Quillwood Podcast

QP18: Global Warming as Hyperthreat and Entangled Security, with Elizabeth Boulton

August 27, 2022 Eric Garza Season 1 Episode 18
Quillwood Podcast
QP18: Global Warming as Hyperthreat and Entangled Security, with Elizabeth Boulton
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Elizabeth Boulton is an independent researcher who was a transport officer in the Australian Army who did tours of duty in East Timor and Iraq and who has done humanitarian work in Ghana, Nigeria, and Sudan. She and Eric talk about global warming as a hyperobject and a hyperthreat, expanding our awareness of the harm we cause, and the entangled nature of planetary, human, and state security, among other things.

Outline

  • 00:00 - 02:38 — Episode introduction
  • 02:38 - 10:13 — Global warming as a hyperobject
  • 10:13 - 15:49 — Global warming as a hyperthreat
  • 15:49 - 18:52 — Expanding our awareness of the harm we cause
  • 18:52 - 27:17 — Entangled nature of planetary, human, and state security
  • 27:17 - 37:59 — Incorporation of depletion and consumption in hyperthreat narrative
  • 37:59 - 51:41 — Role of conservation in security strategy
  • 51:41 - 65:26 — Finding agency against the hyperthreat
  • 65:26 - 78:18 — Censorship of alternative security narratives
  • 78:18 - 80:55 — Episode wrap-up

Links and Resources

Support the show

Eric Garza: Welcome to the Quillwood Podcast, a show dedicated to helping you learn to navigate today's changing world. I am your host, Eric Garza.

Today's episode features a conversation I recorded with Dr. Elizabeth Bolton. She was a transport officer in the Australian Army and did tours of duty in East Timor and Iraq, and has also done humanitarian work in Ghana, Nigeria and Sudan. She completed graduate degrees at the University of Melbourne and Australian National University, and is now an independent researcher at Destination Safe Earth. You can find Elizabeth on the web at destinationsafeearth.com, and I'll put a link to that in the show notes so it's easy for you to find.

Before I share the conversation I recorded with Dr. Bolton, know that Quillwood Podcast is brought to you by Quillwood Academy. Through Quillwood Academy I offer a wide array of online educational events and programs. Coming up is a study group on Carolyn Baker's book Undaunted: Living Fiercely into Climate Meltdown in an Authoritarian World. This event is open for registration now. I will facilitate this study group with Carolyn Baker, so she and I will both be on the Zoom calls. The orientation is scheduled for Thursday, September 29. And just to be clear, this is more than just a reading group. As someone who was trained in psychology and was a practicing therapist for a number of years, she chose, wisely I think, to incorporate a number of different practices at the end of each chapter, and we will draw on these heavily. To learn more and sign up for this study group, head over to quillwood.org. You can find it under the offerings menu on the events page, or you can find it on the welcoming page, front and center. You can sign up for a Quillwood Academy's newsletter there, too.

If you want to support the Quillwood Podcast, there are a few ways you can do this. The first is to leave a five star review for the episodes you have enjoyed. Second is to subscribe so you don't miss episodes. And finally, share episodes with folks you think might benefit from listening to them.

With that intro out of the way, I hope you enjoy today's episode that I recorded with Dr. Elizabeth Bolton.


Eric: Dr. Elizabeth Bolton, welcome to the Quillwood Podcast.

Elizabeth Boulton: Thanks very much for having me, Eric.

Eric: In your writings, and in some of the talks that I've watched that were recorded and are available online, you refer to climate change, and global environmental change more generally, as a hyperthreat. Until I was exposed to your work, I'd never heard that term before. I would love it if we could start off by having you talk a little bit about what a hyperthreat is, and where that idea came from.

Elizabeth: It's actually from America. There's a philosopher called Timothy Morton, who's an eco philosopher, and he wrote a book called Hyperobjects, which goes into incredible depth to explain what a hyperobject is. For example, there's a chapter on each of its characteristics. It is quite a complex idea, but in a nutshell what he's proposing is that global warming is a thing called a hyperobject, which is a thing that defies humans' abilities to conceive. It's something that we've never encountered before. Because it's a new type of thing, he goes to so much effort to describe, using a lot of metaphors and examples of how this thing moves and feels. So it's a really unique way of describing global warming, because previously, the people who described global warming—this was written in 2013—did so predominantly in statistics; parts per million, ice melt, and all sorts of arrays of statistics. What he did that was quite different from everybody else was that he materialized global warming, turned it into one strange sort of monster or phenomena that has all these particular characteristics.

