Oil, water shortages, climate change could provoke wars: report

Mike de Souza, Postmedia News via Vancouver Sun

Critical energy and water shortages combined with climate change could provoke wars within the next 15 years, warns a newly-released analysis by the Department of National Defence.

“Global reserves of crude oil could become problematic by 2025,” wrote Maj. John Sheahan in a draft version of the report, Army 2040: First Look. “This implies that (barring the discovery of significant new reserves, and barring the adequate adoption of substitute fossil fuels or alternative fuel and energy sources) critical energy shortages will develop in the time frame of (and perhaps prior to) 2025.”

The report noted that alternative fuels and energy may not be enough to respond to rising demand for energy that is forcing oil production to reach its capacity — a threat commonly referred to as “peak oil.”

“There can be little doubt that unrestricted access to reliable energy supplies is a global strategic issue, one for which, recently, numerous nations have been willing to fight, and have indeed done so,” said the report, released to Postmedia News through an Access to Information request. “Thus the trend that envisions depletion of fossil fuels such as crude oil in coming decades may also contribute to international tensions if not violent conflict.”

Sheahan is part of a Canadian team of analysts led by Lt.-Col. Michael Rostek, who are researching long-term planning scenarios for the military. Members of the team said earlier this spring that they had submitted their analysis to senior military officials who are still reviewing the work.

The analysis also warns that, even under conservative estimates, up to 60 countries could fall into a category of water scarcity or stress by 2050, making the natural resource “a key source of power” or a “basis for future conflict.”..
(June 28, 2011)
The draft report can be found on Scribd here.

Sylvia Earle: If the sea is in trouble, we are all in trouble

Sylvia Earler, The Independent
The report that the ocean is in trouble is no surprise. What is shocking is that it has taken so long for us to make the connection between the state of the ocean and everything we care about – the economy, health, security – and the existence of life itself.

If the ocean is in trouble – and it is – we are in trouble. Charles Clover pointed this out in The End of the Line, and Callum Roberts provided detailed documentation of the collapse of ocean wildlife – and the consequences – in The Unnatural History of the Sea.

Since the middle of the 20th century, more has been learnt about the ocean than during all preceding human history; at the same time, more has been lost. Some 90 per cent of many fish, large and small, have been extracted. Some face extinction owing to the ocean’s most voracious predator – us.

We are now appearing to wage war on life in the sea with sonars, spotter aircraft, advanced communications, factory trawlers, thousands of miles of long lines, and global marketing of creatures no one had heard of until recent years. Nothing has prepared sharks, squid, krill and other sea creatures for industrial-scale extraction that destroys entire ecosystems while targeting a few species.

The concept of “peak oil” has penetrated the hearts and minds of people concerned about energy for the future. “Peak fish” occurred around the end of the 1980s. As near-shore areas have been depleted of easy catches, fishing operations have gone deeper, further offshore, using increasingly sophisticated – and environmentally costly – methods of capture.

The concern is not loss of fish for people to eat. Rather, the greatest concern about destructive fishing activities of the past century, especially the past several decades, is the dismemberment of the fine-tuned ocean ecosystems that are, in effect, our life-support system…
(June 21, 2011)
The report is not yet released. The long summary can be read here.

Like a grenade in a glasshouse

Paul Gilding, Climate Spectator
It’s going to hit hard and it’s going to hurt – made worse because most aren’t expecting it. They think the world is slowly returning to our modern “normal” – steadily increasing growth, with occasional annoying but manageable interruptions. After all, the global recession wasn’t so bad was it? Sure there was pain and things got shaky but Governments responded, bailed out companies, stimulated economies, got things back on track. While it’s still a bit bumpy, Greek wobbles, US debt, extreme weather, high oil and food prices etc, it’ll work out. It always does….

If only it were so. In fact we are blindly walking towards the next in a series of inevitable system-shaking and confidence-sapping crises, deluded in the belief that the worst is behind us.

Each crisis will be a little worse than the last. Each one will shake our denial a little more. This is what happens when systems hit their limits. They don’t do so smoothly, but bump up against the wall, hitting hard, then bouncing off equally hard. It is the behaviour of a system trying to break through. But if the limits are solid, as is the case with our economic system hitting the limits of the planet – defined by unchangeable physical capacity and the laws of physics, chemistry and biology – then it can’t find its way through. So eventually, when the pain of hitting the wall gets too much, it stops.
Then it will hit. Like a grenade in a glasshouse, shattering denial and delusion and leaving it like a pile of broken glass on the floor of the old economic model. Then we’ll be ready for change.

