Michael T. Klare: Entering a Resource-Shock World: How Resource Scarcity and Climate Change Could Produce a Global Explosion

By Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and the author of The Race for What’s Left. Originally published in TomDispatch.

Brace yourself. You may not be able to tell yet, but according to global experts and the U.S. intelligence community, the earth is already shifting under you.  Whether you know it or not, you’re on a new planet, a resource-shock world of a sort humanity has never before experienced.

Two nightmare scenarios — a global scarcity of vital resources and the onset of extreme climate change — are already beginning to converge and in the coming decades are likely to produce a tidal wave of unrest, rebellion, competition, and conflict.  Just what this tsunami of disaster will look like may, as yet, be hard to discern, but experts warn of “water wars” over contested river systems, global food riots sparked by soaring prices for life’s basics, mass migrations of climate refugees (with resulting anti-migrant violence), and the breakdown of social order or the collapse of states.  At first, such mayhem is likely to arise largely in Africa, Central Asia, and other areas of the underdeveloped South, but in time all regions of the planet will be affected.

To appreciate the power of this encroaching catastrophe, it’s necessary to examine each of the forces that are

Resource Shortages and Resource Wars

Start with one simple given: the prospect of future scarcities of vital natural resources, including energy, water, land, food, and critical minerals.  This in itself would guarantee social unrest, geopolitical friction, and war.

It is important to note that absolute scarcity doesn’t have to be on the horizon in any given resource category for this scenario to kick in.  A lack of adequate supplies to meet the needs of a growing, ever more urbanized and industrialized global population is enough.  Given the wave of extinctions that scientists are recording, some resources — particular species of fish, animals, and trees, for example — will become less abundant in the decades to come, and may even disappear altogether.  But key materials for modern civilization like oil, uranium, and copper will simply prove harder and more costly to acquire, leading to supply bottlenecks and periodic shortages.

Oil — the single most important commodity in the international economy — provides an apt example.  Although global oil supplies may actually grow in the coming decades, many experts doubt that they can be expanded sufficiently to meet the needs of a rising global middle class that is, for instance, expected to buy millions of new cars in the near future.  In its 2011 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency claimed that an anticipated global oil demand of 104 million barrels per day in 2035 will be satisfied.  This, the report suggested, would be thanks in large part to additional supplies of “unconventional oil” (Canadian tar sands, shale oil, and so on), as well as 55 million barrels of new oil from fields “yet to be found” and “yet to be developed.”

However, many analysts scoff at this optimistic assessment, arguing that rising production costs (for energy that will be ever more difficult and costly to extract), environmental opposition, warfare, corruption, and other impediments will make it extremely difficult to achieve increases of this magnitude.  In other words, even if production manages for a time to top the 2010 level of 87 million barrels per day, the goal of 104 million barrels will never be reached and the world’s major consumers will face virtual, if not absolute, scarcity.

Water provides another potent example.  On an annual basis, the supply of drinking water provided by natural precipitation remains more or less constant: about 40,000 cubic kilometers.  But much of this precipitation lands on Greenland, Antarctica, Siberia, and inner Amazonia where there are very few people, so the supply available to major concentrations of humanity is often surprisingly limited.  In many regions with high population levels, water supplies are already relatively sparse.  This is especially true of North Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East, where the demand for water continues to grow as a result of rising populations, urbanization, and the emergence of new water-intensive industries.  The result, even when the supply remains constant, is an environment of increasing scarcity.

Wherever you look, the picture is roughly the same: supplies of critical resources may be rising or falling, but rarely do they appear to be outpacing demand, producing a sense of widespread and systemic scarcity.  However generated, a perception of scarcity — or imminent scarcity — regularly leads to anxiety, resentment, hostility, and contentiousness.  This pattern is very well understood, and has been evident throughout human history.

In his book Constant Battles, for example, Steven LeBlanc, director of collections for Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, notes that many ancient civilizations experienced higher levels of warfare when faced with resource shortages brought about by population growth, crop failures, or persistent drought. Jared Diamond, author of the bestseller Collapse, has detected a similar pattern in Mayan civilization and the Anasazi culture of New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon.  More recently, concern over adequate food for the home population was a significant factor in Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and Germany’s invasions of Poland in 1939 and the Soviet Union in 1941, according to Lizzie Collingham, author of The Taste of War.

Although the global supply of most basic commodities has grown enormously since the end of World War II, analysts see the persistence of resource-related conflict in areas where materials remain scarce or there is anxiety about the future reliability of supplies.  Many experts believe, for example, that the fighting in Darfur and other war-ravaged areas of North Africa has been driven, at least in part, by competition among desert tribes for access to scarce water supplies, exacerbated in some cases by rising population levels.

“In Darfur,” says a 2009 report from the U.N. Environment Programme on the role of natural resources in the conflict, “recurrent drought, increasing demographic pressures, and political marginalization are among the forces that have pushed the region into a spiral of lawlessness and violence that has led to 300,000 deaths and the displacement of more than two million people since 2003.”

Anxiety over future supplies is often also a factor in conflicts that break out over access to oil or control of contested undersea reserves of oil and natural gas.  In 1979, for instance, when the Islamic revolution in Iran overthrew the Shah and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Washington began to fear that someday it might be denied access to Persian Gulf oil.  At that point, President Jimmy Carter promptly announced what came to be called the Carter Doctrine.  In his 1980 State of the Union Address, Carter affirmed that any move to impede the flow of oil from the Gulf would be viewed as a threat to America’s “vital interests” and would be repelled by “any means necessary, including military force.”

In 1990, this principle was invoked by President George H.W. Bush to justify intervention in the first Persian Gulf War, just as his son would use it, in part, to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  Today, it remains the basis for U.S. plans to employ force to stop the Iranians from closing the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway connecting the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean through which about 35% of the world’s seaborne oil commerce  passes.

Recently, a set of resource conflicts have been rising toward the boiling point between China and its neighbors in Southeast Asia when it comes to control of offshore oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea.  Although the resulting naval clashes have yet to result in a loss of life, a strong possibility of military escalation exists.  A similar situation has also arisen in the East China Sea, where China and Japan are jousting for control over similarly valuable undersea reserves.  Meanwhile, in the South Atlantic Ocean, Argentina and Britain are once again squabbling over the Falkland Islands (called Las Malvinas by the Argentinians) because oil has been discovered in surrounding waters.

By all accounts, resource-driven potential conflicts like these will only multiply in the years ahead as demand rises, supplies dwindle, and more of what remains will be found in disputed areas.  In a 2012 study titled Resources Futures, the respected British think-tank Chatham House expressed particular concern about possible resource wars over water, especially in areas like the Nile and Jordan River basins where several groups or countries must share the same river for the majority of their water supplies and few possess the wherewithal to develop alternatives.  “Against this backdrop of tight supplies and competition, issues related to water rights, prices, and pollution are becoming contentious,” the report noted.  “In areas with limited capacity to govern shared resources, balance competing demands, and mobilize new investments, tensions over water may erupt into more open confrontations.”

Heading for a Resource-Shock World

Tensions like these would be destined to grow by themselves because in so many areas supplies of key resources will not be able to keep up with demand.  As it happens, though, they are not “by themselves.”  On this planet, a second major force has entered the equation in a significant way.  With the growing reality of climate change, everything becomes a lot more terrifying.

Normally, when we consider the impact of climate change, we think primarily about the environment — the melting Arctic ice cap or Greenland ice shield, rising global sea levels, intensifying storms, expanding deserts, and endangered or disappearing species like the polar bear.  But a growing number of experts are coming to realize that the most potent effects of climate change will be experienced by humans directly through the impairment or wholesale destruction of habitats upon which we rely for food production, industrial activities, or simply to live.  Essentially, climate change will wreak its havoc on us by constraining our access to the basics of life: vital resources that include food, water, land, and energy.  This will be devastating to human life, even as it significantly increases the danger of resource conflicts of all sorts erupting.

We already know enough about the future effects of climate change to predict the following with reasonable confidence:

* Rising sea levels will in the next half-century erase many coastal areas, destroying large cities, critical infrastructure (including roads, railroads, ports, airports, pipelines, refineries, and power plants), and prime agricultural land.

* Diminished rainfall and prolonged droughts will turn once-verdant croplands into dust bowls, reducing food output and turning millions into “climate refugees.”

* More severe storms and intense heat waves will kill crops, trigger forest fires, cause floods, and destroy critical infrastructure.

