Climate chaos is coming, and the Pinkertons are ready – As they see it, global warming stands to make corporate security as high-stakes in the 21st century as it was in the 19th

An 1884 newspaper sketch of Pinkertons escorting workmen during a mining strike. Graphic: Alamy
An 1884 newspaper sketch of Pinkertons escorting workmen during a mining strike. Graphic: Alamy

By Noah Gallagher Shannon
10 April 2019

(The New York Times Magazine) – The Pinkertons wanted me to picture myself in a scene of absolute devastation. “A hurricane just wipes out everything, and you need to feed your children,” Andres Paz Larach said. The power grid is down, shipments of food are cut off, the water is no longer potable — how do you get what you need to survive? What risks do you take? It was a hot early morning in March, and we were driving through a pine forest high in the mountains surrounding Santa Ana Jilotzingo, 25 miles northwest of Mexico City. Our Suburban, equipped with bulletproof windows and reinforced doors, labored slowly over the dirt road, which appeared to have been washed out by a recent thunderstorm.

For much of the previous hour, Paz Larach and two other executives from Pinkerton, Carlos Manuel López Portillo Maltos and Paul Rakov, had been explaining the company’s philosophy of risk management. Now over 150 years old, having long outlived its reputation as Andrew Carnegie’s personal militia, the agency has evolved into a modern security firm. Over the last decade or so, Pinkerton began noticing a growing set of anxieties among its corporate clients about distinctly contemporary plagues — active shooters, political unrest, climate disasters — and in response began offering data-driven risk analysis, in addition to what they’re more traditionally known for. Dressed in an untucked powder blue oxford and round, rimless sunglasses, Paz Larach, the firm’s senior vice president in charge of the Americas, paused before affecting a look of brutal candor. “You’re going to turn to desperate measures,” he said. Everybody will. The other Pinkertons nodded.

I was seated in the rear row next to Rakov, a marketing officer who, at 51, had recently shifted his career from more traditional P.R. to Pinkerton. He was now fully fluent in the language of tactical response. He chimed in to observe that preparing for a disaster can carry its own risks. He gave the example of a drought. “If a client has food and water and all the other stuff,” he said, “then they become a target.” López Portillo and Paz Larach uttered small words of consensus in Spanish, while scanning through email on their phones. “And if and when desperate people discovered that cache of water and food,” he continued, it was the Pinkertons’ job to protect it at whatever cost. […]

López Portillo, who until then had been jovial if diplomatic in answering my questions, turned solemn, his eyes glancing around the vaulted ceiling. He said he worried about his children, and what sort of world he might be leaving them. But his fear, he clarified, wasn’t exactly that they wouldn’t learn to adapt; it was that he, their father, didn’t know what adaptation would look like. He said that he feared variables he didn’t know how to calculate, variables he couldn’t conceive of yet.

When López Portillo finished, Paz Larach admitted that thinking that far out was still difficult for him. He was 33 and just married. What the most immediate future held for him was a new home in Miami, where he and his wife had just bought an apartment on the water. It had always been their dream. When I asked him about sea-level rise — something with which Miami is practically synonymous — he paused for a moment, then said, “We know it’s a risk, but we looked at it and decided it was worth it.” And anyway, the apartment wouldn’t be ready until 2021. They’d deal with it then. [more]

Climate Chaos Is Coming — and the Pinkertons Are Ready

U.S. falls to 19th in World Happiness Report, continuing slow decline since at least 2000 – “This year’s report provides sobering evidence of how addictions are causing considerable unhappiness and depression in the U.S.”

World dynamics of happiness, 2005-2018. The three panels show the global and regional trajectories for life evaluations, positive affect, and negative affect. The whiskers on the lines in all figures indicate 95% confidence intervals for the estimated means. Graphic: World Happiness Report 2019
World dynamics of happiness, 2005-2018. The three panels show the global and regional trajectories for life evaluations, positive affect, and negative affect. The whiskers on the lines in all figures indicate 95% confidence intervals for the estimated means. Graphic: World Happiness Report 2019

NEW YORK, 20 March 2019 – As in 2018, Finland again takes the top spot as the happiest country in the world according to three years of surveys taken by Gallup from 2016-2018. Rounding out the rest of the top ten are countries that have consistently ranked among the happiest. They are in order: Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden, New Zealand, Canada and Austria. The US ranked 19th dropping one spot from last year.

This year, the Report analyzes how life evaluations and emotions, both positive and negative, have evolved over the whole run of the Gallup World Poll, starting in 2005-2006. For life evaluations at the national level, there have been more gainers than losers.

When you factor in population growth, world happiness has fallen in recent years, driven by the sustained downward trend in India. As for emotions, there has been a widespread recent upward trend in negative affect, comprising worry, sadness and anger, especially marked in Asia and Africa, and more recently elsewhere.

Among the 20 top gainers in life evaluations from 2005-2008 to 2016-2018, 10 are in Central and Eastern Europe, five are in sub-Saharan Africa, and three in Latin America. The 10 countries with the largest declines in average life evaluations typically suffered some combination of economic, political, and social stresses. The five largest drops since 2005-2008 were in Yemen, India, Syria, Botswana and Venezuela.

This year’s happiness report focuses on happiness and the community: how happiness has evolved over the past dozen years, with a focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and government policies that have driven those changes. Special chapters focus on generosity and prosocial behaviour, the effects of happiness on voting behavior, big data, and the happiness effects of internet use and addictions.

Life Satisfaction and voting in the French 2017 presidential election. Lines show the smoothed weighted average of the proportion of people voting for Marine Le Pen at each level of life satisfaction and at different quintiles of income (‘revenue’). Data: Algan, et al., 2018. Graphic: World Happiness Report 2019
Life Satisfaction and voting in the French 2017 presidential election. Lines show the smoothed weighted average of the proportion of people voting for Marine Le Pen at each level of life satisfaction and at different quintiles of income (‘revenue’). Data: Algan, et al., 2018. Graphic: World Happiness Report 2019

“The world is a rapidly changing place,” said Professor John Helliwell, co-editor of the report. “How communities interact with each other whether in schools, workplaces, neighborhoods or on social media has profound effects on world happiness.”

