One Giant Bleak Against Mankind

by | Mar 25, 2014

I have an article over at Spiked, on the matter of that dodgy ‘NASA-funded’ end-is-nigh report.

The article, by the catastrophile and author of The Crisis of Civilisation, Nafeez Ahmed, was soon picked up by dozens of other newspapers, and hundreds of websites, all over the world. ‘NASA-funded study warns of “collapse of civilisation” in coming decades’, screamed the Independent. ‘Industrial civilisation “may be heading toward collapse” within decades because of its strain on the planet’s resources, NASA report finds’, yelled the Daily Mail.

It was written last week. Since then, Keith Kloor has given at least Ahmed’s version of the study a well-deserved spanking for his low journalistic standards.

Ahmed wrote an uncritical appraisal of the study. He didn’t bother to inquire about the merits of the model or its results.

Ahmed, is, though, a catstrophile, excited by the possibility of Judgement Day, and accordingly preoccupied. He responds to Kloor back at the gloomy-doomy Guardian:

Journalistic standards won’t be upheld by attempting to discredit science we don’t like

There is obviously no room, in Ahmed’s version of ‘journalist standards’, between salivating over scientific doomsayers, and rejecting all science.

Weirdly, part of Ahmed’s defence is this claim

Kloor’s journalistic rigour apparently somehow failed to involve bothering to read either my book or my numerous observations over the years on the grounds for long-term optimism.

Which links to yet another article of Ahmed’s, the optimism in which appears to be this,

As energy is the underpinning of a society, the unravelling of the fossil fuel system signifies the demise of the old paradigm. By the end of this century, one way or another, this paradigm will be obsolete. It’s up to us what will take its place – and as the death-spiral of the old paradigm accelerates, so do the opportunities to explore viable alternatives.

The new emerging paradigm is premised on a fundamentally different ethos, in which we see ourselves not as disconnected, competing units fixated on maximising consumerist conquest over one another; but as interdependent members of a single human family. Our economies, rather than being assumed to exist in a vacuum of unlimited material expansion, are seen as embedded in wider society, such that economic activity for its own sake is recognised as the pathology that it is. Instead, economic enterprise becomes aligned with the deeper values that make us human – values like meeting our basic needs, education and discovery, arts and culture, sharing and giving: the values which psychologists say contribute to well-being and happiness, far more than mere money and things. And in turn, our societies are seen not as autonomous entities to which the whole of the planet must be ruthlessly subjugated, but rather as inherently embedded in the natural environment.

The unravelling of the fossil fuel system is, of course, witnessed only by Ahmed. The rest of the world is consuming more of it than ever before, and so it is a good thing that more of it seems to have been found.

And in any case, it’s a weird kind of optimism, that is predicated on a chaotic transition from one ‘paradigm’ to another, like some kind of traumatic re-birth. Ahmed imagines the benefits of a post-economic society in an era clearly characterised by scarcity, rather than abundance. The environmentalist fantasises that we will re-discover our lost humanity through poverty — that we will have nice, fluffy politics, in spite of only a basic level of life.

In this model, households, communities and towns become producers and consumers of clean energy – and the same could apply to food.

We should reject this model.

I do not want to grow my own food, nor produce my own energy. 1. I wouldn’t be very good at it. 2. I don’t have enough time. 3. I have better things to do.

And I do not want to live in a ‘community’ which is bought together by necessity. If it floats your boat, more power to your elbows (and your comrades’ elbows). But there’s more to life than eating and sh*tting, and correspondingly, more to life than growing food and clearing up sh*t.

I would rather choose where I live, choose what I do, and choose what to have for dinner.

I don’t believe, as Ahmed seems to, that the Good Life exists in the post-fossil world he imagines. People do not discover humanity in subsistence. Yes, it is a Good Thing when humans cooperate to achieve each others’ or their shared aims. But Ahmed can only picture such ‘interdependence’ in the aftermath of a catastrophe.

This form of ethics is as crass as the motivations depicted by second rate Hollywood disaster B-movies. In such movies, some asteroid, alien-invasion, zombies or the incautious meddling of scientists, wipe the slate clean, removing the problem of determining consent for authority through political means — democracy. Only the virtuous survive the disaster, leaving intact those who were brought together by, yes, necessity. The agent of catastrophe is just a metaphor for misanthropy, or at least, the author’s inarticulate expression of rage at other people’s disobedience.

The ethics of doom are infantile. The likes of Ahmed don’t seem to be able to make a distinction between the failure to assert their will over the world and the end of the world. And they are narcissistic — consumed by themselves.

