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     Dec 7, 2006
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The post-abundance era
By Michael T Klare

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, foreign-policy analysts have struggled to find a term to characterize the epoch we now inhabit. Although "the post-Cold War era" has been the reigning expression, this label now sounds dated and no longer does justice to the particular characteristics of the current period. Others have spoken of the post-September 11, 2001, era as if the attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon were defining moments for the entire world. But this image no

longer possesses the power it once wielded - even in the United States.

I propose instead another term that better captures the defining characteristics of the current period: the post-abundance era.

If there is one thing that most inhabitants of the late 20th century shared in common, it was a perception of rising global abundance in virtually all fields: energy, food, housing, consumer goods, fashion, mass culture, and so on. Yes, there were pockets of poverty in many areas, but most people in most places around the world were seeing a rise in their personal income and an increase in the number of things in their possession, along with the supply of energy with which to move or power their many personal goods.
At least some strata of the global population will continue to experience an increase in personal wealth in the 21st century, but the sense of abundance that characterized the late 20th century is likely to evaporate for the great majority of us. One day now-affordable luxuries such as overseas vacations and meals out will become unattainable, and even basic necessities such as energy, electricity, water and food are likely to become less plentiful and more expensive. This global austerity will produce great hardship for the poor and will force even lower-middle-class families to choose from among long car trips, restaurant meals, air-conditioning in summer, and high thermostats in winter.

Less supply, more demand
Lying behind this historic shift in global fortunes is a fundamental reversal in the balance between resource supply and demand. For most of the 20th century, global stockpiles of vital materials such as oil, natural gas, coal and basic minerals expanded as giant multinational corporations (MNCs) poured billions of dollars into exploring every corner of the Earth in the drive to locate and exploit valuable deposits of extractable materials. This permitted consumers around the world to increase their consumption of virtually everything, safe in the knowledge that even more of these commodities would be available next year and the year after that, and so on infinitely into the future.

But this condition no longer prevails. Many of the world's most promising sources of supply have been located and exploited, and all of the additional billions spent by MNCs on exploration and discovery are producing increasingly meager results.

Ever since the 1960s, the most fruitful decade in the worldwide discovery of new oilfields, there has been a steady decline in the identification of new deposits, according to a recent study by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Even more worrisome, the rate of oilfield discovery fell below the rate of global petroleum consumption in the 1980s, and since then has fallen to about half the rate of consumption. This means we are increasingly relying on deposits found in previous decades to slake our insatiable thirst for petroleum - a pattern that cannot continue for much longer before we will begin to experience an irreversible and traumatic decline in the global supply of oil.

The same is true of other vital resources, including natural gas, uranium, copper, and many minerals. There may be adequate stocks of these materials on global markets today, but the MNCs are not finding enough new deposits of these commodities to replace what we're consuming. So future shortages are inevitable.

Water is somewhat different, in that we receive a fresh supply of it each year through evaporation from the oceans and precipitation on land - but even this precious resource will become scarcer in the years ahead because of population growth, urbanization, industrialization, the over-exploitation of underground aquifers, and global warming (through persistent drought and the accelerated evaporation of rivers and lakes).

This contraction in the global supply of vital resources will affect our lives in myriad ways. On a personal level, it will force us to consume less - for example, by buying smaller, more fuel-efficient cars and smaller, more energy-efficient homes. We will have to make other accommodations as well: fewer long-distance trips to the seaside or amusement parks; fewer long-distance airplane rides; lowered thermostats in winter; and so on. These cutbacks will be minor inconveniences for some, but significant hardships for others - especially the poor, the elderly, and others on a fixed income. Farmers will have a particularly hard time, as the cost of virtually everything associated with modern, mechanized agriculture - diesel fuel, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, food supplements - will become far more expensive.

Less stuff, more conflict
At the national level, we can expect a significant change in foreign policy. As supplies of energy and other basic necessities become

Continued 1 2 

Beware empires in decline (Oct 19, '06)



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