The end of the Middle East

14 03 2017

I have to say, I am seriously chuffed that Nafeez Ahmed is calling it, as I have been for years now…. In a lengthy but well worth reading article in the Middle East Eye, Nafeez explains the convoluted reasons why we have the current turmoil in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. He doesn’t mention Egypt – yet – but to be fair, the article’s focus in on Mosul and the implications of the disaster unfolding there……

It never ceases to amaze me how Egypt has managed to stay off the news radar. Maybe the populace is too starved to revolt again….

After oil, rice and medicines, sugar has run out in Egypt, as the country has announced a devaluation of 48% of its currency. In Egypt, about 68 million of the total 92 million people receive food subsidized by the State through small consumer stores run by the Ministry of supply and internal trade. After shortages of oil, rice and milk, and even medicines, now sugar scarcity has hit the country. Nearly three quarters of the population completely rely on the government stores for their basic needs.

Egypt produces 2 million tons of sugar a year but has to import 3 million to face domestic demand. However imports have become too expensive.  The country is expected to receive a loan of 12 billion dollars (11 billion euros) from the International monetary Fund (IMF) to tackle its food scarcity. The price for sugar in supermarkets and black markets are skyrocketing as well, with a kilogram costing around 15 pounds. If available, one could get sugar from subsidized government stores for 0.50 euros per kilo.

Nafeez goes into great and interesting detail re the dismaying shenanigans going on in nafeezIraq and Syria at the moment. I’ll leave it to you to go through what he wrote on the Middle East Eye site on those issues, but what struck me as relevant to what this blog is about is how well they correlate with my own thoughts here…..:

Among my findings is that IS was born in the crucible of a long-term process of ecological crisis. Iraq and Syria are both experiencing worsening water scarcity. A string of scientific studies has shown that a decade-long drought cycle in Syria, dramatically intensified by climate change, caused hundreds and thousands of mostly Sunni farmers in the south to lose their livelihoods as crops failed. They moved into the coastal cities, and the capital, dominated by Assad’s Alawite clan. 

Meanwhile, Syrian state revenues were in terminal decline because the country’s conventional oil production peaked in 1996. Net oil exports gradually declined, and with them so did the clout of the Syrian treasury. In the years before the 2011 uprising, Assad slashed domestic subsidies for food and fuel.

While Iraqi oil production has much better prospects, since 2001 production levels have consistently remained well below even the lower-range projections of the industry, mostly because of geopolitical and economic complications. This weakened economic growth, and consequently, weakened the state’s capacity to meet the needs of ordinary Iraqis.

Drought conditions in both Iraq and Syria became entrenched, exacerbating agricultural failures and eroding the living standards of farmers. Sectarian tensions simmered. Globally, a series of climate disasters in major food basket regions drove global price spikes. The combination made life economically intolerable for large swathes of the Iraqi and Syrian populations.

Outside powers – the US, Russia, the Gulf states, Turkey and Iran – all saw the escalating Syrian crisis as a potential opportunity for themselves. As the ensuing Syrian uprising erupted into a full-blown clash between the Assad regime and the people, the interference of these powers radicalised the conflict, hijacked Sunni and Shia groups on the ground, and accelerated the de-facto collapse of Syria as we once knew it.  

AND…..

Meanwhile, across the porous border in Iraq, drought conditions were also worsening. As I write in Failing States, Collapsing Systems, there has been a surprising correlation between the rapid territorial expansion of IS, and the exacerbation of local drought conditions. And these conditions of deepening water scarcity are projected to intensify in coming years and decades.

An Iraqi man walks past a canoe siting on dry, cracked earth in the Chibayish marshes near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah in 2015 (AFP)

The discernable pattern here forms the basis of my model: biophysical processes generate interconnected environmental, energy, economic and food crises – what I call earth system disruption (ESD). ESD, in turn, undermines the capacity of regional states like Iraq and Syria to deliver basic goods and services to their populations. I call this human system destabilisation (HSD).

As states like Iraq and Syria begin to fail as HSD accelerates, those responding – whether they be the Iraqi and Syrian governments, outside powers, militant groups or civil society actors – don’t understand that the breakdowns happening at the levels of state and infrastructure are being driven by deeper systemic ESD processes. Instead, the focus is always on the symptom: and therefore the reaction almost always fails entirely to even begin to address earth system sisruption.

So Bashar al-Assad, rather than recognising the uprising against his regime as a signifier of a deeper systemic shift – symptomatic of a point-of-no-return driven by bigger environmental and energy crises – chose to crackdown on his narrow conception of the problem: angry people.

Even more importantly, Nafeez also agrees with my predictions regarding Saudi Arabia…

The Gulf states are next in line. Collectively, the major oil producers might have far less oil than they claim on their books. Oil analysts at Lux Research estimate that OPEC oil reserves may have been overstated by as much as 70 percent. The upshot is that major producers like Saudi Arabia could begin facing serious challenges in sustaining the high levels of production they are used to within the next decade.