I’ve been arguing the inevitability of this moment since 2005, mostly inside the business community. Before the 2008 financial crisis hit, the idea was almost universally rejected, with a belief in the indomitable power of globalised markets to overcome all challenges and keep growth on track. Most audiences believed that while markets always wobbled, they also always recovered. My suggestion, that this level of arrogance was the hallmark of empires before they fell, landed on deaf ears. They were the masters of the universe and markets and growth would always reign supreme.
Now the response is different. The financial crisis saw many break off from the pack and start to ask the difficult questions. I now find as I tour the world speaking about The Great Disruption to community gatherings, corporate executives and policymakers, that minds are increasingly open. While not the dominant view, the previous confidence in the inevitably of growth has become shaky and the group asking the challenging questions is rapidly expanding.

As I argue in the book, the fundamental cause of what’s coming is resource constraint and environmental breakdown, which when combined with an overstretched financial system and high levels of debt puts unbearable tension into the global economy. While no one can know what event will pull the pin out of the grenade, the underlying pressures make that moment inevitable. Yes, the dominant commentary still blames each individual problem on unique circumstances, but the underlying systemic causes are clear for those who wish to look.
(June 30, 2011)
You can find out more about Paul Gilding’s new book here.

Peak oil is ‘getting closer’ but the world is not ready

Tom Levitt, the ecologist
The end of cheap oil has got governments panicking to control prices rather than planning for a post-oil era. Tom Levitt reports

Was it a sign of desperation or show of strength?

In a surprising move, the major oil consuming countries, principally Europe and the US, agreed last week to release some of their emergency reserves of oil in an attempt to try and cut the high market price of oil.

It was only the third time in history such collective action had been taken, the previous being during the Gulf War in 1991 and in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina damaged offshore oil rigs, pipelines and refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Officially, it was to offset the loss of oil from Libya as a result of the ongoing conflict in the country. But there are suggestions the US and others had lost faith in the World’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, being able to increase oil production enough to keep prices from rising.

This comes after a leaked memo from a senior Saudi oil executive in February alleged the country’s oil reserves were being overstated.

New era of oil

Regardless of the motives, the decision is being seen as the start of a new era of government intervention in the oil market.

‘We have learnt a big lesson. This is a dry run for how governments will respond in a few years time when we get a permanent oil price rise,’ says John Miles, chairman of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

Some observers go further in saying the move is evidence that we may already be entering a ‘peak oil’ period…

…Tar sands no answer

This new period, the ‘approach to peak oil’ as Dr Richard Miller from the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre (ODAC) refers to it, has eroded spare capacity and reduced the amount of new oil coming on stream to replace declines from existing fields around the world…

…David Korowicz, from the environmental analysts Feasta, explains: ‘Firstly, rising prices squeeze out less essential consumption leading to business closures and unemployment. Secondly, higher oil prices mean more money flows out of oil consuming countries into oil producers. Less money flowing around the economy means less money for businesses, and less money for people to service their debts. Growing defaults further destabilise banks and government debt loads. The Eurozone, the US, and the UK are all suffering under massive debts, rising oil (and food) prices could effectively push them over the edge.’..

…As a report by Deutsche Bank, ‘The Peak Oil Market: Price Dynamics at the End of the Oil Age’, pointed out, with so many parts of our economy, especially food prices, closely linked to oil prices, our eventual divorce from oil is likely to be messy.

The findings are similar to a recently revealed report that UK ministers commissioned but then refused to publish, which warned of civil unrest from ‘peak oil’ energy shortages…

…The UK department for energy and climate change insist last week’s intervention was a ‘short-term measure’ which, ‘does not alter out position or commitment to move to a low carbon economy’.

Others disagree. Shaun Chamberlin, author of ‘The Transition Timeline’ and a DECC advisor, says the department is caught between two conflicting aims: keeping energy available and at a low cost while trying to reduce emissions, primarily through a high carbon price.

‘The two aims are pulling against each other,’ he says. The question for him is whether the UK will take on ideas like the transition town movement and adapt to a post-oil era or wait for the crisis?…
(June 30, 2011)