“Climate Wars” by Gwynne Dyer serialised on CBC

July 10, 2009

Gwynne Dyer’s book, “Climate Wars“, came out in 2008, and was a sobering investigation into the security implications of climate change.

The book was recently serialised into a three part special on the Canadian Broadcast Company show, “Ideas“.

It won’t be anything surprising or new to the weather beaten, war torn readers of our hirsute blog, but it is a nice bringing together of ideas in a very presentable fashion that may help make the case for lay listeners.

From the show’s website:

Program Excerpt

About 2 years ago I noticed that the military in various countries, and especially in the Pentagon, were beginning to take climate change seriously. Now, it’s the business of the military to find new security threats. It’s also in their own self-interest, since they need a constant supply of threats in order to justify their demands on the taxpayers’ money, so you should always take the new threats that the soldiers discover with a grain of salt. You know, never ask the barber whether you need a haircut.

But I did start to look into this idea that global warming could lead to wars. It turned into a year-long trek talking to scientists, soldiers and politicians in a dozen different countries. I have come back from that trip seriously worried, and there are four things I learned that I think you ought to know.

The first is that a lot of the scientists who study climate change are in a state of suppressed panic these days. Things seem to be moving much faster than their models predicted.

The second thing is that the military strategists are right. Global warming is going to cause wars, because some countries will suffer a lot more than others. That will make dealing with the global problem of climate change a lot harder.

The third is that we are probably not going to meet the deadlines. The world’s countries will probably not cut their greenhouse gas emissions enough, in time, to keep the warming from going past 2 degrees celsius. That is very serious.

And the fourth thing is that it may be possible to cheat on the deadlines. I think we will need a way to cheat, at least for a while, in order to avoid a global disaster.

Here is a link to the full show, with embedded audio.

Somali Pirates Attacking Food Aid Ships

April 19, 2009

The Humanitarian Relief blog has a great news round up of recent pirate attacks on ships carrying IFP aid to various parts of the world.   


Over the past two weeks, the pirates have attacked three ships carrying food for the World Food Program and other aid groups.  The most notorious incident was the April 8th pirate attack on the Maersk Alabama, including the US Navy’s dramatic rescue of Captain Richard Phillips five days later.

The ship was carrying food aid destined for Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Rwanda.

Then, last Tuesday, pirates captured the Sea Horse, a ship heading to India to load food destined for Somalia. 

That same day, pirates also attacked the ship Liberty Sun, which had just offloaded food in Sudan.  (The Liberty Sun was able to escape – to read emails sent by a crew member during the fighting, see here.)

Thanks to Michael for the round-up!

Russia announces special arctic military force

March 28, 2009

The BBC reports that Russia expects the Arctic to “become its main resource base by 2020.”  And it wants to protect those resources.

Climate changed induced arctic melting has already opened up a land grab for the untapped resources beneath the ice’s surface.  In 2007 Russia made a bid to claim much of the 90 billion barrels of oil estimated to exist.

Although the legitimacy of Russia’s claims are in dispute, a report released by Moscow indicates that Russia won’t give up these reserves easily.

In order to protect its assets, Moscow says one of its main goals will be the establishment of troops “capable of ensuring military security” in the region.

News snippet here.

Beddington: World faces perfect storm in 2030

March 25, 2009

In a statement which has already gotten much press elsewhere, the UK’s chief scientist Prof. John Beddington suggests we face a “perfect storm”of crisis drivers by 2030.

The Guardian reports, 

A “perfect storm” of food shortages, scarce water and insufficient energy resources threaten to unleash public unrest, cross-border conflicts and mass migration as people flee from the worst-affected regions, the UK government’s chief scientist will warn tomorrow.

“We head into a perfect storm in 2030, because all of these things are operating on the same time frame,” Beddington told the Guardian.

“If we don’t address this, we can expect major destabilisation, an increase in rioting and potentially significant problems with international migration, as people move out to avoid food and water shortages,” he added.

It is music to our ears to hear such well placed politicians and scientists reflecting the realities of tomorrow’s complex, interlinked and massively vulnerable world.


ICRC says, “Humanitarian work has never been as difficult as now” in Afghanistan

March 18, 2009

… and it’s likely to get more difficult in the future, but not just in Afghanistan.

IRIN reports on an ICRC comment that humanitarian work has never been more difficult.  Although the warning is specific to Afghanistan, we suggest it may foreshadow similar warnings in the future.  The ICRC said:

[The warning was[ echoed by the head of the ICRC in Afghanistan, Reto Stocker: “Humanitarian work has never been as difficult as now… 2009 will be a very difficult year for Afghanistan and its people,” he said on 17 March. This is the first time that the UN and the ICRC have made such a bleak forecast – one that is highly relevant for the aid community.

In a statement which could apply to many regions, and increasingly so in the future, the warning concluded “We are already dealing with a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan,” said Stocker, adding that more hostilities, inaccessibility and drought could produce further suffering for vulnerable communities.”

Accelerated swarming; Mumbai is just the beginning

March 3, 2009

Military theorist John Arquilla (author of Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime and Militancy and several other excellent conflict and war studies books) argues in the New York Times that Mumbai style terrorists attacks are likely to become more frequent and more successful in the coming decade.

“The basic concept”, he writes, “is that hitting several targets at once, even with just a few fighters at each site, can cause fits for elite counterterrorist forces that are often manpower-heavy, far away and organized to deal with only one crisis at a time.”

Arqilla cites current US counter terrorist strategy that plans for up to three sites being simultaneously hit and using “overwhelming force” against the terrorists, “which probably means mustering as many as 3,000 ground troops to the site.”  He suggests that in an age of force multiplication, networks, and flexible fighting styles, this is the wrong strategy and doesn’t bode well for security in modern megacities.

