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.

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