Another clear example of exaggeration is in natural gas reserves. Griffiths argues that “resource abundance is not equivalent to an abundance of exploitable energy”.

While the region holds substantial amounts of natural gas, underinvestment due to subsidies, unattractive investment terms, and “challenging extraction conditions” have meant that Middle East producers are “not only unable to monetise their reserves for export, but more fundamentally unable to utilise their reserves to meet domestic energy demands”. 

Starting to sound familiar..? We are doing the exact same thing here in Australia…. It’s becoming ever more clear that Limits to Growth equates to scraping the bottom of the barrel, and the scraping sounds are getting louder by the day.

And oil depletion is only one dimension of the ESD processes at stake. The other is the environmental consequence of exploiting oil.

Over the next three decades, even if climate change is stabilised at an average rise of 2 degrees Celsius, the Max Planck Institute forecasts that the Middle East and North Africa will still face prolonged heatwaves and dust storms that could render much of the region “uninhabitable”. These processes could destroy much of the region’s agricultural potential.

Nafeez finishes with a somewhat hopeful few paragraphs.

Broken models

While some of these climate processes are locked in, their impacts on human systems are not. The old order in the Middle East is, unmistakably, breaking down. It will never return.

But it is not – yet – too late for East and West to see what is actually happening and act now to transition into the inevitable future after fossil fuels.

The battle for Mosul cannot defeat the insurgency, because it is part of a process of human system destabilisation. That process offers no fundamental way of addressing the processes of earth system disruption chipping away at the ground beneath our feet.

The only way to respond meaningfully is to begin to see the crisis for what it is, to look beyond the dynamics of the symptoms of the crisis – the sectarianism, the insurgency, the fighting – and to address the deeper issues. That requires thinking about the world differently, reorienting our mental models of security and prosperity in a way that captures the way human societies are embedded in environmental systems – and responding accordingly.

At that point, perhaps, we might realise that we’re fighting the wrong war, and that as a result, no one is capable of winning.

The way the current crop of morons in charge is behaving, I feel far less hopeful that someone will see the light. There aren’t even worthwhile alternatives to vote for at the moment…  If anything, they are all getting worse at ‘leading the world’ (I of course use the term loosely..), not better. Nor is the media helping, focusing on politics rather than the biophysical issues discussed here.

 





Forget 1984…. 2020 is the apocalypse year

26 01 2017

The crescendo of news pointing to 2020 as the date to watch is growing apace…. it won’t be the year collapse happens, because collapse is a process, not an event; but it will definitely be the year this process starts to become obvious. To people other than followers of this blog at least…!

RIYADH, Saudi ArabiaAccording to the International Monetary Fund, Saudi Arabia’s economy is in danger of collapse as oil prices grow increasingly unstable.

The warning appeared in the “Regional Economic Outlook” for the Middle East and Central Asia published on Oct. 15, an annual report published by IMF economists. Adam Leyland, writing on Oct. 23 for The Independent, explained the grim prognosis for Saudi’s economy, which is almost completely dependent on fossil fuels:

“[T]he IMF said that the kingdom will suffer a negative 21.6 per cent ‘General Government Overall Fiscal Balance’ in 2015 and a 19.4 per cent negative balance in 2016, a massive increase from only -3.4 per cent in 2014.

Saudi Arabia currently has $654.5 billion in foreign reserves, but the cash is disappearing quickly.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency has withdrawn $70 billion in funds managed by overseas financial institutions, and has lost almost $73 billion since oil prices slumped, according to Al-Jazeera. Saudi Arabia generates 90 per cent of its income from oil.”

AND……..

Tax-free living will soon be a thing of the past for Saudis after its cabinet on Monday approved an IMF-backed value-added tax to be imposed across the Gulf following an oil slump.

A 5% levy will apply to certain goods following an agreement with the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council in June last year.

Residents of the energy-rich region had long enjoyed a tax-free and heavily subsidised existence but the collapse in crude prices since 2014 sparked cutbacks and a search for new revenue.

Author Dr Nafeez Ahmed, a Visiting Fellow at Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, is making even more waves today, saying………:

“Syria and Yemen demonstrate how climate and energy crises work together to undermine state power and fuel terrorism. 

“Climate-induced droughts ravage agriculture, swell the ranks of the unemployed and destroy livelihoods.  Domestic oil depletion undercuts state revenues, weakening the capacity to sustain domestic subsidies for fuel and food.  As the state is unable to cope with the needs of an increasingly impoverished population, this leads to civil unrest and possibly radicalisation and terrorism. 

“These underlying processes are not isolated to Syria and Yemen.  Without a change of course, the danger is that eventually they will occur inside the US and Europe.”

Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence, authored by Dr Nafeez Ahmed, published by Springer Briefs in Energy includes the following key points…:
  • Global net energy decline is the underlying cause of the decline in the rate of global economic growth.  In the short term, slow or absent growth in Europe and the US is complicit in voter discontent and the success of anti-establishment politicians. 
  • Europe is now a post-peak oil society, with its domestic oil production declining every year since 1999 by 6%.  Shale oil and gas is unlikely to offset this decline. 
  • Europe’s main sources of oil imports are in decline. Former Soviet Union producers, their production already in the negative, are likely to terminate exports by 2030.  Russia’s oil production is plateauing and likely to decline after 2030 at the latest. 
  • In the US, conventional oil has already peaked and is in sharp decline.  The shortfall is being made up by unconventional sources such as tight oil and shale gas, which are likely to peak by 2025. California will continue to experience extensive drought over the coming decades, permanently damaging US agriculture.
  • Between 2020 and 2035, the US and Mexico could experience unprecedented military tensions as the latter rapidly runs down its conventional oil reserves, which peaked in 2006. By 2020, its exports will revert to zero, decimating Mexican state revenues and potentially provoking state failure shortly thereafter.
  • After 2025, Iraq is unlikely to survive as a single state.  The country is experiencing worsening water scarcity, fueling an ongoing agricultural crisis, while its oil production is plateauing due to a combination of mounting costs of production and geopolitical factors.
  • Saudi Arabia will face a ‘perfect storm’ of energy, food and economic shocks most likely before 2030, and certainly within the next 20 years.
  • Egypt will begin to experience further outbreaks of civil unrest leading to escalating state failure after 2021.  Egypt will likely become a fully failed state after 2037.
  • India’s hopes to become a major economic player will falter due to looming food, water and energy crises.  India’s maximum potential domestic renewable energy capacity is insufficient to meet projected demand growth.
  • China’s total oil production is likely to peak in 2020.  Its rate of economic growth is expected to fall continuously in coming decades, while climate change will damage its domestic agriculture, forcing it to rely increasingly on expensive imports by 2022.

I wish Julian Simon could read this….. it seems all our limits to growth chickens are coming home to roost, and very soon now.





Water in the world we want

26 05 2015

Mark Cochrane

Mark Cochrane

Another guest post by Mark Cochrane……

As everyone who watches the news about California, Lakes Mead and Powell in the American Southwest or the situation in Sao Paulo, Brazil can see, water availability is a big deal for both agriculture and human populations. However, much more of the world faces chronic water stress but those areas simply don’t get the press that the aforementioned areas do. We fool ourselves by thinking that ideology drives conflicts and wars when resource scarcity is generally at the root of matters. Water scarcity fueled the Syrian conflict long before the bullets started flying and it is making the Middle East a powder keg.

The UN defines a region as water stressed if the amount of renewable fresh water available per person per year is below 1,700 cubic metres. Below 1,000, the region is defined as experiencing water scarcity, and below 500 amounts to “absolute water scarcity”.

According to the AWWA study, countries already experiencing water stress or far worse include Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Yemen, India, China, and parts of the United States.

Many, though not all, of these countries are experiencing protracted conflicts or civil unrest. (source)

Unrest doesn’t have to be directly related to an apparent lack of water. Egypt’s 2011 uprisings were largely a function of spiking grain prices caused by droughts in grain-exporting countries like Australia. Importing grain is a cheaper and lighter way of effectively importing water to places that don’t have enough water to grow their own crops. Egypt has another tension brewing over water with Ethiopia which is currently working to dam the Nile above where Egypt has already dammed the river.

As Egypt’s population is forecast to double to 150 million by 2050, this could lead to “tremendous tension”

River Nile Dam Site

River Nile Dam Site

between Ethiopia and Egypt over access to the Nile, especially since Ethiopia’s dam would reduce the capacity of Egypt’s hydroelectric plant at Aswan by 40%.

And the problems are not only in Egypt.

Syria, Iraq and Yemen are currently subjected to ongoing US military operations under the rubric of fighting Islamist terrorists, yet the new AWWA study suggests that the rise of Muslim extremist movements has been indirectly fuelled by regional water crises.

————

As US meteorologist Eric Holthaus points out, the rapid rise of the “Islamic State” (IS) last year coincided with a period of unprecedented heat in Iraq, recognised as being the warmest on record to date, from March to May 2014.

In addition to the Middle East, hotspots for water-scarcity-fuelled regional conflicts include the Sahel, Central Asia, and the coastal zones of East, South and Southeast Asia. Within as little as five years, 30 million people could be displaced inside China due to water stress. The American west and Mexico could also get ugly as things get drier.

Map_of_Water_Stress_Regions_by_WatershedThe UN defines a region as water stressed if the amount of renewable fresh water available per person per year is below 1,700 cubic metres. Below 1,000, the region is defined as experiencing water scarcity, and below 500 amounts to “absolute water scarcity”.

