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We live in an age of increasing scarcity that was foretold in Bible prophecy. As nations face the loss of vital resources, what will happen to our world?
Jesus foretold that His Second Coming, and the end of this age, would be preceded by increasing reports of ethnic strife, international conflict and war. He said that "you will hear of wars and rumors of wars… for nation [ethnos—"people" or "tribe"] will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom… these are the beginning of sorrows" (Matthew 24:3–8). Although ethnic strife and conflict among nations has raged throughout history, we have clearly entered a new and more ominous phase of the drama of human civilization.
Today, as the world's population approaches 6.5 billion, the natural resources required to sustain human life and culture—fresh water, food supplies and energy sources—are being stretched to the limit. As we reach and exceed the environmental limits on the earth's exploitable resources, nations of the world are being drawn into an increasingly serious geopolitical game that is playing out on a global scale for high stakes—world dominance and national survival! This global race for the earth's remaining resources is fueling a growing number of conflicts around the world. Scientists, geopolitical analysts and world leaders realize that this dangerous and potentially deadly game will intensify in the years ahead!
Few today realize that these sobering developments were predicted in the Bible. Long ago, God inspired His prophets to describe the very conditions that are making headlines today—to demonstrate that God alone is able to predict the future and bring it to pass. The prophet Isaiah recorded: "For I am God, and there is no other… declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done" (Isaiah 46:9–10). You need to understand how coming conflicts over dwindling resources will affect your future.
A 2003 report by the Worldwatch Institute calculated that "roughly one quarter of the 50 recent wars and armed conflicts have involved a struggle for control of natural resources" (Vital Signs 2003). These conflicts include access to oil in Iraq, Nigeria and Colombia, routes for oil and gas pipelines in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Chechnya and Georgia, control of lucrative African diamond mines in Sierra Leone and Angola (and gold in Rwanda), and profits from timber and precious gems in Cambodia. Local and regional conflicts over the control of natural resources are often described in the media as "civil wars"—but in reality, are hugely profitable operations run by warlords to arm their followers and line their own pockets. These resource wars, waged for greed rather than need, have brought human tragedy—"more than 5 million people killed during the 1990's, as many as 20 million driven from their homes" (The Anatomy of Resource Wars, Worldwatch Paper 162, 2002).
In the years just ahead, wars over resources will enter a more ominous phase. Former National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, notes that with the world's energy demands soaring, the race for resources will "rekindle historical claims, revive imperial aspirations and fuel international rivalries"—especially in the resource-rich, yet highly unstable areas of the Persian Gulf and around the Caspian Sea (The Grand Chessboard, p. 125).
Harvard's Samuel Huntington offers a similar assessment: "The Gulf War  was the first post-Cold War resource war between civilizations. At stake was whether the bulk of the world's largest oil reserves would be controlled by Saudi and emirate governments dependent on Western military power for their security or by independent anti-Western regimes which would be able and willing to use the oil weapon against the west" (The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, pp. 251–252). Huntington outlines several scenarios involving conflicts over energy resources that could lead the world's military powers into a global war. The race for resources will grow more acute as the world's population expands, and the risks of conflict will increase in several vital areas that will affect your life!
At first glance, the world appears to have plenty of water—since water covers nearly 70 percent of the earth's surface. However, less than 3 percent is fresh water, and most of this is locked up in glaciers or permanent snow packs, or is buried underground in deposits too deep to reach—which means that less than 1 percent of the earth's water is available for the essential human needs of drinking, cooking and growing crops. Sadly, much of the fresh water today is either polluted or not located where it is needed. South America has 26 percent of the world's fresh water yet only 6 percent of the world's population, while Asia has 60 percent of the world's people yet only 36 percent of the world's fresh water.
Expanding populations are placing unsustainable demands on existing water supplies. In the last 75 years, the world's population has increased by 300 percent while the use of water has increased by 600 percent (see New Scientist, November 7, 2001). Today, more than 500 million people live in 31 countries that lack adequate water supplies, and more than 1 billion people have no access to safe drinking water—which is a major factor in the spread of disease. In many countries, ground water in aquifers is being pumped at rates that could within the next several decades deplete these valuable stores of water, on which 2 billion people depend. By 2025, nearly 5 billion people will find it difficult or impossible to meet their fresh water needs. Add to this rising temperatures and record-breaking droughts around the world induced by climate changes, and we begin to see the immensity of the water-related crisis looming over our modern world.
The World Water Development Report produced by the United Nations states that the world "is facing a serious water crisis. All the signs suggest that it is growing worse and will continue to do so… the future for many parts of the world looks bleak." Koichiro Matsuura, director-general of UNESCO, the United Nations agency responsible for water, has stated: "Of all the social and natural crises we face, the water crisis is the one that lies at the heart of our survival and that of our planet. No region will be spared from the impact of this crisis" (The Times, July 31, 2003). United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned that "fierce national competition over water resources has prompted fears that water issues contain the seeds of violent conflict."