The World Happiness Report 2019, which ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be, according to their evaluations of their own lives, was launched today at the United Nations. The report was produced in partnership with The Ernesto Illy Foundation.

“We are living a moment of transition to a new age and this generates a sense of uncertainty,” said Andrea Illy, Chairman of illycaffè and Member of the Board of Fondazione Ernesto Illy. “Social happiness is therefore even more relevant, in order to give a positive perspective and outlook for the present and for the future.”

The chapter by Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network focuses on the epidemic of addictions and unhappiness in America, a rich country yet one where happiness has been declining rather than rising.

General happiness, U.S. adults, General Social Survey, 1973-2016. Even as the United States economy improved after the end of the Great Recession in 2009, happiness among adults did not rebound to the higher levels of the 1990s, continuing a slow decline ongoing since at least 2000. Graphic: World Happiness Report 2019
General happiness, U.S. adults, General Social Survey, 1973-2016. Even as the United States economy improved after the end of the Great Recession in 2009, happiness among adults did not rebound to the higher levels of the 1990s, continuing a slow decline ongoing since at least 2000. Graphic: World Happiness Report 2019

“This year’s report provides sobering evidence of how addictions are causing considerable unhappiness and depression in the US,” Sachs said. “Addictions come in many forms, from substance abuse to gambling to digital media. The compulsive pursuit of substance abuse and addictive behaviors is causing severe unhappiness. Government, business, and communities should use these indicators to set new policies aimed at overcoming these sources of unhappiness.”

The report, produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) with the support of the Ernesto Illy Foundation, is edited by Professor John F. Helliwell of the University of British Columbia and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; Professor Richard Layard, co-director of the Well-Being Programme at LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance; and Professor Sachs, director of SDSN and the Earth Institute’s Center on Sustainable Development. Policy applications of happiness research are collected in a companion SDSN publication Global Happiness Policy Report 2019.

According to Professor Sachs, “The World Happiness Report, together with the Global Happiness and Policy Report offer the world’s governments and individuals the opportunity to rethink public policies as well as individual life choices, to raise happiness and wellbeing. We are in an era of rising tensions and negative emotions (as shown in Chapter 2) and these findings point to underlying challenges that need to be addressed.”

General happiness, U.S. 8th, 10th, and 12th graders (ages 13 to 18), 1991-2017. Happiness and life satisfaction among United States adolescents, which increased between 1991 and 2011, suddenly declined after 2012. Thus, by 2016-17, both adults and adolescents were reporting significantly less happiness than they had in the 2000s. Graphic: World Happiness Report 2019
General happiness, U.S. 8th, 10th, and 12th graders (ages 13 to 18), 1991-2017. Happiness and life satisfaction among United States adolescents, which increased between 1991 and 2011, suddenly declined after 2012. Thus, by 2016-17, both adults and adolescents were reporting significantly less happiness than they had in the 2000s. Graphic: World Happiness Report 2019

The World Happiness Report 2019 includes the following chapters:

  • Chapter 2 Changing World Happiness: by John Helliwell, Haifang Huang and Shun Wang, presents the usual national rankings of life evaluations, supplemented by global data on how life evaluations, positive affect and negative affect have evolved on an annual basis since 2006, and how the quality of government and various forms of conflict have influenced those evaluations.
  • Chapter 3 Happiness and Voting Behaviour: by George Ward, considers whether a happier population is any more likely to vote, to support governing parties, or support populist authoritarian candidates.
  • Chapter 4 Happiness and Prosocial Behavior: An Evaluation of the Evidence by Lara Aknin, Ashley Whillans, Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn, shows that engaging in prosocial behavior generally promotes happiness, and identifies the conditions under which these benefits are most likely to emerge.
  • Chapter 5 The Sad State of US Happiness and the Role of Digital Media: by Jean Twenge, documents the increasing amount of time US adolescents spend interacting with electronic devices, and presents evidence that it may have displaced time once spent on more beneficial activities, contributing to increased anxiety and declines in happiness.
  • Chapter 6 Big Data and Well-Being: by Paul Frijters and Clément Bellet, asks big questions about big data. Is it good or bad, old or new, is it useful for predicting happiness, and what regulation is needed to achieve benefits and reduce risks?
  • Chapter 7 Addiction and Unhappiness in America: by Jeffrey Sachs, surveys a number of theories of addiction, presents evidence of rising US prevalence of several addictive behaviours, and considers a variety of possible causes and cures.

In presenting these results at the launch, coeditor John Helliwell noted that “over the seven years of World Happiness Reports, there has been a steady increase in the level and sophistication of reader interest. At first, readers mainly wanted to see how countries ranked. Now we see ever-increasing interest in using the happiness lens to help understand what makes for happier homes, schools, workplaces, and communities, and to use these findings to help make lives better everywhere.”

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Finland Again is the Happiest Country in the World

The climate change paper so depressing it’s sending people to therapy

Cover sheet for the paper, “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” by Professor Jem Bendell, a sustainability academic at the University of Cumbria, dated 27 July 2018. Graphic: Jem Bendell
Cover sheet for the paper, “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy” by Professor Jem Bendell, a sustainability academic at the University of Cumbria, dated 27 July 2018. Graphic: Jem Bendell

By Zing Tsjeng
27 February 2019

(Vice) – What if I told you there was a paper on climate change that was so uniquely catastrophic, so perspective-altering, and so absolutely depressing that it’s sent people to support groups and encouraged them to quit their jobs and move to the countryside?

