“Donald Trump is a symptom of imperial decline, and not really the problem.”
April 14, 2017
Our global dramas are now driven by the end of cheap energy, journalist Nafeez Ahmed argues.
Donald Trump is a symptom of imperial decline, and not really the problem.
The world faces not a “clash of civilizations” with radical Islam (although the dust-up remains a significant challenge), but a crisis of civilization that includes riotous climates, poisoned oceans, failing forests and collapsing economies.
And if you think those two statements ring truer than what you are reading in the media these days, then spend some time with Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed.
Ahmed is a British investigative journalist who has been connecting the dots on energy, climate change and globalization for years. The title of his latest book sums up our current predicament: Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence.
“Trump is what happens,” recently wrote Ahmed, “when you fail to understand our global problems in their interconnected, systemic context.”
His pithy book lays out the grim context. The new global drama of eroding democracies and failed states, he says, can best be explained by a radical energy story that the media ignores or doesn’t understand.
The whole mess begins with net energy declines.
As the world runs out of cheap fossil fuels, industry has switched to earthquake-making shale gas fracking, messy bitumen oil sands projects and deep offshore oil.
But these extreme fuels, which require complex technologies to extract, are poor substitutes for cheap oil. They not only return less energy but also require more capital, water and energy to extract.
Our economy, largely shaped by the high-energy returns of cheap fossil fuels, doesn’t know how to metabolize costly fuels that deliver minimal returns.
Meanwhile hydrocarbon emissions are also destabilizing the climate, melting ice, fostering extreme weather and acidifying oceans — and all as you safely read The Tyee.
To visualize the great energy decline, think for a moment about the predicament of polar bears.
They evolved to hunt seals on ice floes nearly 400,000 years ago. Today seals provide 70 per cent of the energy needs of your average polar bear.
Catching seals at ice holes — a largely sit and wait game — netted high energy returns and made the polar bear empire fat and healthy.
But what happens when you melt the ice that serves as a kitchen table for that “fast food” and makes it harder for polar bears to dine?
Well, the bears have to expand more energy to get less. As it gets more “expensive” and complicated for the world’s 26,000 polar bears to live, the empire fractures.
Some starve. Some fail to reproduce. Some mate with grizzly bears. Others try to replace the declines in protein by foraging for goose eggs and blueberries. But that kind of foraging often takes more energy than it ever returns.