Ecowar – Organic Potatoes Create Peace
People in rainbow-coloured clothes stop us on the streets and tell us the Iraq wars were all about oil. We have become accustomed to just shrug and walk on.
But what about the obvious influence that scarce drinking water, diamonds and climate change have on the stability of nations? Many still dismiss stories of resource conflicts as conspiracy theories, but for some ecologists the question of sustainability is not just about clean rivers. For instance, I met a man who grows organic potatoes for peace. ”All wars are fought over natural resources,” he told me as we were driving home from a visit to his community gardening project. How does that work?
Many historical battles have evidently been entirely about conquest and plunder. A lot has happened since the first moat was built in the Middle East to keep the starving masses from the door. But ecowar – perpetual resource conflict underlying all geopolitical trends and events – is still with us. The front lines for the battleground of ecowar itself have moved: even the atmosphere’s ability to absorb our waste CO2 has become a limited resource, control over plant genes is being fought over in courtrooms, and simply the need for stable oil prices on world markets can determine whether a war against Iran is profitable or not.
Modern world can be difficult to understand, but ecowar can be measured up quite scientifically. The resulting dilemma for the human race is surprisingly simple.
“Are we moving towards more environmental destruction, more instability and war? Or are we moving towards sustainable development, emission reduction, peace and security? This is a choice the world has, this is a choice we all have.”
Nobody wants to talk about it
Had media been properly aware of the impact of natural resources on international politics and conflict, its stories would probably have been a little bit different.
- We would have probably heard more about Obama’s fear of rising energy prices as a factor that would hold Israel back from attacking Iran.
- Perhaps we could expect some critical articles about the US’ sudden concern over “conflict minerals” from Venezuela – which curiously coincides with Hugo Chávez signing agreements with Chinese and Iranian mining companies. Current unregulated mining is using cheap, native labour and smuggle via Colombian and Brazilian coltan dealers.
- Perhaps the world deserves a bit more media coverage about the more than 12,000 miners who created anarchy in Puerto Maldonado, Peru early in March 2012 and put 500 officers on the defensive as they protested against government regulation of gold-digging. Three people died of gunshot wounds and 62 were arrested that day, as disorganised black market miners who are spreading large amounts of mercury in the area’s rivers defended their business.
- The KONY2012 video had not gone viral. Instead, the first 500 people to see it wondered “why do we see a Christian activist from California telling his son about an old African civil war and a climate change-denying Republican politician beg for support for sending the Marines to Africa, when already in Wikileaks Cable Gate we could read how American soldiers were sent to Uganda in friendly invitation and as part of Obama’s intention to create friends in the region.” A region that is very interesting, as a great oil adventure is just beginning on the border between Uganda and the Congo.
Some facts should be accepted: UN tree-planting initiatives have made a more positive difference in Afghanistan than the US soldiers have. Our coal and oil-based households create hunger and distress elsewhere in the world, while wind farms save lives in Bangladesh. Perhaps not all wars are fought over natural resources, but there are certainly almost no wars being waged by the exact reasons they were explained by publicly. Wars are almost always complex, unpredictable events influenced by numerous factors.
The analysis by natural resources has some rough edges: such a deterministic analysis could shift responsibility away from war criminals and wars, because a possible conclusion could be used as an argument for increased military spending. In many places in Africa, nature reserves shrink, endangered species become more endangered and working as a park ranger is becoming more dangerous – if the remaining nature must be protected, it is necessarily with weapons and power.
Relevance to Rio+20
Many might be skeptical about the ability of yet another world leader summit to transform the world into a better place. It is common to consider sustainable business and conservation of nature a luxury in times of financial crisis. Yet there are people who grow their own potatoes not just because they like gardening, not just to save money, not just to spare their bodies of toxins – but also to not participate in the pollution of ground water with pesticides, to not fund the nitrogen run-off causing coastal dead zones and to not help incite another war for oil via consumption and food miles.
If one man believes – or dreams – that his organic potatoes promote peace, shouldn’t our governments be at least considering treaties for nations to make their differences too? Rio+20 is a framework for nations that dream. It is not a luxury. The agenda strikes right at the core of the issues we need to approach.
- Green economy and green jobs: long overdue. Talking business is also important because nations that trade, don’t fight.
- Taking care of our oceans: urgently needed. Fisheries are being depleted across the globe, rich nations send their industrial trawlers to leave empty waters for the fisherfolk of poorer countries. This could increasingly create competition and conflict even between rich countries.
- Reducing disaster risk, building resilience (for example by securing clean water accessibility and food security), promoting sustainable agriculture: disasters and hunger creates desperate people, desperate people have shorter fuses. Organic vegetables create peace in Denmark as well as in Africa.
- Science and technology for sustainable development and sustainable, low carbon transport in emerging and developing economies: technological advances and abolition of wasteful, polluting technologies will absolve sources of conflict. It is imperative that new technology is not kept as a guarded privilege for the rich nations alone.
- While not on the actual agenda, British lawyer and activist Polly Higgins plans to advocate the addition of ecocide to the list of crimes to be prosecuted under international law. She wants a ban on destruction of ecosystems that severely diminishes the peaceful enjoyment of a given territory by its current or future inhabitants. You can support her by signing the Avaaz petition for her cause.
No, not all wars are fought over natural resources. But if the Rio+20 summit is a success, perhaps fewer wars will be fought in the future.
Editor’s note: Benno Hansen has done extensive research on conflicts and resources. Here we add his documentation video on the topic:
Benno’s complete hypothesis as the world history and present state as a series of past and currently looming conflicts over natural resources is presented in his book Ecowar: Natural Resources and Conflict. Read more about it and get a generous preview at ecowar.eu.