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Terror, climate chaos, financial crisis are the costs of 'doing business'

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Production costs for unconventional sources are far higher than for cheap crude. But the rapid depletion rate for shale gas wells has driven high drill rates, fuelling a gas glut. The resulting oversupply has helped lower the market price to a degree that threatens profitability for the entire industry.

This shift away from cheap, easy fossil fuels to expensive, difficult-to-extract energy is the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to the economic slowdown.

Conventional economists, who largely failed to anticipate the 2008 crash, still fail to understand the economy's embeddedness in environmental and energy systems. They do not grasp that persistent slow growth is symptomatic of the economy's intensifying overshoot of the natural limits of those systems.

No amount of quantitative easing, deregulation, and austerity can address the endless-growth model's dependence on unlimited exploitation of planetary resources -- and the latter's accelerating depletion.

Arab spring, Arab winter

These converging crises -- climate-induced droughts, collapsing agriculture, peak oil, the decline of state revenues, accelerating debt and inequality under extreme financial deregulation and liberalisation - combined with reactionary state repression to maintain "order" have helped induce the string of state failures behind escalating ethnic, sectarian and political unrest across the Middle East.

In countries like Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and beyond, civil unrest was triggered or exacerbated by food price hikes.

Those in turn were triggered by unprecedented extreme weather events in food-basket regions, rapid depletion of these countries' conventional oil sources, the consequent haemorrhage of state revenues, and the inability of authoritarian states to contain popular resentments any longer.

What happens when, over the next 15 years, Saudi Arabia's oil export capacity declines to zero? When US shale production peaks after 2020? When climate change increasingly disrupts major food producing regions?

We're all monsters now

As the economy teeters on the brink of the next crisis, as climate change intensifies, as planetary resources deplete and rates of extinction accelerate, as violent conflict and terrorism proliferate, the response of world leaders has been denial, business-as-usual, and too little, too late.

We are at war with surface-symptoms: obsessed with throwing bombs at terrorists forged from a system that incubates both bombs and terrorists.

That is precisely because the epistemological failure to recognise the inherent interconnections of these global crises is, itself, symptomatic of the same crises.

The fragmentation in our epistemic approach -- our vision of the world -- reflects the fragmentation we create in the world.

Based on an inherently limited diagnosis that refuses to concede the complicity of business-as-usual in generating these crises, industrial civilisation's approach is to shore-up the existing system of endless growth, premised on fossil fuel dependence.

It is no coincidence that the "war on terror" is being led by a coalition of the world's major industrial consumers, fossil fuel producers and carbon emitters -- in the name of defending "civilisation".

It is no coincidence that all the areas of military engagement to fight terror, including the latest in Syria, happen to contain the bulk of the world's remaining strategic energy resources.

But the projection of a civilisational divide props up the comforting delusion that the problem is not with "our civilisation" -- but with "Them": "Them" terrorists are evil, unfathomable monsters who appear out of the blue due solely to backward beliefs, and must therefore be destroyed by "Our" civilisation.

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Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the 'System Shift' column for VICE's Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye. He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work.

Nafeez has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz, Prospect, New (more...)

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