The reason I thought that this was really important was because I'd been doing a fair bit of research on climate communication and the barriers as to why people weren't able to understand this phenomenon and I thought he addressed a lot of the big problems that the neuroscientists identified.

In terms of what this thing is—I'll just explain a couple of his ideas, because it's sort of a foundational concept, and get to the threat aspect in a second—one of the characteristics is that it's like fog, and it's infused through everything. So it's like the oxygen in your nostrils and my nostrils now has a higher element of carbon, so that the hyper object is actually in our nostrils. But then it also operates at these big planetary scales, and like AI, Agent Orange, its effects are distributed through generations and over time and space. So it's very hard to identify it in its causes. It's got this very diffuse nature that you can never point at it and say, There it is. You only see its effects. So for example, during a drought you might see the cracked soil, but that's not it.

I don't know if you remember once on Sesame Street, Mr. Snuffleupagus, how you could never see it. It's got that sort of phenomenon to it. It's a difficult book to read, I had to read it with Wikipedia open the entire time, because it's a very complex book. But it's really fascinating. And it's frustrating as well to read it, but what I came to realize is that as you're reading it, he's hitting you with metaphor after metaphor after metaphor. What I understand from the neuroscience is that metaphors are the best way to build new neuron pathways, because they build on existing neuron pathway structures. So that's why he uses metaphor a lot. As you're reading the book, you're frustrated, because actually, it is challenging your neuron pathways. He even confronts that in his writing. He says that it's a bit like when you're getting a software update, and that circle is going round and round, and you're waiting. He's saying that it's uncomfortable, and we're waiting, but we have to actually develop a new neuron structure to be able to hold an understanding of what global warming is, because it's so defies our understandings.

So that's the hyper object. The next step, I think, is really is quite critical. He then says that because this thing defies the little human beings' capacity for perception and understanding, and also the magnitude of it, is that it demotes the human being. Previously, the idea is that when we think of ourselves or the modern Western person, people particularly think of ourselves as the rulers of the planet, able to project manage anything. We're in charge, and we're in control. He says that, in fact, we're not going to be in control. This century the hyperobject will have the most agency, and we will just be like leaves being blown around, and we'll just have to react to it. We won't properly understand what is happening. And we delude ourselves to think that we can understand it and project manage it. He's really emphasizing powerlessness and vulnerability. Some people described it as dark ecology, because it is quite a dark vision. I might just pause there because the next step is to explain how I then put that into a threat context. But his hyperobject idea is very fundamental to my approach.

Eric: As you were speaking, especially as we were talking about how the hyperobject in the way that he articulates it, it takes a lot of power away from people, both intellectually, but also in a very practical way. It actually made me think, we have this term Anthropocene. It effectively means that humans are now a geological force. But it also seems like the end of the Anthropocene is the hyperobject-ocene where we are robbed of that global force by things that we have created. Does that ring true?

Elizabeth: Yeah. I think it's quite funny, and I'm sure Morton would find this funny as well, that even the term Anthropocene centers the human. He's proposing it's the opposite, that we're no longer at the center and that to survive our future existence we have to understand ourselves as not the center. We're just another species among ants and all sorts of other objects in the universe. I'm not sure I've properly answered your question there.

Eric: Actually, there really wasn't a question. People have critiqued the term Anthropocene on many levels for years and years and years. It just just inspires me to have a different take on that term. If you wanted to continue from the hyperobject to hyperthreat, feel free.

Elizabeth: Yeah. So basically, I've taken that idea and built on it. He himself built on a whole lot of Heidegger philosophy, and then object-oriented ontology. That's sort of what happens, isn't it? People build a little bit on each other. So what the hyperthreat differs from the hyperobject. He is specifically talking about global warming as a hyperobject, although he says there are other sorts of hyperobjects. I'm saying that the hyperthreat is global warming, plus all array of environmental degradation and destruction. You probably know the planetary boundaries concept?

Eric: Sure, yeah.

Elizabeth: So all the elements of that are generally incorporated into the hyperthreat concept, basically the destruction of the ecological systems and a safe climate, because I think they're just inherently connected.