No one can predict how much food, land, water, and energy will be lost as a result of this onslaught (and other climate-change effects that are harder to predict or even possibly imagine), but the cumulative effect will undoubtedly be staggering.  In Resources Futures, Chatham House offers a particularly dire warning when it comes to the threat of diminished precipitation to rain-fed agriculture.  “By 2020,” the report says, “yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%” in some areas.  The highest rates of loss are expected to be in Africa, where reliance on rain-fed farming is greatest, but agriculture in China, India, Pakistan, and Central Asia is also likely to be severely affected.

Heat waves, droughts, and other effects of climate change will also reduce the flow of many vital rivers, diminishing water supplies for irrigation, hydro-electricity power facilities, and nuclear reactors (which need massive amounts of water for cooling purposes).  The melting of glaciers, especially in the Andes in Latin America and the Himalayas in South Asia, will also rob communities and cities of crucial water supplies.  An expected increase in the frequency of hurricanes and typhoons will pose a growing threat to offshore oil rigs, coastal refineries, transmission lines, and other components of the global energy system.

The melting of the Arctic ice cap will open that region to oil and gas exploration, but an increase in iceberg activity will make all efforts to exploit that region’s energy supplies perilous and exceedingly costly.  Longer growing seasons in the north, especially Siberia and Canada’s northern provinces, might compensate to some degree for the desiccation of croplands in more southerly latitudes.  However, moving the global agricultural system (and the world’s farmers) northward from abandoned farmlands in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, India, China, Argentina, and Australia would be a daunting prospect.

It is safe to assume that climate change, especially when combined with growing supply shortages, will result in a significant reduction in the planet’s vital resources, augmenting the kinds of pressures that have historically led to conflict, even under better circumstances.  In this way, according to the Chatham House report, climate change is best understood as a “threat multiplier… a key factor exacerbating existing resource vulnerability” in states already prone to such disorders.

Like other experts on the subject, Chatham House’s analysts claim, for example, that climate change will reduce crop output in many areas, sending global food prices soaring and triggering unrest among those already pushed to the limit under existing conditions.  “Increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as droughts, heat waves, and floods, will also result in much larger and frequent local harvest shocks around the world… These shocks will affect global food prices whenever key centers of agricultural production area are hit — further amplifying global food price volatility.”  This, in turn, will increase the likelihood of civil unrest.

When, for instance, a brutal heat wave decimated Russia’s wheat crop during the summer of 2010, the global price of wheat (and so of that staple of life, bread) began an inexorable upward climb, reaching particularly high levels in North Africa and the Middle East.  With local governments unwilling or unable to help desperate populations, anger over impossible-to-afford food merged with resentment toward autocratic regimes to trigger the massive popular outburst we know as the Arab Spring.

Many such explosions are likely in the future, Chatham House suggests, if current trends continue as climate change and resource scarcity meld into a single reality in our world.  A single provocative question from that group should haunt us all: “Are we on the cusp of a new world order dominated by struggles over access to affordable resources?”

For the U.S. intelligence community, which appears to have been influenced by the report, the response was blunt.  In March, for the first time, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper listed “competition and scarcity involving natural resources” as a national security threat on a par with global terrorism, cyberwar, and nuclear proliferation.

“Many countries important to the United States are vulnerable to natural resource shocks that degrade economic development, frustrate attempts to democratize, raise the risk of regime-threatening instability, and aggravate regional tensions,” he wrote in his prepared statement for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  “Extreme weather events (floods, droughts, heat waves) will increasingly disrupt food and energy markets, exacerbating state weakness, forcing human migrations, and triggering riots, civil disobedience, and vandalism.”

There was a new phrase embedded in his comments: “resource shocks.” It catches something of the world we’re barreling toward, and the language is striking for an intelligence community that, like the government it serves, has largely played down or ignored the dangers of climate change. For the first time, senior government analysts may be coming to appreciate what energy experts, resource analysts, and scientists have long been warning about: the unbridled consumption of the world’s natural resources, combined with the advent of extreme climate change, could produce a global explosion of human chaos and conflict.  We are now heading directly into a resource-shock world.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. tulsatime

    In a word, contraction. We have lived in, and ordered our lives by, a world of expansion. Hell, evolutionary biology only works in an expansive environment. That shit is over. And nobody has any idea how to divide a decreasing total that does not involve substantial population adjustments.

    Growth is over, we have found the walls of the Petri dish.

    1. jake chase

      I expect you will see population adjustments, one way or the other. And I wouldn’t worry too much about rising living standards in the Third World: one billion Chinese and nine hundred million Indians driving Buicks? Do they even have any roads?

      1. Fíréan

        Youre ignorance is astounding :

        China’s expressway network of 65,000 kilometers (40,389 miles) is the second largest in the world, next only to the U.S.

        QUOTE –
        By 2020 the government plans to reach three million kilometers (1.86 million miles) of expressways and highways, up from two million kilometers (1.24 million miles) in 2008.

        China houses more toll roads than any other country, with Chinese toll roads representing more than 70% of the world’s total toll roads.

        1. Dan in KC

          Yes – China has been building highways – all with the plan to meet the expectations that hundreds of millions of Chinese families will be living the same middle class lifestyle U.S. citizens have been lucky enough to enjoy (used to enjoy?). Their vehicle base, being newer, will also get better mileage than our fleet. Yet, I suspect, they will still encounter a massive disconnect between their dreams and their reality due to limitations in the availability of fossil fuels by the time 2020 rolls around.

          1. Nathanael

            Well, to be fair, China is also building railway lines. And solar panels. And hydropower. (They seem to have ignored geothermal.)

          2. colas51

            China is also builing dozens of nuclear plants with dozens more on the drawing boards. They’re also pursuing advanced technologies, including thorium and pebble- fuel reactors. Smart move.

            Solar panels are a good business for suckers in the West, as long as they are subsidized by feckless governments. Those days are ending soon.

      2. Xan

        What China needs to build now are more sidewalks, because the ones they have are covered with cars (both moving and parked). One needs more than roads for a car-centric transportation system.

  2. Ed

    This is a good summary of a whole host of depressing though unfortunately likely stuff and something like it should be a sticky on every economics and political commentary site.

    Left out was the effect of the global post-Green Revolution population boom. These problems become much more manageable with a world population at 2.5 billion instead of 7.5 billion.

    1. Richard Kline

      Good to see Michael T. Klare cross-posted here, an insightful observer for decades. I don’t disagree with the main thrust of Klare’s remarks. That said, some issues framing the margins are debatable, and _how_ one frames the issue has a great deal with what one sees is best to be done.

      ” . . . [A] resource-shock world humanity has never before witnessed.” Technically true, but materially not wholly the case. Resource shock conditions have been experience in many locales over the history of sedentary human societies, say the last 8000 years where populations lived concentrated in one location, typically off of agricultural production. Resource shocks, i.e. resource depletions or interdictions, have three typical results: 1) economic morbidity, 2) *cough* mortality due to calorie shortage, and 3) population deconcentration. Klare talks often of ‘competition for resources,’ and in that of the potential for war conflict scenarios. What stands out in history is how _little_ there has been of ‘competition for resources’ in cases of resource shocks. If a community couldn’t get a resource they needed, it was the exception that their neighbors had enough to it that an effective supply could be bought, stolen, or conquered. The great majority of resource shock scenarios I can think of involved population declines without necessarily any more conflicts than had been the case beforehand. Most _actual historical_ conflict situations from resource shocks resulted due to population movements driven by deconcentration from locals which couldn’t support their current number.

      I question whether we will see this effect _internationally_ on any significant scale. Yes, the affluent may emigrate to areas better off, but most will not be able to do so. Consider, just HOW are 30 million Tanzanians or 200 million Indians going to move to the Canadian Great Plains or Poland? Moreover, what is saliently different about the present fix in which humanity finds itself (though not historically unique) is that deconcentration simply isn’t an option in many regions. High density urban populations completely dependent for their calories, and indeed for much of their employment, upon resources brought from other areas cannot deconcentrate fast enough or successful in the event of resource interdiction or depletion on decade length timeframes. That implies significant mortality, with the only alternative being extensive rationing and greatly enhanced self-sufficiency, points to which I’ll return.