Good news: there is. It’s called “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy”. I was introduced to it via an unlikely source—a guy formerly in advertising who had left his job to become a full-time environmental campaigner. “We’re fucked,” he told me. “Climate change is going to fuck us over. I remember thinking, Should I just accept the deep adaptation paper and move to the Scottish countryside and wait out the apocalypse?”

“Deep Adaptation” is quite unlike any other academic paper. There’s the language (“we are about to play Russian Roulette with the entire human race with already two bullets loaded”). There’s the flashes of dark humor (“I was only partly joking earlier when I questioned why I was even writing this paper”). But most of all, there’s the stark conclusions that it draws about the future. Chiefly, that it’s too late to stop climate change from devastating our world—and that “climate-induced societal collapse is now inevitable in the near term.”

How near? About a decade.

Professor Jem Bendell, a sustainability academic at the University of Cumbria, wrote the paper after taking a sabbatical at the end of 2017 to review and understand the latest climate science “properly—not sitting on the fence anymore,” as he puts it on the phone to me.

What he found terrified him. “The evidence before us suggests that we are set for disruptive and uncontrollable levels of climate change, bringing starvation, destruction, migration, disease, and war,” he writes in the paper. “Our norms of behavior—that we call our ‘civilization’—may also degrade.”

“It is time,” he adds, “we consider the implications of it being too late to avert a global environmental catastrophe in the lifetimes of people alive today.” […]

Erik Buitenhuis, a senior researcher at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, tells me that Bendell’s conclusions may sound extreme, but he agrees with the report’s overall assessment. “I think societal collapse is indeed inevitable,” he says, though adds that “the process is likely to take decades to centuries.”

The important thing, Buitenhuis says, is to realize that the negative effects of climate change have already been with us for some time: “Further gradual deterioration looks much more likely to me than a disaster within the next ten years that will be big enough that, after that, everybody will agree the status quo is doomed.”

“Jem’s paper is in the main well-researched and supported by relatively mainstream climate science,” says Professor Rupert Read, chair of the Green House think-tank and a philosophy academic at the University of East Anglia. “That’s why I’m with him on the fundamentals. And more and more people are.” [more]

The Climate Change Paper So Depressing It’s Sending People to Therapy


ABSTRACT: The purpose of this conceptual paper is to provide readers with an opportunity to reassess their work and life in the face of an inevitable near-term social collapse due to climate change.

The approach of the paper is to analyse recent studies on climate change and its implications for our ecosystems, economies and societies, as provided by academic journals and publications direct from research institutes.

That synthesis leads to a conclusion there will be a near-term collapse in society with serious ramifications for the lives of readers. The paper reviews some of the reasons why collapse-denial may exist, in particular, in the professions of sustainability research and practice, therefore leading to these arguments having been absent from these fields until now.

The paper offers a new meta-framing of the implications for research, organisational practice, personal development and public policy, called the Deep Adaptation Agenda. Its key aspects of resilience, relinquishment and restorations are explained. This agenda does not seek to build on existing scholarship on “climate adaptation” as it is premised on the view that social collapse is now inevitable.

The author believes this is one of the first papers in the sustainability management field to conclude that climate-induced societal collapse is now inevitable in the near term and therefore to invite scholars to explore the implications.

Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy

As global democracy retreats, ethnic cleansing is on the rise

Emergency shelter and supplies are being provided to displaced people in the Rakhine State in western Burma. Photo: DFID-UK Department for International Development / Flickr
Emergency shelter and supplies are being provided to displaced people in the Rakhine State in western Burma. Photo: DFID-UK Department for International Development / Flickr

By Michael J. Abramowitz and Arch Puddington
25 February 2019

(The Diplomat) – Ethnic cleansing, a staple of geopolitical crises in the 1990s, is making a comeback. According to Freedom in the World, the annual report on political rights and civil liberties published by Freedom House, the number of countries earning a score deduction for some form of forced demographic change increased from three in 2005 to 11 in 2018.

In the bloodiest cases, civilians from targeted groups have been killed or displaced in huge numbers. The military in Myanmar engaged in an orgy of rape, murder, and arson in a campaign to push the Muslim Rohingya minority into neighboring Bangladesh. During a period of extreme violence that began in mid-2017, tens of thousands of Rohingya were killed and over 700,000 fled.

In Syria’s multisided war, belligerents including the Assad regime and the Islamic State have engineered mass displacement, starvation, and purges of entire communities. And in South Sudan, both pro-government and rebel fighters have committed atrocities against civilians from rival ethnic groups, though government-aligned forces have been responsible for the worst abuses.

But the most violent outbreaks should not be allowed to overshadow or excuse more subtle efforts to forcibly alter the ethnic or religious makeup of a population. In Bahrain, the repressive Sunni monarchy has engaged in a long-term attempt to erode the Shiite majority and tip the country’s demographic balance in favor of the Sunni minority. Among other steps, the state has revoked the citizenship of hundreds of Shiite Bahrainis, and outlawed Shiite activists and opposition parties that object to such policies.

Ethnic cleansing became a global concern during the Balkan wars and the genocidal slaughter in Rwanda in the 1990s. Given the belated international response to those crises, some in the democratic world advanced a doctrine called the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which obliges states to protect all populations from genocide and ethnic cleansing, and to intervene before the killing begins. At a 2005 UN summit, every country in the world signed a commitment to R2P.

Since that optimistic moment, democracy has been in retreat. In country after country, strongmen have eviscerated independent media, captured the judiciary, and stage-managed elections to perpetuate their rule. The failure of the United States and other democratic powers to respond effectively to these abuses has encouraged major autocracies to embrace more extreme measures, like forced demographic change, in pursuit of their domestic or geopolitical agendas.

The world’s democracies have appeared powerless to stop tragedies like those in Myanmar and Syria, whereas Russia and Iran have provided indispensable support to the regime in Damascus, and China has served as a key diplomatic backstop for Myanmar.