The other aspect is that, because I'm drawing on 1000s of years of military concepts of how humans survive overwhelming threat, I've got this perhaps naive view, I'm saying that I think we have some agency. And maybe that's not true, but I'm suggesting that humans have got some form of agency, which ends up being a co-agency with nature, in the end. The other thing that's different is whereas Morton's hyperobject is this neutral, massive big thing that bewilders us and so on, I'm actually pointing out two things: One is that—and this doesn't come out in your climate emergency framing or your climate crisis framing, because it's just something people don't really like to articulate—I'm basically saying that this is actually a new form of violence and killing. It will kill millions of people and species. But it is not just killing, it is also about harm, destruction...

Eric: Suffering more broadly...

Elizabeth: We don't want to talk about the fact that this is a killing machine. This will be the major form of violence and destruction over this century. One of the key things of my whole stance is that I'm saying that we need to understand the nature of threat and killing has changed, from last industrial century to this century, where it'll be more at the hands of the hyperthreat.

And the final thing that's a little bit different with it is there's been this long historic definition in military geography and the disaster and hazards field of research and military studies, there's been this delineation between what's a hazard and what's a threat. Previously, a hazard was some randomly occurring thing, like a cyclone or something like that. And there was this understanding that a hazard has no brain, that it's something that happens and there's no conscious, hostile intent. Whereas the threat involves involves a conscious intention to cause harm, a consciousness in a human brain of wanting to cause harm. What I've argued is that delineation is now less clear.

When you bring in climate attribution studies, we now know that in a diffuse sort of way, and for example, particularly with some of these fossil fuel companies making plans to continue doing mining at levels that exceed limits for dangerous climate change, that they are conscious, they are aware of the harm that will be caused, and they're going ahead anyway. So therefore, if you want to get technical, our threat lens has to distort. This is conscious decision making to cause harm to other people and to other forms of planetary life. 

Whereas Morton is not blaming anyone or anything like that—my concept probably takes a while to unpack—it's that we have to acknowledge that there is a new type of consciousness to cause harm, which occurs on a big spectrum. Some people knowingly, others illegally, those people dumping chemical waste at sea, all that sort of stuff. So there's a whole spectrum of who's contributing to harm and threat in this century.

Eric: It sounds like the issue here is that the distinction is blurring, and even whether or not an individual person has intent is kind of a blurry thing, because they have an intent to make money. That is their intent. They would acknowledge that is their intent. And it is not necessarily their intent that they make money and cause harm. But the causing harm is a perhaps inadvertent part of their desire to make money. And it might be that the world that they live in insulates them from the fact that the harm is going to be caused. They don't have to see the people or the species that are affected. I definitely see where you're going, and how messy that gets.

Elizabeth: One of the things is it's about changing the consciousness. My area is sort of framing and narrative. So it's really about how we're understanding things. Say, for example—and I feel this myself; I unfortunately still have a petrol car, and I'm just hoping that in the next year or two the electric vehicle prices go down so I can actually afford one, but I can't afford one at the moment to be frank—but every time, while I try and minimize the use of the car, the thinking is when I'm putting petrol into that car I have a real sharp awareness that that is linked to, for example, the Iraq War, which was predominantly for oil, as we understand now, and all sorts of other oil related conflicts around the world. Plus that is linked to global warming, and perhaps the extreme hot fires that are going on now in France, and so forth.

One of the parts of this approach with the hyperthreat is that everybody gains a consciousness of the harm that is embedded through all of their systems, and so forth. There's actually a thing called a tracking harm function in Plan E that I like to develop. And also, next to that is a thing called Operation Visibility and Knowability to help everybody proceed to see where the harm doing is in their various systems. And then it's basically asking everybody in every institution and company to transition from inadvertently supporting the hyperthreat to supporting the hyper response by redesigning their systems to take out the harm and the violence that's embedded in them. And so then, the idea is that we would have these eco-transition teams who would come in and help people understand—say, for example, it's a packaging factory making toothpaste or something like that—I know this overlaps with your podcasts, you've also done one on sustainable supply chains and all the rest of it, so it's just a different narrative on things that people are doing—but the way of people being mobilized into the hyper response is that they would then look at the packaging of their materials, and they would be redesigning them so that they're fully recyclable, and it's closed loop recycling, and we're taking out the harm as much as possible out of that production thing. And a part of Plan E is that there is this vision of applying a far bigger chunk of the research and development budget that currently goes to security and defense to these types of functions, to support those companies, because actually that is eradicating violence where it starts, you know what I mean? So it's almost like having a meta meta approach to violence, of getting rid of it at the very point where it starts.

