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Michael Klare: Finite Resources And The Geography of Conflict

In the end, all wars are resource wars
Sunday, July 27, 2014, 11:49 AM

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):

Transcript: 

Chris Martenson: This is Chris Martenson, it is July 24th 2014, welcome to another Peak Prosperity podcast. In this episode, we are going to dig deeper into the conflicts that are currently raging across the globe. The Middle East is a mess with Israel and Hamas waging a conflict with predictably heavy civilian causalities in one corner. Syria, a certified humanitarian disaster to the north of that. And Iraq spiraling out of control to the west. Libya looks to be going back into a civil war; it's escalating at the moment. And Ukraine is as tense as ever with Russia on one side, the U.S. and EU on the other side, each with their own cases for how the provocations of the other side are to blame. In my view they are both right to varying degrees. Well, to help us make sense of all this is Michael Klare, Director of The Five College Program in Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He is the defense correspondent for The Nation and the author of 14 books including The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the Worlds Last Resources and Resources Wars, which details the new geography of conflict based on looming scarcities. Welcome Michael.

Michael Klare: My pleasure.

Chris Martenson: Well let us start by properly framing the conversation, you know, if you read the newspapers in the U.S. and the U.K. and most of Europe you might be under the impression that the world’s conflicts are about democracy or freedom or possibly just freeing oneself of an intolerable tyrant. I virtually never read even one line about resources as either a contributory or even dominant factor in the eruption of unrest and conflict. So are resources at all important in understanding either the genesis or direction of any of these current conflicts?

Michael Klare: Of course, resources are critical to all of them in a number of respects, and if you work hard enough at it, if you read enough articles and search hard enough, you see hints of that. 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 thereafter another and refineries throughout the Middle East. Why? It is because they need the oil to run their operations they have the aspirations of becoming a state—a fully functioning Islamic state.

Now whether that is a practical reality or not we do not 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 they have the revenue to operate their system. Moreover, they are using their oil—they sell their oil to the Assad regime in Syria in order to get a certain degree of freedom from attacks by the Assad regime. The Assad regime attacks the other rebels but not ISIS because they have a mutually—supposedly they’re enemies, but in fact they 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—without revenue. All of the wars that we are seeing are partly driven by a need to capture the resources needed to generate revenue to keep on fighting.

Chris Martenson: It is interesting then that if we look at what is going on in Iraq at the moment, where you have the Kurds and their putative state of Kurdistan up there and they have got their oil fields. Obviously, they are trying to ship some of that oil out to the world market and Iraq—what's left of the government in Iraq, down in Bagdad—is contesting that heavily. It is also about water in that region obviously. The ISIS rebels have also managed to attack and/or capture a couple of dams and all of that. Obviously Israel needs access to the same water, would love to get access to that. When we look at this overall issue, when I look at it—if there were abundant resources... when people have plenty they rarely seem to enter conflicts.

When I see the recent conflicts that are going on in say, Egypt they’re having a big political overhaul and revolution there. That really came about coincidentally or not right about the same time they flipped from being a net energy exporter to a net energy importer. And by the numbers, Egypt is a disaster with 0.04 hectares of arable land per person. Obviously, they have to import a lot of food. So is your view—can we just put it this simply, like, countries with abundant resources per capita are far more stable than those which are on the other end of that spectrum?

Michael Klare: As a general rule that’s the case. I would agree with you on that. It is not just resource plenty, Chris, it is also equitable distribution. You have countries like Nigeria: 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 elites, by selfish elites that keep it for themselves and a lot of that money from the oil wealth and agricultural wealth—but mainly oil wealth—winds up in private bank accounts in Swiss bank accounts and the like, 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, you know, unspiritual regime that needs to be overthrown. And people flock to its banner even though they do terrible things. It is not just an abundance of resources, but it's equitable distribution. You do not see that problem in Norway, which also has an abundance of wealth but where the wealth is allocated in an equitable fashion. So, you have to have both. You have to have resources and a transparent, equitable distribution of that wealth.

