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.

23 September 2013

Special Report: "Fixing" intelligence on Syria? Deciphering the propaganda war to "hemorrhage" both sides

Published in Ceasefire Magazine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, shake hands after making a deal over Syrian chemical weapons

If there is anything to learn from the Syrian conflict, it is that, in the fog of war, truth really is the first casualty. Narratives and counter-narratives of the conflict have plagued media accounts and the blogosphere ever since peaceful protests erupted on the streets of Syria over two years ago, and increasingly so in the wake of the Ghouta chemical weapons attack of the 21st August.
While the West’s case against Assad in this respect appears politicised and less than conclusive, the same, if not worse, can be said about the case against the rebels. Almost every single piece of evidence that has been put forward to support that case has been disputed at the very least, or proved entirely false. And the politicisation of Russian and Iranian intelligence, the role of Assad in spearheading propaganda, has been overlooked. 
From the White House dossier to the United Nations report, from Syrian nuns to revelations from former and active intelligence officials, the propaganda war between pro and anti-interventionists to control the paradigm through which we understand the conflict – manifesting itself in Bashar al-Assad’s latest call for a ceasefire –  may be feeding into little-known strategic imperatives that see the Syrian people as mere pawns in a wider gambit. 

30 August 2013

Special Report: Syria intervention plans fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concerns

On 21 August, hundreds - perhaps over a thousand - people were killed in a chemical weapon attack in Ghouta, Damascus, prompting the U.S., UK, Israel and France to raise the spectre of military strikes against Bashir al Assad's forces which, they say, carried out the attack.

To be sure, the latest episode is merely one more horrific event in a conflict that has increasingly taken on genocidal characteristics. The case for action at first glance is indisputable. The UN now confirms a death toll over 100,000 people, the vast majority of whom have been killed by Assad's troops. An estimated 4.5 million people have been displaced from their homes. International observers have overwhelmingly confirmed Assad's complicity in the preponderance of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian people. The illegitimacy of his regime, and the legitimacy of the uprising against it, is clear.

But the interests of the west are a different matter.

Chemical confusion

While the U.S. and Israel have taken a lead in claiming firm evidence that the latest attack was indeed a deployment of chemical weapons by Assad's regime, justifying a military intervention of some sort, questions remain.

The main evidence cited by the U.S. linking the attacks to Syria are intercepted phone calls among other intelligence, the bulk of which was provided by Israel. "Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus," reported Foreign Policy, "an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people."

This account is hardly decisive proof of Assad's culpability in the attack - what one can reasonably determine here is that Syrian defense officials do not seem to have issued specific orders for such a strike, and were attempting to investigate whether their own chemical weapons unit was indeed responsible.

On the attack itself, experts are unanimous that the shocking footage of civilians, including children, suffering the effects of some sort of chemical attack, is real - but remain divided on whether it involved military-grade chemical weapons associated with Assad's arsenal, or were a more amateur concoction potentially linked to the rebels.

Many independent chemical weapons experts point out the insufficiency of evidence to draw any firm conclusions. Steven Johnson, chemical explosives experts at Cranfield Forensic Institute, pointed to inconsistencies in the video footage and the symptoms displayed by victims, raising questions about the nature of the agents used. Although trauma to the nervous system was clear: "At this stage everyone wants a ‘yes-no’ answer to chemical attack. But it is too early to draw a conclusion just from these videos."

Dan Kaszeta, a former officer of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps, said: "None of the people treating the casualties or photographing them are wearing any sort of chemical-warfare protective gear, and despite that, none of them seem to be harmed... there are none of the other signs you would expect to see in the aftermath of a chemical attack, such as intermediate levels of casualties, severe visual problems, vomiting and loss of bowel control."

Gwyn Winfield of chemical weapons journal CBRNe World said it was difficult to pin down a specific chemical from the symptoms seen in footage, but suggested it could be either a chemical weapon or a riot control agent: "The lack of conventional munition marks does suggest that it was a non-conventional munition, or an RCA (riot control agent) in a confined space, but who fired it and what it was has yet to be proved."

