20 March 2017

The Great Unravelling



This month I was cited in two interesting mainstream pieces that I'd like to highlight. 

A major feature article which ran in The Independent on Sunday cited my work on US covert operations fostering sectarian divisions in the Middle East. That piece by Youssef El-Gingihy is well worth reading simply for its compelling analysis of the interlocking geopolitical factors pushing the world to the brink of another major conventional war. The mention of my work makes up only a small element of the piece, which offers a valuable analysis of the mounting risks in this new age of uncertainty.

The New York-based Jewish magazine Forward ran a lengthy piece examining my story forecasting a potential scenario of a major financial crash in or shortly after 2018 (the one that was picked up by the New York Observer). The article is authored by Andrew Eil, a  coordinator of climate assistance programs for the US Department of State from 2010 to 2014. He now runs his own consultancy and his clients include the World Bank, the UN Environment Programme, Bloomberg LLP, among others. 

The piece is worth reading for the profound insight it provides into the way some sectors of the establishment tend to view the prospect of a global convergence of systemic crises. Eil's basic argument is that, it doesn't matter if the entire world experiences a series of cascading synchronous failures because of a major convergence of oil, food and financial crises driven by fundamental systemic and structural processes. It doesn't matter because Israel, he thinks, will be largely insulated from the worst impacts of these crises, and therefore will potentially even benefit from the resulting chaos. 

While the Middle East and other parts of the world become weaker, Eil suggests that if my worst-case scenario indeed transpires (and I hasten to add that it is only one potential scenario - there are others, and here's another I've outlined), Israel will be left standing. Eil points out some compelling facts that highlight how Israel could be relatively insulated from the worst impacts of a global crisis scenario. Unfortunately, his argument also highlights the sort of myopic, frankly, self-serving elitist thinking very much associated with the very paradigm that has made the global system so vulnerable to crisis:


"On the security front, plunging oil revenues in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries could be destabilizing, as could bread riots in Egypt or climate refugee crises in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere. Proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran are inflaming the entire Middle East. But these crises are already here, and it’s hard to argue Israel hasn’t held up extraordinarily well since 2011 through the series of political, social, and military conflagrations in its back yard. What’s a bit more social unrest? 
Call me a glib Pollyanna, but here’s the truth: Israel stands to make out just fine regardless of what oil, food, and financial markets have in store for the next few years. The rest of the world, however, not so much."
Eil's closing remarks are not merely glib. They amount to a form of callous gloating that reads as straightforward 'hand rubbing' at the potential opportunities opened up by the weakening of the West and derailing of the Middle East. It's the sort of 'business as usual' delusion that fails entirely to recognise what is at stake. Which is why Eil is blind to the local systemic issues that Israel is facing (on food for instance). Of course, the biggest elephant in the room that Eil can't see is the Palestinian question, Israel's demographic crisis, and the potential consequences of Palestine's vulnerability to global crisis convergence. 

What we can take of value from this article, though, is what happens when you view global crisis impacts through the narrow lens of existing structures of neoliberal power - and fail to understand the inherently unpredictable and chaotic dynamics of systems when they are in crisis. The only way to prepare for that isn't walling oneself or one's country beneath the ideological bunker of an unswerving belief in one's ability to ride out crisis - but to see the necessity to conduct a deeper engagement with the potential for systemic crisis to generate multiple scenarios.

On that note, I've had two important pieces out this month. 

In VICE, I did a story on a new scientific analysis of global trillion dollar fossil fuel subsidies. The piece highlights not only that for the last few decades, we've been spending way more on fossil fuels than we previously thought - but that fossil fuels are increasingly a giant lag on global economic productivity.

In Middle East Eye, I did a major piece on the ongoing campaign in Mosul against ISIS. The latter is a particularly important piece because it showcases the sort of investigative methodology we are developing at INSURGE intelligence: combining traditional investigative reporting based on sources, with transdisciplinary science and geopolitical analysis. 

My story unpacks the conventional story of the crisis in Mosul, and leads into a wider examination of how the ongoing war will most likely destabilise Iraq in coming years. I apply two conceptual tools developed via my new book, Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence (Springer, 2017), Human System Destabilization and Earth System Disruption. 

In Mosul, and across the Middle East, we are seeing how biophysical crises are undermining human systems, driving radicalisation processes culminating in intensifying but futile cycles of violent conflict, which in turn weaken the capacity of our human systems to respond to escalating Earth System Disruption. This is the great unravelling of the old, industrial paradigm in motion. What takes its place in the long run is, ultimately, up to us.

20 January 2017

Seeing into and beyond our Trumpian moment



So I've got a lot of journalism covering our Trumpian moment from multiple angles. This body of work isn't the type of stuff you're going to find anywhere elsewhere in the MSM or even the alternative press - it's in-depth, it's interdisciplinary, and it'll demand you to take a breather from the crazy video clips, to reflect, to think things through. But if you work through this material, I promise you, you will come away with a richer, deeper understanding of how the Trumpian moment has arisen; you'll have resources to formulate what you can/must do to act in response to this present moment.

Yesterday, I put out a piece for VICE anticipating the Great Orange Face's 'America First Energy Plan', and bringing together a body of cutting edge science on why Trump's fossil fuel madness is doomed to kill the economy. It simply won't work. It will backfire. And it will backfire economically before it even has time to backfire planetarily. You'll be hearing a lot of outrage, rightly so, about the cleansing of the White House website of climate information, and the promotion of this madcap anti-science scheme to burn our planet to hell. You'll hear less about the science of global net energy decline, which proves decisively that this scheme can simply never work.