According to the AWWA study, countries already experiencing water stress or far worse include Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Yemen, India, China, and parts of the United States.

Many, though not all, of these countries are experiencing protracted conflicts or civil unrest.

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/new-age-water-wars-portends-bleak-f…

The UN recently released a new study “Water in the world we want” that looks at the stark situation we are facing in the near future if we do not get our global act together to invest in decent water supplies and sanitation. While trying to be generally upbeat about the possibilities we have for improving global water infrastructure they don’t say that it will be cheap. It doesn’t help that corruption currently eats up 30% of expenditures in this area.

The estimated global cost to achieve post-2015 sustainable development goals in water and sanitation development, maintenance and replacement is US $1.25 trillion to $2.25 trillion per year for 20 years, a doubling or tripling of current spending translating into 1.8 to 2.5 percent of global GDP.

The resulting benefits would be commensurately large, however – a minimum of $3.11 trillion per year, not counting health care savings and valuable ecosystem service enhancements.

In this age of revolving the world on quarterly profit reports, who can be bothered to invest in the future of clean water? The report states that the current ‘deficit’ in the world’s maintenance and replacement of water and wastewater infrastructure is growing by $200 million a year. In the ‘richest’ country in the world (guess who) we are disgracefully $1 trillion behind on where we should be to have first world water systems! Do you think that might become an issue at some point?

Given accelerating Earth system changes and the growing threat of hydro-climatic disruption, corruption undermining water-related improvements threatens the stability and very existence of some nation states, which in turn affects all other countries, the report says.

Is that a clear enough statement to spur some sort of action or is it still too vague? How about this..

Within 10 years, researchers predict 48 countries – 25% of all nations on Earth with an expected combined population of 2.9 billion – will be classified “water-scarce” (1,000 to 1,700 cubic meters of water per capita per year) or “water-stressed” (1,000 cubic meters or less).

And by 2030, expect overall global demand for freshwater to exceed supply by 40%, with the most acute problems in warmer, low-resource nations with young, fast-growing populations, according to the report.

What is that about the next 20 years being totally unlike the last 20 years? Oil is going to continue to be a major issue in the global economy but water scarcity is what can really move the masses to riot or simply relocate. This is not a surprise to those in the halls of power. They’ve been preparing for years.

In May 2010, the U.S. National Security Strategy included global climate change as a security issue: “The danger from climate change is real, urgent, and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources, new suffering from drought and famine, catastrophic natural disasters, and the degradation of land across the globe.”

In case you think that this is a ‘future’ problem just look at what the humanitarians in the EU are getting ready to do to stem their human tide of migrants (source).

The European Union has drawn up plans for military attacks in Libya to try to curb the influx of migrants across the Mediterranean by targeting the trafficking networks. It is to launch a bid on Monday to secure a UN mandate for armed action in Libya’s territorial waters.

Britain is drafting the UN security council resolution that would authorise the mission, said senior officials in Brussels. It would come under Italian command, have the participation of around 10 EU countries, including Britain, France, Spain, and Italy, and could also drag in Nato although there are no plans for initial alliance involvement.

And get this:

Following a visit to Beijing last week, Mogherini believes the Chinese will not block the mission at the security council. Her staff are also confident that Russia can be persuaded against wielding its security council veto despite the intense animosity between Moscow and the west over the Ukraine conflict.

What could possibly put the EU, NATO, China and Russia all on the same side other than a problem that they all expect to face? I wonder what chips were traded to get those assurances? The borders are closing fast and it doesn’t sounds like anyone is planning on increasing aid for water infrastructure outside their borders quite yet.

Drink up! It’s only water after all.





Carbon bubble toil and trouble

27 03 2014

There has been of late quite a few articles on the blogosphere about the potential for a Carbon bubble.  A bubble about to burst.  That this will occur is utterly undeniable, but the outcomes featured by different writers are a bit off the mark in my opinion……

First, let me start with Paul Gilding.  I have a lot of time for Paul.  I’ve even published some of his writings here; but his optimism often leaves me flabbergasted…….

In Carbon Crash Solar Dawn, published in Cockatoo Chronicles 

I think it’s time to call it. Renewables and associated storage, transport and digital technologies are so rapidly disrupting whole industries’ business models they are pushing the fossil fuel industry towards inevitable collapse.

Some of you will struggle with that statement. Most people accept the idea that fossil fuels are all powerful – that the industry controls governments and it will take many decades to force them out of our economy. Fortunately, the fossil fuel industry suffers the same delusion.

gilding

Paul Gilding

I don’t think the oil industry is under any such delusion.  Unable to make a profit with oil floundering around $100 a barrel, a price the market forces on them to accept, that industry is taking to selling its assets to prop up its bottom line, even borrowing money to pay shareholders’ dividends….

The only idea I struggle with Paul, is that “renewables, electric cars and associated technologies build the momentum needed to make their takeover unstoppable“.

