Nafeez Ahmed: Our Systems Are Failing

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is an award winning 15 year investigative journalist, noted international security scholar, best-selling author and film-maker.  He authored The Guardian’s Earth Insight blog and has twice won the prestigious Project Censored Award for outstanding investigative journalism.

In his new book Failing States, Collapsing Systems, Nafeez points out, as we often do here at, that everything in our modern society is connected to energy, and that our pursuit of ever more, ever higher growth is finally colliding with planetary limits. Scarcity and strife will be the dominant trends from here, unless we, as a species, start looking for different ways of living better-suited for a finite world:

The most fascinating thing for me is how so much of what we take for granted becomes questionable as a result of the breakdown we're seeing. When we begin questioning the exponential growth model then we begin questioning the value system driving our material production/consumption. It's not that it hasn’t produced amazing knowledge of our environment and our place in the universe. It's not that there haven’t been a huge amount of amazing technological developments, like the internet which has enabled people to be interconnected in ways that they never were able to before. In a way has paved the way for us to be able to think globally in a way that centuries ago would have never happened.

It's not that everything about this paradigm is bad. It's just that it has very clearly outlasted its usefulness and is now fundamentally responsible for escalating the biophysical rupture that we see happening and manifesting in so many different ways. What that tells me is that we have to grow up as a species. It's an evolutionary moment.

When we apply systems theory to this, when we apply our knowledge of complex adaptive systems and the history of evolution, it does seem to me that it is absolutely clear really that we're at an unprecedented moment. For the first time in human history, we are standing at a point where we need to basically undergo fundamental systemic adaptation. Exactly what that looks like we're still trying to work out. But what is very clear is what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look like seeing each other as separate material entities that just fend for themselves and produce and consume to an endless degree. It looks quite different.

The ideas and the values and the ethos of that different approach has been percolating in different civilizations in different ways. There's evidence from indigenous civilizations, from tribal societies, and even from projects that are now being seeded here and now in our current context where people are trying different things. I think we are at a moment where we're rewriting that story and making a new story of what it means to be human.

It's particularly important because when people look at this with fresh eyes, it's very easy to be overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness. That's being reflected now with the rise of Trump and everything else. There is this sense of things getting worse. And I think in many ways it is going to get worse before it gets better. All of this is symptomatic of the crisis that is at play.

A question we all need to be able to ask ourselves is To what extent can I make myself useful going forward, building and planting seeds for what comes after this moment?

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Nafeez Ahmed (55m:52s).

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Exactly,Nafeez, it’s becoming harder to know what to believe.

Other recent and noteworthy pieces by Nafeez Ahmed:

Brace for the Oil, Food and Financial Crash of 2018

80% of the world’s oil has peaked, and the resulting oil crunch will flatten the economy

By Dr. Nafeez Ahmed • 01/20/17
New scientific research suggests that the world faces an imminent oil crunch, which will trigger another financial crisis. A report by HSBC shows that contrary to the commonplace narrative in the industry, even amidst the glut of unconventional oil and gas, the vast bulk of the world’s oil production has already peaked and is now in decline; while European government scientists show that the value of energy produced by oil has declined by half within just the first 15 years of the 21st century ... [low EROI petroleum]. The upshot? Welcome to a new age of permanent economic recession driven by ongoing dependence on dirty, expensive, difficult oil… unless we choose a fundamentally different path.
And Ahmed's recently published book: Failing States, Collapsing Systems: BioPhysical Triggers of Political Violence (2017).
...[A] peer-reviewed scientific monograph on how state failures around the world are being driven by systemic crises driven by interconnected climate, energy, food and economic crises. The series editor is Prof Charles Hall, the founder of the concept of Energy Return on Investment (EROI) which measures the efficiency of an energy system by calculating the quantity of energy used to extract new energy from a particular resource. The book establishes a social science grounded complex systems framework of the key factors behind the acceleration of civil unrest across the world, and its major strategic and societal implications. My findings show that deeply intertwined climate, energy, food and economic crises - driven fundamentally by a longterm thermodynamic process of global net energy decline - are leading states to begin failing.... This is the first time that an attempt has been made to develop a framework for exploring how geopolitical crises are directly and intimately connected to deeper biophysical processes.

Fascinating discussion by two of the best systems thinkers looking at our multi-faceted predicament in all of its glory! Bravo!
Would love to hear Nafeez on a regular basis as an Off the Cuff guest.

Some where in the beginning of the pod cast, I believe Chris asked if the oil companies were putting out information to counter act the scientific data, that shows the negative effects on the environment. I’m sure he knows the answer to that. But the book, or documentary Merchants of Doubt makes a very good argument that oil companies are definitely funding misinformation campaign.

