“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!

Of piracy and overfishing; a case study in unintended consequences

April 14, 2009

Photo from <a href=The real roots of Somalian piracy lie in failed governance and overfishing.

He notes that thousands of Somalis used to make their living as fishermen.  But after two decades of state failure and no regulatory bodies, foreign fisherman illegally take nearly $300 million in fish per year from Somalia’s waters.

As a result fishermen became increasingly desperate, turning first to vigilante patrol boats to help self-police their own waters from illegal fishing and dumping.  They would storm a boat and demand “taxation” or payment for their illegal fishing or dumping.  This proved so successful, that while the economic situation at home grew even worse, many turned to piracy in order to survive and take in more lucrative catches.  War is Boring suggests that pirates have cut the Somalian tuna trade in half.  

In a 45 minute New York Times interview with a Somali pirate, they reveal their true motivation:

He said that so far, in the eyes of the world, the pirates had been misunderstood. “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits,” he said. “We consider sea bandits those who illegally fish in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas. We are simply patrolling our seas. Think of us like a coast guard.”

This is a fascinating portrait of a complex system of unintended consequences.  

Failed state -> unregulated waters -> illegal fishing and dumping -> violent vigilantes self-policing -> realisation of increased profit potential -> piracy.  

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.


Political net attacks on the rise

March 25, 2009


Kevin Siers, North Carolina - Editorial cartoons from the Charlotte Observer

Kevin Siers, North Carolina - Editorial cartoons from the Charlotte Observer

The MIT Technology Review has an excellent interview with a series of Internet security experts, which finds that politically motivated net attacks are sharply on the rise.

When armed conflict flared up between Russia and Georgia last summer, the smaller country also found itself subject to a crippling, coordinated Internet attack. An army of PCs controlled by hackers with strong ties to Russian hacking groups flooded Georgian sites with dummy requests, making it near impossible for them to respond to legitimate traffic. The attacks came fast and furious, at times directing 800 megabits of data per second at a targeted website.

Wikipedia defines a denial-of-service attack (DOS) as ” an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users”.  The US Computer Emergency Response Team has an overview here, observing that most DOS attacks involve:

  • unusually slow network performance (opening files or accessing web sites)
  • unavailability of a particular web site
  • inability to access any web site
  • dramatic increase in the amount of spam you receive in your account
  • While this is merely inconvenient for most public websites, such attacks effect every aspect of the internet and can be used to cripple email, file transfers, intranets, and all means of web-based communication.

    Better use of cyber infrastructure, including such net attacks, will be an increasingly common trend in the future.  Imagine if aid agencies themselves become the target of such attacks?  What if the humanitarian expulsion from Darfur also involved sophisticated efforts to cripple aid groups at their core, vis-a-vis target denial of service attacks? 

    UPDATE – Paul Currion, as usual, has a fantastic example of this kind of thing from Sudan, posted mere hours before this one!  Well done Paul and thanks for the link!

    UPDATE 2 – Humanitarian.info provides more examples on how this is already affected aid agencies (“Denial of service = denial of reality”).  It seems our “hypothetical” question about Darfur has actually already happened.  Do any other HFP Blog readers out there know of similar attacks on aid agencies and NGO’s?

    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.”

    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.


    “Dirty War Index” tool published

    December 23, 2008

    A new analytical tool which could be very useful for estimating the true cost of political violence.

    Researchers from King’s College London and University College London have published a methodology in last week’s PLoS Medicine, which they are calling the “Dirty War Index”. The tool is intended to help identify the rate of “dirty” war outcomes for conflicts, including torture, child injury, and civilian deaths.

    This relates to the forecasting work HFP recently completed for Oxfam UK estimating the numbers of climate change and conflict affected people’s worldwide in 2015. One of the key problems in that project was estimating total deaths and numbers affected by political violence, as most conflict databases only report official combatant deaths. Leaving aside the thorny issue of undercounting and political manipulation of these numbers, there are very few ways of estimating the total number of people affected by violent conflict. For our project with Oxfam UK, we used a ratio of combatant mortality to internally displaced peoples (IDP’s) and refugees to estimate the total numbers affected. Combining this with the “Dirty War Index” would have been a very useful step and will likely be incorporated in future drafts of that work.

    The paper can be downloaded for free here.