Other experts cited by Agence France Presse (AFP) concur with these assessments - either disagreeing that the footage proved military-grade chemical weapons, or noting the inadequacy of evidence implicating a specific perpetrator.

What little evidence is available in the public record on past deployment of chemical agents has implicated both Assad and the rebels - not the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as a whole, but rather militant jihadist factions linked to al-Qaeda and funded by the likes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In March this year, a major attack on the predominantly Shi'a town of Khan al-Assal killing 26 people including civilians and Syrian soldiers was apparently committed by rebels "with al-Qaeda sympathies." U.S. weapons experts suspected that the victims were exposed to a "caustic" agent such as chlorine, not a military-grade chemical weapon but "an improvised chemical device." As the Telegraph reports: "There has been extensive experimentation by insurgents in Iraq in the use of chlorine."

Indeed, in May 2007, al-Qaeda in Iraq had attempted a series of suicide attacks using bombs built from chlorine gas containers. Last year, Syrian jihadist groups led by the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusrah Front, linked to Iraqi al-Qaeda forces, captured several Syrian military bases stocking Scud and anti-aircraft missiles, as well as a chlorine factory near Aleppo.

Yet eyewitness reports from victims and doctors have also alleged many other instances of chemical weapons attacks attributed by locals to Syrian government forces.

Just three months before the most recent attack, however, former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, an independent UN war crimes investigator on Syria, told Channel 4 that evidence derived from interviews with victims, doctors and field hospitals confirmed that rebels had used the nerve agent sarin:

"I have seen that there are concrete suspicions if not irrefutable proof that there has been use of sarin gas... This use was made by the opponent rebels and not from the governmental authorities."

According to Channel 4, "she had not found evidence of sarin's use by President Bashar al-Assad's regime."

Meanwhile, the latest UN report released in June 2013 confirms several allegations of chemical weapons attacks but concludes it: 

"... has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator."

Further complicating the matter, Dave Gavlak, a veteran Middle East correspondent for Associated Press, cites interviews with "doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families" who believe that "certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the gas attack." The arms were reportedly given by al-Nusrah fighters to ordinary rebels without informing them of their nature. "More than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government." Gavlak's report comes with the caveat that some of its information "cannot be independently verified." 

Could it be disinformation planted by Assad agents in Damascus, as happened with the Houla massacre?

We will have to wait for the findings of UN weapons inspectors to see whether any further clarity can be added with regards to the latest attack. In the words of Foreign Policy magazine:

"Given that U.N. inspectors with a mandate to investigate chemical weapons use were on the ground when the attack happened, the decision to deploy what appears to have been a nerve agent in a suburb east of Damascus has puzzled many observers. Why would Syria do such a thing when it is fully aware that the mass use of chemical weapons is the one thing that might require the United States to take military action against it? That's a question U.S. intelligence analysts are puzzling over as well. 'We don't know exactly why it happened,' the intelligence official said. 'We just know it was pretty fucking stupid.'"

Imperial pretensions from Syria to Iran

U.S. agitation against Syria began long before today's atrocities at least seven years ago in the context of wider operations targeting Iranian influence across the Middle East.

In 2006, a little-known State Department committee - the Iran-Syria Policy and Operations Group - was meeting weekly to "coordinate actions such as curtailing Iran's access to credit and banking institutions, organizing the sale of military equipment to Iran's neighbors and supporting forces that oppose the two regimes." U.S. officials said "the dissolution of the group was simply a bureaucratic reorganization" because of a "widespread public perception that it was designed to enact regime change."

