The Race for What's Left: The Global Scramble for the World's Last Resources
Michael T. Klare
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From Michael Klare, the renowned expert on natural resource issues, an invaluable account of a new and dangerous global competition
The world is facing an unprecedented crisis of resource depletion―a crisis that goes beyond "peak oil" to encompass shortages of coal and uranium, copper and lithium, water and arable land. With all of the planet's easily accessible resource deposits rapidly approaching exhaustion, the desperate hunt for supplies has become a frenzy of extreme exploration, as governments and corporations rush to stake their claim in areas previously considered too dangerous and remote. The Race for What's Left takes us from the Arctic to war zones to deep ocean floors, from a Russian submarine planting the country's flag on the North Pole seabed to the large-scale buying up of African farmland by Saudi Arabia, China, and other food-importing nations.
As Klare explains, this invasion of the final frontiers carries grave consequences. With resource extraction growing more complex, the environmental risks are becoming increasingly severe; the Deepwater Horizon disaster is only a preview of the dangers to come. At the same time, the intense search for dwindling supplies is igniting new border disputes, raising the likelihood of military confrontation. Inevitably, if the scouring of the globe continues on its present path, many key resources that modern industry relies upon will disappear completely. The only way out, Klare argues, is to alter our consumption patterns altogether―a crucial task that will be the greatest challenge of the coming century.
were considered of only minor importance when the Arctic was thought to possess little of economic value, but now that the region is believed to hold nearly one-fifth of the world’s remaining untapped hydrocarbon resources they have acquired far greater significance. All of the five countries with a presence in the Arctic—Canada, Denmark (through its control of Greenland), Norway, Russia, and the United States—are reaffirming their historic claims in the area and taking fresh action to protect
cannot be entirely dismissed. For the near future, however, the greatest obstacles to resource exploitation in the region are likely to be geography, climate, cost, and the environment. As we have seen, all of the major projects currently under way or in the process of development above the Arctic Circle face enormous challenges of one sort or another and will require enormous investments to succeed. Global warming may improve the attractiveness of operating in the Arctic, by shrinking the polar
pursuit of vital materials in the Arctic, the deep seas, and on other resource frontiers can be viewed as part of a process that began thousands of years ago. But the race for what’s left is not just a continuation of past behavior; rather, it represents a new stage in humanity’s relentless hunt for critical materials—a drive without true precedents. Several factors distinguish the current push from those of the past. To begin with, there are no other, as-yet-undetected frontiers lying beyond
Of course, the desire to control natural resources has fueled international strife throughout human history. Ancient dynasties fought wars to secure more agricultural territory; European colonial empires battled one another over their resource-rich outposts overseas.27 To a considerable extent, therefore, the race for what’s left can be interpreted as just a continuation of this age-old struggle. But whereas previous centuries generally witnessed conflict between just a few dominant powers, today
investments of the kind that the Chinese government is now undertaking—and that the AEIC and the President’s Council of Advisors are recommending for the United States—will not be sufficient, by themselves, to end the global struggle for control of the world’s shrinking supplies of vital materials. That task can only be accomplished through a complete transformation of industrial society, with all finite resources systematically replaced by renewable alternatives. But the AEIC report and the