Eric: Another term that you brought up—I did some reading of your material earlier today—was entangled security. It sounds like what you're talking about now is perhaps related to that. I wonder if you want to take a brief interlude and talk about that idea of entangled security?

Elizabeth: At its most basic, simple level, entangled security is this idea that planetary, human, and state security are inherently entangled. You can't really just pursue military action without thinking of the other dimensions anymore. I know that sounds sort of duh, but in practice it's still happening. Just to give you two examples: the Ukraine crisis, it's still very hard to find this information, but there's a few people doing studies on it because it's very hard to get into the area and monitor and check what's actually happening, but I have been watching people who are understanding the environmental impacts of this conflict. For example, one thing that happened is there was a report that 3000 dolphins emerge dead and that was probably a result of some of the sonars and things going through the oceans there. And then there's all sorts of other strange things that have happened. So for example, the water infrastructure broke down because of bombing, and that meant that a particular coal mine that had remnant nuclear waste in it, for some reason, couldn't be cooled and then that nuclear waste was starting to go into the aquifers, or something like that. And, of course, we understand the impact on wheat that's having that overflow effect on food security globally, and the fertilizer, and so on. So although it might seem a simple thing to go do military action in Ukraine, it has all these massive planetary implications and human security implications, which are inherently are tied with it. And of course the overflow of refugees, and so on.

And even just more recently, the standoff in Taiwan, with all that sudden launching of missiles and live bombing around Taiwan, nobody's talking about what impact has that had on the fisheries in that area? And it's not my expertise, but if we had an entangled security outlook our intelligence agencies and our media and people reporting on it would habitually talk about what's happening with those fisheries. They're not even mentioned.

When you're taking Morton's perspective, which is that we decenter the human, and we got to remember that we're just one species. So in our security outlook we should be understanding what's going on with all those other species. I have a much wider lens on what's actually happening, because increasingly we have an incredibly fragile planet. Every bomb that's dropped, it's going to have a worse effect than it would have had in World War I, for example, when we had abundant fisheries and so on.

Eric: Just for the benefit of listeners, you and I are recording this on August 15, of 2022. The Ukraine invasion, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, happened several months ago, so that's an ongoing conflict. And then, with a number of US Congressmen who have chosen to visit Taiwan against China's directives, that is what is triggering, at least in my understanding, China's aggression towards the United States. but it's definitely putting on a show right now, and that show is having, and going to continue to have I assume, consequences on the fact that it might escalate beyond that, which is a scary thought.

Elizabeth: That leads into something, which I think is probably one of the main insights that came out of this research, was that quite often, when people talk about climate, environment, it's in a completely different analytical sphere from traditional security. And so what I'm trying to do is consider them both at the same time. And one of the things that just completely leaps out, and this is one of the problems of not considering them together, or considering these issues in silos, is that if you look at the decade that we're in, this crucial decade, we've already lost two years, but 2022 to 2030 is often described as the crunch time for transition, to transform all our energy and transport systems and everything. When you look at the graphs, the descent of emissions that's required is phenomenal. It requires an all out effort to do that.

I know that Biden has just launched that really ambitious strategy. There is progress. A lot of other nations are doing a lot of work, even China and India, etc, are all going gangbusters. But at the exact same time, it's still going to be an extremely difficult thing to achieve. At the exact same time that that is going on we have this massive militarization going on around the world, and this increasing creeping towards this World War III scenario, which is framed, sometimes talked about as a future World War III. There's two ways of looking at it for the Western nations. They're framing this as a showdown between the Western, liberal, rules based order and democratic nations versus autocracy. And the non-western countries are saying, well, this is actually the fight for a non-unipolar world and we want a multipolar world in which we perceive as fairer.

