from what is now southern Iran. On 14 June 1908, just weeks before the commencement of hostilities in Europe, Winston Churchill succeeded in getting the British Government to invest £2.2 million in APOC, as explained by Daniel Yergin in The Prize – The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power.

Clearly, the British were not alone in recognizing oil’s potential and there are some who argue that Germany’s proposal to construct the Berlin to Baghdad railway as well as their close ties with the Ottoman Empire caused great concerns for the British. This could explain why, within months of the war beginning, British troops landed in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) in November 1914 to defend the APOC oilfields around Basra.

The strategic significance of oil was to remain constant throughout the Second World War. For instance, the Japanese in 1941, facing oil embargoes from the West, attacked Pearl Harbor and invaded the Dutch East Indies for the oil resources. Likewise, the Germans, having limited local oil resources, sought to capture the Baku oil fields in the former Soviet Union in 1942.

Following the Second World War, we have other examples. At the time of the first oil crisis in 1973, we see that the United States Congress, seriously concerned about the potential for oil supplies to be cut off, ordered an investigation into how it may be possible to use military force to gain access to oil supplies in the event of a supply disruption.

The report, published in 1975 and entitled “Oil Fields as Military Objectives” concluded that the risks associated with military action in the Middle East were too high, the prospects of success were poor and the consequence of failure would be disastrous. One unknown factor in this assessment was the possibility of a Soviet response to US military interventions.

The party’s over

The picture looked very different in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm and even more so in 2003 with the full invasion of Iraq, where the oil fields were occupied quickly. The Soviet Union was no longer a threat thereby reducing the risks of such operations. As former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan was to admit in 2007, the invasion of Iraq was all about oil. And that is what makes Heinberg’s 2003 book even more compelling. What Heinberg suggested in his book was that we are close to a peak in global oil production. Although this assertion has been contested, very recently there have been a number of studies that appear to confirm Heinberg’s claims.

In January 2012, for example, James Murray and David King published a paper entitled “Oil’s tipping point has passed” in which they note that global crude oil production has been capped at about 75 million barrels per day since 2005 — even in the face of continued price increases. As oil prices go up, you would normally expect that it would be profitable to produce more oil and supply should increase. For this not to happen, something must be fundamentally wrong.

More recently, in January 2014 the UK Royal Society published “The Future of Oil Supply” that looked at all the data and concluded that a “sustained decline in global conventional production appears probable before 2030 and there is a significant risk of this beginning before 2020”.

Third, Steven Kopits from Douglas-Westwood, one of the world’s top energy research groups, gave a lecture in February 2014 explaining how oil production by the major oil firms has faltered in recent years (dropping from 16 million barrels per day in 2006 to 14 million in 2012) while capital expenditure doubled (from US$109 billion to US$262 in the same period). Consequently, some high cost exploration and extraction projects are being abandoned. This led Gail Tverberg, a researcher and commentator on energy issues, to ask whether we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the oil industry as we know it.

What does this mean for the future?

Back in 2005, in his book The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler explored the consequences of a peak in world oil production and the fact that this would coincide with the forces of climate change, resurgent diseases, water scarcity, global economic instability and warfare. He essentially portrayed our future with less oil as a long, drawn-out and painful emergency.

More recently, international security scholar Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, writing in the Guardian newspaper on 28 February 2014 explained contemporary riots as being symptomatic of a world without cheap fossil fuels. He argues that the financial crisis and food riots of 2008, the Arab Spring in 2010–11 in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and the 2013–14 riots in Venezuela, Bosnia, Ukraine, Iceland and Thailand are symptoms of the long emergency unfolding before our eyes.

Other commentators have come to the same conclusion. The military in different countries have been warning of tensions around the world in the face of declining oil supplies. The US Joint Forces Command’s “Joint Operating Environment Report” is a good example as well as another from the German Bundeswehr Transformation Center. Both reports were published in 2010.

But what does this mean for nation states? Jorg Friedrichs of the University of Oxford explores how countries might respond to fuel scarcity in his 2013 book The Future Is Not What It Used to Be. He argues that we should look at the past experience of Japan, North Korea and Cuba to draw lessons about what different nations may do when they have reduced access to oil supplies.

As mentioned above, in the period from 1918 to 1945, Japan faced oil and other resource embargoes from the Western Powers and was presented with two options: economic collapse or militaristic expansion to grab those resources. We know how that turned out.

In the 1990s, both North Korea and Cuba faced a situation of fuel scarcity after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In North Korea the governing class turned towards totalitarian retrenchment while in Cuba we witnessed a far more positive form of socio-economic adaptation (more local production of food, widespread adoption of permaculture, and adoption of a diet containing less meat).

Friedrich concludes the following with respect to how countries will respond to fuel scarcity. First, those with a strong military potential and the perception that force is more effective than the free market in protecting access to vital resources are more likely to adopt predatory militarism.

Second, countries with less experience of humanism, pluralism and liberal democracy, are more likely to have elites willing and able to impose a policy of totalitarian retrenchment on their population.

Finally, countries with less exposure to individualism, industrialism and mass consumerism, are more likely to pursue adaptive regression to community-based values and a subsistence lifestyle.