Chris Martenson: That is an interesting turn to this conversation because you know obviously the wealth gap is as wide as it’s ever been in United States at the moment. It’s fairly wide across the world. We’ve all seen the statistics with the top 400 people owning as much as maybe the bottom three billion people or whatever the numbers are now. And that trend is always sort of characterized, at least in the U.S. media, if I could characterize it this way, it’s just sort of a thing that happened. It is almost like a—like somebody is describing gravity, like Newton is talking about an apple that fell from the tree. But you’re describing, at least in the case of Nigeria, it’s really more a decision. It is a set of choices; it is a set of active policies, whether those are equitable or not, whether those are moral or ethical or not. This growing wealth gap that you see in Nigeria, at the extreme, and widening in the United States—that’s a contributing factor you think as well in what we're seeing play out say potentially in Ukraine?

Michael Klare: Absolutely and in many places in the world where you might have sufficient resources and wealth in a country to meet the needs of most citizens, but that natural resource wealth is being concentrated in the hands of a few who have the protection of the state and are surrounded by corrupt enablers—that’s what is the source of all this discontent. Remember in Ukraine all of the developments there began last fall because of a perception that Mr. Yanukovych, the then president of Ukraine, had created a corrupt regime in which a handful of other oligarchs were monopolizing all the wealth in the country and using the government to perpetuate their wealth and privilege. Now, a lot of this is tied to energy because of Ukraine’s pivotal role as a transport bridge for energy— natural gas—especially from Russia to Europe, but in between Ukraine as the bridge. Ukrainian oligarchs where in control of that and profiting from it very, very nicely, but the majority of Ukrainians not seeing any benefit from it. That was the original spark for the revolution in Ukraine.

Chris Martenson: Was that that vast inequality, the extraordinary wealth on one end and everybody else sort of sharing in the scraps on the other?

Michael Klare: Yes, and not just the inequality, but the sense of corruption and the powerlessness that people felt, the desperation, the frustration they felt that there was nothing they could do—that the legal system, the political system, was weighted against them and that finally they took to the streets to the Maidan, The Independence Square. And the heroic protest that finally led to the toppling of the Yanukovych regime. Now this is the pattern that you spoke earlier of the Arab spring. This is exactly the pattern that triggered the Arab spring—the sense that the governments in the Middle East had becoming entrenched, autocratic regimes that monopolized the wealth, that passed it onto cronies around the president or whoever was in charge at the expense of the majority of the population.

Then on top of that, in the case of the Arab Spring, this followed—this is where you speak of the ties between energy, the environment, and the economy—on top of that in 2010-2011 we had a terrible drought throughout the world (a drought produced, no doubt, by climate change) and that led to a doubling of food prices throughout. Bread prices, grain prices, throughout the Middle East... So, poor people who were living on next to nothing suddenly found that the price of food doubled overnight, practically. They couldn’t afford to feed themselves. So the combination of food scarcity and corruption—that volatile mix—that’s what fueling, or fueled, the Arab Spring.

Chris Martenson: When you're spending 40% of your income on food and it doubles, that is a pretty stiff blow, isn't it?

Michael Klare: It is a pretty stiff blow, especially when unemployment is high and the government seems indifferent to your cries, to your pleas, to your desperation, which was the case in Egypt and Tunisia and Syria and these other countries. So it’s a combination of environment, economy, and energy in all of these places.

Chris Martenson: Well thank you for that context. I find sometimes it’s difficult for people in the United States, in particular—maybe Europe more generally—to really understand what that kind of poverty really means. Because we are blessed with a lot of resources. I’d love to get your take on this: The current narrative in America that, as I see it, is that we are the new Saudi Arabia, right? We have used our Can-Do American spirit to unlock essentially unlimited hydrocarbons from stingy rocks, you know, it’s just an amazing feat of cleverness there. The headlines have all screamed that Peak Oil is dead—that I think blunts this conversation around resources a little bit. What is your view on that particular story?