Despite the dissolution of the group, covert action continued. In May 2007, a presidential finding revealed that Bush had authorized "nonlethal" CIA operations against Iran. Anti-Syria operations were also in full swing around this time as part of this covert programme, according to Seymour Hersh, reporting for the New Yorker. A range of U.S. government and intelligence sources told him that the Bush administration had "cooperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations" intended to weaken the Shi'ite Hezbollah in Lebanon. "The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria," wrote Hersh, "a byproduct" of which is "the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups" hostile to the United States and "sympathetic to al-Qaeda." He noted that "the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria," with a view to pressure him to be "more conciliatory and open to negotiations" with Israel. One faction receiving covert U.S. "political and financial support" through the Saudis was the exiled Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

A year later, Alexander Cockburn revealed that a new finding authorized covert action undermining Iran "across a huge geographical are - from Lebanon to Afghanistan", and would include support for a wide range of terrorist and military groups such as Mujahedin-e-Khalq and Jundullah in Balochistan, including al-Qaeda linked groups:

"Other elements that will benefit from U.S. largesse and advice include Iranian Kurdish nationalists, as well the Ahwazi arabs of south west Iran.  Further afield, operations against Iran’s Hezbollah allies in Lebanon will be stepped up, along with efforts to destabilize the Syrian regime."

It is perhaps not entirely surprising in this context that according to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009: "I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business", he told French television:

"I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer minister for foreign affairs, if I would like to participate."

Leaked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor included notes from a meeting with Pentagon officials confirming U.S.-UK covert operations in Syria since 2011:

"After a couple hours of talking, they said without saying that SOF [Special Operations Forces] teams (presumably from U.S., UK, France, Jordan, Turkey) are already on the ground focused on recce [reconnaissance] missions and training opposition forces...  I kept pressing on the question of what these SOF  teams would be working toward, and whether this would lead to an eventual air campaign to give a Syrian rebel group cover. They pretty quickly distanced themselves from that idea, saying that the idea 'hypothetically' is to commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within... They don’t believe air intervention would happen unless there was enough media attention on a massacre, like the Gaddafi move against Benghazi. They think the U.S. would have a high tolerance for killings as long as it doesn't reach that very public stage."

"Collapsing" Assad's regime is thus a final goal, though military intervention would only be politically feasible - read domestically palatable for western populations - in the context of "a massacre" so grievous it would lead to a public outcry.

In another email to Stratfor executive Fred Burton from James F. Smith, former director of Blackwater and current CEO of another private security firm SCG International, Smith confirmed that he was part of "a fact finding mission for Congress" being deployed to "engage Syrian opposition in Turkey (non-MB and non-Qatari)." The "true mission" for the "fact finding" team was how:

"... they can help in regime change."

The email added that Smith intended to offer "his services to help protect the opposition members, like he had underway in Libya." He also said that Booz Allen Hamilton - the same defence contractor that employed Edward Snowden to run NSA surveillance programmes - "is also working [with] the Agency on a similar request."

Grand strategy: shoring up Gulf oil autocracies, "salafi jihadism" and sectarian violence

So what is this unfolding strategy to undermine Syria, Iran and so on, all about? According to retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark, a memo from the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to "attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years." A Pentagon officer familiar with the memo told him, "we’re going to start with Iraq, and then we’re going to move to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran." In a subsequent interview, Clark argues that this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region's vast oil and gas resources.

As Glen Greenwald pointed out:

"... in the aftermath of military-caused regime change in Iraq and Libya... with concerted regime change efforts now underway aimed at Syria and Iran, with active and escalating proxy fighting in Somalia, with a modest military deployment to South Sudan, and the active use of drones in six - count ‘em: six - different Muslim countries, it is worth asking whether the neocon dream as laid out by Clark is dead or is being actively pursued and fulfilled, albeit with means more subtle and multilateral than full-on military invasions."

Indeed, much of the strategy currently at play in the region was candidly described in a 2008 U.S. Army-funded RAND report, Unfolding the Future of the Long War. The report noted that "the economies of the industrialized states will continue to rely heavily on oil, thus making it a strategically important resource." As most oil will be produced in the Middle East, the U.S. has "motive for maintaining stability in and good relations with Middle Eastern states." The report further acknowledges:

"The geographic area of proven oil reserves coincides with the power base of much of the Salafi-jihadist network. This creates a linkage between oil supplies and the long war that is not easily broken or simply characterized... For the foreseeable future, world oil production growth and total output will be dominated by Persian Gulf resources... The region will therefore remain a strategic priority, and this priority will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war."

