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About the Author

Benno Hansen
Patent Assistant (Copenhagen, Denmark)

Focusing on our bright green future, environmental sustainability, global partnership and climate change.

MSc degree in horticulture from Copenhagen University, thesis on Hidden Markov Modelling of protein sequences - which is the same algorithm that lies at the core of Google. Winner of TH!NK2, Y!HAA

Have written for magazines at an advertising bureau, supported university students in their IT-tasks, helped maintain the university hardware, software and websites, vacuum cleaned bodies of escaped laboratory test frogs, been a mail man with the Danish Postal Service and counted the number of passengers for the Danish Railways.

My goal is to publish a best selling science fiction novel and/or get elected for parliament with an intellectual party. But I spend a lot more time betting on football matches (and winning), attending FC Copenhagen home games which I hold a season ticket for, reading lots of science fiction and popularized science, skating and eating organic meals with my beautiful, eco-friendly biomedicine ethicist girlfriend.

Oh yeah... every now and then I also blog ;-)

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“All wars are fought over natural resources”

Published 14th July 2010 - 10 comments - 9236 views -

Driving home from a visit to a community gardening project this controversial statement was made by the local permaculture guru. A bit over-simplified I thought to myself. Well, I've been keeping an eye open...

Since July 2007 I have been posting to my blog Ecowar whenever I have encountered news and information supporting (or countering) the statement linking human conflict to spoils of the Earth. And I have actively sought out this type of information. Still am too - three years and blogging.BORN TO KILL?

Because I am experiencing his statement gaining weight. Evidence is aplenty. Anecdotal as well as statistically or politically significant. Let me introduce you to something from each category. I'd also like to discuss a bit how this is relevant to the MDGs.

The science: Climate change statistically correlated with wars

My very first post was about a Chinese study correlating climate change with wars throughout history. A statistically significant correlation supporting the "All wars are fought over natural resources" statement - wow!

That post was based on a news article. Later I joined the Research Blogging project and did a post based on the original research article from Human Ecology - Climate change and conflict frequency.

While far from a conclusive proof of the validity of the statement statistically significant correlations is essential if to address this rationally. And this is a good one of many more to come, I suspect.

The politics: United Nations Secretary-General says it himself

Well, not exactly. But almost. His statement given while on his way to Congo circles the topic while addressing a number of related issues:

"We have seen how environmental damage and the collapse of institutions are threatening human health, livelihoods and security. These risks can also jeopardize fragile peace and development in post-conflict societies. The environment and natural resources are crucial in consolidating peace within and between war-torn societies.

The United Nations attaches great importance to ensuring that action on the environment is part of our approach to peace. Protecting the environment can help countries create employment opportunities, promote development and avoid a relapse into armed conflict. On this International Day, let us renew our commitment to preventing the exploitation of the environment in times of conflict, and to protecting the environment as a pillar of our work for peace."

What can I say? Well said, Moon!

And the Congo conflict he was on his way to discuss is about - among many other issues - the control of timber, water, diamonds and cobalt.

Just common sense? Or just anecdotes?

Of course, we are being told our wars are fought to quell "evil terrorists" and "spread democracy". But we also see our society's craving for fossil fuel plays some role too. (Everyone but the most main stream media baked fool, that is.)

Oil conflicts include Iraq, Afghanistan, the Arctic, Georgia... even Somalia... many others. There is a coca-conflict going on in Columbia and opium is everywhere in the Afghan conflict(s) too. They are fighting over water in Israel/Palestine/Lebanon and soon many other Middle Eastern countries too. Deforestation hurts natives and poor farmers in South America, Africa, Asia and elsewhere - spreading malaria, eroding soil, creating poverty et cetera, et cetera.

Anyway, feel free to criticize my project or chip in with ideas. The man who said the words of the present headline was arguing that basically when he was growing his own potatoes he was in his own small way promoting world peace. I'm beginning to see his point. Agriculture in general definitely plays a crucial role. It's a complicated matter though. The statement is a simplification. On Blog Action Day 2008 I tried to link some of the other issues surrounding poverty, not just war and environmental degradation (see Pollution, poverty, war, lights, camera... action!).

News events are wrapped up in little stories that makes sense to the respective audiences. Journalists have to do this in order to get any readership. In blogging even more so. A lot of bloggers appear to be doing a project of confirming their own ideas.Am I any better myself as I collect stories to confirm my theory? Have I just been googling for news to confirm my hypothesis?

From Conflict to Peacebuilding – the Role of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentYou are welcome to argue with my ecowar story. Dive into my blog, that's what it's there for. You may, however, also want to take a closer look at From Conflict to Peacebuilding - The Role Of Natural Resources And The Environment, a UNEP report from 2009. Among many other things it says that "natural resources play a role in at least 40 percent of all intrastate conflicts", "intrastate conflicts that are associated with natural resources are twice as likely to relapse into conflict in the first five years" and that "natural resources and the environment can contribute to peacebuilding" (figure 1, page 30).