Indeed, both Moscow and Beijing are carrying out demographic engineering operations of their own.

Since its seizure of Crimea, the Kremlin has systematically enhanced the Russian military and civilian presence in the territory while deporting Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, or forcing their departure through acts of persecution.

China is engaged in campaigns to transform the populations of three regions with sizable ethnic minorities: Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang. While all three feature organized, long-term efforts to encourage settlement by members of the Han Chinese majority and suppress the cultures and languages of the indigenous minorities, the most ambitious and brutal project is under way in Xinjiang.

Conditions in the region deteriorated sharply during the past two years as more than 1 million ethnic Muslims were detained in a vast network of “re-education” centers to undergo political and religious indoctrination. The number and size of orphanages and boarding schools have also been expanded to absorb the growing number of minority children who have been sent away for immersive Chinese-language education or whose parents are being held in the camps. Cases of torture and deaths in custody were reported throughout 2018, as was evidence that Uyghurs were transferred in large numbers to detention facilities in other provinces.

Chinese officials use reassuring terms to describe their concentration camps and ethnic removal plans, referring to urban renewal, rural development, and job training.  But the goal remains what it has always been: to obliterate unique ethno-religious cultures that have endured for centuries, using a revamped version of techniques that made Maoism an infamous symbol of totalitarian cruelty.

One could make the argument that the atrocities in places like South Sudan and Myanmar are the work of rogue regimes. But the embrace of forced demographic change by world powers, especially China, which is making an aggressive bid for global leadership, has truly alarming implications. The international norm against ethnic cleansing is not just being swept aside. It is at risk of being replaced by a new standard that authorizes rulers to use any means necessary to create their preferred citizenry — a sinister reversal of democracy, in which free citizens are meant to choose their rulers.

As Global Democracy Retreats, Ethnic Cleansing Is on the Rise

Mexican activist shot dead before vote on power project he opposed – Thousands protest murder of Samir Flores Soberanes in Mexico City

Samir Flores Soberanes was gunned down on his doorstep in Amilcingo, south of Mexico City, on 20 February 2019. Photo: Ana Ramos / Pie de Página
Samir Flores Soberanes was gunned down on his doorstep in Amilcingo, south of Mexico City, on 20 February 2019. Photo: Ana Ramos / Pie de Página

By David Agren
20 February 2019

MEXICO CITY (The Guardian) – A Mexican environmental activist has been murdered before a referendum on a controversial thermal-electric plant and pipeline that he opposed.

Samir Flores Soberanes, an indigenous Náhuatl, was killed in his home during the early hours of Wednesday in the town of Amilcingo in Morelos state, 80 miles south of Mexico City. He was a human rights activist, producer for a community radio station and long-time opponent of the Proyecto Integral Morelos (the integral project for Morelos) – which includes the plant and pipeline.

Mexican media reported that Flores had been shot twice in the head by unknown assailants. The Morelos state prosecutor, Uriel Carmona, said the murder had nothing to do with the thermal-electric plant and investigators were probing links to organised crime.

The People’s Front in Defence of the Land and Water for the states of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala (FPDTA) said in a statement that Flores had no enemies besides those behind the project. “This is a political crime for the human rights defence that Samir and the FPDTA carried out against the [project] and for people’s autonomy and self-determination,” the statement said.

The FPDTA has opposed the construction of the thermal-electric project at Huexca over concerns it could contaminate water supplies.

The project was first proposed in 2011, but has been championed by Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as a way to reduce electricity bills. […]

Flores’s violent death continued the disturbing trend of environmental and human rights defenders, along with journalists, being murdered with impunity in Mexico – something López Obrador has promised to confront.

The death also came after López Obrador controversially branded civil society groups as conservative for opposing his plans for megaprojects and creating a militarised police force.

Conservatives “have seized control of civil society. I don’t know people from civil society,” López Obrador, commonly called AMLO, said on Tuesday. “The truth is very few [are] left-wing. With total respect, everything to do with civil society has to do with conservatism. Even big consortiums promote civil society.” [more]

Mexican activist shot dead before vote on power project he opposed


Thousands of protesters march in Mexico City on 23 February 2019, following the murder of environmental activist Samir Flores Soberanes. A man holds a placard at the protest reading, “Samir didn’t die, the government killed him”. Photo: Reuters
Thousands of protesters march in Mexico City on 23 February 2019, following the murder of environmental activist Samir Flores Soberanes. A man holds a placard at the protest reading, “Samir didn’t die, the government killed him”. Photo: Reuters

23 February 2019 (BBC News) – Thousands of protesters have marched in Mexico City following the murder of an environmental activist.

Samir Flores Soberanes, who was also a journalist, was shot twice in the head in his home in Amilcingo, south of Mexico City, on Wednesday.

The protesters held signs saying “Samir didn’t die, the government killed him”; “Samir lives”; and “Justice for Samir”.

As the march made its way through Mexico City, thousands gathered in Amilcingo to lay Flores to rest.

The reasons for the killing are not yet clear but a prosecutor has indicated it was linked to organised crime.

Flores was a longstanding opponent of the Proyecto Integral Morelos (PIM), a development project that includes two new thermoelectric plants and a 150km (93 mile) natural gas pipeline in the state. […]

Activists fear that the pipeline will contaminate the local water supply, which would predominantly affect the indigenous communities in the area.

