Global Sustainability Initiative at Purdue

Steve Hallett Lecture - The Ecology of War

April 24 @ 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM - Krannert Deans Auditorium

The Ecology of War: How Peak Oil and Global Climate Change will Shape the Conflicts of the 21st Century

Steve Hallett is an associate professor in the department of Botany & Plant Pathology at Purdue University. He is the author, with John Wright, of Life without Oil: Why we must Shift to a New Energy Future (Prometheus Books, 2011). His new book, The Efficiency Trap: The Worst Nightmare of the Environmental Movement and what to do about it, will be published by Prometheus Books later this year.

Wars are caused by foolish or power-hungry leaders fighting over ridiculous ideologies, by historic enmities and conflicting social norms and they break out suddenly and cannot be predicted: or at least that is what we have been told. Perhaps war can be understood from an ecological perspective. War is an example of what an ecologist might call a “stochastic event”: an anomaly in a complex system. Ecologists may not be able to predict a specific stochastic event but they can describe the conditions that make them more likely.

Following World War II a series of tense, sometimes hostile negotiations began among producers over the price of oil. Negotiations developed into skirmishes as producers found themselves at odds with consumers: Operation Desert Storm was the first significant oil skirmish, in 1991. Peak Oil – the point at which global oil production stagnates and then goes into decline – will change the game of oil politics significantly. Powerful consumers will be competing for declining oil supplies in volatile parts of the world. Will oil skirmishes become oil wars?

If Peak Oil were the only major challenge this century things might not be too scary: but it is not. We also face soaring population pressures, declining freshwater resources and failing fisheries – to name a few – and each of these could also ignite local and regional conflicts. Meanwhile, the planet will continue to warm and the impacts of global climate change will follow the earthquake of Peak Oil like a tsunami. The impacts will be meted out unevenly. Some regions will escape more or less Scott-free while others suffer unbearable heat stress and crushing droughts.

The 21st century will be one of enormous change with roiling problems set on a collision course. These are dangerous times.

 

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