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The Great Unravelling

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.


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