The Future of Resource Conflict

While Parenti, for this week’s readings, predominately discussed the history of East African and Asian conflict in the shadow of climate change, all I could think of was the future of environmental security. For years, people–politicians and general public alike–have said that resource wars are a long way off, but just by reading Parenti, it is clear that these wars are happening today. So, throughout the reading, I kept in mind the somewhat difficult question: are we only saying that resource wars are so far off because they are not happening to us, the developed world, right now? If we keep turning a blind eye to these issues, will conflict over scarcity surprise us and happen all at once, just as it did in East Africa?

In Chapter 5, Parenti discusses tipping points and poses the question whether “violence is a response primarily to scarcity or to opportunity” (62). I think this is a really thought-provoking quote that is a very telling portrait of the future of our planet. The two examples, Parenti provided in Kenya show two very similar small towns both facing the same scarcity of resources. The only difference is that one settlement is lacking resources but is close enough to towns that have resources, allowing for the opportunity for violence, while the other town is practically stranded in a desert region where the only hope for survival is cooperation. Without any mitigation attempts, the IPCC is already calling for the increase in CO2 emissions, a 450ppm, and warming of 3.5 degrees centigrade. However, while these symptoms of climate change are already affecting equatorial countries like Kenya, they will take longer to create any serious damage to the northern hemisphere, i.e. the [majority of the] developed world. Therefore, since it will take decades for climate change to have a significant damaging affect on the developed world, would it be safe to assume that we will engage in resource wars of opportunity before we even make an attempt at cooperation? Furthermore, shouldn’t we not wait for such a devastating tipping point as resource wars before we make a significant effort at mitigation and resiliency? After all, conflict over resources will only exacerbate their scarcity, creating a most destructive, self-sustaining feedback loop we could not hope to reverse.

Additionally, while reading, Parenti provided examples of the rise and fall of East African states that were interesting but seemingly unrelated to one another. However, they all possessed one overarching theme: resources are a strong driving force and we will do anything to look out for number one. We have seen how well that has worked out in the past, so why can we (we being every country and their governments) not pull ourselves together and cooperate. The reading for this week only fortified my belief that everyone looks out for number one, but that we have yet to realize that if we worked together, yes there would be severe economic impact involved, but it would benefit us all, including the people we really care about: ourselves.

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