His death came just days before Saturday and Sunday’s public referendum on the plants. [more]

Samir Flores Soberanes: Thousands march in Mexico City over activist’s murder

New study establishes link between climate change, conflict, and migration – “In a context of poor governance and a medium level of democracy, severe climate conditions can create conflict over scarce resources”

Total marginal effect of Standardised Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) on conflict for the 2010–2012 period. Graphic: Abel, et al., 2019 / Global Environmental Change

23 January 2019 (UEA) – Research involving a University of East Anglia (UEA) academic has established a link between climate change, conflict, and migration for the first time.
In recent decades climatic conditions have been blamed for creating political unrest, civil war, and subsequently, waves of migration, but scientific evidence for this is limited.
One major example is the ongoing conflict in Syria, which began in 2011. Many coastal Mediterranean countries in Europe have also seen the arrival of thousands of refugees fleeing conflict in Africa.
Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, including Dr Raya Muttarak, also of UEA’s School of International Development, sought to find out whether there is a causal link between climate change and migration, and the nature of it. They found that in specific circumstances, the climate conditions do lead to increased migration, but indirectly, through causing conflict.
The findings, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, suggest that climate change played a significant role in migration and asylum seeking in the period 2011–2015, with more severe droughts linked to exacerbating conflict.
Dr Muttarak, a senior lecturer in geography and international development at UEA, said: “The question of how climatic conditions can contribute to political unrest and civil war has drawn attention from both the scientific community and the media. We contribute to the debate on climate-induced migration by providing new scientific evidence.
“The effect of climate on conflict occurrence is particularly relevant for countries in Western Asia in the period 2010–2012, when many were undergoing political transformation during the so-called Arab Spring uprisings. This suggests that the impact of climate on conflict and asylum seeking flows is limited to specific time periods and contexts.”
The political uprisings of the Arab Spring occurred in countries including Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, and Syria, where the conflict led to an ongoing civil war.
In Syria particularly, long-running droughts and water shortages caused by climate change resulted in repeated crop failures, with rural families eventually moving to urban areas. This in turn led to overcrowding, unemployment and political unrest, and then civil war. Similar patterns were also found in sub-Saharan Africa in the same time period.

Asylum seeking flows by world region, 2006–2010 and 2011–2015. Graphic: Abel, et al., 2019 / Global Environmental Change

Co-author Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, of IIASA and Vienna University of Economics and Business, said: “Climate change will not cause conflict and subsequent asylum-seeking flows everywhere. But in a context of poor governance and a medium level of democracy, severe climate conditions can create conflict over scarce resources.”
The researchers, who also include Guy Abel (IIASA and Shanghai University) and Michael Brottrager (Johannes Kepler University Linz), say that concerns relating to climate change-induced conflict leading to migration should be considered in the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
At present the link between climate change and migration is not explicit, and they are not treated as interrelated. Further research is needed to more fully understand migration flows.
Asylum seekers are more likely to be influenced by conflict than usual migrants, so the researchers used data from asylum applications from 157 countries from 2006-2015 to study the patterns. This data was obtained from the United Nations High Commissions for Human Rights (UNHCR).
As a measure of climate conditions in the asylum seekers’ original countries, the team used the Standardised Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI), which measures droughts, compared to normal conditions, through identifying the onset and end of droughts, and their intensity, based on precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, and climatic conditions such as temperature. To assess conflict, the team used data on battle-related deaths from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP).
These datasets were fed into the researchers’ modelling framework, along with various socioeconomic and geographic datasets. These included the distance between country of origin and destination, population sizes, migrant networks, the political status of the countries, and ethnic and religious groups.

New study establishes link between climate change, conflict, and migrationConceptual model of climate, conflict, and migration. Graphic: Abel, et al., 2019 / Global Environmental Change

ABSTRACT: Despite the lack of robust empirical evidence, a growing number of media reports attempt to link climate change to the ongoing violent conflicts in Syria and other parts of the world, as well as to the migration crisis in Europe. Exploiting bilateral data on asylum seeking applications for 157 countries over the period 2006–2015, we assess the determinants of refugee flows using a gravity model which accounts for endogenous selection in order to examine the causal link between climate, conflict and forced migration. Our results indicate that climatic conditions, by affecting drought severity and the likelihood of armed conflict, played a significant role as an explanatory factor for asylum seeking in the period 2011–2015. The effect of climate on conflict occurrence is particularly relevant for countries in Western Asia in the period 2010–2012 during when many countries were undergoing political transformation. This finding suggests that the impact of climate on conflict and asylum seeking flows is limited to specific time period and contexts.CONCLUSIONS: […] Our results indicate that there is no empirical evidence backing the existence of a robust link between climatic shocks, conflict and asylum seeking for the full period 2006–2015. The estimates of our model support these causal linkages only for the period 2010–2012, where global refugee flow dynamics were dominated by asylum seekers originating from Syria and countries affected by the Arab spring, as well as flows related to war episodes in Sub-Saharan Africa.Excluding these regions from the analysis provides further statistical evidence, that the link between climate shocks, conflict and subsequent migration flows might rather be interpreted as a local phenomenon and therefore very specific to these regions. Indeed, our study shows that an increase in drought episodes can drive outmigration through exacerbating conflict in a country with some level of democracy. This is confirmed by the finding that climate contributes to conflict only in a specific period of 2010–2012 and specifically to certain countries, particularly those in Western Asia and Norther Africa experiencing the Arab Spring. Climate change thus will not generate asylum seeking everywhere but likely in a country undergoing political transformation where conflict represents a form of population discontent towards inefficient response of the government to climate impacts.

Climate, conflict and forced migration

The retreat of global democracy stopped in 2018 – Or has it just paused?