      Therefore, the kinds of conflicts we are likely to see will be overwhelmingly _intranational_ strife. The wealthy and those advantageously located will, of course, do all in their power to preserve their relative advantages, even down to letting millions starve, or hiring more or less mercenary militaries to keep those starving millions penned up. These situations have been innumerable in human history: when the going gets tough, the rich fort up. Present stakeholders want to tell us that the Us vs. Them competitions presently initiated and maintained by governing elites everywhere will continue, only ‘bigger and badder than ever.’ But in fact what we will se are the great escalation of Us vs. Some of Us conflicts. Governing elites of course want their governed populations NOT to consider this, certainly not until the governing elites have bolsters their securacracies; which, you may have noticed, is very much what is happening _now_ in most developed economies.

      As Ed said here, the resource/geography transition which will follow from the impacts of global warming would be tolerably manageable at 2.5 billion (or below) but will be catastrophic for many at 7.5 billion. One thing that is certain to go is our present economic pattern of capitalist commodity extraction, speculative production allocation, and stupendous resource wastage. In all probability, resources will be much more closely controlled going forward by oligarchic cartels or state-operated institutions. This is not the condition of liberal democracies, I might add; indeed, liberal democracies originated by definition from no just such conditions. If we sit and do nothing, then, many will starve, and implicit tyranny will be the norm (even more than now, and no we need not debate that issue here). While a tiny fraction of the population may be able to withdraw into self-sufficient status on the margins or in local refugia, that will be simply impossible for the bulk of humanity at present, particularly the bulk of concentrated urban First Worlders.

      There is a ‘better world’ partial alternative to probable trajectory just sketched. Massive and well-organized _governmental intervention_ will be necessary to avoid mass mortality even in the best case scenario; oligarchic tyranny will be quite willing to let 4 in 5 proles die or kill each other. So if we are to manage the resource shock transition without massive internal strife, it is likely only to be possible through government intervention. It follows, then, that we will need responsive government closely integrated with the citizenry, bolstered in fact by a large dollop of voluntary mutual support and self-sufficienty. It’s difficult in present times to turn to ‘the Guvmint’ as a solution, but what I really mean is that we will have to turn to a government that pulls together for all. That has happened at times. The alternative will be dying in our freezing domiciles will many of us kill each other, so I rather prefer an interventionary government. It doesn’t much matter whether that government is ‘liberal’ or ‘socialist’ in the process as the actions involved won’t look much different. Conservative governance cannot achieve this end; it isn’t in the ideology. (I’ll mention briefly here that the attribution of the Arab Spring phenomenon to food scarcity is, in my view, largely inaccurate. That contention takes longer to argue than I’ll pursue here, however.)

      Am I optimistic? Not in the least. Everything ‘done’ about global warming thus far—weak talk and not much of that, oligarchic hoarding, scarification of the state—leans away from a best case option. People and societies tend to keep on with the strategies they’ve begun. And no matter what, many locales are going to rupture into intra-communal strife, as government is too weak, too corrupt, or to indifferent to coordinate relief even it it or its community so chose. Communities who elect to pursue a chimerical ‘war for resources’ are self-doomed, since not only are resources likely to be inadequate, but the real problem is distribution of what is obtained rather than extraction of yet more.

      What I come around to by this perspective, however, is that communities which _do_ practice equitable distribution and mutual support will come through the transition in far, far better shape than any others. That is because, even if they have to live leaner to achieve that they will avoid the devastation of intra-communal strife. It is Us vs. Some of Us which will shatter maintainable economies, slaughter millions, and sour subsequent communal efforts. We can pull together or fall apart: it’s that simple. The winners will pull together, a notch leaner but living decent. Those that turn selfish cast themselves into the abyss.

      1. David Lentini

        Richard makes some very good points. And we should keep in mind that part of the problem was the failure of similar stories in the early ’70s to materialize has made many dismissive of our current situation. Indeed, many economists like to point out the failure of the gloomy Club of Rome’s predictions as proof that “the market” will always provide.

        Finally, we also need to be acutely aware that governments have also used the fear of scarcity to control populations and justify aggression. Hilter’s lebensraum propaganda campaign to justify his invasions of Poland and Russia is a good example. Even the Japanese had no immediate need to invade Manchuria and Indonesia to get raw materials, they could have traded instead. It was the need of the militarists for control of those resources in the name of the “Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” canard that led to those invasions. And we all should remeber Alan Greenspans famous remark about how everyone knew the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq was always about the oil.

        Yes, we’re moving towards a very unstable time. But the greatest instability of all may well be the truth.

      2. Stephanie

        This issue of ‘self-sufficiency’ is a very important dimension of sustainability, and hasn’t been unpacked enough in the popular press, as far as I can tell. Focus on technology as the primary dimension of sustainability (i.e. the eco-efficiency approach to *consumption*, with virtually no discussion about how to enable more primary production and regeneration) does almost nothing in terms of questioning the inherent problems of our model of economic growth, which conflates consumption with well-being. I question whether or not many in the ‘developed’ world really get what self-sufficiency means and how it is enacted. The folks who are going to teach us something about that live in currently existing environments of scarcity. My focus is on African cities, and in those environments, which are not well-understood since many seem to pooh-pooh the value of informal economic systems, self-sufficiency is still a primary ethos that helps people navigate environments of scarcity.

      3. banger

        Interesting and thoughtful ideas here. However, explain to me how communities that have relatively equal distributions of wealth will prosper over those that go in the opposite direction. I don’t see it. The future belongs to those who control the guns. I believe that system is already in hand. The system will determine how we weather the disasters to come and the system has its own agenda–which is mainly keeping the current oligarchies intact.

        1. from Mexico

          @ banger

          Although the tradition of thought that says that power comes from the barrel of a gun is a long and illustrious one, I still must protest.

          Opposed to it is an equally long and illustrious tradition of thought that says that power comes from the consent of the people.

      4. bluntobj

        I have only one quibble at this point with your conclusion. If you are talking about equitable distribution of resources, the vital question is “How.”

        And as a sidenote, if you had 1/3 of the population on the planet, then how would you have the increasing levels of carbon dioxide to even continue global warming in the first place?

        Oh, and the whole “climate change” language shift, so tacky. Cooling, warming, change! Honestly, why not just call it what it is: weather. Sometimes I think that the pure arrogance of humanity in assuming that the last 60 to 70 years of more accurately recorded weather is more or less desirable than weather in previous periods deserves to be punished. That’s a comment in general, not directed at other commenters or the OP.

        There has been a great deal of thought in the direction of the post, and we can see collapse due to overreach in history, from Rome to the Ankgor Wart, Easter Island to the Mayans, Anasazi to Egypt or Mesopotamia. This time isn’t different or special, but it will certainly be more bloody.

      5. Nathanael

        The *previously existing* elites are *reliably* utterly terrible at securing their positions during resource shortages.

        They usually haven’t even noticed what resources they need to secure.

        The result is that there is frequently a power upset, where someone who has built a new power base, who has *actually* secured their own food supply, knocks the existing elites over.

      1. They didn't leave me a choice

        Actually I’d prefer you to live. To see the full horror of the consequences of your actions. You know, old men talking, young men dying. The good old human spirit.

        1. Richard Kline

          Boomer haters present themselves as the most puerile dweebs conceivable. Where not simple bigotry or an outright ‘look, over here, the Jews!’ kind of plant, it’s ‘all somebody else’s fault’ to hear the ear-splitting whine coming off you and such types. You know nothing of generational modeling. You attribute [well who knows, because there is never an actual _contention_ argued that could be supported or refuted] your bile to a large group many of would never agree or identify with the cross you would have them bear for you. One never hears a constructive syllable on what you would do rather than [that which remains undefined] which you attribute to your them. You were there, in that time, and have no idea what it was like to live then, obviously by your remarks and those like you.

          Want a better world? You can stop sitting in the puddle of your own urine shrieking somebody made you do it. But nah, that would require a constructive effort, and the next one we see out of boomer haters as you present yourself will be the first one.

        2. LifelongLib

          Any consequences will be as much a result of your actions as they are of “baby boomers” actions. And what’s your beef with “baby boomers” anyway? Did we use up all the good drugs or something?

    1. Thorstein

      Even though there will always be children who hate their parents, I think there is a valid, deeper complaint that generations X and Y can raise against their elders.

      You see, when I was a child, back in the 50s, I could vote twenty times and more: my parents voted for me, both my maternal and paternal grandparents voted for me, as did my maternal and paternal aunts and uncles. We all lived in the same Congressional District.

      That’s no longer true in the U.S. and it’s increasingly not true of other “first world” countries. My children’s aunts and uncles all live in other jurisdictions, where they resent paying taxes for other people’s children’s schooling. The servers who wait on them in restaurants are not their second cousins. They leave small tips.

      Since the 60’s, we’ve been trying to build communities of strangers, and it’s not been working very well. Boomers aren’t directly to blame, but we were present at the scene of the crime.

      1. Generalfeldmarschall Von Hindenburg

        That’s a good point. I live in Portland Or and here it’s a case of Sel selected mass of nerds, eccentrics, libertarian types and hippies old and new that somehow creates a bond between citizens that you don’t see much in the great middle where I grew up in the 70s. And that’s the sort of volksgemeinschaft that can make a region a lot more Sel sufficient.

        1. psychohistorian

          I live in Portland and think you are deluded. While many of us ex and still hippies have migrated here so have a ton of folks that think this is where milk and honey flow freely.

          Unfortunately, IMO, there are as many selfish folks in Portland, OR as there are in most places in the good ol’ USA

      2. bluntobj

        I endorse this post.

        My parents left their family homes in such a manner, and lost touch with the connecting thread of their families in the way that it matters.

        This is why I’m moving them back near me before they become enfeebled, so that my children can know their grandparents, and they will know their history, and we can build (or rebuild) the kind of family history, connection to land and community, neighbors, etc. that we think may have existed in the past. I can’t say for sure if what I envision as far as interpersonal connection existed in the past, but I’m going to try to create it for my kids.

        In the end I’m shooting for deep roots.

        1. AbyNormal

          No matter the outcome…Your Family will carry forward Your Honorable intent.
          It is the Journey. Enjoy.

        2. A Real Black Person

          Some of us don’t pine for close-knit communities where your neighbors and parents micro-manage our lives. The social support is nice, I guess, but like everything, it comes at a price, and that price is subjective. It depends on personality.

    2. MrColdWaterOfRealityMan

      Why thanks. Yes we did. We invented and deployed computers and the internet, built and maintained a signicant part of the current power infrastructure, road system, building infrastructure and that underappreciated item, sanitary ewage systems that allow you to get through life disease free. Oh, and we got you all vaccinated at public expense in public schools so that the lot of you wouldn’t keel over from diptheria, polio, whooping cough or TB. We also paid for most of your education either through tax money or in private institutions, or both. We created more ambient wealth than the world has ever seen, and it was all presented to subsequent generations for free.

      As an additional favor, we busted up the social nastiness around who you could have sex with, which races could eat at what restaurants and oh, yes, women can now pretty much work at any damn job they’re good at. For good measure, we kicked some tobacco company ass and made them pay for addicting everyone they could.

      So, think we ruined everything? Just subtract all the above from your daily life, and think about what *that* would be like.


      1. bluntobj

        While the result is in the future at this point, there is a probability that all of the above nice sounding things are the ultimate form of overreach, and will result in far greater death and destruction than were previously possible.

      2. jrs

        “We also paid for most of your education either through tax money or in private institutions, or both.”

        Only there’s a very good chance that anyone younger than a boomer grew up in a completely defunded and dysfunctional public school system when older generations decided they no longer wanted to fund them.

      3. American Slave

        “So, think we ruined everything? Just subtract all the above from your daily life, and think about what *that* would be like.”

        As far as previous generations let me add to that list such as industrial agriculture that new generations have to fix with permaculture as well and gas guzzling muscle cars (what a joke) that has burned up oil like nothing else which we now have this tar sands nightmare to deal with and lets not forget about free trade starting with Nixon’s going to China moment but I will give credit for those people in the 60’s and 70’s who tried to stop the nightmare new world order.

        But all in all im going to shoot myself in the foot since it will happen anyway and say bring on the social security cuts now today rather than much worse later on, and I am aware that the cost of living amount hasn’t went up and I cant exactly say I feel sorry.

  3. Working Class Nero

    The premise of resource supply contraction seems quite reasonable so what are the practical steps on the ground that a nation can take to meet the coming challenges?
    One fairly obvious result of a diminishing supply of resources is that either a nation’s population should shrink proportionally to maintain the existing standard of living, or the nation’s standard of living (consumption of resources) should reduce proportionally in order to maintain the same population, or some combination of the two. Given that the birth rates of advanced industrial countries tend to decline as their wealth rises; it seems that the natural order of things would be for rich countries to allow their numbers to slowly drop. And indeed in Japan and to a lesser extent in Germany, this is the case.

    But most wealthy countries have taken a different approach. In the face of a coming resource-shock world, both left and right wing parties have enthusiastically encouraged mass third world immigration into their countries. The US is about to start a process of legalizing 11 million mostly poor illegal immigrants; which in its turn will act as a magnet to pull in even more low-wage workers to toil in the nation’s fields or to serve as code monkeys in the nation’s high-tech cubicles, again increasing total population numbers. In any case it is clear that reducing resources combined with an increasing population equals a radically declining standard of living for the masses.

    To see who benefits from this policy we need to move away from a Right / Left framework to a Ruling Class / Ruled point of view. Remember, a ruling class is an organized minority which dominates a disorganized majority. Diversity of the ruled class is indeed the ruling class’ strength. From an elite point of view the ideal solution to the coming resource shock would be to as much as possible replace their high-consuming native ruled class with a lower-consuming class of third world peasants. Instant ethnic cleansing on such a scale is obviously not possible so instead the ruling class is content to move a slower pace, in two movements. The first act is to invite / allow lots of poor people to immigrate. When the newcomers arrive in the wealthy country, they are happy because they experience a slight rise in their standard of living in relation to their former situation even though their standard of living will initially be well below that of their native first world neighbors. Of course part two of this gambit is that in the name of fairness it is deemed necessary to start reducing the standard of the living of the native ruled classes so as to eventually approach that of the newcomers.

    In this way the ruling class can keep or even increase their share of resources even as the total amount of resources dwindles.

    In stark contrast, from the ruled class’ point of view, the ideal solution would be the combination of a slowly declining population along with, if the population decrease is not enough, a slightly declining standard of living, in order to ride out the global resource shock in the best way possible. But prevailing ruling class ideology makes even mentioning such a policy practically a hate crime.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I think “exploitation” might be better than “ruling” (or ruling is a subsystem of exploitation) because exploitation, by definition, involves actual, intentional harm to the exploited. I forget where I picked that up in my recent travels, but I though it was useful. Dismiss if need be!

      1. bluntobj

        An interesting definition. How might one classify a situation in which the “exploiters” knew what was best for everyone, and the harm was merely accidental, or not considered harmful by the exploiters?

        From some of the comments here, a reduction in population to a “sustainable” level that would involve the greening 5 or 6 billion mobile protien based autonomous units would likely not be considered harmful, when considered on a global, species based level.

        Whose perspective is primary?

    2. Newtownian

      Interesting points to raise for discussion – however;

      1. Most western countries are growing at less that 1% with the exception of the Australia and maybe Ireland.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_growth

      2. This thesis suggests a massive global conspiracy which is IMHO logistically unworkable. Laissez faire though seems enough to account for your concerns about job losses without positing an Illuminati or Davos conspiracy.

      3. The trouble with working class jobs is they can easily be exported to cheaper locations – this happens not only from the US but probably more importantly internally when the states cut each other’s throats and business plays them off against each other.

      Conclusion – don’t blame migrants for capitalism’s normal behaviour driven by short term maximisation of profits. Besides we are all migrants. So why pick out the recent ones in a them v. us framing of this issue.

      1. Working Class Nero

        A population rising by 1% a year combined with resources decline 1% per year equals a 2% decline in the standard of living year-in year-out. A 1% population drop would mean a flat standard of living while a 2% drop in population would mean a 1% increase in the standard of living given a constant decline of 1% annual resource decline. While there are demographic issues with a declining population and a constrictive population pyramid it is still preferable to live in a society with a flat or slowly rising standard of living than to live in an open borders nightmare of declining standard of living for the many.

        Call it a conspiracy or not but Neo-Liberal Globalization is an ideological fact. Ideologies spread or eventually die off for others; were the processes of the spreading of Christianity, Islam, Marxism, etc, really any different than the spread of globalization? Since the US sees itself as the global hegemon, the strongly anti-nationalist Neo-Liberal Globalization ideology is in fact the new American “nationalism” which champions the decline of the nation state and emancipates local ruling classes from their local ruled masses by means of off-shoring high paid jobs and in-shoring low paid workers. I have no idea how you can deny the existence of this ideological fact.

