Resource Scarcity Wars

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In the face of resource scarcity, competing interests may choose to wage war.

An environmental news service known as Earthscan has just released preliminary findings of an ongoing study that ought to be required reading for every public official. The report is titled “Environment and Conflict: Links Between Ecological Decay, Environmental Bankruptcy, and Political and Military Instability.”

The authors of the report, Lloyd Timberlake and Jon Tinker, look at that most important of questions: Why do people go to war? The list of reasons is long and complicated, and can include such imponderables as religion and simple jealousy. But what about resource scarcity? It seems unquestionable that environmental decay could easily lead to organized violence: When soil erosion leads to a drop in agricultural production, for example, and people can no longer raise enough to feed themselves, it stands to reason that they will eventually turn to war or revolution to get their due. The point may seem obvious, but up to now there has been little comprehensive research on the subject.

Timberlake and Tinker don’t claim to have proved a direct cause-and-effect relationship between environmental decay and any particular conflict, but their research has revealed a startling pattern: From Central America to the Horn of Africa, from Poland to Afghanistan, where environmental degradation is worst, shooting wars have broken out.