Take here in Australia for instance; the coal fired power lobby has twisted the politicians’ arms (I don’t think much twisting was required either…) to thwart any further growth in the development of renewables.  In Queensland where I still live, the Newman government has indicated that the paltry 8c feed in tariff that the poor beggars who installed PVs on their roofs after the frankly overgenerous 44c feed in tariff was terminated, will become a zero FiT after July 1.  We who are on the overgenerous 44c FiT are ‘safe’ (until TSHTF that is – then all bets are off), because we are on a contract that lasts until 2028….. but everyone else misses out.  Why are they doing this?  It’s all explained very well here on The Conversation, but basically it’s to protect the dinosaur industries’ shareholders.  There’s no way they are borrowing to pay their shareholders like Shell had to do….  Money rules, and f*** you the consumer.

Paul also further writes:

I think it’s important to always start with a reminder of the underlying context. As I argued in my book The Great Disruption, dramatic economic change is not a choice we get to make it, but an inevitable result of physical science. This is because business as usual, with results like ever increasing resource constraint or a global temperature increase of 4 degrees or more, would trigger economic and social collapse. So the only realistic outcomes are such a collapse or an economic transformation that prevents it, with timing the only big unknown. I argued transformation was far more likely and, to my delight, that’s what we see emerging around us today – even faster than I expected.

In parallel, we are also seeing the physical impacts of climate change and resource constraint accelerating. This is triggering physical, economic and geopolitical responses – from melting arctic ice and spiking food prices to the Arab Spring and the war in Syria. (See here for further on that.) The goods news in this growing hard evidence is that the risk of collapse is being acknowledged by more mainstream analysts. Examples include this commentary by investment legend Jeremy Grantham and a recent NASA funded study explained here by Nafeez Ahmed. So the underlying driver – if we don’t change in a good way, we’ll change in a very bad way – is gathering acceptance.

Hang on……..  is he saying the Arab Spring is about people demanding “renewables, electric cars and associated technologies”?  Because collapse is exactly what is happening in Egypt and Syria.  Collapse does not begin in boardrooms, it begins in the streets when people run out of food, water, and petrol….

And where is the debt problem mentioned in this “dramatic economic change“?  How exactly will the “renewables, electric cars and associated technologies” be paid for?  More growth?  Has he never heard the saying “the best way to get out of a hole is by not digging any deeper”?

Over at Nature Climate Change, I found this too……

…major players in the financial markets are becoming increasingly uneasy about the extent of the impact of future climate policies on power companies. A supposition — fostered by the Carbon Tracker Initiative — is that fossil fuels may be nowhere near as profitable in the future as they have been so far. This is not simply because the costs of prospecting and drilling for oil, for example, are increasing, or that the fossil fuel resources that give the oil, coal and natural gas companies their value are about to run out — they are not. The problem is more that a large portion — perhaps as much as 80 per cent — of these reserves will have to be left untouched if society has any chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2 °C this century.

So, pray tell, what will we build the new energy system with…?  Let me remind you of just how many resources it takes to build wind turbines… or a solar thermal power plant

Paul ends his article with:

So, as I see it, the game is up for fossil fuels. Their decline is well underway and it won’t be a gentle one. Of course they won’t just be gone in few years but once the market and policy makers understand what’s happening, it will become self-reinforcing and accelerate rapidly. Markets come into their own in situations like this. They rarely initiate change, but once they’re racing down the hill, it’s time to jump on board or get out of the way. It’s an ugly and brutal process for those involved, but it gets the job done quickly.

When that occurs, we may find that those forecasts by myself and others like Tony Seba from Stanford University, that the oil, coal and gas companies will be all but obsolete by 2030, might turn out to be conservative after all. Interesting times indeed.

Yes, it is game over.  But not for the fossil fuel industries alone.  When they go down, everyone goes down.  Even the central bankers, to whom the global debt which has soared more than 40 percent to $100 trillion since the first signs of the financial crisis, will go down….. why do so few people see the big picture…….?  For someone who claims to understand the “inevitable result of physical science” as the driver of economic change, Paul truly puzzles me.





What If…No One Voted?

2 11 2013

Our_dreams_cannot_fit_in_their_ballot_boxesThere is a school of thought that claims Western industrial nations are democratic. The main proponents of that school include politicians, the mass media, corporate heads and most academics. Now, I don’t know if that school really understands what “democratic” actually means, I assume they think it means it is representative of the wishes of all people, but in reality what democratic really means is representative of the wishes of just a few people privileged enough to be in a position to control power.  Here’s why.

In the past, the lack of representation was obvious: Greek democracies, for instance, gave decision-making powers to a small number of high-ranking citizens, in much the same way that a few high-ranking citizens now occupy the government houses of Western democracies. It was the same at the start of Western civilization (for the sake of argument let’s assume it began in the trading nations of northern Europe), but very gradually a greater number of people were allowed to contribute to the process until, as we stand now, everyone has the chance to vote who should have. Or do they?