A major factor contributing to conflicts over water is that 40 percent of the world's population lives in 263 river basins where the water must be shared between two or more countries. When one country takes more than its share, depriving other countries of necessary water, disputes arise. Plans by India to divert water from major rivers for irrigation will threaten the survival of 100,000 people downstream in Bangladesh. In America's arid southwest, so much water is drawn from the Colorado River that by the time it reaches Mexico it is nearly dry—which has generated friction between the United States and Mexico. In the volatile Middle East, Turkey has built giant dams over the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that also supply Syria and Iraq with much needed water. Since 1950 there have been more than 500 disputes between countries over water "of which 37 involved violence and 21 involved military action" (The Times, July 31, 2003). One consultant observed that "with national survival at stake, such conflicts could end up in full scale war" (ibid.).
Considering the magnitude of this looming global water crisis, it is remarkable how few realize that the Bible has long warned of this very situation. More than 2,000 years ago, the prophet Joel foretold that the end of this age would be marked by a devastating drought on a scale unprecedented in all of history: "Has anything like this happened in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?… the day of the Lord is at hand… the field is wasted, the land mourns, the grain is ruined… the animals groan… the water brooks are dried up" (Joel 1:1–20). God also warned his chosen people that if they rejected His instructions and disobeyed His laws, "I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze… the Lord will change the rain of your land to powder and dust… until you are destroyed" (Leviticus 26:14–20; Deuteronomy 28:15, 23–24). The Bible explains why we are seeing record-breaking temperatures and droughts in America, Canada, Australia, South Africa and northwest Europe.
The prophet Isaiah reveals that this end-time water crisis will affect the entire world. "The earth mourns and fades away [dries up and withers]… the earth is also defiled [polluted] under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse has devoured the earth" (Isaiah 24:4–6). Human beings are beginning to reap the results of greedy, shortsighted actions that have disrupted the ecological balance of the planet. We are heading toward a global disaster, because we have wastefully exploited one of the fundamental elements necessary to sustain life on this planet—limited supplies of fresh water. As supplies of fresh water dwindle, conflicts over this precious resource will increase and erupt into violence.
The global water crisis has another disturbing dimension. Worsening water shortages are beginning to undermine food production around the world. A recent report states: "For several decades, the increase in food production has out-paced population growth. Now much of the world is simply running out of water for more food production" (Water: More Nutrition Per Drop, 2004). In four out of the last five years, world grain consumption has been greater—by hundreds of tons—than the amount of grain produced. This has depleted reserves and reduced the world supply of grain to the lowest level in 30 years. Much of the decrease in grain production is due to the depletion of ground water used for irrigation and rising temperatures associated with global warming—which limits how much farmers can grow. This downturn in production is occurring as the demand for food grains continues to soar, driven by expanding populations and rising affluence in heavily populated countries.
China offers a prime example of the food-related problems looming on the horizon. Between 1950 and 1998, China increased wheat production from 90 million tons to 392 million tons. However, in four of the last five years, the wheat harvest in China has fallen short of consumption levels by more than 70 million tons—a drop that exceeds the entire grain harvest of Canada! Wells are running dry in many grain-growing areas of China because of the over-extraction of ground water. Rising temperatures are withering crops, and deserts are spreading into once-irrigated cropland, reducing grain production. The Chinese have covered this shortfall by using up their once-massive reserves. They are now beginning to import large amounts of grain to feed their growing and increasingly affluent population, which is driving up grain prices and raising food prices around the world. This will be especially hard on the poor in developing countries who live on less than a dollar a day and spend up to 70 percent of their income on food: they will slowly starve!
The soaring demand for food grains is coming at a time when world food production is slowing down because of a lack of water for irrigation and rising global temperatures. World fisheries are also collapsing due to over-fishing. All this points to a coming period of food scarcity and intensifying competition for dwindling food supplies. While many today see terrorism as a major threat to security, Lester Brown, head of the Earth Policy Institute, believes that "for much of humanity, the effect of water shortages and rising temperatures on food security are far more important issues" (Outgrowing the Earth, 2005). He has also noted that rising food prices [and rising prices for water] could be "life-threatening" to the poor of the world and "could create economic and political stresses on an unprecedented scale… people who are unable to buy enough food to keep their families alive would hold their governments responsible. They would likely take to the streets, creating unprecedented political instability in the Third World cities… The world is moving into uncharted territory on the food front, facing a set of problems on a scale that dwarfs those of the past" (State of the World 1998, p. 17).