I did a major feature for openDemocracy today on the big complex systems picture of how we got to this point, and what the rise of Trump really means. This issue breaks across left-right political paradigms, and builds on my own recent journalistic, academic and scientific work looking at the risk of states failing in the context of deeper, systemic crises (like an earlier story I did for VICE interviewing a renowned futurist who foresaw the collapse of the USSR, and offers a similar prediction for the US under Trump). And guess what. Under Trump, America is well on the road to becoming a failing state on a business-as-usual trajectory. But it's not all doom and gloom. The Trumpian moment is, equally, an unprecedented opportunity - and the time to mobilise to create the new world that can arise after Trump is right now.

And then I wrote this via Insurge intelligence in solidarity with the arising people's movement in the form of the worldwide women's marches, tying together how the Trumpian moment represents at once the culmination of a global structural war on women, which is simultaneously a war on the planet. There is a deep, fundamental but little-understood connection between white supremacist patriarchy and misogyny, and the interlinked environment-economic crisis. This piece is perhaps the most important - because it highlights the real symbolic meaning of the women's marches: a planetary declaration of intent to #buildbridgesnotwalls. And it is, indeed, up to us to make the decision in our own lives as to how we intend not to just march with our brothers and sisters across illusory ethnic, national, gender, class divides, but to act on this declaration in our own lives by creating a change in our way of doing and being, living and working that tangibly builds the bridges that break through the walls.

And finally, through some strange serendipity, look at what's just happened today. The New York Observer has just run my massive #longread viral science investigation warning of the probability of a converging oil, food and financial crash in or shortly after 2018. I originally released this story through my crowdfunded platform Insurge intelligence hosted at Medium, where it went viral, hit the top 20 stories on Medium for several days (at one point hitting number one), and giving me 'Top Writer' status on 'energy' and 'climate change' there. That story, anticipating potential scenarios for business-as-usual (which Trump plans to radicalise, consolidate and accelerate), was picked up the liberal anti-Trump AlterNet. That it's also been picked up by the NY Observer too - which is owned by Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law (which is why the magazine actually endorsed Trump's candidacy) is at first glance bizarre, but on further thought, sort of interesting.

Something about this quite radical story has hit a nerve on both sides of the fence. And somehow, this has culminated in a publication linked to the Great Orange Face of the Crisis of Civilisation picking it up and running with it on the very day of the Face's inauguration. Even while a site like Alternet which opposes Trump runs the same thing. This is a WTF moment that speaks to the hidden but very real possibilities of the present.

It is amidst moments of acute crisis that we uncover the potential for truly radical transformation and mobilisation, that we reach deep into what the human spirit is capable of doing. We're in that moment now.

You're in that moment. Watch as unprecedented bonds of solidarity across a fraught and divided landscape become possible. They were always possible - but it took staring into the Great Orange Face to realise just how possible, if not necessary. Remember that as the Face of the Crisis stomps over what we know and love. Remember that and reach across the divide in solidarity with and support for what you know and love.

I hope my recent work can help you develop an anchor in this time of great uncertainty and fear, by which to reach for a new world of possibility as we walk together into the inevitable post-carbon future. Now let's stand together and #buildbridgesnotwalls

5 January 2017

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Failing States, Collapsing Systems - BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence




My new book which has just been published by the global science publisher, Springer, is called Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence (2017). 

Published as part of the SpringerBriefs in Energy series, the book is a peer-reviewed scientific monograph on how state failures around the world are being driven by systemic crises driven by interconnected climate, energy, food and economic crises. The series editor is Prof Charles Hall, the founder of the concept of Energy Return on Investment (EROI) which measures the efficiency of an energy system by calculating the quantity of energy used to extract new energy from a particular resource.

The book establishes a social science grounded complex systems framework of the key factors behind the acceleration of civil unrest across the world, and its major strategic and societal implications. 

The Springer website describes it as follows: "Provides an interdisciplinary integrated analysis of data across oil and energy production, food production, economic growth, austerity and debt, to determine how their interaction is undermining states as part of a wider global process of system failure... Sets out the key trends that are destabilising existing fossil fuel infrastructure and which could pave ground for a fundamental paradigm shift in economics, energy, technology, society and culture."

My findings show that deeply intertwined climate, energy, food and economic crises - driven fundamentally by a longterm thermodynamic process of global net energy decline - are leading states to begin failing in the Middle East and North Africa, that these processes are rapidly accelerating in South Asia and Russia, and are likely to impact increasingly in the United States and Western Europe in coming years. 

As a result, the internal territorial integrity of the US, Russia and the EU are all under threat. 

This is the first time that an attempt has been made to develop a framework for exploring how geopolitical crises are directly and intimately connected to deeper biophysical processes. 

Usually, theories of state failure focus mostly on governance criteria which are abstracted from biophysical realities, whereby politics, society, and economy are fundamentally embedded in the biophysical environment. Instead of engaging with existing theories of state failure, I've undertaken an empirical analysis which brings together a vast quantity of data to examine how certain states which are already indisputably failing, are doing so in the direct context of deeper biophysical processes that are normally almost entirely ignored in the state failure literature. 

On this basis, a scientifically-grounded conceptual model is developed to show how these processes are accelerating globally, and how they are likely to impact on other states which appear to be particularly vulnerable to these processes. Rather than positing a generic overarching theory of state failure, then, I instead offer a new framework for assessing the risks of failing states emerging due to biophysical processes driven by climate change, energy depletion, food crises and economic instability. 

I hope that this work contributes toward more holistic and systemic approaches within and between the natural and social/political sciences, in understanding the intensification of political violence today, and its capacity to destabilise prevailing governing structures and institutions.

I'll be launching the book at the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University,'s Faculty of Science and Technology, where I'm a Visiting Research Fellow, on 24th January, 4pm. Will have more details about the event soon.  

You can order the book directly from Springer, from Amazon, or through your local or university library.

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