Thursday, April 09, 2009

Live Blogging the Conference on World Affairs: When the Well Runs Dry: Dwindling Resources and International Conflict

10:49 am

And that's the end...people are starting to file out and chatter, even though Shaer is still talking.

Thanks for tuning in!

10:48 am

Someone asks if a world war over water is inevitable. Granoff says no. He says living in violence is a decision. Anthropologists have struggled with the question of whether violence is the normal state of humanity or not. Granoff says they came to the conclusion that it isn't.

10:43 am

Granoff answers the question: if water is confirmed as a human right, that would take precedence over other uses. I wonder, even if those who want it have the power to pay for it?

Sorry, guys, I'm feeling a bit cynical this morning...

Oh oh, Shaer agrees with me. She says, "There are so many other rights that are not enforced by our governments." So we'll need other safeguards as well.

10:42 am

Another audience question: how does the "misuse of water resources for corporate profit" play into international water resources.

The guy sitting next to me lifts up his Eldorado Springs bottled water and chuckles, "Corporate profit..."

10:39 am

Another question from the audience was on international water law. Shaer says that those regulations actually might come out of the replacement for Kyoto, because water is tied up with climate change.

10:37 am

Granoff says we should read the statements issued by the Nobel Peace Laureates. One says, "violence is a preventable disease."

All of the Novel Laureates signed on to a declaration saying that every politician should be asked three questions:
  • What are you doing to protect the global commons?
  • What are you doing to address poverty?
  • What are you doing about nuclear disarmament?

But those questions were largely ignored by the media.

Wait, wasn't the question about population? No one addressed that...

10:34 am

The guy in the audience next to me wonders, "Do they even mention population at all? They're crazy! It's all politics."

Right after he said that, another audience member stood up and asks about population and food.

10:33 am

Rupert is still the best part of this panel:

"If you are asking a question, and you don't have a question, you just have something burning you need to say, would you just raise your voice at the end so that it sounds like a question."

10:30 am

Granoff calls social distractions, "the pornography of the trivial."

He says water should be a human right. That means that it can't be fully commodified. If this doesn't happen, and water is commodified, that puts a dangerous precedence in place for people to begin putting a price on other things, like genetic code and air.

Oceans are another hot button issue that were absent from the last election. No one in this country is talking about disappearing fish resources.

10:27 am

Normally I like cerebral debates, but Granoff is a little too abstract for me. Instead of talking about natural resources, he keeps mentioning ideas as a resource. Yes, this is true, but we need to connect those to the material world, too.

10:26 am

This panel seems to agree that diplomats are the indispensable key to a peaceful future.

Trengrove is describing how Azerbaijan opened an academy to train diplomats. The number of embassies they have around the world went from 30 to 60 in one world. As they are expanding their presence in international politics, they are doing is by learning diplomacy.

One of Azerbaijan's strategies is planning for peak oil -- which will happen in that country around 2025. They are doing this by re-creating the silk road, says Trengrove. "They are planning for the future of dwindling resources."

10:22 am

Shaer says that one of the ideas that has brought about solutions is diplomacy and collaboration. She says that looking at how much money a country puts into diplomacy is an important yardstick. And education is a big part of this.

Our state department isn't prepared to deal with the types of conflicts that are happening over oil and natural gas pipelines Trengrove mentioned, says Shaer. At this point, we simply don't have enough trained diplomats.

10:19 am

"False realism is a problem," says Granoff. "It dampens creativity."

He quotes Victor Hugo, from 1851, who said (extreme paraphrasing here) that if you told someone four centuries earlier that war would end with a ballot boxes, laws and nations, they would have found it absurd. So if you say to modern nations that a day will come when they won't need weapons and there will be no war, that nations would be joined together, would sound equally absurd. Granoff says that Hugo was describing the European Union and the U.N. as the peaceful future.

So -- is Granoff right? Have we finally made it? Are the pieces in place for a peaceful future?

"Visions based on moral grounding are the most important resource that humanity has," says Granoff.

10:14 am

Now Granoff is talking about Oscar Arias, and the work he did to create a peaceful regional settlement in Costa Rica that won him a Nobel Peace Prize. He calls him a "well of ideas."

Granoff says that Arias said to the countries in the UN, "It's time we started addressing Article 26." (Which is about disarmament.)

He brings up a Will Ferrell SNL skit (as Bush), where he said that we'll tackle this problem of climate change, we just have to get mother nature to cooperate with our plan. That encapsulates the world's current pattern of thinking, which, clearly, won't work.

He comes back to the importance of ideas.

Hmm...I think ideas are the starting point, and if we don't have good ones we don't have anything, but I think that it's clear the world needs more than ideas. We also need a way to put ideas in place and implement them. I wonder what Granoff would say to this -- what does the world need to ensure that powerful ideas don't die?

10:06 am

Granoff starts by pointing out that virtually all conflicts that have been occurring in recent years have been over natural resources, and this trend is only going to increase.

"I believe that the most important resource to deal with all of these issues is the resource of ideas," says Granoff.