And while you are at investigating the other "blogosphere hippies" besides me how about a peek at the US National Security Strategy 2010 which says that "basic human rights cannot thrive in places where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine they need to survive. The United States has embraced the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals and is working with others in pursuit of the eradication of extreme poverty".

Weapons of Mass Development

How about all the wars that are never going to show up when googling "war AND ecology"? And what about those news stories that go directly against the theory? Well, one story comes to mind immediately: July 2007 Good news: Barn Owls Unite Israelis, Jordanians. The automatic searches I set up (and my semi-conscious attitude in what I look for) caught this one. Stories that go against the proposed correlation is caught too because search terms describing the axises are direction neutral. So far so good. Besides, if you'd read my stuff you'd know "my theory" isn't as simple as just "all wars are fought over natural resources". It's more like "natural resources are an important factor in conflict". Actually, in face of a resource conflict, there is always the choice of cooperation.

Another thing is - call it ironic, sad, tragic, natural, whatever - but a lot of good stuff has come from our warlike minds. From Bart Knol's War…Huh! What Is It Good For? Absolutely something!:

"War is good for nothing. But the war machine has delivered public health benefits that cannot be underestimated. Millions of people around the world owe their lives to it."

Resource conflicts are directly or indirectly linked to several of the MDGs.

How inadequate is this illustration?

I think it would be ignorant not to look at any of the underlying problems in the way of world peace, sustainability and happiness. The issues doesn't make sense on their own. Perhaps this is my real point. That plus the fact that natural resources as the cause for war is a taboo. "OIL" - Operation Iraqi Liberation aka the UN resolution violating invasion of Iraq - is a great example as so many lame excuses were brought up to excuse it. Similarly water is a great taboo in the Palestine-Israel conflict. So, any exposure of "ecowars" is interesting, significant amounts or not.

This article is based on "All wars are fought over natural resources", Let's get smarter here: Significance, not truth, please, three years and five days of blogging at Ecowar, my educational background, watching TV and reading newspapers all my life and inspiration from participating in TH!NK3.

Category: Crisis | Tags: water, poverty, agriculture, war,


  • Johan Knols on 15th July 2010:

    Nice ‘sneeze’ article Benno. (For those who don’t know what this is see:

  • Benno Hansen on 15th July 2010:

    Johan, I never heard of that concept, but you mean it as a copliment that I’m a “problogger” I guess?

    “You are welcome to argue with my ecowar story. Dive into my blog, that’s what it’s there for.” You are also welcome not to. You click the links you click yourself.

    A big difference between my article above and the “method” described in your link is I mostly link to tags. So, for example, if you don’t believe in conflict over water, you can click a link to the water tag and get a selection of news on that topic. A selection that will change over time because I add more and more to my blog. I find it useful myself, perhaps others would too?

    Cheers wink

  • Luan Galani on 15th July 2010:

    Benno, I’m a big fan of your posts. Congrats for more this one. Splendid.

    I tend to agree with you over your main point. And I believe most time most journalists let it pass over - the fact that the issues do not make sense on their own. Thanks for the links, all very useful.

  • Clare Herbert on 16th July 2010:

    Re: the last image. I think environment/natural resoucres should be the basis for all the other work that we’re doing. It should (and often does) impact on all 7 of the other MDGS.

  • Giedre Steikunaite on 23rd July 2010:

    “All wars are fought over natural resources.”

    Over religious views and nationalities, too, what do you think?

  • Benno Hansen on 24th July 2010:

    I th!nk religious views and nationality are usually proximate causes or outright excuses. Although common ones and in the case of religion, an excuse that can grow to the motivation of individuals and the cause of battles within the larger wars.

  • Hussam Hussein on 24th July 2010:

    Giedre, I think that many times religious, nationalities, and ethical reasons are used to hide the real ones that are the natural resources… but indeed, not all the wars are fought over natural resources.

  • Daniel Nylin Nilsson on 25th July 2010:

    Nice article smile

    I would also like to highlight that war has numerous effects on ecology . For example I have elsewere written that small scale agriculture is vital for a sustainable future, but there are places on the earth where this is impossible due to landmines.

    Regarding the effects of war… yes, what they do I think is to give the development a big push forward, but they don’t really change anything. Without the second world war we would not have so many medicines, but not so many diseases either. Would we be happier? I guess so… most of the 60 years since the war we have been struggling witht eh consequenses of the war.

    @Giedre I think it depends on what level you look at, and causes are also interacting. Wihtout human stupidity sparse natural resources would not create wars, without sparse resources stupidity would not lead to war.

    I can recommend the French historian Braudel, and the Annalles school - according to them basically everything depends on geological and climatic factors… it is really an intersting perspective.

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