Michael Klare: Well my view is that you know, the environment is also a limited resource. And it’s true that we have very large reserves of shale in this country. And shale rock has trapped within it molecules of oil and molecules of natural gas, and if we are willing to destroy our environment we could liberate those molecules of oil and gas and have a bonanza of fossil fuels. Now the problem is, to liberate those molecules, you have to use force, and the force what we use is high-pressure water. Now, water is not abundant in this country or anywhere else in the world in vast, unlimited quantities. In fact we know from scientific studies—the most recent report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change—that we're facing severe water scarcity on a global scale in the years ahead and its going to get a lot worse. And it's going to get a lot worse in this country too.

We are facing water scarcity in the years ahead. I was just in the American Southwest, in New Mexico, and there are signs everywhere: "Conserve water, it’s a precious resource." So, the notion that we can... We certainly can become another Saudi Arabia if we stop growing food, because we will need all of that water to unlock all of the energy that is trapped in the shale rock.

To give an example: Perhaps the largest remaining untapped reserve of shale oil and gas is the Monterey formation in southern California, and the drillers there want to go head and frack every last square inch of that. Fine, go ahead, but California is suffering from its worst drought in recorded history, and there is no water. To do the fracking, there will be even less water to grow the food on which our nation depends. So people don’t think about this connection, but they had better think about it if we want to eat in the years ahead and have any drinking water.

Chris Martenson: Well indeed, and there’s another strain of consequences that are going to be coming forward. We’ve all heard about how the infrastructure—roads and bridges—get heavily destroyed and the severance taxes from the current drilling operations do not even remotely cover the actually damage, so the taxpayers are actually subsidizing those operations at present. But nobody has explained to me who's going to cap all of these wells when they are finally abandoned. And the thinking is that it'll be the big companies that are in there—Chesapeake, Devon, Petrohawk—all these guys will cap them. But maybe not.

Wyoming has showed us that they have some ridiculous number of uncapped coalbed methane wells that are just sort of sitting out there now that taxpayers are going to have to cap. So I feel like in this country we're just looking at the front end of the oil boom curve. They are fun, you know, everybody loves the front end of an oil boom. There is always the bust side. Even the EIA says that oil shale production is going to peak around 2021, maybe 2020, something like that. So even as abundant as they are, they are not forever, are they?

Michael Klare: It depends on who you talk to and how much damage you’re willing to allow to the environment, because there are huge amounts shale in this country. It really is going to come down to a matter of priorities. If we want to turn southern California upside down and stop growing food we could continue to exploit the shale reserves in southern California and in Texas and in Colorado. The oil companies say that the technology keeps getting better and better. So I don’t think we should assume that there will be a peak at any one time. In my view, it’s going to be Peak Environment that will be the determining factor in the years ahead.

That is to say, as the planet heats and the environmental disasters and climate disasters we face multiply, people will become more and more concerned about the exploitation of fossil fuels and will impose restrictions on them. And that will be determining factor. Not the geological presence of carbons in the ground. Eventually we will stop exploiting them. We have unlimited—I should not say that—we have vast reserves of coal in this country if we do not care about the planet. We could go on burning that coal for years, decades, centuries to come. But in realty we're going to put a stop to the burning of coal and it's going to sit in the ground.

Chris Martenson: Well how would we affect that stop in the burning? Would we just pass a law that says you cannot burn it anymore? Do we just jack the price so that demand is constrained by market forces? How would we do that?

Michael Klare: Several things are converging at once, Chris, and I'm sure your listeners are aware of that. By and by, government will impose rules. It may not happen at the federal level right away, although the new EPA rules that President Obama is floating will make it harder to burn coal. But many states—at the state level and municipal level, many local governments are imposing rules on burning fossil fuels and carbon and requiring an increase in reliance on renewables. But many individuals are also making that transition, moving away from fossil fuel dependency to increased reliance on solar power and wind power. That’s bringing down the prices of renewable energy to a point where it’s competitive with fossil fuel consumption. And all of this will gain momentum in the years ahead to a time when we won’t build any more coal plants. In fact we are not building any more coal plants. And we will rely increasingly on electric powered vehicles. All this will gain momentum in the years ahead so that fossil fuel assets will become "stranded," is the term. They will remain in the ground because of a shift in our consumption behavior. Now I can’t say this is all going to happen by 2020 or 2025. We are moving in that direction and the trend will accelerate over time.