Speaking of crap films. Here is a film version of Ahmed’s thesis, in which he looks for an encompassing theory to explain ALL of the world’s problems.


  1. Ian Woolley (@IanGWoolley)

    He, or his editor/director, is trying to be Adam Curtis in that film isn’t he? Except all the stock footage is used in a painfully literal way. I got about 3 minutes in.

  2. geoffchambers

    I couldn’t get more than one minute into the film. It’s the accent, or rather the tone of voice, which suggests: “This the way I talk to the lads in the gang when I’m trying to get them to see sense”.

    And I did like:
    “The agent of catastrophe is just a metaphor for misanthropy, or at least, the author’s inarticulate expression of rage at other people’s disobedience”.

    Is PeterS ghostwriting your articles?

  3. Ian Woolley (@IanGWoolley)

    I thought this was amusing (can’t remember by who, but this was raised a few days ago, may well have been via your spiked article). Ahmed’s letter then Christopher Hitchens responds:

    Letter to the editor
    Vanity Fair
    Attn: Aimee Bell
    Re: Dr. Nafeez Ahmed
    January 21, 2010
    Dear Sir—

    I was bemused to note major inaccuracies about myself in “Vidal Loco,” by Christopher Hitchens (February 2010).

    Hitchens’s reduction of me to “conspiracy-mongering” and as having a “one-room sideshow” institute is contrasted by the fact that I’m an academic at the University of Sussex; my book, The War on Freedom, was used by the 9/11 commission; I’ve testified before the U.S. Congress; I’ve given evidence to a U.K. parliamentary inquiry; and my institute is advised by a board of 20 leading scholars. Hitchens also bizarrely targets my first publisher, which is not “deceased” but is in fact a flourishing alternative news source.

    This hit piece is merely an example of Hitchens’s projecting his increasing distance from reality onto those who object to his war-mongering.

    Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, M.A., D.Phil (Sussex)

    Hitchens Responds

    I congratulate Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, M.A., D.Phil (Sussex) on “growing” his résumé in the past few years. But the facts remain what they are. When he brought out The War on Freedom, its place of publication was given as a distinctly unassuming street address in Brighton. I did not say that his publisher was deceased but that its then Web site was no more. Any bloody fool can testify anywhere, but nobody has yet been fool enough to accept his argument that the attacks on New York and Washington were part of a pre-arrangement involving the United States government. (His pathetically conspiratorial rambling about the behavior of the military and Federal Aviation Administration that day has since been utterly refuted by a long and exhaustive article, “9/11 Live: The norad Tapes,” by Michael Bronner, in Vanity Fair (September 2006). Finally, I think the expression “war-mongering” is better applied to somebody who makes excuses and offers smarmy justifications for the original aggressor, Osama bin Laden.

    On reflection and on a rereading of his “book,” I would change my original article and remove the word “risible.” A more apposite term for both the author and his illiterate pages would be “contemptible.”

    Christopher Hitchens, B.A. (Oxford)
    Roger S. Mertz Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University
    Adjunct Professor in Liberal Studies at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research
    Andrew Mellon Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh
    Koret Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley
    I. F. Stone Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley
    (See how boring this can get?)

  4. Craig Loehle

    We need not look to movies for examples of Ahmed’s ideal world. They are called failed states, and there are many examples: take Somalia as one. The degeneration into a state with no government isn’t pretty, leads to fighting warlords, and lots of deaths. Whatever nobility of spirit is called forth is not enough to overcome the pure power grabbing of feuding bullies.
    Or we can take North Korea as an example of a low energy country. Oh boy.
    Guys like this have a death wish. Nihilism is not funny and can be contagious.

  5. Ben Pile

    Ian – He, or his editor/director, is trying to be Adam Curtis in that film isn’t he?

    I * think* so. But as you say, it’s a ham-fisted attempt. Both editor and writer seem to think that they are making a Curtis-esque film. But there are some differences.

    Curtis’s films are, as he makes clear himself, i) provocative, ii) polemic, iii) passionate. Ahmed, by contrast, claims authority in his ‘thoroughly researched’ (he has to keep reminding us) “science” etc. Curtis makes historically-specific arguments about particular moments and the *ideas* which shaped them, whereas Ahmed attempts to weave a story about the entire world and its problems. Curtis looks at how, often quite daft, but seemingly scientific ideas gripped political elites. Ahmed, in contrast, attempts to use “science” to say that it is the masses which are deluded, and to make statements about their habits. The borrowing of Curtis’s style doesn’t disguise the fact that Ahmed’s story sneers at the filthy, feckless consuming masses.

