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Maybe prophets of doom do know a thing or two.

Byline: Peter Elson

ABOUT 25 years ago, I was told by a teacher with extensive knowledge about India that, by the turn of the century, there would be wars over water.

It all seemed rather too doom-laden to believe as I looked out of the window at a rains wept Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where I worked at the time. Yet this gloomy prophecy came back to me when I watched the most recent James Bond film, Quantum of Solace, which was based on just such a premise.

Where there is a shortage of an important commodity, power struggles break out to control it. The Quantum storyline indicates the resource in question is oil, but it turns out to be more basic and much more vital - water.

Now Sir David King, the Government's former chief scientific adviser, has branded the Iraq war the first of this century's "resource wars". This is defined by powerful countries using force to seize valuable commodities. Sir David believes that the combination of population growth, dwindling natural resources and rising sea-levels from climate change will put such pressure on the planet that inevitably conflict will result.

He made this prediction at his Darwin Day lecture for the British Humanist Association, part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species. No prizes for wondering how far we've actually evolved since Neanderthal men brained each other for possession of the hairy-mammoth hunting rights.

In his talk, Sir David emphatically rejected the US and British government claims that they went to war to remove the evil dictator Saddam Hussein and search for his weapons of mass destruction.

The stark reality, he thinks, was that the US was getting increasingly anxious about the source and security of its energy supplies, unhappy that it relied so heavily on foreign oil from unstable states. Scanning around the globe, it happened upon Iraq.

"Future historians might look back on our particular recent past and see Iraq as the first of the conflicts of this kind, the first of the resource wars," says Sir David.

This strategy is equally applicable to other essential supplies, including water, minerals and fertile lands. Sir David adds that, unless we get to grips with the problem globally, "we are potentially going to lead ourselves into a situation where large, powerful nations will secure resources for their own people at the expense of others."

Interestingly, Sir David, who is now an Oxford University academic, was the Government's scientific adviser in the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, but didn't express his views about the true reason for the conflict, although many other officials shared them.

But he deserves our admiration for his courage on a visit to the White House in 2001 for trying to persuade George Bush's administration to adopt more climate friendly policies. "I went to persuade them that decarbonising their economy was the way forward. I didn't get much shrift at that time," he recalls. You can well imagine that the sound of hollow laughter was deafening from the Bush advisers.

And yet, as he says: "If I had managed to persuade the Government of America that investing (instead of going into Iraq) in de-carbonising their economy with roughly a tenth (of the estimated EUR3 trillion which the US spent on the war), they would have managed it."

Which just goes to show that, even if one person holds a view against a massive majority, it does not mean that this is the wrong view.

imagine the rsound of hollow laughter from the Bush advisers peter.elson@


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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 16, 2009
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