In most democracies you cannot vote if you are in prison (why you are in prison is irrelevant), are under the age of 18, do not have a static residential address or are not registered as full citizens of that country (this, of course, being a very moot point). According to one commentator, even that’s not restrictive enough:

Voting isn’t just a right that makes you feel ‘part of democracy’; it’s a responsibility and decision-making process. Because voters aren’t just numbers on a register, but judges, and certain things make them better at it. One is age, which confers wisdom (usually). Entering the workforce, owning property, marriage and children also help, giving people a stake in the country’s future stability.1

I think the inanity of these comments will become even more clear soon. But it’s not just the absolute right to vote that shows “democracy” up to be a myth, look at the way those voters are represented. In the USA there are three separate pillars of directly electable power at the federal level, each one as absurdly unrepresentative as the other (think Electoral College or Senate District). In all other democratic nations there are similar gulfs between the individual voter and the person, or group of people (think Government Whips and lobbying) that purports to represent them. The vote you may decide to cast on a chilly Thursday afternoon is no more likely to represent your actual opinion than that of a dog farting outside the polling station.

The same goes for those people whom Western media and especially Western politicians claim are fighting for the right to vote freely in “non democratic” countries. Witness the so-called Arab Spring, in which nations such as Egypt and Libya moved from despotic systems to, well, despotic systems, despite people having the opportunity to vote more freely than before. Nothing really changed because one hierarchical, top-down system was simply replaced with another. Wherever there is some form of oppressive power, be that religious, military-dictatorship or corporate, then freedom is just an illusion. Which makes any power vested in that voting slip or press of a button, just as much of an illusion.

And it doesn’t stop there, because what is your actual opinion of what should be done by a representative system on your behalf? To be honest, even with more than a decade of liberated thought I still can’t distinguish my opinion and that of the system under which I live. Take the lie of economic growth. We are told that in order for us to be healthy, happy and prosperous, whatever nation we are in needs to have a growing economy. We know that in order for more material wealth to be created then the state of the living environment has to suffer, be that in the form of habitat destruction, water and air toxification, greenhouse gas emissions, or any other form of despoliation you wish to name. Plus, in order for one economy to grow, another has to shrink, or at least do the dirty work of making money for another economy – hence the constant talk about competition. So we trot off to the polling station with the lie of economic growth ringing in our ears, and vote for whichever politician claims they are going to grow the economy more.

When was the last time you heard a politician canvass for votes on the basis of banning economic slavery or stopping all deforestation or there never being another indigenous tribe wiped out or, for that matter, stopping the global economy growing in its destructive way. You won’t because that’s not what most people want to hear. Just as “most people” want there to be fewer immigrants, and “most people” want more jobs, and “most people” want to buy more things cheaper than ever.

And that’s the point. We vote because we think our views are our own and that those views are going to be represented. Well, yes, those views are going to be represented – but they are not your own, they are the views you have been taught to hold. The moment you no longer hold the views you are supposed to is the moment you realise the absolute futility of voting.

Not Voting

Not voting is really, really easy. In fact there are lots of ways of not voting. In my case I just don’t register to vote, so I am never called to vote. Apparently that’s illegal, but until I’m hauled off to prison then that’s the way it’s going to be. Another simple way, if you happen to be registered to vote, is not voting when you are asked to – a lot easier than going to the effort of voting. Another way, if you happen to be registered to vote and you are legally obliged to express an opinion, is to express no confidence in any of the options. Explicitly not voting is the same as expressing no confidence but it would be fun to see “None of the above” winning the vote once in a while.

Telling people you do not vote is not so easy.

A recent interview between BBC news presenter Jeremy Paxman and Russell Brand (usually prefixed “Comedian” as if that matters) contained the following exchange:

Paxman: “How do you imagine that people get power?”

Brand: “Well I imagine there are sort of hierarchical systems that have been preserved through generations…”

Paxman: “They get power by being voted in, that’s how they get power…”

Brand: “Well you say that Jeremy…”

Paxman: “You can’t even be arsed to vote?”

Brand: “It’s quite a narrow, quite a narrow prescriptive parameter that changes within in the ah…”

Paxman: “In a democracy that’s how it works.”

Brand: “Well I don’t think it’s working very well, Jeremy. Given that the planet is being destroyed. Given that there is economic disparity of a huge degree. What are you saying? There’s no alternative? There’s no alternative? Just this system?”

Paxman: “No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying if you can’t be arsed to vote why should we be asked to listen to your political point of view?”