The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index for 2018. The overall global score remained stable in 2018 for the first time in three years. Just 42 countries experienced a decline, compared with 89 in 2017. Encouragingly, 48 improved. Graphic: The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index

8 January 2019 (The Economist) – Democracy stopped declining in 2018, according to the latest edition of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. The index rates 167 countries by 60 indicators across five broad categories: electoral process and pluralism, the functioning of government, political participation, democratic political culture and civil liberties. It is stricter than most similar indices: it concludes that just 4.5% of the world’s people live in a “full democracy”. However, the overall global score remained stable in 2018 for the first time in three years. Just 42 countries experienced a decline, compared with 89 in 2017. Encouragingly, 48 improved.In recent years, threats to democracy around the world have become increasingly obvious. The Arab spring fizzled. China’s leader is poised to rule for life. Populists with autocratic tendencies have won elections in the Philippines, Brazil, and Mexico and subverted democratic institutions in Hungary, Turkey, and Poland. Perhaps because the trend is so glaring—strongmen in different countries often copy each other’s tactics, soundbites and scapegoats—voters are not taking it lying down. Political participation improved more than any other measure on the EIU’s index. This is true even in advanced democracies such as the United States, where voters are highly disgruntled. Polarisation in America has led to anger, gridlock and the current government shutdown. According to Gallup polls from January to mid-November 2018, the share of Americans who approve of the way that Congress is handling its job had fallen to an average of 18%, down from 40% in 2000. Perhaps because they are so cross, they are more likely to vote. Turnout at the 2018 mid-term elections was the highest for over 100 years.

Parts of Europe are suffering from a democratic malaise. Italy fell from 21st to 33rd in the rankings after voters elected a populist coalition that seeks to bypass democratic institutions and curtail the civil liberties of immigrants and Roma. Turkey’s score declined for the sixth year in a row as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan swept aside most constraints on his power. Russia deteriorated for the tenth year in a row, after the main opposition candidate was barred from running in a presidential election and Vladimir Putin continued to crush civil liberties. Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia saw slight improvements in 2018, mostly reflecting higher scores for political participation.The report warns that all this may be a pause, rather than the end of democracy’s retreat. The global rise in engagement, combined with a continued crackdown on civil liberties such as freedom of expression, is a potentially volatile mix. It could be a recipe for instability in 2019.

The retreat of global democracy stopped in 2018

America conquest cooled Earth’s climate – The Great Dying of the indigenous peoples of the Americas contributed to the Little Ice Age

Global atmospheric CO2 time series. (A) The CO2 concentrations recorded in two Antarctic ice cores: Law Dome (grey, MacFarling Meure et al., 2006) and West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide (blue, Ahn et al., 2012). (B) Carbon isotopic ratios recorded in CO2 from the WAIS Divide ice core (black, Bauska et al., 2015) showing an increased terrestrial carbon uptake over the 16th century (B). Yellow box is the span of the major indigenous depopulation event (1520–1700 CE). Loess smoothed lines for visual aid. Error bars are the 1-σ standard deviation. Graphic: Koch, et al., 2019 / Quaternary Science Reviews

By Jonathan Amos
31 January 2019

(BBC News) – Colonisation of the Americas at the end of the 15th Century killed so many people, it disturbed Earth’s climate.

That’s the conclusion of scientists from University College London, UK.

The team says the disruption that followed European settlement led to a huge swathe of abandoned agricultural land being reclaimed by fast-growing trees and other vegetation.

This pulled down enough carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere to eventually chill the planet.

It’s a cooling period often referred to in the history books as the “Little Ice Age” – a time when winters in Europe would see the Thames in London regularly freeze over.

“The Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas led to the abandonment of enough cleared land that the resulting terrestrial carbon uptake had a detectable impact on both atmospheric CO₂ and global surface air temperatures,” Alexander Koch and colleagues write in their paper published in Quaternary Science Reviews.

The team reviewed all the population data it could find on how many people were living in the Americas prior to first contact with Europeans in 1492.

It then assessed how the numbers changed in following decades as the continents were ravaged by introduced disease (smallpox, measles, etc.), warfare, slavery, and societal collapse.

It’s the UCL group’s estimate that 60 million people were living across the Americas at the end of the 15th Century (about 10% of the world’s total population), and that this was reduced to just five or six million within a hundred years.

The scientists calculated how much land previously cultivated by indigenous civilisations would have fallen into disuse, and what the impact would be if this ground was then repossessed by forest and savannah. The area is in the order of 56 million hectares, close in size to a modern country like France.

This scale of regrowth is figured to have drawn down sufficient CO₂ that the concentration of the gas in the atmosphere eventually fell by 7-10ppm (that is 7-10 molecules of CO₂ in every one million molecules in the air).”

To put that in the modern context – we basically burn (fossil fuels) and produce about 3ppm per year. So, we’re talking a large amount of carbon that’s being sucked out of the atmosphere,” explained co-author Prof Mark Maslin.

“There is a marked cooling around that time (1500s/1600s) which is called the Little Ice Age, and what’s interesting is that we can see natural processes giving a little bit of cooling, but actually to get the full cooling – double the natural processes – you have to have this genocide-generated drop in CO₂.” […]

Ed Hawkins, professor of climate science at Reading University, was not involved in the study. He commented: “Scientists understand that the so-called Little Ice Age was caused by several factors – a drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, a series of large volcanic eruptions, changes in land use and a temporary decline in solar activity. “This new study demonstrates that the drop in CO₂ is itself partly due the settlement of the Americas and resulting collapse of the indigenous population, allowing regrowth of natural vegetation. It demonstrates that human activities affected the climate well before the industrial revolution began.” […]

“There is a lot of talk around ‘negative emissions’ approaches and using tree-planting to take CO₂ out of the atmosphere to mitigate climate change,” he told BBC News. “And what we see from this study is the scale of what’s required, because the Great Dying resulted in an area the size of France being reforested and that gave us only a few ppm. This is useful; it shows us what reforestation can do. But at the same, that kind of reduction is worth perhaps just two years of fossil fuel emissions at the present rate.” [more]

America colonisation ‘cooled Earth’s climate’


Impact of changes in radiative forcing on atmospheric CO2 and temperature 1000–1800 CE. A) CO2 concentrations recorded in two Antarctic ice cores: Law Dome (grey) and West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide (blue); B) Global mean temperature reconstruction from northern and southern hemisphere proxies, anomaly compared to the means from 1000 to 2000 CE; C) Total Solar Irradiation anomaly compared to the means from 1000 to 2000 CE; D) volcanic, radiative forcing (grey, individual eruptions; black, smoothed); E) Land-atmosphere flux based on double deconvolution of WAIS CO2 data; F) Land use change (LUC) in the Americas from the LUC reconstructions KK10 (purple), HYDE 3.1 (blue and grey. The 1600 CE value has been replaced with the LUC estimate from this review (solid lines) and the original LUC reconstruction is plotted for comparison (dashed lines); G) LUC in the two other regions with considerable agrarian societies at the time, Asia and Europe based on the three LUC reconstructions. Graphic: Koch, et al., 2019 / Quaternary Science Reviews

ABSTRACT: Human impacts prior to the Industrial Revolution are not well constrained. We investigate whether the decline in global atmospheric CO2 concentration by 7–10 ppm in the late 1500s and early 1600s which globally lowered surface air temperatures by 0.15∘C, were generated by natural forcing or were a result of the large-scale depopulation of the Americas after European arrival, subsequent land use change and secondary succession. We quantitatively review the evidence for (i) the pre-Columbian population size, (ii) their per capita land use, (iii) the post-1492 population loss, (iv) the resulting carbon uptake of the abandoned anthropogenic landscapes, and then compare these to potential natural drivers of global carbon declines of 7–10 ppm. From 119 published regional population estimates we calculate a pre-1492 CE population of 60.5 million (interquartile range, IQR 44.8–78.2 million), utilizing 1.04 ha land per capita (IQR 0.98–1.11). European epidemics removed 90% (IQR 87–92%) of the indigenous population over the next century. This resulted in secondary succession of 55.8 Mha (IQR 39.0–78.4 Mha) of abandoned land, sequestering 7.4 Pg C (IQR 4.9–10.8 Pg C), equivalent to a decline in atmospheric CO2 of 3.5 ppm (IQR 2.3–5.1 ppm CO2). Accounting for carbon cycle feedbacks plus LUC outside the Americas gives a total 5 ppm CO2 additional uptake into the land surface in the 1500s compared to the 1400s, 47–67% of the atmospheric CO2 decline. Furthermore, we show that the global carbon budget of the 1500s cannot be balanced until large-scale vegetation regeneration in the Americas is included. The Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas resulted in a human-driven global impact on the Earth System in the two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution.CONCLUSION: We estimate that 55 million indigenous people died following the European conquest of the Americas beginning in 1492. This led to the abandonment and secondary succession of 56 million hectares of land. We calculate that this led to an additional 7.4 Pg C being removed from the atmosphere and stored on the land surface in the 1500s. This was a change from the 1400s of 9.9 Pg C (5 ppm CO2). Including feedback processes this contributed between 47% and 67% of the 15–22 Pg C (7–10 ppm CO2) decline in atmospheric CO2 between 1520 CE and 1610 CE seen in Antarctic ice core records. These changes show that the Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas is necessary for a parsimonious explanation of the anomalous decrease in atmospheric CO2 at that time and the resulting decline in global surface air temperatures. These changes show that human actions had global impacts on the Earth system in the centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution. Our results also show that this aspect of the Columbian Exchange – the globalisation of diseases – had global impacts on the Earth system, key evidence in the calls for the drop in atmospheric CO2 at 1610 CE to mark the onset of the Anthropocene epoch (Lewis and Maslin, 2015, 2018). We conclude that the Great Dying of the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas led to the abandonment of enough cleared land in the Americas that the resulting terrestrial carbon uptake had a detectable impact on both atmospheric CO2 and global surface air temperatures in the two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution.

Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492

Davos climate obsessions contain clues for policymaking – The environment has replaced the economy and finance on the global elite’s worry list

The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Landscape 2019. 'Extreme Weather Events' and 'Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation' are in the highest impact / highest likelihood quadrant. Graphic: World Economic Forum Global Risks Perception Survey 2018–2019
The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Landscape 2019. ‘Extreme Weather Events’ and ‘Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation’ are in the highest impact / highest likelihood quadrant. Graphic: World Economic Forum Global Risks Perception Survey 2018–2019

By Gillian Tett
17 January 2019

(Financial Times) – What are the biggest risks stalking the world today? A cynic might gripe that the list is so depressingly long that it is pointless even to try to choose: populism, cyber attacks, trade wars, weather shocks and global debt are all on the rise.

However, during the past decade the World Economic Forum has asked its members to rank their worries in terms of likelihood and impact, ahead of its annual meeting in Davos. And while this poll is limited in scope — WEF members are drawn, of course, from the global elite of corporate executives, government officials, NGO activists and the media — the results are nevertheless thought-provoking.

This year’s “worry” list, for example, is dominated by climate change concerns: Davosians apparently fear that extreme weather events are becoming more common, and that the world has no effective mechanism to respond. Climate issues account for three of the five risks deemed most likely to materialise in 2019 — and four of the top five risks that could cause the most damage. The only other topics cited are weapons of mass destruction, and cyber risks.

That might seem unremarkable. After all, the survey was carried out in the autumn of 2018, a year marked by extreme weather events, which, it is becoming clear, are damaging some companies’ bottom lines. Pacific Gas and Electric is just the latest case in point — as well as a warning.