Chris Martenson: I wish I shared that full optimism, but let me just throw one statistic way I don’t.

Michael Klare: Okay.

Chris Martenson: So U.S. homes and buildings, they’re the largest percentage of our total energy footprint. It’s about 70% of electricity usage—a little over a third of all natural gas use. So that’s just keeping our homes lit up and cooled and heated and all of that. And in my state you can still build a home with minimal insulation if you want. Even though we currently have the understanding and the technology to build heavily well insulated homes, that you would use a fraction of the energy footprint. It’s not get enough in our consciousness that any sort of incentives or codes—you know, whether we’re using coercion or incentives—it’s still not there. And by the way, these structures last for 50, 60, 70, 100 years or more if you build them all enough. We’re still building homes and buildings that are going to require an extraordinary amount of energy to operate them over their life cycle, and what you’re talking about... If we today, Michael, if we today had this sense—that urgency you’re talking about—that says, "Wow, we have got to get off these hydrocarbons," there is a lot we could do. We're not doing it.

Michael Klare: Yes, of course this is true. We are talking about a phenomenon that I compare to the end of smoking. We first heard about the dangers of smoking when I was young, 30-40 years ago. People still smoke, but in diminishing numbers. And the obstacles to smoking keep multiplying over time. I think you have to look at it this way.

And it didn’t happen evenly around the United States. If you go to California today—and California is like the fifth or sixth largest GDP in the world—they are moving under state rules extremely rapidly in the direction of embracing renewable energy. Solar power there is growing 50% to 100% per year because of state rules that they must cap their carbon dioxide emissions. And that’s going to spread to Oregon, Washington State, to other states. And even in New England we have a high requirement for reliance on renewables, and that will increase.

The reason why I think this is going to happen, Chris, is because Mother Nature is in implacable foe in all of this. Mother Nature is not going to say, "Oh, we will slow down global warming. We will allow the fossil age to continue indefinitely." No, that’s not going to happen. Mother Nature is saying, "You have forced too much carbon into the atmosphere and there is no way I can handle that without imposing extreme penalties on the planet, and the penalties are going to be very severe, and they will become more severe with time, exponentially. So you had better start adapting to this and taking steps to reduce, very rapidly, the amount of carbon you’re pouring into me or the penalties will double each year." Something like that. That’s what’s going to happen and I think that will develop its own momentum. You can’t bargain and negotiate with Mother Nature.

Chris Martenson: You know it’s an interesting discussion that we have on our site around the whole idea of climate change—and obviously there’s been a lot of turbulence inserted into that conversation by various parties in the United States. But the one part that’s really quite linear and easy to understand for me is this idea of ocean acidification where it’s just chemistry, and it’s linear. You want to know what the ocean acidity levels are going to be, just tell me how many PPM of CO2 are in the atmosphere. Couldn’t be easier. And we’re acidifying the oceans—according to data—at the fastest rate in 300 million years. And, guess what: Lots of the bottom of the ocean's food chain depends on the PH being rather stable.

So we look at that and just that alone I think we could make a clear cut case that says, "Wow, if we breach this PPM, we’re going to really upset the ocean’s ecosystems in a way that’s unpredictable, but probably not going to be awesome." So if we really want to cap CO2 in an aggressive fashion, the only mechanism I know to do that would be to begin to sequester carbon in some way. I think the best ways are probably through agricultural practices, for an immediate bang. But even if we wanted to start putting some of that—with carbon capture and sequestration—down into the earth, somehow, if that works at scale, that’s a huge energy burden. It takes roughly 40%, I’ve heard, of the energy that you get out of coal burning to capture the carbon and put it back down. So that means either you have to burn 40% more coal to get the same amount of energy out of it, on a useful scale, or you have to somehow do with 40% less—roughly—energy that you get to use because you've used the rest to capture the carbon. It just means extraordinary expenses are coming. Are people ready for that?