        I did indeed carefully construct an “us vs. them” conflict but mine was between ruler and ruled (or exploiter and “exploitee” if you will). It is a standard ruling class arguing technique to call such oppositions “conspiracy theories” and to instead employ a divide and conquer tactic of claiming the conflict must among the ruled, in this case between angry natives and sympathetic immigrants. Framed this way the ever-wise elites can show their compassion by protecting the defenseless immigrants from the evil, selfish, and brutish natives. Purely by accident of course, this results in the continued elite access to disproportionate wealth and power as well.

        Immigration certainly has its place during the correct economic conditions. And exchanges of people between nations of a similar level of economic development are all for the good, I myself fall into that category. But when immigration is used as a tool of class warfare then it must be opposed.

    3. taunger

      why does changing the status of already existing workers act as a magnet pull to new workers?

      1. sleepy

        I suppose legalization would make it easier for family members of those who achieve some sort of legal status to also immigrate.

        I might be incorrect, but I do believe that was one result of Reagan’s amnesty program in the 80s.

        However, I think whatever “amnesty” may be in the works this time will fall short of any easy path to citizenship–more of a quasi-legal status which precludes deportation but makes ultimate citizenship very difficult.

      2. Working Class Nero

        This article explains the dynamic better than I can.


        Money quote:

        Remember when farm owners were loudly complaining to any available journalist that there was a nationwide farm labor crisis due to overly restrictive immigration policy?

        Well, they’re still saying that. But now they are also worried that proposals to create a “path to citizenship” for immigrants currently living illegally in the United States might also create a farm labor shortage. As it turns out, the farm lobby is worried that once we legalize these immigrants, they won’t want to work on farms anymore.

        There’s good reason for the farm lobby to worry about this. Once authorized to work in the U.S., many farm workers will no doubt seek employment in less onerous conditions. This happened after the last immigration amnesty in 1986. Unless a new wave of illegal immigration follows, farm owners would truly have to compete in the broader — legal — jobs market. Wages would have to rise or farms will have trouble attracting workers

        And Big Ag’s response is indentured servitude with a smile!

        The tight labor market explains why farm groups are pressing Congress to include, in any immigration overhaul, provisions that would ensure a steady flow of workers and prevent an exodus of newly legalized laborers from the sector. Under one possible scenario, agriculture workers would earn permanent legal residency by working a certain number of days on farms each year; those who worked longer would get a green card sooner.

        “It’s important that existing experienced workers be encouraged to remain in the agriculture sector for a while,” says Craig Regelbrugge, national co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform. A Senate immigration proposal, which could be in a bill next month, calls for stabilizing the current workforce and establishing a new temporary-worker program.

        1. sleepy

          Of course, these “free market” ideologues would never contemplate doing what free market ideology would dictate, namely, raising wages enough to attract workers.

          1. F. Beard

            What “free market”?!

            I see a government backed/enforced counterfeiting cartel, the banking system, creating all the money for the economy for the benefit of banks, business, the rich and other so-called “creditworthies” at the expense of everyone else.

            But Progressives are typically blind to that elephant in the living room. Theft barely registers as a sin to them?

          2. Working Class Nero

            Because free markets are for losers not powerful enough to manipulate the market with the help of the government. Another case study in immigration-fueled greed is Facebook:


            The new measures are part of a compromise between the tech industry, which says it faces a shortage of qualified engineers and other high-skilled workers in the United States, and critics, including some labor unions, who say the H1B visa program has been abused by firms seeking cheaper labor to maximize profits. The new carve-out for Facebook and other firms, critics fear, could help companies evade the stricter proposed regulations being hailed by lawmakers as a way to crack down on abuses.

            Facebook officials declined to comment on the specific H1B provision, instead couching the company’s lobbying on the issue as part of a broader push to improve the country’s economy. They said any new wage requirements would have “little or no impact” on Facebook because it pays engineers a “competitive wage that is well enough above the lowest level required by current law.”

            You mean Facebook are paying engineers above minimum wage? Now that’s mighty white of them. But something in the way that phrase was turned tells me that Facebook management will not be happy until they have enough H1B visas to turn that “well enough above” minimum wage into just plain old minimum wage.

          3. bluntobj

            There is too much sense here in the replies to Sleepy!

            It also begs the question:

            Is this the fault of Big Ag or Big Software for manipulating government, or the fault of Big Government for creating the ability to do this kind of manipulation in the first place? Or is it the fault of Little Citizen who thought they could get something for nothing and elected Big Government to create the power to distribute?

          4. jrs

            The tech shortage isn’t real. Yea, I know they have a whole bunch of BS to spew about Americans not wanting to go into such fields, but it’s not true and neither is the shortage, it’s why older tech workers can’t get jobs (however many Americans will change fields away from tech when they realize the tech game is rigged and well they should).

        2. from Mexico

          @ Working Class Nero

          In “Anglos and Mexicans in the Making of Texas, 1836-1986,” David Montejano gives a detailed historical account of that which you speak.

          Jim Crow and an elaborate network of labor laws and labor controls were what kept the Mexican immigrants not only on the farm, but on the Texas farm, preventing their movement to states farther north and also into higher-paying trades and jobs.

  4. Newtownian

    Thanks Lambeth – a useful introduction to this problem.

    It will be interesting to see what the more conventionally economically inclined think of it.

    Of related interest is Graham Turner’s 2008 review of how the Limits to Growth stuff tracked “A comparison of the limits to growth with thirty years of reality” http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf

    Basically it says the original analysis which was bitterly disputed is tracking nearly perfectly. A good hypothesis test?

    Its a little disappointing there is no mention of Hermann Daly the father of Ecological Economics which is what this is all about.

    Another interesting book is Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources by Dietz and O’Neill.

  5. Hilary Barnes

    Extreme climate change? No one would have noticed it if it wasn’t for the meteorologists who keep telling us. It is, besides, climate models, not the empirical evidence, that leads pêople to believe in extreme climate change, and not even the modellers go so far as to say that their models are a realistic representation of the incredibly complex system that is the global climate.

      1. sleepy

        Just anecdotally–when I was a kid in the South, alligators were never found much further north than Louisiana, central Mississippi, etc. Now, they are routinely found lounging on the banks of the Mississippi in Memphis and in northeastern Arkansas. Same with armadillos.

        I have lived in northern Iowa for 16 yrs. You used to never see a robin from late September until March. Now, my backyard if full of overwintering robins during the winter, and has been for the past 5 yrs.

        None of those short-term observations are proof of climate change of course. But those facts, when combined with the long-term scientific models and historical records, offer some small evidence that certain local climates have indeed gotten warmer.

        1. LifelongLib

          I grew up in a town near Seattle, and my mother has lived there for over 70 years. She too has noticed a change in the climate, from the almost year-round rain and pea-soup fogs of the 40s (which I also remember from the early 60s) to one with snow in the winter but warm enough at some other times to allow outdoor restaurant seating etc. Anecdotal as you say but experiential support that the climate is indeed changing.

      2. Nathanael

        The entire weather patterns where I live have changed within the last 2 decades. It’s just not the same patterns it used to be. None of it is the same.

        That’s “climate change”.

    1. Yves Smith

      Ahem, as the denials keep running the same talking points, the evidence against them keeps getting more and more overwhelming:

      “Research supports global warming theory”

      A study of global temperatures over the past 2,000 years has lent fresh weight to the so-called hockey stick graph which suggests that humans caused global warming.

      The graph, first published in the late 1990s by US palaeoclimatologist Professor Michael Mann and colleagues, shows temperatures stayed roughly flat for about 900 years, like the handle of the hockey stick laid down, before rising sharply upwards in the 20th century, like the blade, after the industrial revolution prompted a rise in fossil fuel emissions.

      The image has become a potent symbol of global warming, especially after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN body that delivers the most comprehensive scientific assessments of climate change, included it in a major report in 2001.

      But the chart’s validity has been attacked by climate sceptics. Some say the graph played down, or even omitted, data showing that the climate changed without human intervention in the past.

      Doubters often cite events such as the so-called “medieval warm period” from about AD900 to 1250, when some say vineyards flourished in northern England and other now chilly regions. They say this shows natural variability causes warming, not greenhouse gas emissions produced when humans burn coal or oil for energy.

      A number of studies have challenged such theories. Now a paper by 78 researchers from 24 countries, published on Sunday, seems to offer more confirmation of human impact on global climate, based on what its authors said was the most comprehensive reconstruction of past temperature changes at the continental scale.

      It shows an overall cooling trend across nearly all continents over the past 1,000-2,000 years that was reversed by what the authors described as “distinct warming” at the end of the 19th century.

      “This pre-industrial cooling trend was likely caused by natural factors that continued to operate through the 20th century, making the 20th century warming more difficult to explain without the likely impact of increased greenhouse gases,” the authors said.