Do not accuse me of not being an adult. I am older than you and have grandchildren.
Do not accuse me of being an optimist. I cannot bear to look that little girl in the eye and say
“I am sorry my dear, but you are not going to make twenty years old. You are going to sacrifice your dignity for a slice of bread ,before succumbing to violence and cannibalism.”
If you are comfortable with that then I consign you to the Untermenschen.
The cartoonist mars model that you offer up for ridicule is a gross ( possibly even malicious) pathology that speaks of a cult of doom.
Gerard K O’ Neil and teams of doctorial fellows worked on the project and showed that the entire exercise was not only existentially necessary but that it would return an incredible profit.
To not read “High Frontiers” is to fail in your duty of care to your daughters.
No. It has nothing at all to do with mars.
I understand that you were a chemist. Well, to a hammer all problems look like a nail. The electron is not going to save us, nor to loft us to le Grange. The proton has one million times the mass of an electron, therefore it can deliver one million times as much energy. The nucleus may offer us a way out. The electron will not, so stop obsessing about it. Forget about chemical energy, forget about photons and other leptons.None of them are useful.
And read the book before you have to look that little girl in the eye.

Hello to all of you:
This link is to an old interview with Frithjof Bergman, Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. He grew up in a small town in Austria, I believe he went to Princeton and then taught at the U of M. for 40 years. I believe that I must have been among his second batch of students. He must be 86 by now and I can’t find any interviews later than 2015. So I think he is still alive but perhaps no longer actively working. If he can still speak perhaps you could interview him.
#We do not live long enough to complete our life’s work. Now there is a a truthful tweet. I would tweet it if I twittered which I do not.
Chris I think you might find this interview, and perhaps this entire site, interesting and somewhat relevant.

debu wrote:
Fascinating discussion by two of the best systems thinkers looking at our multi-faceted predicament in all of its glory! Bravo! Would love to hear Nafeez on a regular basis as an Off the Cuff guest.
Thank you. We've had some really wonderful interviews already this year, while this one stands out for me personally as one I particularly enjoyed. Why? Because it is rare to run into someone who understands how systems work and can connect dots. Not everybody can.

Actually it is Bergman’s site “New Work New Culture” that is more interesting, because it is more specific, than the site. But there haven’t been any postings in a couple of years so I guess it is all done.

I find Nafeez more rewarding to read than to listen to. I felt it was like Chris was having to crush shale rock to extract the invaluable drops of information.
Yes, we’ve got information overload - maybe for a century.
I’m still hankering after a book I neglected to buy 25 yrs. ago about the decline of interiority. Prayer, contemplation, meditation, seem to have declined in the West with the decline of religion and the monastries. In the East in Buddhism, Yoga, Taoism, meditation was the royal road to reality and took time and effort. Ideally, the senses were not seen as good or bad but were recognized as a severe distraction to ultimate interior, though though also body -transmuting enlightenment. The mind allowed itself to deepen and expand through matter ( the body - objective reality )
The enlightenment was the beginning of us scientifically manipulating our external world. It worked too well up to now where the consequences of external manipulation have caught up with us.
Newton did say for every action there was a reaction.

I haven’t listened to this interview yet, but for a while I’ve observed the frantic clamour for “solutions” to our systemic problems, and I’ve realised just how moronically backward our species is. We never learn from cause and effect.

Nafeez Ahmed may speak well about failed systems. Maybe the systems themselves are the real problem (yes, I’m looking at you, modern capitalism). If we stop shoehorning our children into flawed belief systems then perhaps the subsequent repairs & solutions wouldn’t be so onerous or so drastic.

Future generations will look at the 1800s - 2020s and wonder how we became so desperately inept at managing what all other species do very naturally - live in equilibrium with our planetary environment.

Of course shamans of every culture have their own ways of going inward.
I gather Jung concluded that the essence of Alchemy was that the alchemist himself/herself was one of the elements transformed in the operation.
Newton devoured alchemical tracts looking for a great secret. He had to settle for our reductionist way of analysing everything. Had he been in China he would have been a keen chi gong practioner and maybe even become an immortal. Working with the forces of nature in one’s mind and body gives one great respect for the external objective world too.
I was nearly 40 when I started, but the bigger problem was/ is I’m too erratic due to circumstances. But I’ve felt the force, the Serpent Power.
I don’t know that it’s got much to do with being a better or a wiser human being in though it probably makes one a more effective one. It’s just another possibility for regeneration. And it does lend every credence to the sentence in Marianne Williamson’s poem Chris quoted that " Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure’'.
I think it was the word regeneration that brought all that on! And I’d hold on to the guns and ammo too. And I’d be quite happy to take anything from Mars that worked!

what is the source for that graph?
i question the eroei of wind. pedro prieto has it quite a bit less.
pedro would be a good podcast interview. he would definitely
bring some reality to the idea that wind and solar will save us.
thank you damnthe matrix