This troubling world food situation was also foretold long ago in biblical prophecies. Jesus Christ predicted that widespread "famines" and "pestilences" [epidemic diseases] would be a sign that His Second Coming was near (Matthew 24:7; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:11). The Apostle John used one of the fabled Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to symbolize scarcity and widespread food shortages that would mark the end of this age (Revelation 6:5–6). God also warned His chosen people that if they disobeyed their Creator, their food supply would be disrupted and consumed by their enemies—"you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it… When I have cut off your supply of bread… you shall eat and not be satisfied" (Leviticus 26:16, 26; see also Deuteronomy 28:30–33; 50–52). This is beginning to happen today!
A third vital resource, generating fierce global competition and violent conflict, is oil. Oil is the lifeblood of our modern industrialized world. It fuels more than 90 percent of the cars, buses, trucks, trains and airplanes that move on this planet. It heats our homes and businesses. It is used to generate electricity, drive factories, and to make plastics, paint, fertilizer, insecticides and dozens of other products. Modern military forces run on oil. Any event that disrupts the flow of oil to industrialized nations will have immediate and catastrophic consequences. Without oil, our industrialized world would grind to a halt. Because our world is so dependent on oil, professor Michael Klare concludes that "petroleum is unique among the world's resources… it has more potential than any of the others to provoke major crises and conflicts in the years ahead" (Blood and Oil, Klare, p. xi). This becomes obvious when we notice ominous trends that are building in the world today.
For many years, America was blessed with adequate deposits of oil. Before World War II, America was the world's leading producer of oil. America's self-sufficiency in oil powered its economic growth and its increasing military dominance. During the Second World War, "American wells supplied six out of every seven barrels of oil the allied powers consumed over the course of the war" (Klare, p. 10). However, domestic production began to decline in the 1970s, and America is now importing more than 50 percent of its oil from foreign nations.
The world's largest known oil deposits today—containing more than 60 percent of the world's oil—are located in just five nations around the Persian Gulf: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Other large deposits of oil and gas exist in the land-locked central Asian nations around the Caspian Sea. Pipelines are required to deliver Caspian oil and gas to world markets. The location of pipelines—"umbilical cords" of the industrialized world—means millions of dollars in profits for those operating pipelines. One of the reasons American troops are in Afghanistan is that oil companies want to build a pipeline through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. Russian troops are fighting in Chechnya to maintain control of oil refineries and existing pipelines that carry Caspian oil to ports on the Black Sea. One reason American troops are in Iraq is that Iraq sits on large amounts of oil that America needs. An American-led coalition drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait to ensure an uninterrupted supply of Middle East oil to the west. Americans have established military bases around the Persian Gulf to protect the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz—the "Achilles heel" of the global economy—where one-fifth of the world's oil passes through every day. America, Russia and China are basing troops and conducting maneuvers in central Asian nations bordering the Caspian Sea to gain access to the extensive oil and gas deposits in that region.
The prophet Joel foretold that just before the return of Jesus Christ, there would be a period of great scarcity. Just as oil—olive oil—was vital to the economy of ancient Israel, so today is oil—petroleum—vital to our modern economy. Just as ancient Israel experienced a time of grave scarcity—a time when "the oil fails" (Joel 1:10), so too will our modern nations experience a fulfillment of this dual prophecy. The prophet Hosea warned that the Israelite nations would depart from the Lord and forget that God gave them their resources (Hosea 1:2; 2:8). They would become dependent on foreign nations that would eventually forsake them and turn against them (Hosea 2:5-6; Jeremiah 4:30; 30:14). Moses warned that if the Israelites disobeyed God, a foreign power would devour their resources and "they shall not leave you grain, or new wine or oil" (Deuteronomy 28:50–51). God warns that because of Israelite disobedience, He will break the pride of their power, and that "those that hate you shall reign over you" with the result that "your highways shall be desolate" and "you shall have no power to stand before your enemies" (Leviticus 26:16–19, 22, 37). Because America and Britain and other Israelite nations have become so dependent on imports of foreign oil, our highways will become desolate and our ability to conduct military operations around the world will be severely impaired if oil exporters drastically raise prices, or reduce or cut off the flow of oil.
Bible prophecy outlines an end-time scenario that is actually developing today! The prophet Daniel reveals that at the "time of the end" the king of the south [a Muslim federation] will attack (Hebrew nagah—"thrust or push against") the king of the North [a European power]. This king of the north will launch a counter-attack and will overrun many countries to the south. "He [the king of the north] shall have power over the treasures of gold and silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; also the Libyans and Ethiopians shall follow at his heels" (Daniel 11:40–43). The precious things of Egypt and Libya include significant deposits of oil and natural gas.
Bible prophecies clearly indicate that deadly conflicts over vital resources will become a significant factor in international relations as the end of the age approaches. Conflicts over oil can erupt in the volatile and highly unstable oil zones of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, or in the South China Sea. Conflicts over water or food can erupt wherever scarcities arise. These events will affect your life in the years just ahead. The Bible reveals that only the divine intervention of Jesus Christ will put an end to the escalating wars over dwindling resources (Matthew 24:21–22). Will you be ready for that soon-coming event?