In this context, the report identitied many potential trajectories for regional policy focused on protecting access to Gulf oil supplies, among which the following are most salient:

"Divide and Rule focuses on exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts. This strategy relies heavily on covert action, information operations (IO), unconventional warfare, and support to indigenous security forces... the United States and its local allies could use the nationalist jihadists to launch proxy IO campaigns to discredit the transnational jihadists in the eyes of the local populace...  U.S. leaders could also choose to capitalize on the 'Sustained Shia-Sunni Conflict' trajectory by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes against Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world.... possibly supporting authoritative Sunni governments against a continuingly hostile Iran."

Exploring different scenarios for this trajectory, the report speculated that the U.S. may concentrate "on shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan as a way of containing Iranian power and influence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf." Noting that this could actually empower al-Qaeda jihadists, the report concluded that doing so might work in western interests by focusing jihadi activity on internal sectarian rivalry rather than targeting the U.S., thus bogging down both Iranian-sponsored groups like Hezbollah and al-Qaeda affiliated networks in mutual conflict:

"One of the oddities of this long war trajectory is that it may actually reduce the al-Qaeda threat to U.S. interests in the short term. The upsurge in Shia identity and confidence seen here would certainly cause serious concern in the Salafi-jihadist community in the Muslim world, including the senior leadership of al-Qaeda. As a result, it is very likely that al-Qaeda might focus its efforts on targeting Iranian interests throughout the Middle East and Persian Gulf while simultaneously cutting back on anti-American and anti-Western operations."

The RAND document contextualised this strategy with surprisingly prescient recognition of the increasing vulnerability of the U.S.'s key allies and enemies - Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt, Syria, Iran - to the converging crises of rapidly rising populations, a 'youth bulge', internal economic inequalities, political frustrations, sectarian tensions, and water shortages, all of which could destabilize these countries from within or exacerbate inter-state conflicts.

The report noted especially that Syria is among several "downstream countries that are becoming increasingly water scarce as their populations grow", increasing a risk of conflict. Drought in Syria due to climate change, impacting food prices, did indeed play a major role in sparking the 2011 uprisings. Though the RAND document fell far short of recognizing the prospect of an  'Arab Spring', it illustrates that three years before the 2011 uprisings, U.S. defense officials were alive to the region's growing instabilities, and concerned by the potential consequences for stability of Gulf oil.

Pipeline politics

These strategic concerns, motivated by fear of expanding Iranian influence, impacted Syria primarily in relation to pipeline geopolitics. In 2009 - the same year former French foreign minister Dumas alleges the British began planning operations in Syria - Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter's North field, contiguous with Iran's South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets - albeit crucially bypassing Russia. Assad's rationale was "to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe's top supplier of natural gas."

Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed by in July 2012 - just as Syria's civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo - and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines. The pipeline would potentially allow Iran to supply gas to European markets.

The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a "direct slap in the face" to Qatar's plans. No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladmir Putin that "whatever regime comes after" Assad, it will be "completely" in Saudi Arabia's hands and will "not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports", according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action. 

Israel also has a direct interest in countering the Iran-brokered pipeline. In 2003, just a month after the commencement of the Iraq War, U.S. and Israeli government sources told The Guardian of plans to "build a pipeline to siphon oil from newly conquered Iraq to Israel" bypassing Syria. The basis for the plan, known as the Haifa project, goes back to a 1975 MoU signed by then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, "whereby the U.S. would guarantee Israel's oil reserves and energy supply in times of crisis." As late as 2007, U.S. and Israeli government officials were in discussion on costs and contingencies for the Iraq-Israel pipeline project.

