Lecture Discusses the Depletion of Mineral Resources

James Morra

On Monday, September 24, Dr. Mi-chael Klare, Professor of Peace and World- Security at Hampshire College, delivered a portentous lecture on resource con-sumption to a crowded Love Auditorium. Styled “The Race for What’s Left: The Global Struggle for Vital Raw Materials,” his roughly 30-minute lecture focused on both the international competition for dwindling resources, especially for oil and natural gas, and the dire need to develop new, sustainable technologies in the face of furious population growth, climate change and resource depletion. Klare argued broadly that not only are these two themes the dominant instruments in the current global economy but will come to define the future landscape of world affairs.

From the outset he hastened to frame his dual themes in terms of struggle, defining them as “the race for what’s left” and “the race to adapt,” respectively. He stressed the reality that these two discourses are happen-ing simultaneously: while some corpora-tions and governments cling to the exploita-tion of vital resources, others enter the field of sustainability and renewable energy.

Author of some fourteen books includ-ing “Blood and Oil,” “Rising Powers” and “Shrinking Planets,” Klare is steeped in the discourse of oil consumption in particular and drew on it extensively to shape his argu-ment. In elaborating on “the race for what’s left,” he attended to the fact that easily acces-sible oil wells, those tapped by conventional means, were nearing the end of their produc-tive lifespan, and in around 20 years, such wells would be producing 75 percent fewer barrels per year. He warned that if the dimin-ishing output of oil cannot balance the ris-ing demand for it, military conflicts will arise (the conflict between China and Japan over the Senkaku islands being one contemporary example), the global economy will suffer, and in the end, “civilization will collapse.”

One route for prolonging the injurious “race for what’s left” lies in what Klare has termed in other literature, “extreme energy.” The term includes many risky extraction tech-niques, namely shale fracking, offshore rig-ging, and, perhaps the worst prospect, drill-ing in the Arctic Circle. If corporations and governments delay research into renewable resources, it is only inevitable that they will pursue these harder to reach sources of oil and natural gas, the blind and desperate pursuit of which would intensify global competition and devastate the environment.

“If we don’t care about the environ-mental consequences,” Klare said firmly, “if we don’t care about the temperature of planet, and we don’t care about our coastlines being submerged underwater, and weather conditions becoming in-finitely worst than anything you could imagine, we can extract those additional resources, [and] that is the path we are presently on.”

His admonitions are especially perti-nent in framing the controversy over hy-drofracking – drilling and smashing shale formations so to extract natural gas – in Madison County and other areas of New York State. Recent laws concerning drill-ing rights and leases, along with residents’ concerns for the environmental conse-quences and water quality, have drummed up significant protest against the practice.

Even though Klare admitted he did not know specifically what new technologies would spring from “the race to adapt,” he stressed that in the end it was the only option to keep up with increased energy needs, forestall climate change and sup-ply the drive of population growth. Klare highlighted the opportunities available to those people and organizations who were willing to lift the standard of sustain-able technologies, to create, innovate, re-tool and design efficient energies, cities, transportation, agricultural techniques and so on.

Director of Peace and Conflict Studies Pro-fessor Nancy Ries, who praised Klare in her in-troduction, expressed both her overall satisfac-tion with his talk and a yearning to continue engagement with the topic on campus.

“His work is incredibly rich, and I wish he had gone a little deeper into it,” Ries said. “We’ve done a lot of work in the program in the last few years in resource wars and re-source violence, I kind of wish we could have had him for a whole week.”

Even though he only described his mod-el of resource politics in very broad strokes, it resounded all the same with a singular, premonitory purpose:

“With global warming and drought, I picture a world in constant turmoil, vio-lence and chaos, until we figure out how to [live] without reliance on oil,” Klare said. “And those peoples that figure out how to do that are going to prosper … and adapt to a very threatening and difficult future … This [sustainability] is the path to peace, and it’s the only path to peace. There is no other path to peace because pursuing mas-tery over nonrenewable resources can only lead to conflict.”

Dr. Michael Klare’s latest book, “The Race for What’s Left,” was released on March 13, 2012.

Contact James Morra at [email protected]