Re Failing States, Collapsing Systems, by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

Nafeez Ahmed offers the latest warning on dire Limits to Growth situation facing Humanity

New scholarly book demonstrates that limits are being hit NOW!

Below are brief notes illustrating the main themes in an extremely important new book by Nafeez Ahmed – Failing States, Collapsing Systems. The book documents how many biophysical limits (i.e. peak oil, climate change, water stress, population growth) are already impacting countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. with likely flow-on effects across the world. 

For more detail you can also read an excellent review of Nafeez book by Alice Friedemann.

Some Major Points from Failing States, Collapsing Systems, by Nafeez Ahmed

This extremely important book explains how the “limits to growth” are rapidly accelerating causes of chaos and conflict in the Middle East (but not only, also e.g. India & China, Nigeria etc.), especially within oil-exporting countries. Below are some of the key points:

  • In recent decades the populations of many countries, particularly Middle Eastern (ME), have exploded, due primarily to income from oil exports. For example, in Saudi Arabia there has been an eightfold increase in population from 4.1 million in 1960 to 32.7 million in 2017. Over the same period, Yemen has seen a fivefold increase in population and Syria a fourfold increase.
  • This has meant that more and more oil income now has had to go into importing food and other necessities of life. For example, Egypt was self-sufficient in food production in the 1960s but now imports 70% of its food. 
  • It has also meant that increasing amounts of oil have had to go into domestic uses, reducing the amounts available for export to the big oil consuming countries. For example, in Saudi Arabia domestic oil demand has increased 7.5% over the last 5 years, mainly due to population growth.
  • In several oil exporting countries oil extraction has peaked (Syria, Yemen, Nigeria, Egypt, China, India, U.S); and energy return on investment on oil production is falling (in other words the amount of oil available for use for society after accounting for the energy used in the supply process is declining).
  • In many of the big exporting countries these trends are likely to drastically reduce oil exports in a decade or so.
  • In addition, the deteriorating water and food situation, and declining government revenues from oil exports means governments can provide less to its citizens, e.g., cutting subsidies, raising food and energy prices.
  • Many oil exporting countries such as Yemen, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria etc. have little else to earn export income from.
  • The result is increasing discontent with government, civil unrest, and conflict between tribes, and religious communities, over scarce water and arable land (mention also bread riots). Sectarian conflicts (riots. E.g. Christians killed by Muslims in Egypt, Iraq etc.) are being fueled by the tensions ultimately caused by underlining biophysical impacts. Unemployed, desperate and hungry farmers and youth have little option but to join extremist groups, such as ISIS, where at least they are fed.
  • The IMF and World Bank make the situation worse. Failing states appeal for economic assistance and are confronted with the standard recipe: increased loans on top of already impossible debt, on condition that they gear their economy to paying the loans back plus interest (and privatizing, selling assets etc.) and thus to implement austerity programs.
  • Local elite authoritarianism and corruption make everything worse; the rich will not support measures to gear existing scarce resources to mass need. The presently dominant neoliberal globalized capitalist ideology discourages interfering with market forces to try to solve problems.
  • Thus, a vicious positive feedback downward spiral, to which it would seem there can be no remedy, because it is basically due to the oil running out as populations continue to grow and per-capita land and water resources diminish.
  • There will be major knock-on effects on the global economy and the rich (oil-consuming) countries in the shape of waves of illegal immigration and climate and war refugees which have already begun. It is also quite likely that the global economy will collapse as the capacity to import oil will be greatly reduced. When the fragility of the global financial system, with debt now 6 times GDP, is added to this picture, sudden chaotic breakdown appears very likely.

The Wider Global Context

The hard reality is that the rich world way of life is grossly unsustainable and unjust. Our levels of production and consumption are far too high. We could only achieve (and can still afford) them because we few in rich countries are since long grabbing most of the world’s resources extracted or produced. We are fast depleting stocks of nonrenewable resources. And, as we know, renewables can of course regenerate, but their amounts are given. We are thereby depriving most of the world’s people of their fair share of these resources. It would be impossible for all the world’s people to rise to our rich world per capita levels of consumption. Our economic activities are causing huge ecological, partly irreversible damage to the biosphere. Most people have no idea of the magnitude of the limits problem and how far we are beyond sustainable levels.

Most of the major global problems we face, especially environmental ones, Third World poverty, mass illegal immigration into the rich countries, international conflict, and social breakdown are primarily, though not exclusively, due to this limits problem – i.e., to over-consumption.    

We must therefore work for/toward a radical system change from the currently prevailing consumer-capitalist society to a simper egalitarian society with a planned economy. In rich countries, especially, there must be a process of planned and egalitarian de-growth. That is, we must work for an eventual transition to ways of life and to an economy that will enable all to have a high quality of life on far lower levels of resource consumption, perhaps to 1/10 of the present levels. There is a strong case that such ways are available, and attractive, and easily developed — if enough of us want to adopt them.

For the present, however, the most urgent and important task is to prevent the collapse. To find out more, visit The Simpler Way web site.

(The above comments were written by Ted Trainer and friends.)

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