      “The temperature averaged across the seven continental-scale regions indicates that 1971-2000 was warmer than any time in nearly 1,400 years.”


          1. burnside

            Lambert, I’m not surprised by the reception there, but the paper stands or falls on its own merits.

            You know, I pointed rather early to some of the questionable practices within the mortgage service industry and received an indignant response here, was indeed assured of the impossibility.

            Perhaps you’ll do me the honor of giving that link a close read.

          2. burnside

            If you consider your second link to constitute a debunking, you’re out of your depth, Lambert. But I’ll encourage you to conserve your valuable time while ceasing to waste my own.

    2. Newtownian


      It isn’t just climatologists, or climatological scientists, its chemists, physicists, oceanographers, glaciologists, geographers to name a few of the very broad disciplines involved in understanding what is happening here.

      Its been known for 150 years or so that climate is centrally dependent on how much heat is temporarily trapped by the atmosphere and the role of trace gases especially CO2. The proof is Venus (too much too hot), Mars (not much and pretty cold) and the Moon’s extreme fluctuations (120 C to -173 C between day and night).

      So the question is not whether extreme climate change is possible – its about what change in gases are required to make a noticeable difference. The physics of CO2, water, methane and N2O which you can easily measure in the lab + incoming radiation tells the basic story – which is fully consistent with the temperature changes we see at the earth’s surface.
      And the arithmetic for fossil fuel burning says we are on track for serious increases in temperature (2 C doesn’t sound like much but it will be terribly disruptive because of impacts on weather cycles. And its just the start. Think in the longer term about failure of the Indian monsoon).

      The science is in. The models are really about the fine detail because this is so critical for planning.
      If you reject climate change you are rejecting all the basic science which forms the basis of engines, electricity the lot.

      Please don’t take my word for it. Get the basic textbooks and learn the science so you can judge for yourself rather than rely on what must look like a schoolboy debate.

      Then maybe the stuff on this site will make more sense.

      1. fivegreenleafs


        “It isn’t just climatologists … involved in understanding what is happening here.”

        So true, so many scientist around the world, spanning so many diverse disciplines are “effected”, it amazes me how people time and time again with certainty denies these observations and effects; often in the face of researchers that in their daily life literally see their whole fields of study shift around them.

        It always reminds me of a quote from Darwin,

        “It has often and confidently been asserted, thats man’s origin can never be known: but ignorance more frequently begets confidence then does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively asserts that this or that problem will never be solved by science” (“The Descent of Man”, Introduction, p3)

        As a reminder to treasure personal intellectual humility and a reminder that these attitudes and arguments are not new…

    3. Mark P.

      “It is, besides, climate models, not the empirical evidence, that leads pêople to believe in extreme climate change.”

      Bunk. I _don’t_ believe in the computer models. I _do_ believe in the empirical evidence —

      Greenland Ice Shelf Today – Courtesy of NATIONAL SNOW AND ICE DATA CENTER

      Forex: –
      An early spring re-calibration for melt detection
      March 18, 2013

      ‘The algorithm for the Greenland Ice Sheet Today daily melt extent has been revised to account for unusually warm winter snow layers and residual meltwater deep in the snow. Meltwater from last summer’s intense melt season did not completely re-freeze through at least mid December. The adjusted algorithm shows greatly reduced melt extent for early 2013. This much lower extent is more consistent with available weather and climate records.’

      So, yes. The IPCC computer models are politically-driven and contradicted by the real evidence — which, best as we understand it, suggests we’re looking at close to 4 degrees warming built in already.

      1. Newtownian

        The Arctic Ice melt plots are indeed wonderfully informative in the way they present them. Certainly its one my favourite items to point out to doubters. Sadly it doesn’t help that much because you are dealing with entrenched positions.

    4. AbyNormal

      “no one would’ve noticed…”
      Exactly what they are counting on Hilary!

      Royal Dutch Shell owns groundwater rights in Colorado and oil tycoon Pickens is buying up all he can in Texas. He owns more water than any other person in the U.S. His plan is to sell the water owns, around 65 billion gallons annually, to Dallas and other major cities affected by droughts. Pickens hopes to profit off of desperation, saying “There are people who will buy the water when they need it. And the people who have the water want to sell it. That’s the blood, guts, and feathers of the thing.” He also owns a massive wind farm in the area and natural gas resources, but has admitted that he is no environmentalist, only an entrepreneur who goes where the money is.

      Who Owns Water

    5. banger

      It’s a question of risk analysis. The techniques and heuristics have been worked out in non-climate change risks why not use it for climate-change? No complex system can be modeled accurately but deniers are willing to take the risk of possible catastrophes–and there are good scenarios for catastrophe out there and I can rattle off several. Why take a chance? And for what? In order that the oligarchs who run the energy companies can have bigger boats and bigger-breasted whores? Or so we can have a few more toys and silly amusements? To avoid using elegant technologies which are sitting on the shelf?

    6. from Mexico

      Hilary Barnes says:

      Extreme climate change? No one would have noticed it if it wasn’t for the meteorologists who keep telling us.

      This is a demonstrably false statement.

      I was in the Bolivian Andes a couple of days ago, and our guide, who was 52 years old, could point to where the snow line was when he was a child, and where it is now, and it is significantly higher.

      1. AbyNormal

        you had a guide too? how wonderful. locals sharing their hands on views are pure luxury…id have been in heaven Mexico.
        i thought about you this wknd… enjoying yourself abundantly I hope!

        1. from Mexico

          Thank you AbyNormal.

          Tomorrow it’s back to Mexico.

          I wish everyone could visit the Bolivian Andes, as it is quite a lesson in resource useage. Higher up they have these little plots of land that they farm which are located on the side of a hill. It’s like any miniscule parcel of land where there is sufficient depth of soil the land is worked. All the tilling and working of the land is done by hand, no machines. The guide told us they farm the parceles one year and let them sit idle one year. One wonders about the quality of the soil, and I find it hard to believe that land at such an incline can be used for food production. Anyway, it really gives one a sense of the importance and necessity of farmable land for food production.

          Bolivia and Columbia are like night and day. Bolivia, like Mexico and Peru, is a country with its own unique and highly original culture with an enduring indigenous influence. Columbia, on the other hand, has a culture which lacks originality. I went to see an important painter in Columbia yesterday (b. 1928). He said the upper class in Columbia copies English culture, the intellectual class copies French culture, and the middle and working classes copy American culture.

          The contrasts between rich and poor are even more stark than they are in Mexico. A retail store attendant here makes about $300 per month, even less than the $400 per month they average in Mexico. Things here are quite a bit more expensive than in Mexico, though. Life for the 90-something percent, therefore, is a miseria, economically speaking.

          Those in the top 1% or 5% or 10% or whatever the small percentage is live in the northern part of Bogota in an area which could pass for an upper middle class neighborhood in the United States. I’d bet that most Americans and Europeans who visit Bogota this is the only side of Columbia they ever see. And the security situation here is, from what I can tell, just as bad as it is in Mexico, although they don’t have all the horrible internecine drug wars which are so violent and ugly. My painter friend and his wife, who live in a palacial home in northern Bogota, have been burglarized at gunpoint in their home three times in the last 15 years.

  6. mmckinl

    Klare misses the elephant in the living room … The massive debt every country sits on, which are promises to pay out of future revenue, are not going to be repaid on any level that won’t crash our leveraged banking system.

    With these “shocks” will come economic stagnation and eventually economic contraction leaving the banking system broke and our source of currency and credit busted. How will debt leveraged at $1 in assets for $10 in debt be repaid? … It won’t …

    Far before severe “resource shocks” take place the financial system will implode rendering commerce absolutely helpless in the face of a failed banking system that will in turn cause massive unemployment, bankruptcy and hunger. Now … Rinse and repeat 2008 over and over again until there is chaos.

    1. Ben Johannson

      Which debt? Private debt, public debt, financial debt, real debt? Debt in foreign or domestic currencies? Debt in fixed or floating exchange regimes?

      These are not all the same things.

      1. mmckinl

        All debt … as the economy declines all debt will be in jeopardy of being repaid.

        As far as government debt, the Fed can not keep monetizing debt that will cause increased inflation or it’s game over.

        So far the Fed has been underwriting just enough failed debt to keep the banksters in business …

        The banksters are between a rock and a hard place. Monetize and inflation goes wild … austerity and the economy contracts.

