Monday, August 20, 2012

Which is the Bigger Problem -- Terrorism or Exhaustion of Earth’s Resources?

As frequently happens, I find myself reading multiple books more or less at the same time. At present, two non-fiction books have my attention. One argues that terrorism is our biggest problem. The other argues that limitations on resources is the biggest problem. The manners in which this topic is approached couldn't be more different.

First, taking terrorism as the problem. The book is International Terrorism: Challenge and Response, edited by Benjamin Netanyahu (1981). One of the essays was written by Paul Johnson, a noted British writer and historian (and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006). One statement captures the extent to which he thinks terrorism is the number-one problem: "It is almost impossible to exaggerate the threat that terrorism holds for our civilization. It is a threat which is in many respects more serious than the risk of nuclear war, of population explosion, of global pollution, or the exhaustion of the earth's resources. I believe these dangers to our civilization can be, have been, or are being contained. I believe the threat of terrorism is not being contained."

In stark contrast, the problem of limited resources is the topic of the second book, Winner Take All: China's Race For Resources and What it Means For the World by Dambisa Moyo (2012). In this book, Moyo describes how China is methodically securing the rights to the four essential resources; water, food, energy, and minerals -- sufficient in quantity to satisfy the essential needs of its population well into the future.

Apparently, based on observations of the acquisitions and agreements China is pursuing, its government has adopted a strategy placing acquisition of resources worldwide as its number one priority.   Apparently, China's leadership believes exhaustion of the earth's resources is very much our biggest problem. It is not, as Johnson says, "a danger...being constrained."

How do we decide between these widely differing viewpoints? Johnson, speaking on behalf of what he calls civilization -- would have helped this discussion had he called it western civilization, as he names terrorism as the biggest problem. China has a very different view, and is acting on that view.

Quoting Moyo, "The sad truth is that governments with regular election cycles, government officials rationally focus on 'immanent dangers.' Under the pressures of the ballot box, the urgent usurps the important. A more brutal way to put it is that governments tend not to care for future generations; these supposedly desirable models of government actually encourage political myopia." Western civilization is mostly represented by these types of governments.

China, on the other hand, concerns itself much more with the long term. China's government makes sure its populations of the future have their needs met. Keeping their needs met avoids future revolutions. Providing the four essential resources makes it possible to feed their populations, thereby keeping the ruling party in power.

We decide by caring for our future generations. Our biggest problem is exhaustion of earth's resources.