Long time lurker, first time commenter. Admittingly, I don’t pay for the premium service, so maybe some of the following questions are redundant or already answered.
I listened to the entire podcast. On one hand, I love Chris and Nafeez. On the other hand, I have many questions.
The gist I get from reading almost all PP info is that the current system is unsustainable and that we need to create new systems and new ways of delivering goods and services.
I get that. But after an hour long podcast, I still have no specifics.
I have questions:
A) what specifically does this looming collapse entail? Hyperinflation, hyperdeflation, both?
B) What systems specifically are we to put into place? More government, less government? How do those systems get implemented?
C) You said you want the human race to finally grow up and evolve? What does that mean?
D) You think people should prepare for a world where their job won’t be to increase Walmart gross revenues by 1%. What will people be doing to sustain themselves? Will corporations be gone?
E) You speak of escaping corporate America, buying land, gardening and watching birds and bees. All good stuff, but how realistic is it for all people in this world to do this? Are we heading for a barter economy? If so, that sounds like regress, not progress.
Again, I highly respect you, your site, and your community. But at some point, you must lay out specifics.

Part of what makes Peak Prosperity work well is the personal and geographic spread of the community. Both the Crash Course and the What Do I Do sections of the site are open to all. If that doesn"t not only whet your appetite and fill in a lot of the answers for you, then get the book ‘Prosper’. That’s my two cents worth for a serios start into what to do.
Each of us is different. Each lives in a different place with different needs. How we face what is ahead is analogous to asking how do you go on a journey. Journeys can be arduous and speckled with dangerous moments. Each of us must do our best to be ready for possible events. None of us can see for certain what is ahead, but we are all sharing what it means to 'keep your ear to the tracks (for incoming trains) and your eye on the weather. We are each trying to scout out what we can.
Thanks for posting. Sometimes we regulars are forgetful of those who are listening. I expect others will chime in with some thoughts.

In the same vein of the cartoon you presented.

Dubai Drone Taxi, The Dubai Road and Transport Authorities announced that it will launch a Drone Taxi service in the Summer of 2017. The "Remote Controlled, Single Seat, Electric Drones" can carry a passenger weighing up to 100Kg's within a 50 Km range. The Drones can fly for 30 minutes at a speed of 160 Km/Hour before the need to recharge again. The passenger selects his destination from a map on a touch-screen in front of the seat and the Drone flies there automatically whilst passenger "enjoys" the Dubai Skies. The Drone is controlled from an Air Traffic Command Center, it has NO parachute and relies on a set of high availability redundant propellers for safety. Would you travel in one?

Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t catch any discussion about the options that faced voters, in the recent election.
IMHO, we had a choice between two insane candidates, one an obvious sociopath with a well documented track record.
The election was a close thing. I get it that the people who didn’t get their way are unhappy. That is frequently the case. What I don’t get is how protesting every action by elected officials, insuring that nothing gets done, is going to solve anything?
I also wonder if people who support unrestricted illegal immigration into the U.S. are paying any attention to what is going on in Sweden and the rest of Europe.
The point Dr. Al Bartlett made regarding exponential growth, applies to the immigration issue. We’ve already done that experiment. We don’t have to try it, again, to know what will happen. If you want to see the results, all you have to do is buy an airplane ticket.

Tawdzilla, yours are excellent questions. Speaking only for myself, I wrote a book that answers your questions with specifics. It’s titled “A Radically Beneficial World” and you can read free bits here:
Boiled down: finance is the weakest link and will collapse in on itself.
If we don’t change the way we create and distribute “money”, we change nothing.
Centralized government and profit are no longer adequate methods of decision-making. They have their place, but the future belongs to a decentralized, networked community-based economy that is messy, adaptive and localized, but with access to global best practices (appropriate technologies and practices).
I know authors aren’t supposed to pitch their books, but I can’t post 50+K words here or explain the specifics in less than that.

Who knows. Bursting of the Ponzi economy would be deflationary as GDP contracts, jobs are lost, debt capital repayments can’t be made and get defaulted on.
Resetting the money system so that it correctly prices our energy descent requires inflation or currency devaluation of some sort. Maybe a world currency immerges based round the SDR (special drawing rights, backed by the IMF) which correctly prices assets for the energy descent and all other currencies get devalued relative to it. But who knows.

charleshughsmith wrote:
I know authors aren't supposed to pitch their books, but I can't post 50+K words here or explain the specifics in less than that.
I think there's a big gap between constant and incessant pandering of one's works on the one hand, and putting in a plug for work that you spent a great deal of time putting together on the other. I'm never bugged by an author tooting their own horns (and livelihoods), as long as it isn't done all the time without regard for the context of the conversation. Plus, it isn't like you are putting in a plug for a $3,000 self-help program or something. It's a book that's, what, $15-$20?

Then again, you’re not helping me get my “to-read” list under control here.