All the parties intervening in Syria's escalating conflict - the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Israel on one side providing limited support to opposition forces, with Russia, China and Iran on the other shoring up Assad's regime - are doing so for their own narrow, competing geopolitical interests.

Supporting al-Qaeda

Certainly, external support for the rebels funneled largely through Saudi Arabia and Qatar has empowered extremists. The New York Times found that most of the arms supplied with U.S. approval "are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups" - a process which continues. The support for militants is steadily transforming the Syrian landscape. "Across Syria, rebel-held areas are dotted with Islamic courts staffed by lawyers and clerics, and by fighting brigades led by extremists", reported NYT in April:

"Even the Supreme Military Council, the umbrella rebel organization whose formation the West had hoped would sideline radical groups, is stocked with commanders who want to infuse Islamic law into a future Syrian government. Nowhere in rebel-controlled Syria is there a secular fighting force to speak of."

And there are even questions about the U.S.' purported disavowal of the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra. NYT reports that "Nusra’s hand is felt most strongly in Aleppo", where it has established in coordination with other rebel groups "a Shariah Commission" running "a police force and an Islamic court that hands down sentences that have included lashings." Nusra fighters also "control the power plant and distribute flour to keep the city’s bakeries running." Additionally, they "have seized government oil fields" in provinces of Deir al-Zour and Hasaka, and now make a "profit from the crude they produce."

The problem is that al-Nusra's bakery and oil operations are being supported by the U.S. and the European Union (EU) respectively. In one disturbing account, the Washington Post reports on a stealth mission in Aleppo "to deliver food and other aid to needy Syrians - all of it paid for by the U.S. government", including the supply of flour. "The bakery is fully supplied with flour paid for by the United States", the report continues, noting that local consumers, however, "credited Jabhat al-Nusra - a rebel group the United States has designated a terrorist organization because of its ties to al-Qaeda - with providing flour to the region, though he admitted he wasn’t sure where it comes from." Similarly, the EU's easing of an oil embargo to allow oil imports from rebel-controlled oil fields directly benefits al-Nusra fighters who control those former government fields.

No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladmir Putin that "whatever regime comes after" Assad, it will be "completely" in Saudi Arabia's hands and will "not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports", according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action.
It would seem that contradictory Saudi and Qatari oil interests are pulling the strings of U.S. policy in Syria, if not the wider region. It is this - the problem of establishing a pliable opposition which the U.S. and its oil allies feel confident will play ball, pipeline-style, in a post-Assad Syria - that will determine the nature of any prospective intervention. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said:

"Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides. It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor."

What is beyond doubt is that Assad is a war criminal whose government deserves to be overthrown. The question is by whom, and for what interests?

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar. He is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, and author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save it among other books. He writes for The Guardian on the geopolitics of environmental, energy and economic crises via his Earth insight blog.

10 July 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Ex NASA chief climate scientist James Hansen warns fossil fuel addiction could trigger runaway global warming

My latest report in The Guardian is based on a startling new peer-reviewed scientific paper by James Hansen (et. al), widely recognised as the 'founding father' of climate science. I also interviewed him on the findings of his paper. It's a very sobering read. The upshot is that if we don't reign in our fossil fuel addiction now, then we're on course to trigger a runaway greenhouse effect that will lead to an inhabitable planet for future generations, for centuries to come.

See below.

James Hansen: Fossil fuel addiction could trigger runaway global warming

Without full decarbonisation by 2030, our global emissions pathway guarantees new era of catastrophic climate change
The world is currently on course to exploit all its remaining fossil fuel resources, a prospect that would produce a "different, practically uninhabitable planet" by triggering a "low-end runaway greenhouse effect." This is the conclusion of a new scientific paper by Prof James Hansen, the former head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the world's best known climate scientist.

Article round up - Obama climate plan, nuclear energy crunch and Egyptian unrest

It's been a manic couple of weeks which is why I haven't had a chance to update this blog. So here I am! 