He considers Europe from a historical perspective: from the 13th century on, the continent was in a perpetual state of war, culminating in the 30 years war and the Protestant v. Catholic conflict. Eventually, someone called for ideas to solve these problems, and the nation/state system arose where people could live where they wanted according to their religious beliefs.

"They stopped fighting over religion," says Granoff. "They later figured out ways to fight over nationalism." (But that's beside the point...)

"It took so much carnage to understand that we needed some ideas that would stop this madness," says Granoff. He names nuclear warfare as a wake up call that made us realize that we couldn't have the type of fighting that had been happening in Europe on a global scale.

10:02 am

Trengrove worked as a journalist for 21 years, but he quit during the last presidential campaign. He realized that he wanted to keep learning and trying new things. He heard about a position for someone creating public affairs TV programming in Azerbaijan. He didn't know where it was, so he looked it up on a map. "And I said, wow, this is a real geopolitical hotspot, where things are actually happening," he said. He went there for 3 months and worked with the foreign ministry. He said that it was real stuff, not "superdelegates." Ha ha.

The experience led him into "pipeline politics" -- that is, the politics of oil and gas. Because of former Soviet control, most of the pipelines went through Russia. But now countries (mostly in Western Eurpoe) want alternatives to that. One of the new pipelines went through Georgia, and when the conflict between Russia and Georgia broke out, they nearly broke an important pipeline.

This made everyone realize the importance of energy transportation. "You can't put natural gas in a barrel," says Trengrove. So, at least for now, pipelines are essential.

Trengrove says this part of the world is getting very interesting, and Obama was just in Turkey trying to "get everybody to get along" -- all because of what is happening in Afghanistan. But the area "is a tinderbox."

9:53 am

Shaer says that, "The more we lose newspapers, the more [politicians] lose contact with their constituents."

What her organization does is make things like military budgets "accessible and easy to talk about." Sounds kind of like an for military spending.

"The new oil may be, in fact, water," says Shaer. She says it "could be like the horses without hay." She uses the example of Georgia last year, and politicians "going to battle" (not literal battle) over water resources. But what happens if such a situation occurs in a non-peaceful, non-stable environment, where you don't have friendly neighbors willing to negotiate? Conflicts, of course.

She says that we to have a security policy that addresses the battles that will be fought over water.

But, Shaer ends with the positives: Obama wants to eliminate nuclear power, our leaders are willing to plan for a safe future.

9:47 am

Now Shaer will dive into the "political reality." She points out that Obama called for an end to nuclear weapons this weekend (actually, she deferred to an audience member, who said that the media failed to cover it). But at the same time, other countries that had reduced spending on military are starting to spend again (like Argentina and Brazil, which are now ramping up nuclear programs). The main point? What nations are doing with their military budgets isn't at the forefront of public consciousness.

9:43 am

Shaer says Rupert knows everyone in the city and their grandchildren, and remembers who everyone is.

Shaer's organization is Women's Action for New Directions, an anti-war group. She'll be talking about history, politics, and water.

She says that in this country the influence of the military has been slowly but surely growing. From the beginning, the intention was to have a standing army but not a military government. But in the U.S., "we don't consider ourselves a militaristic society, but we spend more money than any other nation in the world combined on the military."

Military dictatorships don't spend as much money as we do. (My question: when you look at it as a proportion of the GDP, is this still true?)

She says spending isn't necessarily driven by what your country needs, but by outside geopolitical forces.

9:38 am

Introductions --

Dorothy Rupert was a state senator -- whoa!

Jim Trengrove: His daughter is a junior at CU. She is volunteering at the CWA. Rupert says, "I don't know why she isn't in my class. I'm teaching a class on civic engagement." His wife is an investigative reporter who did a talk this morning on KGNU. "I feel pretty connected to you, Jim," says Rupert. Trengrove is a reporter, he went to film school, and has made many documentaries.

Jonathan Granoff: He's a global security adviser. When he was in law school, he was "the most active left-winger on campus," at Rutgers. He worried that would taint his reputation as an alum, but they gave him an award this year.

Guy next to me: She doesn't sound like a politician, does she. She spends a lot of time saying nothing.

Susan Shaer: First time at the CWA. She's done a lot of national security work, appears on radio and tv frequently. She's an anti-war activist.

9:33 am

The moderator, Dorothy Rupert, is a hoot. She says of the CWA, "I've only been to the last 50 of them."

Music started next door, and she goes, "Oh!"

I'm pleasantly surprised, too.

9:31 am

Welcome to my third attempt at live blogging. Today's special feature:

4163 When the Well Runs Dry: Dwindling Resources and International Conflict

9:30-10:50 on Thursday April 9, 2009
UMC West Ballroom
o Jonathan Granoff
o Susan Shaer
o James A. Trengrove

o Moderator: Dorothy Rupert

Live-blogging "There's No Such Thing As Agenda-free Science"
Live-blogging "Reading Fiction Helps Me Survive in the Real World"

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