        They have been taking the middle course of using both. This takes credit out of the economy while saving elite wealth.

        The looming threat is that with peak oil production food and fuel will only get more expensive and increasingly pull demand from all other goods.

        Peak oil production is a threat to virtually all currencies. Almost all countries use fractional reserve banking and are therefor vulnerable.

        Even if a country can stabilize its’ currency this will not save them from the worldwide economic crash perpetrated by the failure of trade on a massive scale.

        1. Nathanael

          Historically, debt is frequently not repaid. Look up “jubilee”. Forgiving debts is an important part of a functioning economic system.

          So yeah, debts which cannot be repaid will not be repaid. So what? What does that have to do with climate change, which we actually NEED to deal with?

    2. sufferinsuccotash, moocher

      An alternate scenario is that debts will continue to be collected, not in money, but in labor. Work obligations will be enforced by governments (of whatever description).
      The word for it is feudalism.

    3. John Steinbach

      Another missing elephant- There are about 20,000 nuclear weapons worldwide. The U.S. & Russia have thousands each on computer controlled, hair trigger alert. Both nations have a ‘first strike’ policy. Add in Israel’s, Pakistans & India’s nukes & the dangers increase.

      Some future resource shock incident could become the spark that ignites a nuclear catastrophe.

      1. mmckinl

        There could indeed be a US-Russia nuclear exchange … but I think it would be an accident.

        Both countries know that this would be a lose-lose situation. The India-Pakistan troubles give me far more pause …

        And as far as nuclear we already have Fukushima. It is far worse than the MSM is letting on. Japan’s future is dire.

        At home we have San Onofre. Basically this accident waiting to happen should be scrapped immediately …

        To my mind the wars of the future between the major powers will be proxy wars fought in the Middle East, Africa and perhaps the South China Sea.

  7. Expat

    Climate deniers (and anti-malthusians) are a conflicted bunch. In general they appear to die-hard capitalists who rejoice in scarcity when it suits their portfolios but conveniently dismiss it when it reduces profits.

    For example, how do we reconcile the RE bull mantra of “they don’t make new land” with projections of eternal growth in farm output. How do we square the circle between bullish commodities projections (“Buy junior miners! Buy Glencore! Invest in Africa! Commodities are going up, baby!”) and long-term growth in industry and consumption.

    If you want to say that the Technology Fairy will come down and save us, that is your right, but I won’t be content to pray in your church.

    Earth’s valuable resources are not only finite, but we are running up against their limits now, after an extremely brief period of industrialisation and population growth.

    1. Massinissa

      Whoa! Dont go lumping anti-malthusians with climate deniers dude! Thats sort of a disservice to anti-malthusians.

      1. Expat

        I was trying to come up with a catch-all and meant to define my use of Malthusian in a broader sense, covering more general views on resource use rather than simplistic population vs food arguments.

        Malthus was too early and too narrow in his approach. He is discredited for this reason. On the other hand, if we look at a future dystopia along the lines of Soylent Green, this probably reflects a more likely early outcome.

        Frankly, I predict that 30-40% of Chinese will die within twenty years as “capitalism” catches up with them. When one considers the Soviet case, it seems the Russians were saved by vodka and incompetence, otherwise they too would have finished poisoning themselves.

    1. rotter

      A just money supply would solve lots of problems, but it could NOT solve the problems of resource scarcity any more than a just money supply could suspend and waive the laws of physics…

      1. F. Beard

        Matter, for all practical purposes is indestructible, and the Earth has more matter than it ever did (because of the constant rain of cosmic dust and meteors). And that matter can be endlessly recycled too.

        We are using up our energy resources but there are 1000’s of years of fissionable energy alone and once fusion is practical then mankind’s energy problems are over.

        Nope. Our problems are ethical, not resource limitations.

        O ye of little faith, how could it be otherwise when Christ demonstrated on two occasions that food multiplication was no problem with Him?

      2. Nathanael

        Rotter: if we fix the money system and fix the allocation of wealth, the resource problem becomes MUCH simpler. It is reduced to the population problem.

        The population problem has a known solution. Educate women, give them working birth control, and give them enough rights and power that they can use it. It’s only men who want to have 20 gazillion children. Women, for the part, won’t do it if they can avoid it. Population growth: solved, ended.

        1. rotter

          everything you say is true, and yet not a guaranty that we wont run short of fresh drinking water because its a finite commodity. we WILL run out of petroleum..there is no doubt..there is no such thing as a “petroleum cycle” replenishing the “petroleum table”…or if there is, its 15 billion years long

  8. Jagger

    On the periphery but it really makes me wonder when I see a statement like this:

    “Today, it remains the basis for U.S. plans to employ force to stop the Iranians from closing the Strait of Hormuz,”

    Iran will only close the straits of Hormuz in a defensive move if attacked by the US or maybe Israel. Yet somehow the statement above makes it sound as if Iran is aggressively threatening the Straits with the US as its noble defender. Political correct, political naive or just what?

  9. Susan the other

    I dunno. I hated it. Instead of the warning, which we have all internalized, I’d like to hear what remediation is being implemented. You can see the world in action, you can see intent everywhere. The financial crisis and it’s bizarre manipulations; the free-trade farce; the free-market lies going unchallenged; the reshuffling of control of oil; serious militarization for oil and other resources… The rumor that ocean rise has been acknowledged and the plan is simply to move inland – good luck with that Shanghai, Mumbai, and Manhattan. But la dee dah. Human migration will solve all the problems.

    1. rotter

      Keep in mind that many look forward to the “resource shock world” as an opportunity to make more money…the libertarian mad max fantasy at work

    2. banger

      There is no remediation. The system is in control–the competitive advantage is with the hustler and the sociopath as anyone can see. All others are in danger as they are mollified by dope, toys and silly pastimes. There is a chance that sufficient numbers of people will grasp the fraud that the system has created and real change will occur.

    3. Generalfeldmarschall Von Hindenburg

      As the great Sun Ra put it, “Space is the Place.”. I’m hoping Richard Branson and Neil Tyson can get us off world quick enough. The libertarians ought to be down with that. We have this whole raging discussion about how screwed were gonna be, but the obvious and elegant solution is ignored. Whatever happened to Science anyway?

  10. banger

    I guess I don’t see it that way. I think chaos is out of the question–violence, conflicts and so on will be limited to particular places where the populations are expendable.

    What we have seen in the post-9/11 world is the solidification of central authority and the decrease in the accountability of the elites. There are two dynamics that will keep things stable: 1) a largely controlled world media that studiously avoids investigative pieces concerning the nature of the oligarchy and the mechanisms they use–thus populations conditioned to always follow misdirection can easily and quickly be manipulated in any direction the media moguls decide; 2) an increasingly centralized world security establishment that is primarily led by clandestine services in concert with organized crime and aided by elements of the military can enforce the will of the oligarchy through force, assassinations etc.–in short the Phoenix Program writ large. All these will serve the system that is now becoming an emergent and highly networked virtual entity.

    So what? Whatever happens it will be this entity that will determine how these resources will be allocate and when and if new elegant technologies and methods now sitting on the shelf (because they cannot get funding) will emerge to smooth the transition. That system is in control and we have, the the extent we are ignorant of it, no control over it.

    1. Nathanael

      You are making serious analytical mistakes.

      Our “intelligence services” are now like those of East Germany: absorbing and collecting so much information nobody can read it. (There was a nice 10-page article detailing this recently — I didn’t think to bookmark it.) The entire “security apparatus” ranges from useless to counterproductive and will probably collapse of its own accord.

      Assuming a greater level of competence, organization, and intention on the part of the ‘bad guys’ than actually exists — this is a really common cognitive error.

      1. banger

        No, my ideas come from careful study and wide reading as well as a background in Washington that spans a couple of generations. The security services may have a lot of information to handle but data mining and intelligent systems are becoming better and better. I am more concerned with operations not the gathering of intel. CIA and other organizations have infiltrated every sector of society and industry and they can take out or discredit anyone they don’t like or is disruptive–they’ve done it on many occasions. They are answerable to no one and they have alliances, as they have had from the beginning, with organized crime, media, PR, military, Wall Street and law-enforcement.

  11. rotter

    US director of national intelligence, James Clapper complains that;
    “Many countries important to the United States are vulnerable to natural resource shocks that degrade economic development, frustrate attempts to democratize, raise the risk of regime-threatening instability, and aggravate regional tensions,”

    Except that within “countries important to the United States” a policy of “degraded economic development” (crude laiszzes faire capitlalism – neo colonialism), violent “frustration” of “attempts to democratize”, periodic regime toppling instability (usually at election time), and the aggravation of regional tensions, HAVE BEEN THE CALCULATED GOALS PERSUED BY THE U.S. SINCE THE SPANISH AMERICAN WAR …mr clapper really ought to consider these outcomes a major success.