Toward the end of last month, I wrote critically about Obama's new climate plan. A lot of big names in the environment movement - including Bill McKibben and Dr Grist - praised the Obama plan and welcomed it as an important step forward. To some extent they were right, but what they missed completely - or certainly didn't say loud and clear - was that Obama's plan would do nothing to stop our current trajectory toward climate catastrophe well within this century. So I laid out the facts here, highlighting Obama's insistence on promoting fracking and nuclear energy.

At the beginning of July, I put an exclusive based on a new scientific paper claiming that we're heading of a global nuclear energy crunch due to uranium mining production shortages and price spikes that could lead to electricity blackouts for countries heavily invested in nuclear power. Check that out here. I plan to follow that up soon with more on the pros and cons of nuclear energy.

Then the Egyptian coup happened, toppling Morsi, and bringing in a new Army-run regime that swiftly went on to commit a massacre against Muslim Brotherhood protesters. Unfortunately, the structural dynamics fueling civil unrest in Egypt (and other countries in the region) are little understood, so I weighed in with a deeper analysis of how peak oil, climate crisis, urban poverty and IMF mismanagement conspired to keep people on the streets - and will do so for the foreseeable future unless there is a prospect of dramatic and radical social transformation. Read that here.

22 June 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Oil industry, US govt, inflating shale gas reserve estimates fueling unsustainable economic bubble that could crash in five years

My latest Guardian report dissects the US Energy Information Administration's (EIA) latest estimates of global oil supplies, particularly shale gas, based on three little known reports published in the last few months and exclusive interviews with independent, former government, and current government experts. 

Shale gas won't stop peak oil, but could create an economic crisis

Overinflated industry claims could pull the rug out from optimistic growth forecasts within just five years
A new report out last week from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has doubled estimates of "technically recoverable" oil and gasresources available globally. The report says that shale-based resources potentially increase the world's total oil supplies by 11 per cent.
Acknowledging fault-lines in its new study, contracted to energy consulting firm Advanced Resources International Inc. (ARI), the EIA said:
"These shale oil and shale gas resource estimates are highly uncertain and will remain so until they are extensively tested with production wells."
The report estimates shale resources outside the US by extrapolation based on "the geology and resource recovery rates of similar shale formations in the United States." Hence, the EIA concedes that "the extent to which global technically recoverable shale resources will prove to be economically recoverable is not yet clear."

14 June 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Edward Snowden's employer, NSA Prism contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, ran Pentagon war games on civil unrest due to climate, energy, economic shocks

Photo taken by U.S. Airforce Tech. Sgt. Brian E. Christiansen, North Carolina National Guard at Vigilant Guard training exercise Ft. Richardson, Alaska — April 2010

As questions are being asked about the NSA's global surveillance programmes exposed by whistleblower and former CIA IT analyst Edward Snowden, new evidence has emerged that the NSA's Prism and other domestic spying operations are linked to decades of Pentagon planning for the eruption of domestic dissent against government authority triggered by a range of potential environmental, energy or economic disasters.

In my exclusive article for the Guardian today, I report on how Snowden's employer, giant US defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton - where Snowden accessed the NSA's IT systems including the Prism surveillance programme - has for more than a decade run US Army war games on extraordinary emergencies that might afflict the US, both at home and abroad, but particularly at home. Since 2010, these war games have focused increasingly on the potential for massive disruptive shocks in the US homeland, and their potential to galvanise widespread dissent, if not "insurgency" against US authorities.

This revelation fits into a trendline of Pentagon planning over the last decade which has highlighted the danger of extraordinary emergencies which might provoke political dissent and civil unrest - as well as an escalating targeting of peaceful protest groups and environmental activists by the intelligence community on behalf of corporate interests.

Booz Allen Hamilton's involvement in both administering the NSA domestic spying operations against US citizens as well running the Pentagon's Unified Quest programme of war games designed to help US military leaders "envision the future" - consisting of heightened complex threats to domestic order - raises urgent questions about the unconstitutional shift toward the militarisation of the US state.

