Energy security and environmental change could radically alter society: military report

Published by Postmedia News on Sunday Apr 17 2011

KINGSTON, Ont. – The planet is running out of oil and heading toward a future that could trap Canada in a violent spiral of decline in the economy and the environment, a special research unit within the Canadian military is predicting.

This “global quagmire” is one of four possible future scenarios advanced by the six members of the team who are developing a plan for the army of tomorrow based on existing scientific research and analysis.

In a best-case scenario, they predict that Canada could be at the forefront of a prosperous green economy, in which clean energy and environmental protection are priorities and living standards improve around the world.

Two other scenarios fall in between, but all four alternatives conclude that energy security and global environmental change are the most serious and unpredictable factors that could radically alter society as well as the role of Canada’s army.

“It all depends on what kind of steps are taken today that could lead to various futures,” Peter Gizewski, a strategic analyst on the team, told Postmedia News.

Members of the team said that climate change in particular could have a wide range of consequences, as well as oil shortages in a world with no alternative sources of energy.

“I don’t think anybody would claim that we’re all doomed in the sense that we’re all going to face the same level,” said Gizewski. “But there are parts of the world in some areas where armed conflict could occur that are particularly vulnerable to these things.”

The team has also noted that the world is now consuming oil faster than it’s being discovered.

“Globally, we find more (oil) all the time, but we haven’t actually found as much as we’ve used in a given year since 1985,” said Maj. John Sheahan, another member of the research team.

“From the long (term) view, it’s guaranteed that something else will take over (as an energy source), we just don’t know what or when. … Nobody has yet come up with the solution (so) that we can (continue to) do the things we do now and have done for decades. So it is possible that the time line is against us.”

Sheahan noted that the price of a full tank of gasoline, even at $100, is a bargain when compared to estimates in some research that it would be equivalent to about 25,000 people each doing one hour of work.

The global quagmire scenario predicts a world ravaged by climate change and environmental degradation in which “markets are highly unstable” and there are high risks of widespread conflicts involving ownership and access to oil, water, food and other resources.

“Indeed, the danger of resource wars, both between and within states is acute,” said a technical paper produced by the group in December. “Much of the violence occurs in the developing world, as dictators, organized crime groups and revolutionary movements fight for control of increasingly desperate societies. Yet developed countries are by no means immune from strife.”

“As environmental conditions worsen, elements of society lash out against the ongoing exploitation of the Earth’s resources and the irreparable damage it causes. Often, action turns violent with acts of terrorism directed against select government officials and corporations becoming ever-more salient.”

In the best-case scenario, the team predicts that Canada could take a leadership role in the alternative energy and environmental fields after a series of technology sharing agreements with emerging economies and active support of developing sound international regimes and practices.

Other drivers of change analyzed by the team were: the impact of age and demographics on military composition; exponential technology growth; human/ social response to technology; expansion of operating environments; globalization; conflicting/shifting identities; shifting power balance; resource security; distribution of wealth and weapons proliferation.

But members of the team said that energy security and environmental change are factors with the highest potential impacts and the greatest uncertainty.

The findings are similar to recent studies by oil giant Royal Dutch Shell as well as research from other countries such as the United Kingdom that warn excessive energy use can be an “Achilles heel.”

“There is growing recognition that we need to factor this into our thinking,” said Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, the U.K.’s climate and energy security envoy from the Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

“We need to try and treat it like any other threat we face. We need to understand more about it and how it’s going to impact our national interests, how we can act to reduce the risks and the threats. We’re not going to have 100 per cent certainty, but then we’re not going to have 100 per cent certainty on the battlefield.”

The Canadian research team, led by Lt.-Col. Michael Rostek from the Directorate of Land Concepts and Designs in the Canadian Forces, has finished a draft of a more complete document – Army 2040: A First Look – that is now under review.

“It’s in the hands of the senior army staff as we speak, waiting to move it forward to publication,” said Rostek, the concepts team leader at the directorate. “We figured it’s the right time to publish it now and get it on the streets so that we could actually not only get some discussion, but also to provide a framework for our next step ahead.”


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