Just this morning I was turned on the news and I saw that this big Chinese satellite ship is parked in Sri Lanka, and that's causing a whole lot of discussion, and so forth. But every single one of these little steps, or all this dance that's going on about this geopolitical power of who's going to really run the world, at the same time. So the problem is that, first, there's two things that can happen. One is that like the Cold War, hostilities don't break out but we spend a fortune, and it dominates a lot of our R&D expenditure, and taxpayer resources, and our best engineers, and all that sort of thing, gets swept up in preparing for this possible World War III scenario, its Space War dimensions becoming very expensive and technical. That sucks a whole stack of capacity away from the task to contain the hyperthreat. If those hostilities broke out, each nation would be framing it as, Oh, we must do this to secure our security, and protect our people, etc. That would derail the opportunity to contain the hyperthreat and contain dangerous climate change and ecological collapse. So basically, it would undermine our security. Warfare being proposed to protect people would actually be a disaster.

One of the arguments I make is that this is now a new form of mutually assured destruction, and it's now incoherent. Our security posture around the world is incoherent. We have limited resources, a very short timeframe. What is the real threat? There are some disadvantages with a threat framing, which I can go through, if you wish, but if we don't have this issue in the threat narrative discussion, then it gets sidelined. And then the danger is we head off in the wrong trajectory.

Eric: That leads me to a related question, which is maybe a little bit tangential, but I think that it blends well with this. A couple other issues that I think about a lot, that are very closely related to climate change and global environmental change are, one, energy use, and particularly energy resource depletion, aka Peak Oil sort of stuff, and then more broadly, resource consumption. Consumerism as an approach to building an economy, and then all the ways that people are indoctrinated into the idea that our primary purpose is as consumers. I'm speaking specifically of Western nations, like the one that I'm in. And both of those things, our penchant for consumption, and our dependence on fossil fuels, which are non renewable resources, both of those seem to, in my mind at least, be at least as hyperthreat-like as climate change and global environmental change. I'm curious if you have any familiarity with those issues, and how those fit in?

Elizabeth: I'm not an expert, it's not my area of research, peak oil, and so forth. But what I loosely understand is that, correct me if I'm wrong, that we've already past the peak, and that's why we're going into these tar sands and also more concerningly, into the Arctic, and potentially, Antarctica. What really worries me is this idea of the one pathway we could be going down is the race for what's left, and there isn't much left. And, of course, as you point out, when those things run out the implications are far reaching. If we're dependent upon all these old systems for material security for people. I have a term called material security, which is providing the oils and lubricants, the energy, the plastics, and all those sort of things that they need to function from day to day, as we have things set up at the moment.

One of the ways I picture this is that we are entangled with the hyperthreat at the moment because it's got us in this big net of dependency because we're all dependent on these things, and this is how it controls us. To participate in society, you're often forced to be part of the polluting system because we don't have the alternatives in place yet. One of the concepts of Plan E is Operation New Net, and that is the idea that we have to build a new material security net to hold everybody safely so that we can unravel from the polluting, dangerous material security net. That New Net encompasses all sorts of renewable energy technologies, and eco supply chains, and all that sort of stuff.

There's a number of companies who are leading in this, even things like cosmetics, like The Body Shop, and people who are doing local supply chains, and using non-polluting materials, and that sort of stuff. What we have to do is do that on the most enormous scale, rebuild how we look after everybody on an enormous scale, which, obviously, localization is one of the key answers. But to achieve that, that's where I'm saying that we have to have almost a warlike mobilization, and all of that research and development capability that is currently on weaponry and so forth, we need to transition that engineering and technical and research capability to the Operation New Net. One of the plans has a thing called Fast and Furious; for four years we just go nuts building Operation New Net. It's the focus of all our research and development and so forth. People are already coming up with fantastic solutions. I don't know if you've seen these pollinator parks that are springing up around the world at this stage? If you've heard of them at all?

Eric: I think I have. I know that here in Vermont, where I live, there's a lot of people who basically redesign their entire yards or properties or sometimes even farms, so that the primary good that they produce is an environmental good, which is they make sure that there's a super abundance of pollinator plants pretty much from spring through fall so that birds like hummingbirds, as well as mostly bees and other insects, don't face scarcity at any point in the season. So I wonder if that is similar to the idea of the pollinator park?

Elizabeth: Yeah, that's part of the movement. But there are also these people who are creating, you know how you go to a park in a town, a normal park where kids play and stuff, they're building these parks which are set up for bees, basically. Humans can go enjoy and walk through them as well. So they're just these beautiful floral sort of park lands and stuff. Sometimes they connect with community gardens, and planting fruit trees, and things like that.