There’s a mindset in these so-called democratic systems that not voting is a negative thing, not an act of defiance but an unwillingness to want to be represented, or worse a desire to let down those people who fought to give you the right to vote. I have huge respect for anyone who fights for what they genuinely believe is the right thing, even if that may be deluded, but in the wildest of wild dreams has anyone really fought for the simple right to vote? Of course not. Emily Davidson threw herself under the King’s horse in the fight for equal rights for women, not for a piece of paper upon which a cross can symbolically be made.

Brand’s response to Paxman’s last question elucidated this clearly:

Brand: “You don’t have to listen to my political point of view. But it’s not that I’m not voting out of apathy. I’m not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class, that has been going on for generations now.

It is imperative that we reverse the message that not voting is a negative thing. It is an act of defiance, but more than that, it is a clear message that not voting is a rejection of the existing system that does not, and never has represented the will of ordinary people. Whether not voting can, of itself, make a difference is another matter entirely.

What If No One Voted?

I contacted electoral offices in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and The Netherlands with a simple question: Is there a minimum voter turnout that has to be reached for a national election to be valid, i.e. below what percentage of the electorate would another election have to be called due to insufficient turnout?

In all cases the response was the same – there is no minimum number of people who have to vote in order for an election to be valid. Let me put that another way: regardless of how few people vote, it is assumed that a government is representative of the electorate. I have to imagine that the assumption behind this bizarre setup is that people had a chance to vote and if they don’t then tough luck. But that’s bullshit, surely? Any government that purports to represent the people, but which is not voted for by the majority of the electorate cannot have any moral right to represent that electorate, let alone the entire population.

Any government without a mandate has no choice but to rule by force, or at least mass deception. There is a word for this: regime.

So let’s suppose that only a small minority of people vote for the party or individual that has power over them…hang on, hasn’t that happened already?

In 2012 the population of the USA was around 315 million people. According to the United States Elections Project2, of that population 241 million were eligible to vote by age. After taking away the prison population and other felony restrictions, plus non citizens (by choice or otherwise) there were 222 million people eligible to vote. Of those, about 130 million actually cast a vote. So already we can see that the total number of people voting in the USA presidential election in 2012 was 41% of the population. This is by no means exceptional, with voter turnout ranging from 57.1% down to 49% since 1971 – the year voting age was lowered to 18 – 40% of the total number of people actually voting is about average. And then, of course, we look at who won the elections, i.e. who has, or at least represents who has power.3 Due to the weird nature of the Electoral College system, you can be President with less than 50% of the popular vote (in fact it’s not really that weird, with more parties the percentage could be even lower), and in 2012 President Obama was elected by only 65.9 million people, or just 21% of the population of the USA. How unrepresentative is that? Yet, it’s entirely typical of the voting systems right across the industrial “democratic” West that all give the illusion that governments represent the wishes of the people.

So, what if no one voted? It wouldn’t be an awful lot different to the current situation, except there would be a huge number of empty polling stations and windswept precincts devoid of people willing to take part in the election charade. Plus, there would be an awful lot of people who have carried out a small act of rebellion, consciously and in opposition to the wishes of the system. Maybe it’s symbolic, but for many people it might be the first time they have done something “unacceptable”. It’s a good feeling.

But I think we need to ask a different question. How about: What if people didn’t accept the authority of government? Given that less than a quarter of people in any one nation are represented by “their” government, and that “their” government is bound by a set of rules that puts economic growth and capital wealth above the real needs of the planet and the people that live upon it, we are really talking about something more than withdrawal of mandate. There is no middle-ground – the systems cannot be improved, they never existed to serve the people, they only existed to serve the systems themselves.

Nothing less than complete rejection of the dominant systems of power will be sufficient to breach the immense moral void between what we need as a species, and what “democratic” governments impose upon us. Just one reason among many why we need to start undermining industrial civilization.

Start at www.underminers.org and go on from there…


1. http://elections.gmu.edu/Turnout_2012G.html
2. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/edwest/2013/09/the-insanity-of-votes-for-children-who-cares-what-adolescents-think-about-politics/)
3. Get yourself a copy of The Corporation for lots more helpful information, or you can watch at http://www.youtube.com/user/machbar.





Is Egypt about to ignite the collapse…?

17 08 2013

Over the past few months, I have written a few entries on Egypt, because I see it as the catalyst for the collapse.  it’s a far more important nation than Syria, straddling the Suez Canal as it does.  As I predicted back then, it appears that the brown stuff has finally hit the fan there, the Pharaohs would not be impressed…..  And then along comes this news item (which is hardly surprising):

A number of international companies are suspending operations in Egypt as three days of violent clashes make the streets unsafe in Cairo.

AB Electrolux, General Motors Co., Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Toyota Motor Corp., Suzuki Motor Corp., BASF Corp. and others shut down factories and offices and told thousands of workers to stay at home

Violence in Egypt has left nearly 700 people dead since Wednesday after riot police razed two Cairo encampments where supporters of President Mohammed Morsi protested his ouster.

