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.
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!
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?
You 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."
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.