  6. Ian Woolley

    Exactly. You can see him and his director sat quietly contemplative after a viewing of AWOBMOLG, rubbing their chins in thought, and eventually turning to each other to say, ‘I liked the bit where the monkey slaps his forehead.’

  7. Richard Drake

    Arriving late, as so often, but thanks Craig Loehle:

    Nihilism is not funny and can be contagious.

    Almost as concise as this in the original Spiked article:

    Whereas political movements once offered liberation, today they offer mere survival.

    Who’s written best on that very important point Ben? You may answer with yourself, of course. But where?

  8. AbaddonRev911

    You really should be more careful about what you write, y’know, words’n’stuff. Talk about condemned out of your own mouth!
    I do not want to grow my own food, … I have better things to do. (none of which include writing cogently if this article is any example) … there’s more to life than eating and sh*tting,… and clearing up sh*t. I would rather choose where I live, choose what I do, and choose what to have for dinner
    Your “choices” only exist because so many others do these necessary things for you – a typical whiny little over entitled, under aware example of fin de siecle brat.

  9. hunter

    “Catastrophile”is a great way to describe the climate obsessed kooks whose loud verbosity is filling the public square.
    It takes a person who is truly out of touch with reality to think the fossil fuel system is unraveling. Fossil fuels have entered a golden age, despite the hard work of catastrophiles prophesying their apocalypse. The benefits of natural gas turns out to be widely available globally. Coal is abundant and can be burned more cleanly than ever. The climate is not changing dangerously, rapidly or even remarkably. Agriculture is growing more than ever. Humans are living longer healthier lives in larger numbers than ever before.
    No wonder climate3 obsessed kooks are so angry: Misery and suffering just refuse to grow.

  10. hunter

    Letting Ahmed off so lightly about being a 911 truther is far too nice, by the way. No one who is a 911 truther has the integrity, critical thinking skills, or reasoning skills to offer much on anything.
    As to AbaddonRev911’s post: I find it humorously ironic when someone utilizing the internet pretends they are somehow living a life not benefiting massively from specialization of labor and its myriads of benefits. Can AbaddonRev911 even garden, much less do so in a way that could sustain himself and his family, if he has one, over the years and still maintain such a snarky outlook?

  11. Ben Pile

    Hunter – Can AbaddonRev911 even garden, much less do so in a way that could sustain himself and his family, if he has one, over the years and still maintain such a snarky outlook?

    If he and his family are lucky enough to be alive. After all, the whiny little over entitled, under aware … fin de siecle brats who develop medicines and vaccines — because that is where their interests took them — would be growing their own food, too.

    The idea that people discover some kind of authentic ‘humanity’ through subsistence lifestyles is nauseating.

  12. hunter

    It is not only nauseating. The sort of truther-inspired kooky garbage that Ahmed promotes and AbaddonRev911 seems to second disturbingly is close to the Pol Pot pastoralist utopia end of social engineering. You probably recall that paean to xenocide, “Time’s Up!”, by Keith Farnish and his call to violent destruction of society to “save us” and Earth from wicked humans.
    AGW is in a sense a story like Noah: It is a story designed to put humans at the center of the climate, in a way that only those who properly acknowledge the evil of humanity and behave as commanded get saved.
    Ahmed is telling that apocalypse story in a way he hopes demonstrates his faithfulness and highlights the sinfulness of the non-believers.

  13. Peter S

    Nafeez Ahmed: “… Instead, economic enterprise becomes aligned with the deeper values that make us human – values like meeting our basic needs, education and discovery, arts and culture, sharing and giving: the values which psychologists say contribute to well-being and happiness, far more than mere money and things.”

    “Meeting basic needs’’ makes us alive – not human. It is the first requirement for every living thing. What really makes us human, of course, is the ability to negotiate an exchange of the resources necessary for this project – unlike the rest of the animal world which is limited to a precarious reliance upon fight or flight. By introducing intermediate tokens into this exchange process – holding a mutually agreed symbolic (or metaphysical) value – humans further broaden the scope in negotiating their needs being met and enrich the choices available for doing so.

    As we can see, it is ‘negotiation’ which separates us from the “natural environment” and appears to be the exclusively human attribute under indirect attack from Environmentalism – the same Environmentalism which indirectly flees from negotiating the actual value of the ‘science’ used to justify its attack.

    In seeking to cure himself of negotiation, the Environmentalist is left not basking in his babyish whimsy of “giving and sharing”… but submerged in feral fighting or flighting – with responses devoid of any intellectual coherence.