Michael Klare: Well 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 increase increasingly into the future. Because the moats of production of getting the world’s remaining resources will keep increasing 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.

Whether it’s CCS or something else, the cost of resources will become higher and higher for everyone. What that will do is to force efficiencies upon us, not as a moral choice, but as an economic choice. So it’s efficiency that will be our savior. We will all choose, for economic reasons, for our household budget, to use less energy, to use less water, to use less everything. And this will stimulate, I believe—I’m hopeful—will stimulate innovation, entrepreneurship, and people will not build those houses without insulation. Most households won’t do that because they’ll look at the household budgetary consequences of having an un-insulated house and they’ll say, "Wow this is crazy, we will much better off for our household budget if we insulate our home and use very high efficiency heating and electricity and so on." So it is innovation and efficiency to minimize our use and waste of resources that I think will save us.

Chris Martenson: Well I certainly agree—and this is the part that I was really hoping to get to in this podcast—is this idea that none of us are actually powerless in this story. It seems powerless. I understand that sense of no agency in this story, "Hey even if the United States stops burning coal tonight, China will probably just pick up the slack and do it." So we might not even have a national agency in the story, but the truth of the matter is each of us has responsibility for our own choices and actions, and that’s the first and best place any of us can start. The best news is that you can actually make decisions today around how your own household is configured around how you use energy that will both give you a higher quality of life today, save your money today, but insulate you from any potential shocks that come in the future related to energy price spikes, scarcity, however that’s meted out through the market mechanisms. This is one of the key things that we try and talk about here at Peak Prosperity is this idea that there’s lots we can and should be doing today. You mentioned you see that at the state level in California. Do you at all analyze or look at what’s going on at the national, or let’s say federal level where many of us detect what we might call a "small gap" in their response?

Michael Klare: I mean there are many of us who work on this at various levels. I did want to mention one innovation that I’m a party to. It’s not just individually... You spoke of what we could do is individuals or as families. We could also talk about what we do as communities. More and more communities are organizing to be climate adaptive and you’ll see more of this in the future. For example, hurricane Sandy—super storm Sandy had an enormous impact on many communities in the east cost that are now taking steps, like New York City, to find ways to reduce their carbon emissions and to otherwise adapt to climate change. But one initiative I want to mention is something called the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment which my college, Hampshire College, has signed, which is a pledge to be climate emissions neutral by a certain date. We’ve picked 2022 for our commitment to do that. I sit on the environmental committee at Hampshire College and it’s our job to implement that pledge, and we’re looking at every use of energy and waste and water and food on the Hampshire College campus. And figuring out, first, how to either eliminate carbon emissions or to make it net zero over time, how to use energy more efficiently, and so on. So this is something people could do in their businesses, in their farms, in their institutions wherever they are employed, collectively looking at these issues and finding ways to do it better. This is, I think, a very exciting prospect.

Chris Martenson: We were talking recently with Bruce Seifer from Burlington, and hearing what Burlington had done—it was really rather dramatic. They at one point were facing the decision that they had to bring more electricity into town, and there is a number of ways to do that. They were looking—"Where do we source this from? Does it come from dams up in Quebec? Does it come from nuclear?" And they ran through the whole decision matrix and put a lot of numbers together and came to the conclusion that if they spent 25 million bringing new energy in, or spent 25 million on retrofitting and insulating and conserving, that in fact they would gain far more from the conserving side. And that’s what they did. And today they have a lower energy bill in their town than they did 20 years ago when they were facing this decision. It’s astonishing what can be done, but first you have to come to the conclusion that there’s a couple ways you can do this. One is: How do you make new energy? Which is a lot of the focus, people are like, "We'll put solar panels up and we’ll put, you know, methane generators, and we’ll do all of this generation side," but in fact, often some of the biggest bangs for your buck, at least from Burlington's example, come from finding ways not to use energy, and with very minimal impacts on lifestyle, if any. Are you having the same sort of findings at the college level?