The standout for me is Royal Dutch Shell…..   no prizes for guessing why

Further from Reuters…:

“To ensure the safety and security of our staff, Shell offices in Egypt are closed for business today and into the weekend and business travel into the country has been restricted. We will continue to monitor the situation in Egypt,” he said in a statement.

Among other big oil companies operating in Egypt, BP had no immediate update to provide. A spokesman for BG, whose offshore LNG operations account for about a fifth of its production and which pulled out 100 expatriate staff and dependents in July, said there was no change to report.

I think this will turn out to be serious news.  All the signs point to civil war and a soon-to-be non-functional nation which must import almost all of its food.  Oil may well be creeping back towards $130 soon, and that’s the price around which things really get screwed up everywhere.  From DW News…….:

As violence in Egypt continued, oil became more expensive again on international markets on Friday.

Benchmark crude for September deliveries rose by 12 cents to $107.45 (80.47 euros) per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract already surged by 48 cents to close at $107.33 a day earlier.

Brent crude, a measure used to price imported crude by many US refineries, rose by 5 cents to $109.77 per barrel, reflecting market experts’ concerns about the political and economic situation in Egypt.

The impact of this won’t be felt until Monday, and that’s probably Monday in Europe and the US….   Watch this space.  Might be a good weekend to fill the car too!





More on Egypt

21 07 2013

Over the past few months, I’ve written a fair deal of commentary on Egypt as I believe it to be the petri dish of the future, the test tube of collapse.  Along with Syria.  And whilst seemingly hundreds and hundreds of column inches have been consumed in the media over Egypt’s search for freedom and democracy, the need for a secular government, the need for economic reform to kick start new growth to get the Egyptian people off Tahrir square and back to work so they can service their debt, my views, whenever they’ve been aired on the Drum or the Conversation are met with astonishment and even derision….

And now, along comes this:

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood failed the most basic test – feeding the people

No bull………  now who’d a thunk…???

The political deadlock, in which it appears that the Egyptian Military will not consider restoring Mursi to the presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood will not back down from its demands for reinstatement, shows no signs of easing.

What is clear is just how far the Brotherhood’s fortunes have fallen. Beyond the loyal supporters and members keeping the vigil in the square outside Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Nasr City, in the marches in Giza and the protests in Alexandria, it is difficult to find a fan. Those who do not support the military’s intervention in the revolution — yes — but a Brotherhood fan? They appear to be thin on the ground.

“Many of the poor thought the Brotherhood would help them live a better life, but they did not,” said Mohamed Abd El-Sabour, from the Cairo neighbourhood of Shubra.

“Then religion got in between the people and the Brotherhood — they thought as long as they were religious and prayed that we would trust them, but they needed to do something much more concrete than that. They needed to make real progress,” the 33-year-old said. Two months ago he was forced to leave his job as a salesman and start driving taxis.. The economy — and being able to fill his tank again after the recent chronic benzene shortages — are the key issues that occupy his mind.

“Eventually the Muslim Brotherhood will have to accept their fate and leave,” he said. “The experiment has failed.” His was the mildest opinion offered to Fairfax Media last week.   Source

AND…….

After paying a monthly rent of 300 Egyptian Pounds (A$47), there is little left over for food and other essentials for Mona, a widow, and her three daughters.

Her struggle is, in essence, Egypt’s struggle, yet it is one that the deposed Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government forever failed to grasp.

Families gather for a mass iftar (breaking fast) in Tahrir square  earlier this month.

“I eat here with my daughter so we don’t take Iftar alone,” she says, acknowledging that the last year had been especially tough on finances.

Conscious of the crackling tension around her, Mona won’t be drawn on the downfall of Mohamed Mursi on July 3 — a move his supporters claim was a military coup but his detractors say was the will of the millions of people who took to the streets calling for his removal.

But the volunteer manager of the communal Ramadan table, at which around 70 people eat each night, is more forthcoming.

“We give people rice, vegetables and meat, some people come not just for the food but to be together — this is the real Islam, this is not the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Waleed Tyson, 40.

Egypt is riven with divisions — between pro- and anti-Mursi protesters, between Islamists and secularists, Islamists and Coptic Christians, those who support the revolution and those who believe it was a military coup and between the Muslim Brotherhood and everyone else — and the fear that these tensions will spill over into violence is ever-present.

And why is all this happening……..??  Well,Ruth Pollard, the SMH Middle East Correspondent thinks “amidst the frustration at the Brotherhood, felt by the opposition National Salvation Front, al-Nour, and Tamarod, there is also optimism that in the so-called second wave of the revolution, Egypt may have been spared worse turmoil.”

Ruth Pollard has obviously never heard of Peak Oil or overpopulation…….  but at least it’s a start that someone out there is acknowledging food and fuel shortages (even if only fleetingly..)  How long will it take for the MSM to put two and two together is anyone’s guess.  But I’ll send her this blog post and test the waters….  keep fingers crossed!