In the dark days of the Cold War in the early 1960s, the threat of communism and of foreign totalitarianism loomed large. Unbeknownst to most, a couple of unsung heroes stepped up to America’s defense. These two intrepid patriots, the favorite sons of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota, are Rocket “Rocky” J. Squirrel, a flying squirrel, and his best friend Bullwinkle J. Moose, a good-natured moose. They are better known to us as Rocky and Bullwinkle. They frequently locked horns with nefarious agents from the totalitarian nation of Pottsylvania. The agents, Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, directly reported to an apparatchik named Fearless Leader. Boris Badenov frequently referred to Rocky and Bullwinkle as “moose and squirrel”. It is important to note that the Pottsylvanian “nogoodniks” are only mere subordinate drones to Pottsylvania’s real epicenter of power. The one who is really pulling all the strings is the mysterious and elusive Mr. Big who ultimately calls all the shots.
Fast forward to present day’s world affairs. There are a number of “Mr. Big wannabes” sprinkled around the world. Many of these wannabes are essentially fossil fuel resource thugs who aim to intimidate and bully other countries because of their (current) abundance of these resources. In Russia’s case, it is oil and gas. Their days are numbered and if the US and others take initiatives to hasten the end of those days by introducing competitive renewable alternatives, these thugs and (unfortunately) their dominions will be relegated to the status of irrelevant and impotent, outlaw pariahs.
There are clearly similarities between the Mr. Big associated with Rocky and Bullwinkle and Vladimir Putin, the current ruler of the Russian Federation. Although he has done some things for the Russian people, e.g., Putin oversaw large scale military and police reform. His energy policy has affirmed Russia’s position as an energy superpower and supported high-tech industries such as the nuclear and defense industries. Putin has cultivated a “he-man”, “super hero” image attempting to be a pop cultural icon in Russia. Rumor has it that he recently made plans to open a French restaurant in Moscow called, “The Creped Crusader” and Dennis Miller tweeted on March 20th that “Putin just signed to play the villain in new Bond flick “ ‘Goldnipple.’” Perhaps there’s just a touch of narcissism? He even has many commercial products named after him and Forbes ranks Putin as the world’s most powerful person. However, he has crushed free press and now taken a couple of chapters from “Mein Kampf”…except the Vladster is going east to west not vice-versa. Crimea today, who knows tomorrow? What can be done? What’s his ultimate goal?
In the Cold War days of the 1960s, one thought of (God forbid) nukes or tactical incursions with ground, air, or naval forces. We don’t have Rocket J. Squirrel anymore, but maybe we should re-think how we confront paleo-Fascists such as Putin. The late, great, Nobel laureate, Dr. Wangari Maathi noted that, “In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources, and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the relationship we see today between human rights, democracy, and peace.” Dr. Maathi passed in 2011 (view link) of complications due to cancer. Maathi was quite ahead of her time. Your blogger was privileged to hear her speak in person near Philadelphia in October of 2006. Maathi astutely notes that future conflicts will be over resources. This view is in line with what others such as the McKinsey Group (2011) and yours truly (2013) have been espousing about the coming economic and resource crisis. Other groups, such as the U.S. Department of Defense, and major U.S. corporations like Wal-Mart are also coming to this realization (Rozich, 2013) and acting on it.
So how would Rocky and Bullwinkle formulate a long term strategy to get the Putins of the world “put in” place? One would conjecture that “moose and squirrel” would recognize that leverage can be obtained by the countries that adhere to the conceptual thinking advocated in the Inconvenient Triad or Super Nexus (Rozich, 2013) and the counsel of Dr. Maathi regarding the role of resources in future international conflicts. Competitive renewable resources, particularly energy in Russia’s case, would compel Russia to sell oil and gas at lower rates. The ultimate goal would be to make their fossil fuels economically irrelevant. As previously noted, Putin has made Russia into an energy superpower. However, that can be a two-edged sword. For example, based on a February 2014 CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency) Report (view link), “The Russian economy, however, was one of the hardest hit by the 2008-09 global economic crisis as oil prices plummeted and the foreign credits that Russian banks and firms relied on dried up. According to the World Bank the government’s anti-crisis package in 2008-09 amounted to roughly 6.7% of GDP”. What would happen if renewable alternatives were available to Russian oil? Even moderate levels of alternative energy sources would have a stifling effect on the Russian economy.
Also, consider Russian agriculture in a country which is dependent on foreign imports of food to feed its citizens. Only about 7% of Russian land is arable and to say that Russia is climate-challenged now is an understatement. This aspect does not even address other key critical aspects of the Agriculture, Water, and Energy Nexus along with resource inter linkage factors that will ultimately negatively impact Russian agriculture. Despite initiatives launched to achieve food self-sufficiency (view link), some see issues in Russia achieving the goal of food self-sufficiency. A glitch with Russian food production in concert with the inability to sell their oil at premium prices inflicts a twofold hit on the Russian economy. By no means is it being suggested that we try to “out-Putin Putin” by substituting renewables for fossil fuels as leverage. The recommended tact is to take a page from former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who advocated to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”
The upshot is that the Russia invasion of Crimea may be less about Putin flexing Russian military power and more about resources. Maybe it is agricultural resources? The Ukraine is a major exporter of food with agricultural exports accounting for 20% of exports (van Leeuwen, et. al., 2012). A long term strategy of “re-acquiring” and/or bullying the Ukraine could be a longer term play by Putin to ensure Russian food self-sufficiency goals. After all, even Vlad knows that you can’t eat oil. It gets even worse for the Vladster if he can’t sell the black gold and make a decent profit.
McKinsey Global Institute, Resource Revolution: Meeting the World’s Energy, Food, and Water Needs, McKinsey and Company, San Francisco, November, 2011.
Rozich, A. F., Other Inconvenient Truths Beyond Global Warming, Virtual Bookworm.com, College Station, Texas, 2013.
van Leeuwen, M., et. al., “The agri-food sector in Ukraine: Current situation and market outlook until 2025”, European Commission Joint Research Centre, Seville, Spain, 2012.
Bullwinkle and Rocky Taking a Picture of a “Wanted” Poster of Boris and Natasha, Taken from a 1962 Cereal Box
Vladimir Putin, Courtesy Wikipedia
Dr. Maathi with then Senator Obama in Nairobi in 2006, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons and Fredrick Onyango
Theodore Roosevelt, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons