Book Review | Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence

While trying to get to the bottom of the underlying reasons for geopolitical events has always been enough of a challenge, an unfortunate side-effect of the explosion of information that the Internet has provided us with is the even further erosion of the signal-to-noise ratio. The mainstream media can pretty much be ignored altogether unless the intent is to understand the context and/or see how current events are getting framed and spun by the powers-that-be, which pretty much leaves one with having to seek out more independent sources of media – such as blogs – if what is sought after is insightful and revealing material.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Two comments about Ahmed’s book, which I finished reading about a week ago.

  1. His analysis makes it clear that it was a combination of the deteriorating supply of resources and environmental crises in Syria causing social stress, in conjunction with an Assad regime that believed it had no options other than repression, rather than an American or European attempt at regime change, that caused the Syrian civil war. Too many people blame the US for anything bad that happens. Even though there are plenty of US-caused calamities, Syria is not one of them.

  2. The best solutions to what Ahmed calls Earth System Disruption (otherwise known as “natural limits to growth”) were forgone several decades ago when they would have been much easier to implement. We are far too late to control any aspect of collapse, except perhaps for going the total-nuclear-devastation route. His claim that “the contours of this new system remain very much subject to our choices today” is false. We no longer have control of our collective fate.

When collapse begins in earnest, individuals and small groups can only prepare to avoid contact with civilization and hope that the debris from the implosion misses the spot where they have hunkered down.

That humankind has let it come to this point is our greatest failure as a species. On the other hand, it’s only natural that species go extinct every day. We may be next. As The Donald might say, “Sad!”

I think you’re right about #1 and mostly right about #2. I had the same thoughts (regarding #2) when reading the book, but then got the impression that what he was saying could fit under the rubric of “we might not be able to fix it all, but we can avoid the worst. And in the meantime, let’s salvage what we can, which can lay the groundwork for later on.” If that’s not what he was saying, then yeah, I’m leaning towards what you said.

And LOL to your last sentence.

Edit: Not that I think humanity is going extinct any time soon. I don’t go for that Guy McPherson stuff.