25 June 2014

Mass surveillance, political dissent, and the coming open source revolution

Over the last two weeks, I've authored a series of investigative Guardian articles connecting up the increasing propensity of the national security system to criminalise political dissent with the growing recognition of environmental, economic and energy crises. My latest post follows up those somewhat disturbing stories with an immensely powerful and positive vision for 'open source everything', articulated by former senior CIA spy Robert David Steele, widely recognised in the international intelligence community as the pioneer of the practice of Open Source Intelligence. 

The first piece in this series focuses on the US. The story investigates how a little-known Pentagon-funded social science research programme partnering with universities up and down the United States (and around the world) is sponsoring academic research to track the danger of new threats in an age of uncertainty due to new risks. Most prominent in this programme is the tendency of the research to view all political dissent as a source of potential terrorism. Social science is being co-opted to develop innovate new research, analytical and data-mining tools that can be mobilised quickly in field operations to track peaceful activists, social movements, and NGOs. 

The second story extends this investigation to the UK, highlighting how Britain's major research councils have been co-opted by Ministry of Defence and related UK government officials, once again with a view to fund research which is demonstrably concerned with generating information that can be operationally useful for government defence priorities, as opposed to supporting the sort of sound, critical and independent scholarship so sorely needed in the social sciences (and particularly in social science research on government counter-terrorism policies). As with the US case, analysis of little-known official government planning documents demonstrates that the Ministry of Defence's thinking in response to the convergence of major global environmental, energy and economic crises is increasingly regressive. Lacking a holistic, systemic and causal approach to gauging the nature of these crises, the MoD ends up projecting anti-capitalist activists, black and ethnic minority groups, immigrants, Muslim minorities, and Muslim-majority populations abroad all as potential security threats to the integrity of the functioning of global capitalism.

The third story in this series is an extended interview with Robert Steele, former CIA case officer and co-founder of the US Marine Corps Intelligence Command, where he was civilian deputy director. Steele, the author of The Open Source Everything Manifesto (North Atlantic Books, 2012), offers his insights on what he believes are the preconditions for revolution in the US and UK (and much of the west), and the prospects for challenging state corruption and corporate domination of the global commons. Steele's vision is an exciting one, and demonstrates that the counter-movement of open source everything holds the real possibility of transforming the current order for the benefit of all. Most striking is his expert assessment that the pre-conditions for revolution in the west already exist - all we need, he says, is our 'Tunisian fruitseller'.

30 May 2014

Who the hell are the Henry Jackson Society?

When I tell people about the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), most of them give me a blank look. Henry who? And why should a whole society be erected around some dude called Henry?

When I explain to them that HJS is actually a little known but powerful right-wing British think-tank set up with the support of American neoconservatives, understanding begins to dawn. 

Except, just how much influence HJS wields in policymaking circles is an open question, the fact that it is extremely well-connected with the financial, business, political, security and energy industry elite in the US and UK speaks volumes about their agenda and objectives.

While touting their support for freedom, liberalism and democratisation as their core organisational remit, in practice they appear to be a neocon trojan horse for the very opposite: state-expansionism, state-militarisation, interventionism, rampant market deregulation and privatisation in the interests of Western investors, coupled with anti-Muslim hostility and white supremacism. 

What's particularly shocking is that their pursuit of the latter is not exactly something deeply hidden, but is - for the most part - easily verifiable from the public record, with a little digging. The kind of digging that sadly my media colleagues seem to have not considered to be very important.

Recently, I've put out three major pieces linked to the Henry Jackson Society's dubious 'freedom promotion' via The Guardian. I collect them all here for your reference as they form a coherent whole that demonstrates HJS' pivotal coordinating role within a wide Anglo-American web of neoconservative power which is increasingly attempting to steer the ideology and policy decisions of global leaders in the regressive and counterproductive direction that apparently suits a tiny minority, but not the rest of us. 

The first, 'What climate denial, oil addiction and xenophobia have in common: neocons', points out the connection between HJS and the American far-right nutty 'news' service known as 'Breitbart'. The second, 'Think tank behind Tory foreign policy promotes Arab world fossil fuel hegemony', focuses squarely on HJS, the neocon social networks it represents, and the narrow interests it caters for. The third, 'Inclusive capitalism is Trojan Horse to quell coming global revolt', drives a stake into the heart of HJS' claims to be seeking meaningful economic 'reforms' in the public interest, as opposed to token PR schemes to continue corporate profit-maximisation while manufacturing public consent. Many didn't know that HJS was a key coordinator of the 'Initiative for Inclusive Capitalism' which brought together global financial leaders from across the spectrum to voice recognition of the urgent need for change (notably without, however, offering meaningful mechanisms for actual change beyond flowery verbiage).

That is not to say that everyone associated with HJS necessarily understands or agrees with their narrow, regressive and xenophobic vision. Indeed, part of the problem here - one that those who have studied the rise of the neoconservative movement in the US are well aware of - is that there has been a concerted effort by this disparate network of movers and shakers to influence public policy in the direction of their favoured ideology. That neocon movement continues to be active in the Obama administration, despite its Democrat colours, precisely due to the success of this neocon endeavour over the last decades to consolidate access to key institutions and structures

This is why it is hugely important to understand that HJS and the interests it represents are so out of whack with not only what the vast majority of the public would agree with or desire, but even what most policymakers would want to see happening in the world.

ZERO POINT Official Trailer and Website Launched!

I'm excited to announce that the official trailer for my forthcoming science fiction thriller, ZERO POINT, is now up, along with the rather spiffing new website right here at zro.pt.

And I'm equally excited to let you know that ZERO POINT is now available for pre-order direct from my publisher, Curiosity Quills Press. Yes, you can order your paperback copy of ZERO POINT right now and make sure it's shipped to you before the official launch date of 14th August.

ZERO POINT is a somewhat different kind of novel to what you might normally read. It's inspired, thoroughly, by true events. Even the wackiest stuff that happens takes inspiration from little-known real world craziness. It offers a plausible scenario of near future political intrigue and social polarisation that aims to unearth, using the tools of speculative fiction, the risks and dangers of continuing business-as-usual on a finite planet. It's also, as I hope the trailer conveys, a lot of fun.

You can watch the trailer here:

If you enjoy it, share it!

23 May 2014

Zero Point

I'm excited to announce that my forthcoming novel ZERO POINT, a political science fiction thriller, is due out on 18th August 2014 from Curiosity Quills Press. Below is the spanking new cover. 

Looks cool, huh? ZERO POINT is inspired by true events - stuff that's actually happened, and stuff that plausibly could happen. Rounded off with stuff that's clearly blatantly insane. 

It's a serious reflection on how real-world crises could unravel our societies and radicalise politics. It's also action-packed, bloody, violent and fun. 

And it's got swearing.

Do I need to stick a parental guidance sticker on there or something?

Anyway, here's the story:

Mass riots
Economic meltdown
And a new oil war in Iraq to keep the world economy afloat
Fourth Iraq War veteran & war crimes whistle-blower, David Ariel, is sick of violence, and trying to make ends meet working for police specialist  protection. But after Prime Minister Carson is brutally assassinated by extremists on Ariel’s watch, he is covertly targeted by a compromised police investigation.
When forensics discover that Carson’s assassination inexplicably defied the very laws of physics, bodies drop like flies. Key witnesses are murdered in impossible circumstances.
Fleeing for his life while London is locked-down under martial law, Ariel gets a phone call from Iraq he will never forget: his estranged girlfriend, journalist Julia Stephenson, warns that the Carson killing is just the beginning of a wider plot to bring the west to its knees.
Then she disappears.
Ariel’s blood-soaked race against time to track the terror cells behind Carson’s death tumbles into the cross-fire of a hidden battle between mysterious rogue intelligence agencies. Their goal: to monopolise black budget technologies which could unlock the universe’s darkest, arcane secrets.
As the world he thought he knew unravels, Ariel faces off against bent coppers, double-crossing agents, psychic killers and super soldiers to complete a black ops mission like no other: 
Stop Quantum Apocalypse

If this sounds like your kind of thing, hook up with me on Goodreads, Facebook and/or Twitter to keep abreast of updates. I'll be posting cool stuff, and maybe even some spoilers if you're lucky, related to the book all the way up to launch :)

26 March 2014

The "Nasa collapse study" controversy: some thoughts

After my article on a new study of civilisational collapse part-funded by NASA went viral and global last week, the web has been afire with all sorts of controversy and debate, some useful, some not so.

Lessons learned?

Clearly, the mere mentioning of a "Nasa-funded study" of "civilisational collapse" in my headline was enough to spark massive interest, but also didn't help with the ensuing headlines off the back of my original piece, to the effect that the study - an independent research project - was assumed by many to be a NASA directed project.

As I pointed out here, the creation of the HANDY model designed to explore various scenarios of civilisational collapse, integral to the new study, was indeed pursued with NASA funding. This certainly added credibility to it in my eyes.

However, as a fellow environment journalist Stephen Leahy pointed out to me the other day on Twitter, although he agreed with the substance of my articles on this, he felt it was inaccurate to refer to the study simply as "NASA-sponsored" - he would've specified, "partly sponsored by NASA."

So while it seemed reasonable to me at the time to abbreviate this into "NASA-funded study", I recognise how not being specific on the nature of this funding allowed other outlets to conflate the story into reports about Nasa. I didn't exactly help by excitedly tweeting out all the headlines that ensued, many of which simply stated "Nasa says", or "Nasa study finds" blah blah - and a couple of times I got carried away and put out a few tweets to the same effect myself. I went back and deleted those one or two tweets I could find where I referred offhand to "Nasa study" in my own words. As of today, the original Guardian article has been amended to more clearly state the independent nature of the study and its relationship to Nasa.

Lessons I've learned. Be specific, be clear. Don't RT uncritically - just because RT's don't automatically equal endorsement, it can sure look like that to others. And don't get yourself carried away in the tidal wave of media self-replication.

Was the HANDY model newsworthy?

Of course the other issue is the credibility of the study, and of the HANDY model. I stand by the scholarly importance of the study (see my expert source cited below, a Stanford University sociologist) and in particular I stand by its news value, which some have questioned on the basis that the study is some form of 'junk science'.

In fact, a few people have been very, very unscrupulous in the way they've decided to attack me, as well as attack this article. There are lessons to be learned on a number of sides.

Keith Kloor's insertion into this, backed up by his erstwhile blogger Robert Wilson (an obscure research student of Mathematical Ecology who models Plankton), has been an enlightening experience. I've been attacked, smeared, defamed and muddied before online - so it's nothing new to me and not really a big deal. But when that sort of behaviour ends up being effectively endorsed or carried out by a journalist who writes for a reputable science publication, and someone doing scientific research at a university, it deserves highlighting and exposure.

Kloor and Wilson

Both Wilson and Kloor, together, seem to have an ideological aversion to reporting of, or discussion around, peak oil, which recognises that the plateauing of conventional oil production is in part responsible for escalating oil prices which will be increasingly debilitating for economic growth - certainly as long as we remain largely dependent on fossil fuels. Here, we find Wilson and Kloor responding in the following manner to my story based on the work of a former BP geologist, Richard Miller, who had just given an academic presentation at UCL on oil and gas supply forecasting, and had also co-edited a recently released special edition of the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the Royal Society B on oil and energy issues:

Rather than engaging with the actual arguments - arguments here which are not mine, but those of Dr. Richard Miller and contributors to one of the most prestigious journals in the world - Kloor and Wilson instead engage in some generic banter to misrepresent me as a 'doomer'. As if the mere mention of a break on economic growth due to looming energy challenges constitutes a forecast of doom (it doesn't - it's known as "risk analysis")
I cite this merely to indicate the kind of childish ad hominem attacks Kloor and Wilson routinely indulge in, often together.

Kloor then ran this piece highlighting my article on a Nature Communications study documenting declining rate of growth in crop yields in key food basket regions around the world. Once again rather than engaging with the issues raised in the paper, Kloor wrote:

Equating the thesis of my book and film with that of the Collapse movie illustrates disinterest in simple fact-checking. Even the link to my film that Kloor supplies explains further:

"The film reveals how a failure to understand the systemic context of these crises, linked to neoliberal ideology, has generated a tendency to deal not with their root structural causes, but only with their symptoms. This has led to the proliferation of war, terror, and state-terror, including encroachment on civil liberties, while accelerating global crises rather than solving them... 
The real solution, Nafeez argues, is to recognise the inevitability of civilizational change, and to work toward a fundamental systemic transformation based on more participatory forms of living, politically, economically and culturally."

Only someone functionally illiterate, plain dumb, or deliberately obtuse would interpret this as meaning that I predict unequivocal doom. And as these reviews indicate, my book, A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It, is ultimately optimistic in tone.

This essentially seems to sum up how Kloor often deals with issues or subjects - or people - that he disagrees with: character assassination, scorn, mockery etc., etc., but sadly, at least in my case, not much meaning argument, or counter-evidence.

Kloor and Wilson, however, hit a record when they apparently began collaborating on a response to my part-Nasa-funded civilisational collapse story.

Faux Modellers

In his critique of this story, Kloor sets the tone by painting me as a 'doomer', and a liar: 

"Since joining the Guardian’s blogging network in 2013, Ahmed has carved out what I would call the doomsday beat...  A good example, of course, is the collapse paper he disingenuously hyped as being 'NASA-sponsored.' (You’ll soon understand why that was deceptive.)" 

Of course, Kloor isn't actually in a position to know my motives, but goes ahead and asserts a deliberate deception on my part in "hyping" a Nasa link. Kloor then cites as his basis for further scepticism of the study itself, and of my alleged "conspiratorial leanings", the following:

"There were a couple of skeptical outliers, some folks who know about mathematical models and were incredulous after reading both the study and the Guardian story. One is Robert Wilson, a UK Mathematical Ecology PhD Student who wrote up his impressions at his personal blog. Another is the U.S. science journalist David Appell, who offered his thoughts on the study’s model and (like Wilson) also took note of Ahmed’s conspiracy theorist leanings."

The first notable problem here is that, although Kloor cites Wilson and Appell as if they are independent experts whose perspectives on the credibility of the study's model is relevant, this is untrue. Although both Wilson and Appell have academic experience of mathematical modelling, neither have any clue about modelling in the context of social phenomena - see Wilson's and Appell's resumes. As said before, Wilson models Plankton, and Appell worked as a physicist decades ago.

While obviously there are overlaps, social modelling is a different ballgame, and unless you've actually modelled sociological variables, you won't necessarily get it. Attempting to model social and physical systems together is a specialised discipline that requires inputs of expertise from both social and natural sciences. Someone who doesn't understand this should simply be ignored. Kloor doesn't - he apparently seeks them out purely because they back up his desire to lambast the HANDY model, regardless of whether they actually have the relevant academic knowhow to comment.

9/11.... wtf?

Wilson's first blogpost on the subject referenced by Kloor is a highly defamatory screed replete with misrepresentations and outright falsehoods.

Like Kloor, he opens with character assassination:

"I cannot claim to know how much the Guardian pay their in house apocalypse merchant Nafeez Ahmed, but I hope it is not much. Not really a regular journalist, Mr. Ahmed runs the Earth Insight blog 'hosted' (does 'hosted' mean the Guardian get the stuff for nothing?) by the Guardian. If your idea of journalism is someone waking up each morning and then doing a Google Scholar search and credulously reporting every piece of half-baked research that backs up that journalist’s prejudices then Mr. Ahmed is your guy."

No substance here except it's clear that Wilson, like Kloor, doesn't agree with my take on things. He continues by claiming that I'm a 9/11 conspiracy theorist:

"Mr. Ahmed spent a large part of the 2000s going around concocting conspiracy theories about September 11th [update: the link to Mr. Ahmed's crackpot conspiracy theories has been removed from his website in the day since I posted this (you don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to draw a conclusion). Fortunately you can still read it using the archive.is website here.], telling us that the US government was partly behind the whole thing. Back then he was doing the rounds of 9/11 truth conferences, today, sadly, the Guardian has been foolish enough to give him a platform."

The post Wilson links to is working now for anyone to peruse at their heart's desire. After I realised that Wilson was using it to discredit my work, I archived it temporarily as a sort of sociological experiment to test how Wilson and Kloor would react, and whether either of them would demonstrate any academic/journalistic integrity. As suspected, Wilson went bonkers with rather embarrassing results, and Kloor eagerly followed him down the rabbit hole. In almost every blogpost Wilson writes about me (many cited and tweeted by Kloor), he references the "conspiracy" of the missing "9/11 conspiracy" article in an exercise of triumphant disclosure. It would be funny, if it weren't so feeble.

I was hoping that before promoting Wilson's allegations, Kloor would at least follow his own advice re: 'fact checking' and 'journalism 101' - y'know, maybe drop me an email or a call to find out the state of play. He didn't do that. Instead, he preferred to drop conspiratorial insinuations about my deceptive nature (and clearly ignored the tweet on 17th March where I'd actually publicly acknowledged deleting the post precisely to annoy them):

So, let's just get this non-issue out the way.

As long-time readers of my work here will know, the idea that I'm a 9/11 conspiracy theorist is patently absurd - whether you agree or disagree with my arguments. As an international security scholar, my first book, The War on Freedom, raised fundamental questions about the role of US-UK foreign, defence, intelligence and other policies in facilitating the activities of Islamist terrorist groups in the decades leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and on the day itself in relation to the emergency response of the national security system. The book was mandatory reading for the 9/11 Commissioners, and was also used by the 9/11 Family Steering Committee to inform their lines of inquiry in demanding an independent investigation. My testimony in US Congress about my work related to my third book, The War on Truth, was filmed by C-Span and can be viewed here.

Wilson writes:

"anyone familiar with Mr. Ahmed’s approach will note that he likes to put high emphasis on credentials, in this case Nasa, as Christopher Hitchens delightfully mocked here.)"

Unfortunately, neither Wilson, nor Kloor who cites/tweets him so copiously, saw fit to do sufficient fact-checking to identify my rebuttal of Hitchens in the Independent on Sunday, which pretty much demolishes Hitchens while setting out my actual perspective on 9/11 quite clearly.

Along these lines, in a separate blog post where Wilson declares - "Fact checking however should never get in the way of a good story" - he claims:

"However trumping up credentials is something he is rather fond of. Just read the About section of his personal website. There he gives a rather lengthy resume. This includes a boast about how his work was discussed in Vanity Fair by Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens however was not exactly praising Mr. Ahmed, instead he was calling him a 'contemptible' man who concocts half-baked conspiracy theories.
Similarly he talks about how his conspiracy theorist utterings about terrorist bombings were 'used' by various investigations. By 'used' he means that he sent them a copy of his work, which anyone is free to do. Whether they used them for anything other than recycled paper is unclear."

Of course, readers of my blog will note that Hitchens' description of me is described right here on these pages on the right-hand side, six quotes down. Yes right over there. Can you see it? This website wears that quote rather proudly :) So much for fact-checking Mr Wilson (and Kloor).

The inadequacy or non-existence of Wilson's research skills are on display again when he suggests that the "use" of my work by various official investigations is a fraud. In yet another post, he describes for me this reason as an "intellectual charlatan" - that is even after someone called Gareth post in the comments the link (already on my bio) to the National Archives in DC which lists the 9/11 Commission 'Special Collection' - yes, a copy of my book is archived in DC as part of an official collection of 99 books that were "made available to members of the Commission to use during its activities." If Wilson is unclear how these 99 books were selected for 9/11 Commission investigators (no, they didn't read everything they were sent in the post by random members of the public from around the world), he should do a bit of journalism and fact-check it himself. Perhaps call up the National Archives in DC?


The main problem seems that Wilson's capacity for sociological or political analysis is rather thin. He appears incapable of recognising the distinction between asking questions on the basis of factual anomalies, and positing a theory. I've never posited a "theory" about 9/11, least of all a "conspiracy theory" - the most I've argued is that the US and the West's unsavoury geopolitical relationship with Islamists over the last three or more decades has functioned to impede intelligence agencies, and undermine national security, in quite fundamental ways that dramatically increase the risk of terrorism at home and abroad. I see no particular ideological reason why such questions shouldn't be asked, if available evidence calls for it - without, however, getting involved in spurious speculation (and indeed such questions were asked by the 9/11 Family Steering Committee in quite reasonable fashion).

Indeed, my views about the sorry state of the so-called 9/11 "truth" movement are well-known. I'm on record in a number of places pointing out that simple physical anomalies cannot be used to justify conclusions of a government conspiracy (for instance, see my observations in Channel 4's eye-opening documentary "Conspiracy - Who Really Runs the World" on the WTC collapses, about 25 min in). So I kind of end up pissing off basically everyone, 'troofers', 'anti-troofers', and a lot in between.

But this is the problem with people like Wilson and Kloor - their idea of "journalism 101" doesn't seem to involve engaging directly and fully with people's actual writing/arguments, or even speaking to them properly. If they disagree with it at face value, it must be wrong, and it must be ridiculed. Fact-checking goes out the window.

Lies and Ignorance

After smearing me - a smear which Kloor repeats with reference to my alleged "conspiracy leanings" - (which he also sources to David Appell, who however merely references Wilson's blog) Wilson proceeds to 'dissect' my article:

"There appears to be no evidence that the paper in question has been peer-reviewed. Mr. Ahmed claims it has been accepted for publication by Ecological Economics.  Yet, the paper is not on the Ecological Economics website, although it is in submission. This kind of thing should be unacceptable from a reputable newspaper like the Guardian."

Sadly, Wilson didn't bother actually speaking to the authors of the study, as I had, who had confirmed the paper's acceptance for publication and peer-review.

"... I do not model human civilization as my day job. Instead I model plankton. If you want to do a half adequate job of modelling plankton populations you will probably need more than eight equations. And I think humans are more complex than plankton, but some times I have doubts. 

A model with this few equations will always provide egregious predictions about 'industrial collapse'. Anyone who spends more than two minutes looking on Gapminder will recognise that inter-country differences are so vast that using eight equations to accurately model humanity is like replicating the Sistine Chapel using a crayon."

Here, Wilson's ignorance of the nature and purposes of social modelling is embarrassing - equally so for Kloor's uncritical dependence on Wilson as one of his sources of expert authority.

According to Dr. Deborah S. Rogers of Stanford University's Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, who is a leading expert in modelling inequality and social stratification:

"Models do not prove hypotheses, nor do they replicate reality. Rather, models are useful because they give us some insight into possible mechanisms and possible consequences. These new insights, then, feed into the iterative process of hypothesis-testing that underlies good science. 
There is no problem with models that are 'simplistic' – they are supposed to be. A model is an abstraction from – a simplification of – reality. The objective is to see if you can understand the essential mechanism(s) that drive the system, and what some possible consequences of this mechanism might be. If the model results give you valuable insights into certain real-world trends, then maybe you have managed to capture the essence of the mechanism. If not, then you probably haven't, and you will need to either revise your model or add components to it. 
There is no particular value to making a model complex...you add just enough complexity until you are convinced that you have captured the essence of the mechanisms you are trying to understand. Meanwhile, it is fully acknowledged that there are many other things also going on in reality, that are not captured by the model...
Likewise, a demography/resources model that predicts collapse given certain relationships between the population and their resource base does not need to include the complexities of political, economic and social adjustments made in response to the situation. It merely shows us the possible outcomes, and leaves it to the archaeologists, anthropologists, social scientists, political scientists, economists, and policy-makers to debate the actual and hypothetical responses to these possibilities, and how they altered (or will alter) the outcomes...
The HANDY model finds that unequal populations collapse, although they apparently attribute this to the lack of labor as the working class dies off. Again, without commenting on the adequacy of the specifics of the HANDY formulation, I find the simplicity of the model useful and the results plausible. 
If we want to criticize the HANDY model, and by the same token our Spread of Inequality model, let’s focus on the specific mechanisms that are postulated – not on the simplicity of the model, and not on the lack of exact parallels with past events."

This illustrates just how ridiculous and unscientific are the responses of not just Wilson, but also Kloor's apparently partisan effort to discredit the HANDY model. 

But Wilson doesn't stop there. He proceeds to misrepresent the paper as follows:

"Most problematic is that they only model renewable resources. Modern civilization is fundamentally dependent on the provision of non-renewable resources on a huge scale."

This characterisation of the paper is simply untrue. Either Wilson hasn't read the paper properly, or wilfully misinterprets it to make his point. The paper says (p. 7):

"In reality, natural resources exist in three forms: nonrenewable stocks (fossil fuels, mineral deposits, etc), regenerating stocks (forests, soils, animal herds, wild fish stocks, game animals, aquifers, etc), and renewable ows (wind, solar radiation, precipitation, rivers, etc). Future generations of the model will disaggregate these forms. We have adopted a single formulation intended to represent an amalgamation of the three forms, allowing for a clear understanding of the role that natural resources play in collapse or sustainability of human societies."

He then ignores the study's reservations about technology in the context of carrying capacity:

"It also assumes that there is a fixed carrying capacity for populations. Carrying capacity itself is a deeply problematic concept. Think about Britain prior to the Industrial Revolution. If Britain had attempted to power the Industrial Revolution with wood it would have rapidly run out of trees. As Tony Wrigley argued in his fine book on the subject the transition to coal allowed Britain to escape the limits of a purely organic society. This makes it clear that this model, in its current form, offers limited insights into whether civilization will persist over the twenty first century."

But the study itself takes note of the pace of technological progress against the pace of resource consumption, with respect to a concept of carrying capacity rooted precisely in our contemporary understanding of the earth's available renewable, nonrenewable and renewable stocks. The transition from wood to coal happening in the past, is no guarantee that a similar transition will necessarily occur in the future. It might do, but that all depends on the natural resources actually available, a factor the model at least attempts to account for - a matter Wilson simply overlooks.

Kloor attempts to dignify Wilson's feeble posts with the following recommendation (among many others):

Following this post, Wilson managed to generate upward of five further blog posts on the grand old topic of little ol' me (within a space of about 24 hours I imagine... scary). His last post is a slightly deranged discovery of how I have been surreptitiously deleting tweets "to cover" my "tracks." He didn't bother asking me about it - if he had, he would've learned that deleting one's tweets can actually be a way of acknowledging and correcting inaccuracies once recognised (which once again, I've acknowledged openly on Twitter).

I can't claim to fully understand their motives - one can only guess. But it appears that Wilson and Kloor are focused not on doing good journalism/scholarship to explore a controversial issue, but on muddying journalism/scholarship to score points on ideological and personal grounds. As my writing ranges over major global challenges, crises and risks which they find unpalatable for whatever reason, their approach appears to be one of simply defaming and slandering - to the point of conspiratorially turning every triviality into hard evidence of disingenuous deception. That much, it seems, has now been proven.

Yet both pontificate like authorities on the standards of journalism and academic research. Unfortunately, they seem to have little regard for either in practice.

24 December 2013

The Triple Crunch - Facing Our Climate, Food, and Energy Challenges

The idea of a 'triple crisis' or 'perfect storm' of environmental, energy and economic problems which could pose a serious risk to the stability of our civilization as we know it is nothing new. Last year, the IMF chief warned that without a more "sustainable" approach to growth, the world risked a convergence of environmental damage, declining incomes and social unrest. 

That sort of warning is in fact derived from some of the best interdisciplinary science. In 2009, the UK government's then chief scientific adviser Professor John Beddington declared based on cutting-edge research by the Government Office for Science by 2030 (that's 16 years away), the world would face a "perfect storm" of food shortages, water scarcity, and insufficient energy in the context of a business-as-usual scenario.

Followers of my work know that since my work on the Crisis of Civilization, I've been tracking these issues very closely. Over the last week or so, I've put out three major stories in the Guardian on climate change, the global food crisis, and our looming energy challenges. Each of these stories in themselves points to significant challenges in the year's ahead under a business-as-usual scenario. But together, they underscore the little-acknowledged systemic synergies between climate, food, energy - and of course economic - crises, and their mutual propensity to generate social and political instability. And of course, they raise fundamental questions about the sustainability of our current trajectory, and the urgent need to begin implementing meaningful alternatives towards new forms of post-carbon prosperity. 

The first story covers a major new set of studies published in a special feature of the authoritative journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which together show that a range of climate change impacts - droughts, famine, epidemics - are likely to overlap in ways that may have been previously underestimated; at worst (though least probable), they could potentially escalate to a planetary scale.

The second story covers another peer-reviewed study published by the multidisciplinary journal, Nature Communications, which raises hard questions about the capacity of industrial agriculture in its current form to continue to raise yields. In recent years, the study shows, the rate of growth of yields for major food crops has plummeted dramatically and in some cases it seems likely that maximum yield plateaus have already been reached. 

The third story is a major exclusive. I interviewed a former British Petroleum (BP) geologist, Dr. Richard Miller, who was responsible for producing internal oil supply forecasts for the corporation. Miller believes that for all intents and purposes, peak oil has already arrived and is likely to exacerbate the probability of ongoing recession and resource wars. He most recently articulated this perspective at a lecture at University College London as part of a postgraduate course on Natural Hazards for Insurers, as well as in a co-edited special edition of the Royal Society journal - Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A - focused on the future of oil. This development represents one of the most compelling and authoritative verdicts so far on the reality of a peak of conventional oil production and a future of high oil prices with debilitating economic and geopolitical consequences, unless appropriate mitigating measures are pursued.

This sort of reporting and analysis I'm doing at the Guardian is certainly upsetting certain apple carts. One self-styled "journalist" who really appears to be more of a closet climate-denying troll who voluntarily shills for the GM industry by misrepresenting science, pinpointed the above piece on food as a core example of unscientific "Doomer" narratives in a screed at his blog here:

"Once someone starts down this civilization-is-collapsing road, like Guardian blogger Nafeez Ahmed, it’s hard to stop.  If you want a tour guide to the apocalypse, Ahmed is your guy." 

He quickly followed up by surfacing on Twitter and repeatedly characterising me as a "Doomer" - albeit, without any actual substantiation or argument as to why anything I've written is actually wrong. 

Under Kloor's highly flexible definition of "Doomers", it would seem the US National Academy of Sciences, Nature, and the Royal Society, are in fact arch-peddlers of "eco-doomery" - an accusation he touts in the name of defending science.

It would actually be funny if it wasn't so pathetic. 

The reality is that these three pieces I've put out this December underscore the fact that cutting edge science demonstrates the unsustainability of our current business-as-usual trajectory, and highlights that without a transition to more viable alternatives, we are in for a rough ride involving more of what we've already seen in the last few years - escalating social unrest, state-failure, economic crisis, extreme weather, geopolitical tension and conflict. We can expect food and energy prices to continue to rise and contribute to social volatility as well as intensifying inequality - and as Beddington and others have warned, we can expect that at some point, a worst case scenario would involve us facing a systemic convergence of crises that undermines the capacity of our social institutions to deliver critical functions.

There's no need for things to get to that point - and there's lots of great things happening which are already playing a mitigating role: the rise of renewable energy systems, new and exciting food production practices, innovative economic models, and so on. But much more needs to happen... And we're certainly not going to solve our global challenges by laughing scornfully at the science that is warning us to change course, now.

EXCLUSIVE: Former govt adviser believes warnings of extremist attacks were ignored (Independent on Sunday)

Following from my exclusive investigative report for Le Monde diplomatique, one of my sources was willing to speak on the record. I and journalist Chris Stevenson put together the following investigative exclusive for the Independent on Sunday:

A former government adviser has hit out at the security agencies and the way they assessed potential extremist threats on British soil in the months and years before the killing of Lee Rigby.

Days after the conviction of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale for the murder of the Fusilier Lee Rigby, Jahan Mahmood, a former adviser to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office, has decided to speak out over warnings of potential extremist attacks on British soldiers in the UK that he believes went unheeded.

Mr Mahmood, a historian and former lecturer at the University of Birmingham, specialising in the martial traditions of Afghan and Pakistani diaspora communities, had contact with the OSCT between 2009 and 2010 on a volunteer basis. He remembered one particular meeting on 27 January 2010 at a mosque in Birmingham, which involved five young Muslim men as well as the director of the OSCT, Charles Farr, and what Mr Mahmood called "another OSCT civil servant".

See more here.

13 December 2013

EXCLUSIVE: UK Govt warned of Woolwich-style attack 3 years ago - Whitehall insiders reveal Quilliam Foundation's secret relationship with official "fundamentally flawed" counter terrorism strategy

I've been working on the below investigative story for more than a few years, gathering bits and pieces of evidence as I go along. A couple of months ago, a lot of things came together. It went up last week. It's an important and highly revealing piece - please do share widely.

Published by Le Monde diplomatique (9.12.13)

Government advisers, counter-extremism officials, and (current and former) civil servants confirm that the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy is failing to tackle the danger of violent extremism; rather, it is exacerbating the threat of domestic terrorism. These officials attribute the failure to a “fundamentally flawed” approach to counter-terrorism strategy inspired by a UK anti-extremism think tank, the Quilliam Foundation.

An adviser to Charles Farr, director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office, said that Farr was warned three years ago of the possibility of an attack in the UK, similar to the killing of soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich, southeast London, that later took place on 22 May 2013.

The OSCT adviser, an independent counter-radicalisation expert who has worked with many government agencies, wrote on 31st May 2013 to General Sir David Richards — then chief of the defence staff and the most senior military adviser to the defence secretary and prime minister. In his letter he describes a meeting in Birmingham on 27th January 2010 he organised between Farr, other OSCT officials and five young Muslims who were “amongst those most at risk of radicalisation.” The letter describes how Farr asked the young men about their “feelings and aspirations”: “One of the young men responded by saying he was angered by the death of women and children in Afghanistan and if given half a chance he would go abroad to fight British soldiers in Afghanistan. Another member of the group intervened and said, why do you want to go abroad when you can kill them here.”

9 December 2013

Greetings earthlings

So I haven't updated this blog in a long while - apologies for that. Much of the reason is to do with having two little girls and a 7 month old baby to deal with! 

Have been working on lots of interesting stuff and have a few announcements to make in due course, but for now am dropping bye to say hi and promise I'm going to be back updating this blog more regularly. 

While I've been neglecting this website, I've been beavering away primarily at the Guardian on a range of important environment stories. From the Arctic methane time-bomb debate, to accumulating evidence that climate change is happening faster and more intensely than conventional models project; from the problems with Tory and Labour energy proposals, to the World Health Organisation's cover-up of Iraq's environmental health nightmare due to depleted uranium; from Russell Brand's notorious BBC Newsnight interview on the death of mainstream politics, to the imminence of peak oil; from corporate espionage against activists, charities and NGOs, to today's big story on the US Navy's prediction that the Arctic summer sea ice could collapse by 2016. 

If any of these sound up your street, you can check out these stories via my Guardian blog, Earth Insight.