Bio-Physical Triggers of Political Violence

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* Book: Failing States, Collapsing Systems. BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed. Springer, 2017



Nafeez Ahmed:

"In my new book, I argue that global net energy decline is a primary driver of the present moment of global system failure.

As global net energy is declining, to keep the endless growth machine running, the imperative to drill like crazy to get more energy out only deepens. So instead of scaling back our exploitation of fossil fuels, we are accelerating it.

As we are accelerating fossil fuel exploitation, this is accelerating climate change. That in turn is driving more extreme weather events like droughts, storms and floods, which is putting crops in major food basket regions at increasing risk.

The environmental crisis has culminated in a shocking tipping point, whereby we have breached several key “planetary boundaries” for the safe operation of human civilisation, amplifying the risk of large-scale disruption of natural systems.

As climate and food instability ravage regions all over the world, this has fueled government efforts to task their militaries with planning for rising instabilities as these processes weaken states, stoke civil unrest and even inflame terrorism. And that escalating breakdown of regional states coincides conveniently with a temptation to use military force to consolidate control of more fossil fuel resources.

This is precisely what has already happened in several key peripheral countries: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, and Nigeria and beyond have become failing states as climate, energy, economic and food crises driven, at root, by net energy decline, have unleashed hell on earth. As state structures have crumbled, the vacuum has been filled by extremists radicalised by the geopolitical games of outside powers, emboldened by the changing landscape. These processes can only be held at bay from the West for so long. And phenomena like Trump in the US and Brexit in Europe show that they are no longer being held at bay.

When a complex adaptive system is particularly challenged by its environmental conditions, it enters a stage of crisis. The crisis challenges the existing structures, the existing relationships and patterns of behaviour in a system. If the crisis intensifies, it can reach a threshold that undermines the integrity of the whole system. Eventually, either the system adapts by re-structuring, leading to a ‘phase shift’ to a new system, a new equilibrium — or it regresses.

In a civilisational context, the capacity to process information in such a way that it is distributed effectively across the system to contribute to resilient relationships is crucial to the system’s ability to survive, and adapt. The media institutions and processes that drive our behaviour are, in this sense, an interesting barometer of the health of the ‘DNA’ of our civilization.

The state of information overload and polarisation we are now experiencing therefore speaks to the fact that we are rapidly approaching a crisis threshold. The crisis has overwhelmed the existing structures of the global system. Our prevailing institutions and systems of power are in informational disarray as they struggle to make sense of what appears to be an overload of information signalling this systemic crisis.

At this point of threshold, the system faces a crisis of information overload, and an inability to meaningfully process the information available into actionable knowledge that can advance an adaptive response. Hence, for instance, the increasingly toxic polarisation of all political discourse. And certainly in the case of the ‘peak oil’ debate, the inability to engage constructively with seemingly contradictory evidence." (

Underlying Axioms

Excerpted from Nafeez Ahmed [1]:

  • Axiom 1: Forecasting is not about inducing agreement or disagreement, or reinforcing dogma. Its best use is as a tool to facilitate scenario planning that aids in enhancing actionable knowledge.
  • Axiom 2: Conventional oil production peaked around 2005, and since then has plateaued. This does not mean oil is running out. Rather, the shortfall is being made up by unconventional sources of oil and gas which exist in abundance, although they are energetically and environmentally more costly, and produce less net energy than crude.
  • Axiom 3: The post-peak world does not in itself imply the end of the Oil Age, but merely the shift toward unconventional sources of oil and gas. This, however, also implies a transition to a new era of lower energy quality from fossil fuels. In this new era, oil prices are inherently volatile, because the supply and demand dynamics of the new oil era are different to what we’ve been used to in the age of cheap crude.
  • Axiom 4: Global net energy has declined over the last century. This decline correlates with a long-term decline in the rate of global economic growth. These two phenomena are not accidentally related, but causally entwined: economic growth consists of an increase in production and consumption, which is based on the extraction of energy and its conversion into goods and services.
  • Axiom 5: Technological improvements will make unconventional oil and gas more accessible, and thus more recoverable in principle.
  • Axiom 6: We are no longer making significant new discoveries of high quality oil, and the rate and size of fossil fuel discoveries in general are in exponential decline.
  • Axiom 7: Global net energy continues to decline despite better and more efficient technologies of production. Technological improvements, so far, have not produced higher quality energy. It has, however, enabled us to produce higher quantities of lower quality energy, whose quality continues to decline.
  • Axiom 8: Global net energy decline plays a driving role in the acceleration of interconnected climate, energy and food crises, which in turn have escalated toward a threshold of global systemic crisis. One of the most direct symptoms of this crisis threshold is information overload, resulting in polarised, exclusionary bubbles of competing ‘truth’."



  • Introduction
  • The Crisis of Civilization as an Analytical Framework
  • Net Energy Decline
  • Permanent Secular Stagnation
  • Earth System Disruption
  • Human System Destabilization
  • Biophysical Triggers of Crisis Convergence in the Middle East
  • Biophysical Triggers of Crisis Convergence in Africa
  • Biophysical Triggers of Crisis Convergence in Asia
  • Biophysical Triggers of Crisis Convergence in the Euro-Atlantic Core
  • Conclusions: From Systemic State-Failure to Civilizational Transition