Sunday, February 19, 2012

china's role in a world of scarce resources..,

thesolutionsjournal | From competition among hunter-gatherers for wild game to imperialist wars over precious minerals, resource wars have been fought throughout history; today, however, the competition appears set to enter a new—and perhaps unprecedented—phase. As natural resources deplete, and as the earth’s climate becomes less stable, the world’s nations will likely compete ever more desperately for access to fossil fuels, minerals, agricultural land, and water.

Nations need increasing amounts of energy and materials to produce economic growth, but the costs of supplying new increments of energy and materials are burgeoning. In many cases, lower-quality resources with high extraction costs are all that remain. Securing access to these resources often requires military expenditures as well. Meanwhile the struggle for the control of resources is realigning political power balances throughout the world.

This game of resource “musical chairs” could well bring about conflict and privation on a scale never seen before in world history. Only a decisive policy shift toward resource conservation, climate change mitigation, and economic cooperation seems likely to produce a different outcome.

America’s Resource Geopolitics

The United States—the world’s current economic and military superpower—entered the industrial era with a nearly unparalleled endowment of natural resources that included an abundance not only of forests, water, topsoil, and minerals but also of oil, coal, and natural gas. Like all other nations, the United States has approached its processes of resource extraction using the low-hanging-fruit principle. Today its giant onshore reservoirs of conventional oil are nearly depleted, and the nation’s total oil production is down by over 40 percent from its peak in 1970—despite huge discoveries in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. The country’s total coal resources are vast, but rates of extraction probably cannot be increased significantly and will likely begin to decline within the next decade or two. Unconventional hydrocarbon resources (such as natural gas liberated by the hydrofracking of shale deposits) are beginning to be commercialized, but they come with high investment costs and worrisome environmental risks. U.S. extraction rates for many minerals have been declining for years or decades, and currently the nation imports 93 percent of its antimony, 100 percent of its bauxite (for aluminum), 31 percent of its copper, 99 percent of its gallium, 100 percent of its indium, over half its lithium, and 100 percent of its rare earth minerals.1

America has much to lose from any substantial reshuffling of global alliances and resource flows. The nation’s leaders continue to play the game of geopolitics by twentieth-century rules: they are still obsessed with the Carter Doctrine and focused on petroleum as the world’s foremost resource prize (a situation largely necessitated by the country’s continuing overwhelming dependence on oil imports, due in turn to a series of short-sighted political decisions stretching back at least to the 1970s). The ongoing war in Afghanistan exemplifies U.S. inertia: most geostrategic experts agree that there is little to be gained from the conflict, but withdrawal of forces is politically unfeasible.

The United States maintains a globe-spanning network of over 750 military bases2 that formerly represented tokens of security to regimes throughout the world—but that now increasingly provoke resentment among the locals. This enormous military machine requires a vast supply system originating with American weapons manufacturers that in turn depend on a prodigious and ever-expanding torrent of funds from the U.S. Treasury. Indeed, the nation’s yawning budget deficit largely stems from its trillion-dollar-per-year, first-priority commitment to maintain its military-industrial complex.

The United States currently engages in “special operations” in 120 countries,3 using elite commando units skilled in assassination, counterterrorist raids, foreign troop training, and intelligence gathering. These teams can be deployed to support U.S. geopolitical interests in a variety of ways, including influencing elections or supporting factions within revolutions. The United States also maintains the world’s most lavishly funded ($80 billion in 2010) intelligence bureaus, the CIA and NSA, which conduct electronic and human information-gathering activities in virtually every country on the planet.4 Yet despite America’s gargantuan expenditures on intelligence gathering and high-tech weaponry, and its globe-spanning ability to project power and to influence events, its armed forces appear to be stretched to their limits, fielding around 200,000 troops and even larger numbers of support personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan, where supply chains are both vulnerable and expensive to maintain.


nanakwame said...

Wouldn’t even one major national holdout undermine a worldwide cooperative effort at climate protection?
Dramatically expanding our international and domestic cooperative efforts at this worrisome moment in history may seem like a tall order. The only advantage to doing so is that it is the only path going forward that does not end in a global tragedy in which the fate of the “winners” is hardly preferable to that of the “losers.”