This analysis by Daniel McGroarty appeared in today’s Real Clear World. We reprint here.
Russia in Ukraine, ISIS in Iraq, war in Gaza and nightly riot-watch in Ferguson, Missouri: Could the world possibly handle another crisis?
Well, ready or not, here one comes: The resource wars — the global quest for raw materials that is likely to define the 21st Century.
Cynics and realists will say that human conflict is always about resources — from control of the salt roads in ancient times (Roman soldiers were paid in salt) to the undercurrent of oil access that has marked much of the conflict in the Middle East over the past 50 years. But today, the list of resources worth fighting over is growing with each technological advance to include row after row of the arcane metals and minerals in the Periodic Table of elements.
And technology is only one demand-driver. Demography is the other, as the global population will surge to a projected 9.5 billion people by 2050. That’s 35 percent more than today’s 7 billion — the equivalent of adding a new Africa and China to the world in just over a single generation. And the demand for added resources will actually rise more than 35 percent, because the 4 billion people presently surviving on the equivalent of $5 a day or less won’t be content to live at subsistence level for the rest of their lives. Lifting them up will take more — much more — of everything, as the average person living in the industrialized world today consumes or uses 40,000 pounds each year of metals, from aluminum to zinc, and more than 70 elements in between.
The coming resource wars will not be a Malthusian fight for finite resources, where the Cassandras of peak oil give way to fear-mongering about “peak everything.” Technology itself — a resource demand-driver — will also illuminate new ways to extract resources more efficiently, cleanly and economically.
So the challenge among nation-states will be to secure access to the resources that each will need in abundance, and that means laying claim to the land — or more often, seabed — under which they lay. That’s where the first battles of the resource wars are being fought, in boundary and border skirmishes. Near-term, the spoils are offshore oil and natural gas. Longer-term — and not so much longer — it will be access to seabed metal and mineral deposits.
As for evidence that the resource wars have begun, it’s there to see, if we can look past the headlines of the current conflicts.
Take Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Pundits psychoanalyze Vladimir Putin, examining the root cause of his nostalgia for the days of Stalin or Czar Alexander. Be that as it may, Russia’s land-gobble of Crimea swings more than 60,000 square kilometers of the resource-rich Black Sea from the Ukrainian Exclusive Economic Zone into Russia’s column — a swath of seabed including four known oil and gas blocks.