    1. Nathanael

      “Many countries important to the United States are vulnerable to natural resource shocks that degrade economic development, frustrate attempts to democratize, raise the risk of regime-threatening instability, and aggravate regional tensions,”

      Such as the United States itself.

      One problem with the people inside the military-industrial complex is that they still imagine that they are working in part of an undefeatable world hegemon and that they only have to worry about “other places”. They aren’t. They need to be worrying about home. They aren’t, because their “America #1!!!” brainwashing prevents them from considering it.

  12. Gil Gamesh

    Governments, banks (redundant) et al. will wage wars over resources. People, in order to survive, will have to cooperate at unprecedented levels (ignoring Marxist theory and many aboriginal societies). The nation-state will have outlived its usefulness and decline quickly into irrelevance. Whether the States will murder us all on their way out is the question.

    1. rotter

      Ah yes, in an age of wars for resources and a loosening grip on the global nuclear aresal, I can see how governments (” the nation state”) have “outlived their usefulness” .Where do I get my fig leaf?

  13. Colas51

    The nuclear cylcle including thorium reactors, spent fuel reprocessing, breeder reactors, and thermal reactors can provide the energy and heat resources (dealination- cracking water for hydrogen fuel cells) to overcome the resources crisis described above.

    Ignore this solution at your peril.

    Fracking, I think, may only exacerbate these conditions. Not only are fracking wells subject to rapid depletion, they require vast amounts of process water that becomes heavily polluted and not easily recycled.

    The rest of the Klare piece is sheer hysteria about climate change. Many of the insider catatrophe forecasters are rapidly backing down from unsupported claims built on shoddy research. The more lurid the headlines, the faster such amateurish “studies” and projections are debunked.

    Chatham House, an oligarch think tank, is the last place to look for an informed discussion on climate. Their projections are of a world they’d like to see and a world they’d like to rule as ” surviving impertial powers”. Not of a world that is filled with solutions. Happy solutions for all.

    1. Nathanael

      Um, no. Every scientist is pointing out that catastrophes are happening *quicker* than previous predictions.

      1. Colas51

        Um no… the high priests are sensing a shift in the current and climbing down from predictions of doom… the only ones left taking the line of “accelerating catastrophe” are deaf dead-enders screaming at each other in their echo chambers.

        Look, the science is not settled by a long shot. We’ve had 15 years without warming … (please spare me the “ocean ate my warming” excuse) … the models have been quite wrong… the MSM has picked up on this… the pols are scared of winding up on the wrong side of “settled science” … the public tuned out years ago after climategate…so the tide is turning…

        Will warming resume at some point? Who knows? Will it be catastrophic? Doesn’t seem likely with climate sensitivity now being scaled back to below 2 degrees C….

        That’s what reality looks like today.

        1. rotter

          your statement is completely false..99.9% of reasonable, scientific, proffesionall sources now agree that not only is the process continuing, its exponentially continuing, not in a linear fashion as previously believed ..the “deaf dead enders” are the dedicated, partisan, deniers, who are presently the only source for the false information you published.

  14. Hugh

    Our immediate problems are kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war. The problems which will dominate the century are over-population with greater per capita demand on resources, resource depletion (oil) and scarcity (water), and environmental degradation (species loss, pollution) and change (global warming).

    We have a surprisingly small window to deal with kleptocracy et al. Five but no more than 15 years. We need to deal with these now simply to be better prepared for what follows. We are already beginning to see limited and sporadic manifestations of this second group of what are existential crises. By 2030, we will have no choice but do deal with them or have them deal with us. If we do not deal with kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war now, our options for 2030 and beyond will be greatly reduced.

    Barring game changers, like cheap widely available power from fusion or wide acknowledgment of the problems we face and popular support for approaches to them, the likelihood is that world population will plummet from around 9 billion in 2040 to a billion or less by 2100. Most of the die off of these 8 billion human beings will come from war, starvation, and disease. The world after 2050 will be a house of horrors unless we have the wisdom and courage to change our ways.

  15. mf

    The planet has warmed since Little Ice Age, and we should be all thankful for that. In all likelihood, this has nothing to do with people. The warming has stopped, and we may very well be entering a cooling phase. So, you can take catastrophic warming of the planet off the list of nightmares. Cooling may be another story, if it affects agricultural production.

    Resource scarcity is a real problem. Technological progress is the only solution.

    1. Another Expat

      My friend, for some facts may I suggest E. Kirsten Peters’s book, The Whole Story of Climate Change. It’s from a geologist’s perspective and you’ll like some of it, such as her review of what we know of the past 200 million years of climate (100,000 year ice ages punctuated by brief warming periods of about 10,000 years) and how it is possible that human activity — our modest efforts of deforestation and agriculture when our population was less than 1 billion — possibly staved off an ice age that was coming due. But I assure you that she is as worried as any scientist about the uncertainty of the future, because the geological record shows that climate can change in less than a human generation.
      I fear, as Hugh puts it above, that we will be unable to reform our kleptocracy in time to restore the institutions we have developed over time that could help us address the environmental, public health and economic issues that climate change will bring. None of us, not even the most self-centered kleptocrat, will escape the pestilence, famine and resource wars that are likely to dominate our world and wipe out so many fellow humans not to mention all the species that make up our ecosystem.

    2. Me

      Well said. You should try to publish your post. I am not interested in facts or reality myself, so it works for me. Gravity doesn’t exist. It is god pulling things towards him. There, I said it. It is now true. Wanna win a million dollars? Just ask me nicely chiken little.

    3. rotter

      Pardon me but you must be insane. Or perhaps you are a member of that Cheyene Warrior society in the Movie “Little Big Man”, who say and do everything backwards…because technology has, in about 150 years, used up resources to depletion or near depletion, that rational people in say, 1840, could not even imagine it would be possible under any circumstance to deplete. (like fresh water or the commercial fisheries of the North Atlantic)

  16. Brooklin Bridge

    How clever. The government is aware of the impending catastrophes and the overall cause, yet marches ever onward with the XL Pipeline and Tar sands, with opening the Arctic for exploitation, with deep sea oil rigs, with fracking, and on and on and on, and with spending practically nothing on research and development of clean sources of energy, except to use tax payer dollars to help big oil buy up useful alternative energy patents so they can be “shelved”. No, the solution is a stronger military presence… A bigger stick.

    It’s like a system where only certified rapists and pedophiles are allowed to be in charge of our children’s care.

  17. steelhead23

    Rotter up above said this: “A just money supply would solve lots of problems, but it could NOT solve the problems of resource scarcity any more than a just money supply could suspend and waive the laws of physics…”

    While Rotter was speaking of monetary policy having no effect on resource scarcity, which seems obviously true, I would like to consider how our political organizations and ideology affects how nations respond to shortage.

    In a theoretical capitalist world, if a resource becomes scarce, it becomes expensive. By becoming expensive, those who can least afford the resource would have less of it. This shortage could cause harm (e.g. death), while the affluent might actually enjoy a surplus as the increased price reduced demand. Further, higher prices would mean higher profits for the resource extractors, meaning that exploitation rates might actually increase leading to short-term abundance and a hastening of stock depletion and environmental degradation. This appears to be happening today in the oil patch. Thus, in a capitalist world, resource scarcity leads to suffering by the lower classes. Such differences in living standards could also lead to civil strife.

    In a socialist economy resource shortage might be resolved through rationing in which all elements of society suffer more or less equally. Further, in a strongly unified society efforts at controlling demand might lead to policies favoring smaller families and shorter work weeks.

    One area in which capitalism may hold an advantage is the exploitation of substitutes. If T-bone costs $11 and ground sirloin is $4, the cost-conscious eat more sirloin. And if gasoline costs $10/gal in a capitalist society, the use of electric cars might increase faster than in a socialist one – but if consumer choice is leading to environmental degradation it would seem that price is a poor ally.

    No offense meant to Rotter.

      1. Colas51

        Bad analysis. Steelhead’s comments ignore monopolies, oligopolies, speculative markets, and often the necessity of government projects and interventions (which can also be abused and distort markets to no good end).

        While steelhead does seem to grasp the fairytales taught in Eco 101 … there’s no understanding of the dynamics of the real world…

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