There's so much amazing innovations of how we can create different ways of feeding ourselves and supplying ourselves, which is really exciting. So what the approach would be, from a security perspective, is immediately getting resources to expand what all these innovators and early adopters, they're already doing all these exciting things, but they need an oomph behind them to take these things wider. It requires a phenomenal amount of planning. So for example, even though you want to go for relocalization, you'd have to be a fool to realize that not every single region of the world is going to be able to plant tomatoes, lettuces. So some sort of trade is going to have to occur, but we're going to have to work out how to do that in a zero emissions way, therefore set up some sort of connecting global supply chains that aren't harmful to the ocean. I know Elon Musk has got all these monorails, electrified things, but you can imagine that we'd have these global linkings that we create resilience and redundancy around the world for if somebody's in a drought, another area that's been really productive can provide food to those people because we have to confront the fact that is not everybody's going to be able to have the Nirvana localization were you can get everything you need locally.

And it's probably not the smartest efficiency-wise that every single town produces zero emission laptops, for example, and zero emission hardware, hammers, and spades, and all that sort of thing. An incredible amount of planning is going to be required to do it in a way that's environmentally sensitive. Referring to your podcast that you had about martial arts, about achieving safety with the least effort in the most elegant solution that we can possibly find. But I think we're capable of it, but we just have to shift all that human ingenuity and planning to this mission of building a New Net.

Something that always stays in my mind with the peak oil thing is, I served in an operation called INTERFET, which was in East Timor in 1999. This team was only 300 kilometers away from Darwin, which is one of the northern cities of Australia, so not very far. You would imagine, not a very challenging supply chain gap to overcome that 300 kilometers. But in fact, what happened was that the supply chain at the early start did completely break down. And I was in logistics. And what that meant was that, suddenly, we had 9,000 troops in country, and people couldn't bridge that supply chain gap. We did manage to get the basics of fuel, water, and food. They're a separate arrangement. They're called combat supplies because they're crucial to survival, sort of thing, food, water, and energy. But there was so many bottlenecks, and so many hiccups with the supply chain that those other supplies couldn't get across. And I just remember the furor that it created. People were just absolutely going mental, and screaming in your face with spit coming out on your face. The engineers couldn't build bridges, vehicles stopped moving because they didn't have spare parts for repair. So a very expensive piece of equipment, for the sake of a $2 nut, or some sort of minor little part, was rendered idle. And then simple things like A4 paper for people to print radio codes and distribute the radio frequency signals, they didn't have the paper to print that. And all sorts of things fell over. And it's always stayed in my mind. It wasn't that extreme, because at least we had water and food and fuel, but all those other things that you could just take for granted, you get at a supermarket or a hardware store, people couldn't get and they immediately went ballistic.

Eric: There's so many threads in what you just said that I would love to follow up on. I know that we're not going to have time for all of them, but one of the things we were chatting about before we started recording, you mentioned you listened to The Great Simplification episode that I recorded with a friend of mine, Nate Hagens. I don't remember if he said this in that episode, but one of the things that he has said in certainly other contexts is that the main problem we have as a society is not necessarily a shortage of anything. Our big problem is we have a longage on expectations, that our expectations for all kinds of things have grown far out of proportion to what Earth, as a planet, can be expected to provide over the longer term.

That inspires me to wonder what role conservation plays in the Plan E that you're talking about? I think of efficiency is you want the same thing, you just want it with a lower cost, whereas conservation is you're willing to accept less of the thing and commensurately at less of the cost. So actually reducing people's fuel use overall as part of a strategy to address this issue, whether it's supply chain stuff, or recognizing we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and so we're just going to burn less fuel. You mentioned just a moment ago that peak oil is there's not a lot left. The reality is that there's a lot left, and that's also the danger. If we develop technologies that allow us to extract every last drop and burn it, we're creating a climate that is akin to 300 or 400 million years ago, were anatomically modern humans have no experience. We have no experience making a living in a climate like that, with all that additional carbon in general circulation, as opposed to much of it being sequestered away as coal, oil, and natural gas. So I wonder about that, what role conservation plays, and overall reduction of consumption rates play, in your Plan E?