This also, of course, provides hard evidence that the NSA surveillance programmes are less about terrorism, than they are about tracking and pre-empting, to quote one US Army document, the rise of "anti-government ideologies." The chorus of punditry that has attempted to defend the surveillance programmes ignores such evidence.

Please help counter such disinformation by spreading the word on this exclusive.


Also in 2010, the Pentagon ran war games to explore the implications of "large scale economic breakdown" in the US impacting on food supplies and other essential services, as well as how to maintain "domestic order amid civil unrest."
Speaking about the group's conclusions at giant US defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton's conference facility in Virginia, Lt Col. Mark Elfendahl - then chief of the Joint and Army Concepts Division - highlighted homeland operations as a way to legitimise the US military budget:
"An increased focus on domestic activities might be a way of justifying whatever Army force structure the country can still afford."
Two months earlier, Elfendahl explained in a DoD roundtable that future planning was needed:
"Because technology is changing so rapidly, because there's so much uncertainty in the world, both economically and politically, and because the threats are so adaptive and networked, because they live within the populations in many cases."
The 2010 exercises were part of the US Army's annual Unified Questprogramme which more recently, based on expert input from across the Pentagon, has explored the prospect that "ecological disasters and a weak economy" (as the "recovery won't take root until 2020") will fuel migration to urban areas, ramping up social tensions in the US homeland as well as within and between "resource-starved nations."
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was a computer systems administrator for Booz Allen Hamilton, where he directly handled the NSA's IT systems, including the Prism surveillance system. According toBooz Allen's 2011 Annual Report, the corporation has overseen Unified Quest "for more than a decade" to help "military and civilian leaders envision the future."
The latest war games, the report reveals, focused on "detailed, realistic scenarios with hypothetical 'roads to crisis'", including "homeland operations" resulting from "a high-magnitude natural disaster" among other scenarios, in the context of:
"... converging global trends [which] may change the current security landscape and future operating environment... At the end of the two-day event, senior leaders were better prepared to understand new required capabilities and force design requirements to make homeland operations more effective."

Read the full article at the Guardian here.

7 June 2013

Peak Soil: Industrial Civilisation is on the Verge of Eating Itself

To celebrate the official launch today of the Guardian's new team of environment bloggers, here's my latest post on why the party's well and truly over. I report on the latest research, much emerging in just the last week - across issues encompassing land, oil, bees and climate change - which points to an impending global food apocalypse well within the next 10 years, if we don't, as a civilisation, change course now.

It's an important piece which draws together quite a bit of solid science, so... if you're human, and eat food, you need to read this, and share it.

Thank you!

Peak soil: industrial civilisation is on the verge of eating itself

New research on land, oil, bees and climate change points to imminent global food crisis without urgent action
A new report says that the world will need to more than double foodproduction over the next 40 years to feed an expanding global population. But as the world's food needs are rapidly increasing, the planet's capacity to produce food confronts increasing constraints from overlapping crises that, if left unchecked, could lead to billions facing hunger.

Read the rest here.

Guardian officially launches new international team of environment bloggers - and I'm one of them

Today, the Guardian officially launched its new international team of environment bloggers - including yours truly. Hooray!

Editor of the Guardian Environment online, Adam Vaughan, announced the launch with a post titled 'Meet the world's best new environment bloggers' featured on the Guardian's front page.

I'm of course really chuffed to be part of such a cracking team - made up of leading journalists reporting from the cutting edge of environmental shenanigans from every continent. And of course, somewhat flattered to be declared by the Guardian to be among the "world's best new environment bloggers." Awww shucks.

While other mainstream news outlets like the New York Times are busy slashing their environment desks, it's pretty cool that the Guardian is leading the pack, quite uniquely, in aggressively expanding their digital environmental journalism. 

So it really is important for you to support this initiative by reading and sharing our work! You can follow the Guardian's new environment blog team via this twitter list here, as well as by keeping an eye on the Guardian's new environment blog network homepage here

Thanks for all your support.

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