But what is more striking is how this worry list has changed since the WEF started its survey. A decade ago, what worried Davosians was the economy and the financial system. When asked about which dangers were most likely to materialise, they cited “asset price collapse”, and “slowing Chinese economy” first. And the risks perceived to cause most damage were “asset price collapse”, “retreat from globalisation”, “oil and gas price spike”, and “fiscal crises”. The only non-financial issue cited was “pandemic”. The environment was not mentioned at all. [more]

Davos climate obsessions contain clues for policymaking


17 January 2019 (WEF) – The Global Risks Report 2019 is published against a backdrop of worrying geopolitical and geo-economic tensions. If unresolved, these tensions will hinder the world’s ability to deal with a growing range of collective challenges, from the mounting evidence of environmental degradation to the increasing disruptions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The report presents the results of our latest Global Risks Perception Survey, in which nearly 1,000 decision-makers from the public sector, private sector, academia and civil society assess the risks facing the world. Nine out of 10 respondents expect worsening economic and political confrontations between major powers this year. Over a ten-year horizon, extreme weather and climate-change policy failures are seen as the gravest threats.This year’s report includes another series of “what-if” Future Shocks that examine quantum computing, weather manipulation, monetary populism, emotionally responsive artificial intelligence, and other potential risks. The theme of emotions is also addressed in a chapter on the human causes and effects of global risks; the chapter calls for greater action around rising levels of psychological strain across the world.

The Global Risks Report 2019

Data mining adds evidence that war is baked into the structure of society – “There is little evidence that humankind is progressing toward a more peaceful world”

The probability P(X≥x) of war fatalities (per war); the black point marker represents the empirical distribution, the green line is the best fit obtained by means of lognormal function and the red line is a best fit of power law cutting the tails of distribution. In the subfigure we show the power law fit of a tail distribution. Graphic: Martelloni, et al., 2019 / Arxiv
The probability P(X≥x) of war fatalities (per war); the black point marker represents the empirical distribution, the green line is the best fit obtained by means of lognormal function and the red line is a best fit of power law cutting the tails of distribution. In the subfigure we show the power law fit of a tail distribution. Graphic: Martelloni, et al., 2019 / Arxiv

4 January 2019 (Emerging Technology) – War is the subject of detailed study among historians, reflecting a general hope that by learning from the past, we can avoid similar mistakes in future.

Many historians study war in terms of the actors involved and the decisions they make. It is often possible to describe how wars emerge from these stresses and to identify patterns of behavior that should be avoided in future.

But in recent years another, more powerful way to think about war has emerged. In this way of thinking, war is a simple but unavoidable network phenomenon that is hard-wired into the structure of society.

The thinking goes like this. Society is a complex web of social, political, and economic forces that depend on the network of links between individuals and the countries they represent. These links are constantly rearranging, sometimes because of violence and death. When the level of rearrangement and associated violence rises above a threshold level, we describe the resulting pattern as war.

This network science approach is providing a new way to think about how to avoid the causes of war. But it raises important questions, too. Not least of these is whether this new approach is evidence-based at all: does the historical record provide good evidence that war is a network phenomenon?

Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Ugo Bardi at the University of Florence in Italy and a couple of colleagues, who have analyzed one of the largest historical databases of violent conflict and say its statistical properties are entirely consistent with the network theory of war.  “Our result tends to support the idea that war is a statistical phenomenon related to the network structure of the human society,” they say.

Bardi and co begin with a data set compiled by Peter Brecke at Georgia Tech University in Atlanta, which consists of the number of war fatalities each year between 1400 and 2000. […]

This makes the possibility of future major conflict uncomfortably high. As Clauset put it: “The historical patterns of war seem to imply that the long peace may be substantially more fragile than proponents believe.” A sobering conclusion. [Here’s another interesting paper that uses other methods on the same data set to come to a similar conclusion: Is War Disappearing? –Des] [more]

Data mining adds evidence that war is baked into the structure of society


Distribution of war fatalities per war world population normalized fitted by power law (equation 1): a=0.000332, b=-0.8869, SSE=0.0005404, R2=0.9991, Adjusted-R2=0.9991, RMSE=0.002478. Graphic: Martelloni, et al. 2018 / Arxiv
Distribution of war fatalities per war world population normalized fitted by power law (equation 1): a=0.000332, b=-0.8869, SSE=0.0005404, R2=0.9991, Adjusted-R2=0.9991, RMSE=0.002478. Graphic: Martelloni, et al. 2018 / Arxiv

ABSTRACT: We analyze the database prepared by Brecke (Brecke 2011)  for violent conflict, covering some 600 years of human history. After normalizing the data for the global human population, we find that the number of casualties tends to follow a power law over the whole data series for the period considered, with no evidence of periodicity. We also observe that the number of conflicts, again normalized for the human population, show a decreasing trend as a function of time. Our result agree with previous analyses on this subject and tend to support the idea that war is a statistical phenomenon related to the network structure of the human society.CONCLUSIONS: Our contribution in this field consists in validating the Brecke conclict database (Brecke 2011), among the longest and most complete ones available. This analysis confirms previous work, see e.g. (Clauset 2018), (Clauset and Gleditsch 2018) for a general discussion. The data indicate that power laws are common in the distribution of violent conflicts in human history: in this case, the trend is clear when the number of casualties are normalized for the increasing world population. Note also that the normalized number of conflicts per year tend to decrease with time – this result indicates that in modern times wars have tended to become less frequent but more destructive. In practice, these result confirm that there is little evidence supporting the idea popularized by Pinker (Pinker 2011) that humankind is progressing toward a more peaceful world. A new major conflict might be possible in a non-remote future, as discussed among others by Clauset (Clauset 2018). These result seem to indicate that human conflicts are a critical phenomenon: we could say that humans worldwide tend to form societies existing in a self-organized critical condition, as defined by Bak et al. (Per Bak, Tang, and Wiesenfeld 1988). In these conditions, war is simply one of the methods that the system has to dissipate entropy at the fastest possible speed (Kleidon, Malhi, and Cox 2010), (Trinn 2018). In other words, war appears to be an unavoidable consequence of the behavior of human beings, and perhaps of other primate species (de Waal 2000). On the other hand, we need also to remark that the available data series involves only a small fraction of human history, corresponding to a period of tumultuous and rapid expansion of both the economy and the population. A future of declining natural resources might show different trends.

Pattern Analysis of World Conflicts over the past 600 years