Nightmare possibilities include synchronized assaults on several shopping malls, high-rise office buildings or other places that have lots of people and relatively few exits. Another option would be to set loose half a dozen two-man sniper teams in some metropolitan area — you only have to recall the havoc caused by the Washington sniper in 2002 to imagine how huge a panic a slightly larger version of that form of terrorism would cause.

John Robb over at GlobalGuerillas agrees.  He writes,

The reason we will see more swarming is due to the pervasive influence of decentralized organizational forms, like open source insurgency, on warfare’s evolution.  Swarming is a characteristic of these loosely connected organizations.

Robb suggests we’ll be more likely to more sophisticated and ambitious attacks soon, which “ventually attempt complete and sustained urban takedowns”.  Scary thinking, and while Robb argues there is little we can do, Arquilla suggests using similiar tactics will be an effective countermeasure.  These include smaller, more flexible, less centrally controlled response teams with more individual autonomy and less connection to HQ.

Implications for humanitarianism?  Expect more Mumbai-style actions in your home town soon.  Just as small, flexible, semi-autonmous rapid response teams could be needed for a military response, might the same model work for humanitarian response?

Orlov on social collapse at the Long Now

February 17, 2009

Grumpy, humorous, tongue-in-cheek, survivalist predictions for the eminent arrival of the Former United States of America.

Orlov just gave a typically grumpy, humorous, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek presentation at the Long Now Foundation.  Boing Boing, Global Guerillas and others have highlighted his speech, which is probably gave him the most web coverage he’s had in a while.

In a 2006 presentation, “Closing the ‘Collapse Gap’: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the US,” Orlov first laid out his USSR / USA empire collapse comparison that would later become his book, Reinventing Collapse: the USSR was better prepared for collapse than the USA.

Orlov argues that the USA is vulnerable to the kind of economic collapse experienced by the former USSR.  He cites huge deficits, foreign military entanglements, and the unsustainablilty of its suburban lifestyles.  Mix this with possible climate shocks, financial market volatility, and anything weird like suicide bombers, avian flu pandemic and you’ve got an interesting situation.

The kinds of things Orlov expects after financial collapse will be very familiar to humanitarian workers.  Shortages of fuel, food, medicine and consumer items; electric, gas and water outages; hyperinflation; economic disruption, joblessness, vagrancy; increased criminal and black market activities; transport disruption.  He suggests that America should not expect “any grand rescue plans, innovative technology programs, or miracles of social cohesion.”

HFP isn’t in a position to comment on the veracity of his argument.  Instead we find the emergence of social collapse discussions in mainstream media tremendously fascinating.  Several commentators argue against spreading these memes because they could become self-fulfilling prophecies.  Others argue that they are important and overdue wake up calls.

What would happen to the humanitarian community, including those it is intended to serve, should there be such a large scale fiscal and political meltdown?

UPDATE – There is a very good summary of Orlov’s book over at the OilDrum, which can be found here.

Mapping future water stress

February 9, 2009

Researchers at the University of Kassel in Germany have produced a series of projections mapping areas of water stress across the globe.  The BBC presents projected maps here.

The team mixed Hadley Centre GCM models with regional climate models to estimate changes in precipitation, then compared these to a variety of socio-economic scenarios from the IPCC to estimate demand.  

Regional downscaling is always a controversial topic and many climate scientists argue that GCM’s provide unreliable local precipitation forecasts (see the recent HFP seminar on climate science and humanitarian planning).

One of the surprises for HFP from looking at these maps was the extent of water crises in Western China.  What are the humanitarian implications of this for the Central Asian steppes?

Failed States Index for 2008

January 21, 2009

The Fund for Peace releases a lovely map of their Failed States Index for 2008

12 indicators were used to create this lovely animated map of failed states in 2008, including some of HFP’s favourite research subjects. These include:

  • Mounting demographic pressure
  • Massive movement of refugees or IDP’s creating complex humanitarian emergencies
  • Sharp or severe economic decline

They also published an excellent article discussing these trends in Foreign Policy, which can be found here.  Click the map below for a link to the Fund for Peace’s website on this project.


Complexity, collaboration, swarming, and the new politics of war

December 23, 2008

Inspired thinking on how 21st century guerilla groups are embracing principles of complexity, decentralization and collaboration to wage a new kind of warfare, with implications for humanitarian response strategy.

John Robb, author of Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, provides some insightful insights into the dynamics of complexity and new collaboration techniques that are relevant to the humanitarian community.

In a recent post on emergent communities dedicated to war, he outlines how highly networked terrorist groups are taking advantage of complexity principles to achieve their aims. He notes that such groups are:

  • have little formal structure (are a nest of relationships)
  • have flexible membership (participants flow in and out based on their own personal goals and motivations)
  • are formed in relation to a shared, central purpose or belief.
  • What are the implications of this organisational style for humanitarian collaboration? There are obvious and important differences between networked terrorist organisations and humanitarian organisations, not lease of which is their purpose. Despite these differences, however, an understanding of the tactics, strengths, and weaknesses of this approach is desirable in order to more effectively operate in a sphere where such groups exist and wield power.

    Robb argues, for example, that these groups and their tactics are particularly effective against large, cumbersome systems such as centralised bureaucracies because they understand system dynamics and are able to leverage small actions against their weak points to great effect. 9/11, Mumbai, etc. are relevant examples. While it is unlikely that humanitarian agencies will adopt the organisational style of such groups, knowledge of how they think and operate may be essential to adapt and respond to their actions in the future. His post on on cascading systems failure, for example, identifies strategies and mechanisms for attacking critical infrastructure that any agency responsible for their protection must be aware of. Browse his site in more detail for an engaging read on the future of decentralised, networked collaboration.