Michael Klare: Absolutely. A lot of college campuses have a physical plant that’s 50 or 100 years old, and they weren’t built at a time of energy consciousness. It turns, out as you say Chris, that it winds up being more economic to retrofit those old buildings—or in some cases to tear them down and build new ones that are energy efficient—than to pay for more new energy. Because, let’s face it, the price of energy is going to rise. And it’s going to rise because it’s going to become increasingly costly to generate energy using traditional methods for all the reasons we could discuss. So over time it makes sense to reduce your energy use. It’s more efficient, it’s better for the environment, and it’s more economical. So that’s actually what we’re doing at Hampshire College. We’re now building a new admissions building, which is going to be a living design building, which will require no net energy. It will be powered by a solar array on the roof.

Chris Martenson: It can be done. This technology has been around, actually, for a while to build a zero emissions building. I’m dying to get your answer on this one because we get this one a lot: So, either people who are young, you know, in their teens and 20s, or parents of kids coming up, they all ask this same question. So this lens you just articulated—to succinctly put it down—you said over time energy is just going to become more expensive. Resources in general are just going to become more expensive. That has unknowable, myriad ramifications as it ripples through our economy. It is going to fundamentally alter the landscape. So the question is—and you are in the front line of this—what sorts of jobs, skills, training, directions should people be thinking about going towards? When we think about some big change coming, there are only three questions you have ask yourself: What things are we going to keep doing? Those are fine. What things are we going to probably stop doing? And then what are those new things that we are going to have to pick up and be doing? I think people are interested in that third one. Like if somebody young really wanted to head in that direction, what are those new things we’re going to be doing? How do you advice people on that?

Michael Klare: Oh that’s such a wonderful question, and I love to be able to engage in that discussion. One of the most important and most exciting careers is going to be in making cities green. We now know that about half of the world’s population now lives in cities, in big cities. Half of the world’s population. When I was born, only about a quarter of the world’s population—and it was much a smaller population back then—lived in cities. Now it’s half and by 2050 it’s going to be two thirds of the world’s population lives in big cities. This is astonishing. So the task of making cities green—the transportation, the sanitation and water, the energy—this is so exciting because it includes design, which my students are terribly interested in, design aspects, combining that with science, with ecology, with farming, how to turn cities into farms. There are so many ways in which young people could get involved in the adaptation of cities to climate change and energy transformation.

So that’s the biggest area. But another area that will become increasingly important—and I say this all of the time—is water, especially new ways to desalinate water, because we are running out of the world’s fresh water supply. There is no question about it and it’s going to get a lot worse. But we have a huge supply of water, it’s just that it is salty and it’s very expensive in energy consuming to turn salt water into fresh water. It could be done, but it requires a tremendous amount of energy. I think this is the new frontier—energy efficient desalination. whoever does that is going to save the planet.

Chris Martenson: I’ve heard some exciting developments there. We've got these new compounds and materials showing up, graphene being one. But it’s all at the lab stage so far. It’s exciting, but we’re not yet at scale. There is so much work to take something from a lab bench to a commercial scale.

Michael Klare: Yeah.

Chris Martenson: Lots of very clever, worthy pursuits for people on all fronts, from engineering, to the science, to the marketing, to the politically—gathering support for these things. It’s just, really there is a lot of opportunity in this story, isn’t there?

Michael Klare: Huge opportunity for designers, for scientists, for engineers, and entrepreneurs to take these laboratory ideas and bring them up to scale. There will be huge markets for this. So there’s tremendous scope for innovation and creativity as well.

Chris Martenson: Now on the other side of those three questions: What sorts of things do you think are we are going to stop doing? What’s already legacy but we’re still doing it at this point?