Avoiding collapse

But surely there is another path based on enhanced international cooperation. If we understand that we all lose when we fight over diminishing resources, then the answer is to avoid conflict at all costs and to set up mechanisms for this purpose. Today, we are living in a complex, chaotic world, and we will need to struggle to stop it from “going critical”.

The challenge we face is how best to avoid collapse in these circumstances. In this context, the writings of Dmitry Orlov in his 2008 book Reinventing Collapse – The Soviet Experience and American Prospects may be very insightful. If we can learn from the Soviet Union’s experience of collapse, might it be possible to somehow mitigate the worst impacts caused by the peaking of global oil production?

Orlav shares with us what he calls five stages of collapse. The first is financial collapse and many of us experienced this directly in 2008 such that we began to lose faith in “business as usual”. The second is commercial collapse, where we lose faith in ability of markets to provide for all our needs and this was perhaps experienced in parts of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain – the PIGS – from 2009 onwards.

The third stage is political collapse where faith in the government taking care of you is lost. Today this can be found in the many failed states around the world but mainly in Africa including Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

The next stage is social collapse where you no longer believe that “your people” will take care of you and the sense of community is lost. The final stage is cultural collapse where you lose faith in the goodness of humanity. At that point, what we think of as civilized life has all but disappeared.

Ensuring a peaceful future

While most of us appreciate that we will face some pretty major problems going forward from here, it is also true that nobody can know for sure how things will play out. But is it inevitable that things will get worse?

Professor Steven Pinker in his 2012 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, argues convincingly that we are living in the most peaceful times in human history. He describes the very powerful forces explaining why this is the case.

These are, first of all, the rise of the nation state and judiciary that work to reduce the individual need/temptation to use violence to resolve disputes. Second, the role of commerce and particularly the way that the exchange of goods and services interconnect people so that we care about “others”. Third, there is the feminization of the world with increased respect paid for the interests and values of women.

Fourth, there is the role of cosmopolitanism and the rise of literacy, mobility and mass media. Fifth, there is something described as the “escalator of reason”, which is the application of knowledge and rationality in human affairs forcing people to recognize the futility of violence and war as a means to solve our problems.

In his engaging 2013 lecture at the University of Edinburgh where Pinker explained his ideas in detail, he was asked by a member of the audience whether we might solve the resource/climate challenges through global cooperation, or whether violence, chaos and anarchy would result, as in the past.

He responded thoughtfully by saying “maybe (we would face violence, chaos and anarchy) but not necessarily”. The research seems to show big wars in the past have not been fought primarily over resources, but more as a result of other factors — fear, revenge and ideology.

So how can resource related wars be avoided? The answer is to invest in what works and that is clearly the five forces that have made the world more peaceful.

Now there will be those who argue that nation states have pursued violent paths in the past, that the judiciary can be corrupt, that commerce can lead to exploitation, that women leaders can be as warlike as men, or that the media can distort the truth. But it is essential to focus on the overall direction of change which has been positive, even when in some cases we have witnessed significant problems along this road.

We have to continue to invest in what works because that will increase our ability to adapt socio-economically. This is an important contribution to the energy transition debate that tends to be focused on either technological solutions or community-based responses. The basic line of thinking is that our overriding objective has to be to continue to ensure that we maintain peace and social progress. We have to focus on what makes the world a better place and in what has been historically proven to make the world more peaceful and less violent. This is naive, idealistic and simplistic I suppose, but what is the alternative?

Creative Commons License
Oil, War and the Future Prospects for Peace by Brendan Barrett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Ukraine Prime Minister Says Crimea Conflict Has “Moved From Political To Military Stage” | Zero Hedge

Ukraine Prime Minister Says Crimea Conflict Has “Moved From Political To Military Stage” | Zero Hedge.

More headlines, more buying fuel for the algos, and apparently another step closer to all out war:

  • CONFLICT IN CRIMEA HAS MOVED FROM POLITICAL TO MILITARY STAGE – UKRAINIAN PM YATSENIUK
  • UKRAINIAN PM SAYS HAS ASKED DEFENCE MINISTER TO ORGANISE URGENT MEETING WITH RUSSIAN, BRITISH, U.S. COUNTERPARTS
  • UKRAINIAN PM: “TODAY RUSSIAN SOLDIERS BEGAN SHOOTING AT UKRAINIAN SERVICEMEN. THIS IS A WAR CRIME”

What, still reading? Run, run, run to your nearest Virtu colocated terminal and BTFWWWIIID already!

Ukraine Prime Minister Says Crimea Conflict Has "Moved From Political To Military Stage" | Zero Hedge

Ukraine Prime Minister Says Crimea Conflict Has “Moved From Political To Military Stage” | Zero Hedge.

More headlines, more buying fuel for the algos, and apparently another step closer to all out war:

  • CONFLICT IN CRIMEA HAS MOVED FROM POLITICAL TO MILITARY STAGE – UKRAINIAN PM YATSENIUK
  • UKRAINIAN PM SAYS HAS ASKED DEFENCE MINISTER TO ORGANISE URGENT MEETING WITH RUSSIAN, BRITISH, U.S. COUNTERPARTS
  • UKRAINIAN PM: “TODAY RUSSIAN SOLDIERS BEGAN SHOOTING AT UKRAINIAN SERVICEMEN. THIS IS A WAR CRIME”

What, still reading? Run, run, run to your nearest Virtu colocated terminal and BTFWWWIIID already!

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