    In attempting to unravel the puzzle of Environmentalism, it may be worth noting that the external demand to begin negotiating a meeting of one’s basic needs is the primary intrusion into the pastoral of infancy – that period of a human (pre)history defined by someone else’s unconditional and unilateral “sharing and giving” of her own resources. The literal root of ‘infancy’ is ‘unable to speak’. If the transition out of the royal privilege of that first period of life and towards adulthood is rejected, then we might find evidence of it in those who are militantly ‘unwilling to negotiate’ a cause which promises to lead them back to it.

  14. Mooloo

    values which psychologists say contribute to well-being and happiness, far more than mere money and things.

    Why “psychologists say”? Does bringing un-named “psychologists” into it as a source of authority help bolster a weak argument in any way? A more sure person would write “as we all know” — except of course that isn’t true.

    Personally “psychologists say” is a red flag to me that what follows is likely to be total BS.

    I wonder how many psychologists earn minimum wage, based on their knowledge of what makes people happy.I suspect that most psychologists are actually quite happy earning loads of that “mere” money, regardless of their “research findings”.

  15. hunter

    The pattern of Ahmed and his sidekick posting here is clear: 911 truther kooks, argument from authority, magical thinking about the climate, xenocidal thinking about technology and how people should live.
    Sadly for us all, the AGW community has more than a few of these misanthropic creeps.

  16. Michael Collard

    Just finished watching the entire film. After over an hour of gloom, the last two minutes were very refreshing (in more ways than one).

  17. Myrrdin Seren

    “In this model, households, communities and towns become producers and consumers of clean energy – and the same could apply to food.”

    The proponents of this sort of Arcadian nirvana seem to think Hobbiton as envisaged by Peter Jackson is a societal template.

    Hobbiton – small enough to walk around, big enough for everybody to have elbow room. A place of abundance and manufactures ( ever wonder who is weaving and tailoring all those jackets and waist coats ? ); and not a mill or factory or smokestack to be seen – until the hobbits get to the domain of Saruman the industrialist of course !

    What do you call people who take fairy tales and project them in to life ?

  18. hunter

    @Myrrdin Seren,
    You ask: What do you call people who take fairy tales and project them in to life ?
    Lately we call them, “President”, Prime Minister”, “Environmentalist” and “Climate scientist”.

  19. hunter

    I find your brushing off of UKP as ‘fascists’ fascinating. It seems to be popular today to dismiss groups like the UKP in this manner worldwide. Can you elaborate a bit more on how they fit your definition?
    Ben, this is definitely a tangent into the wild blue. If you think it inappropriate, please feel free to end this line any way you wish. I am in the US and am not at all up to speed on UK or European politics and find this very interesting.

  20. Ben Pile

    Hunter. Lewis means UKIP, I suspect. I have no idea why he has decided to bring them up in this thread. He knows already that I produce research for UKIP MEPs (amongst others, see for e.g. today’s Mail on Sunday), so he may be trying to tell me something. His suggestion that ‘bourgeois = fascist, UKIP is bourgeois, ergo UKIP is fascist ‘ is very lazy indeed. I suspect he may have been at the gin.

  21. hunter

    Ben, lol.
    The Tea Party, a very grassroots loose gathering of law abiding, pro-civil society people was denigrated as racist/lazy/ignorant/violent/terroristic/’tea bagger’/extremists pretty successfully by hack media and government harassment in the US. I see EU supporters using that as a go by in how to squelch groups like the UKIP as well. Good luck resisting the sh*t storm the reactionaries in power will use against the true progressives who dare to buck the consensus.

  22. Mooloo

    The link in the popular imagination isn’t via bourgeois to fascist, since most people would struggle to identify what makes something bourgeois in any form,

    The link is via nationalist = racist, because keeping our foreigners supposedly means keeping out darkies. (Never mind that it means keeping out christian white people like Poles as well.)

    From racist it is only a short hop to fascist, never mind that loads of people on the Left are racist.

    In France much of the media persist in calling the Front Nationale the “extreme right” for much the same reason. Never mind that it’s long since stopped being particularly extreme. They don’t call their Communist parties the “extreme left” though, since that would suppose that the Left has extremists.

  23. hunter

    Yes good point. In the US we are told we are vicious racists if we want our borders under reasonable control. And don’t even think about demanding enforcement of current laws as if they were serious laws for government to abide by.

  24. Tom

    Ahmed’s social utopia, implicitly described as progressive and novel, has been tried before and found wanting. It’s called feudalism (tribalism might also fit the bill if we wish to go back even further). No thanks.


Leave a Reply to Ben Pile Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.