Michael Klare: You know the biggest problem I think for us is transportation in this country because transportation is our biggest consumption of fossil fuels. How we move people around is going to be a problem. There are opportunities there to create new kinds of transportation systems—light rail, new forms of electric powered vehicles. There are people developing whole new ways of moving people around—people movers in cities. But an economy based on oil powered, individually driven automobiles—I think that’s a legacy that in time will disappear.

Chris Martenson: Yeah transportation is obviously a big thing. It’s—what was the statistic I read yesterday? The United States currently has zero miles of high speed rail. Not that high speed is necessarily the be-all, end-all, but you can electrify it and you can run it off of electrified technologies, and that’s very different from needing to take a plane or a slow train from point A to point B. But, obviously to get those done, again, the number of skills that are going to needed is just extraordinary. It’s not just engineers, it’s not just people who know how to lay train tracks. It takes planning, politicing... And as you say we’re going to have to start making tradeoffs. We’ve been a country that’s lived beyond its means for while, at least if you look at the fact that we’ve grown our debt load at twice the rate of the underlying economic growth. Everybody knows you can’t grow your credit card at twice the rate your income is actually growing. Sooner or later you will have a math problem. So we lived beyond our means. Maybe in young people’s life times we have to, in this country, square up to that. And we’re going to have to make real tradeoffs, which may be a brand new practice for a lot of people. When is the last time our country really had to make full tradeoffs for its needs?

Michael Klare: Well the answer to that is very well known. It was World War II when the country did do that very successfully, very impressively, it turned from civilian production to war production almost overnight. Automobile factories started turning out tanks and bomber planes and everything else and women were mobilized into the work force. It was done very successfully. So we know perfectly well we are capable of doing that.

Chris Martenson: And I love that. So we know that, at some point in the future, what you’re predicting is that the world, from an environmental standpoint, is going to say, "Knock-knock, you have to do things differently," and at that point, if we choose to, we could go on a war footing and really do things differently. We’re going to need to mobilize a lot of people. The people who are going to be best positioned for that are those who have the skills that that future is going to really need and really want and really value. And so those would be the areas where if people wanted to start applying their talents and start gathering experiences and knowledge and building their skills around, those would be the areas they should aim for.

Michael Klare: Yes, and believe me my students are totally aware of all of this. This is not news to them. They are all exploring opportunities in these various fields and they’re aware of the needs and the opportunities and they’re looking for places to go in this new world. That is to say they're—I only teach undergraduate students and they’re all exploring graduate programs in green urban design, and green water management, and all of the—and green energy especially. So if we can provide this we will find the hordes of young people eager to fill those ranks.

Chris Martenson: Fantastic. I think that’s just brilliant and necessary. So we are at the end of our time. Where can we direct interested people to find your work, find your books, and follow your communications more closely?

Michael Klare: Oh, well the best place is, I have a website, michaelklare.com and that’s probably the best place.

Chris Martenson: Fantastic. Well Michael, thank you so much for your time today.

Michael Klare: My pleasure. It’s been a really good discussion.

Chris Martenson: Thank you.

About the guest

Michael Klare

Michael Klare is a writer, teacher, and public speaker who studies issues of war and peace, resource competition, and international affairs. As the Five College Professor of Peace and World Security Studies, based at Hampshire College, he teaches courses on resource politics, contemporary conflict, and world affairs. Klare has written fourteen books and hundreds of essays on these and related topics; a strong believer in the need for public debate and discussion, he also appears regularly in the media and in public to express his views on critical issues. His most recent book is The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources.

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4 Comments

Arthur Robey's picture
Arthur Robey
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 4 2010
Posts: 3936
Dance Kali, O Destroyer of Illusions.

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?

 

pyranablade's picture
pyranablade
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Nov 8 2010
Posts: 205
Blood And Oil

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.

pgp's picture
pgp
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 2 2014
Posts: 196
Population not mentioned

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.

AndyR's picture
AndyR
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 27 2012
Posts: 10
Bigger cities?

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.

 

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