Elizabeth: Yeah. And I'll get to that. First, I just want to just recap on what you mentioned about that there is a lot of fossil fuels left, but it's not just the global warming cost of of extracting that, but when we have such a fragile ecosystem that really can't take much more pressure, going into some of those quite fragile ecosystems like the Arctic, and mining Antarctica, and things. Of course there's stacks of resources there. But what's the cost?

Eric: Yeah, the broader environmental costs...

Elizabeth: Which does link to conservation. On conservation—I'll just explain to your listeners, because they might not be aware—with this research, the hyperthreat, and then the entangled security, it then produces a thing called Plan E, which is a concept for climate and ecological crisis emergency response, and a complete reformulation of how we perceive security and what our security forces look like. So within Plan E, there's a thing called a Hyper Response Force. And related to the simplification idea, just to keep things really simple is that, there are three main areas of the hyper response, which is planetary security, human security, and state security. And one of the huge things is raising a massive planetary security capability, which is not necessarily a military force, it's a civil force, of course, because most of those capabilities are civil. But it's a dramatic expansion. And so one of the jobs that they have is Operation New Net, which is building the new net. But the other part of it is Operation Beauty. Operation Beauty is about the restoration of all sorts of ecological areas, and conservation, and so forth. It's basically like a big rescue plan for what I call Ally One, which is nature. And so basically, I'm saying that at the moment, nature is so fragile it's our main ally in beating global warming, because we start to understand forest suck in carbon, while the mangroves, for example, provide that clearing function and also are great for storm surge protection, and the more we see how nature—and a viable ecosystem is the food, the timbers, and everything that we need—so, of course, nature will be our greatest ally to fight the impacts of the hyperthreat.

But our ally at the moment, its head is about to go underwater, it's so fragile. Our immediate priority is to try to remediate and help nature as much as we possibly can, and gradually help nature to get stronger and stronger. And it's going to need extraordinary help to just survive anyway, given the effects of global warming and so on. So one of the ideas in this four year Fast and Furious is Operation Beauty, is just an enormous planetary cleanup project. Cleaning up all the plastic from the oceans, or at massive, military scale operation, not using military assets of course. We already have some people cleaning up rubbish, but we want every single area that we possibly can cleaned up of plastic, all the rivers cleaned, and all the replanting. Bee pollination things everywhere we can. For example, you'd immediately ban—it's already happening, this banning of plastic bags—but banning of straws within four years.

This is what I would like to see personally. I was shampooing my hair this morning, and I looked at the plastic container that my shampoo comes in. I thought well, what if you said to the shampoo people, how do people look after their hair without having to do some dumb plastic container that I'm just going to throw in the bin? Every single container must be able to degrade. At the best, it must be able to degrade and not harm the soil or the ocean. Preferably we'd want some sort of system where you have one container for life, and you go to a local place and it's filled up for you in exchange for one that's immediately recycled, for example, so it never goes into the rubbish system. With this conservation effort, do you want me to tell you a little bit about the earth citizenship concept? Because that sort of relates to that?

Eric: Sure, go for it.

Elizabeth: Okay. One of the ideas is this thing that one of the ways we can count it, because Morton says, Look, humans, you're nothing, you're just too small in the scale of a hyperobject, you're not going to have any agency or any effect. I have this idea of a humans as ants strategy. It's the idea that in essence, like an ant, the single human really has very little impact. But when ants come together, they can build big ant mounds, and they can achieve certain things. And unfortunately, at the moment, even though everybody often frames population as a bad thing, right at this very moment we have this massive population. So what if we saw that as an asset? And we said, Well, we've got a lot of things to do, but we have actually got nearly 8 billion people, so that is a huge, huge amount of horsepower. And what if we somehow were able to leverage that population, such that everybody was doing a little bit in a short amount of time. That could have a seismic impact.

Plan E means everybody, everywhere, everything, which is that idea that every factory, every institution, everybody is pivoting from harmful activity to helpful activity. But one of the aspects of this humans as ants strategy of how can we use that population is that, at the moment, we have 90 million people in refugee camps around the world. And this amount of people is growing exponentially. And it's expected that there's going to be more climate refugees in the future. I'm in correspondence with someone who's in one of these camps, and some people are stuck there for 10 years or so. They do get basic food, and education occurs in these camps, and things like that. In Australia, for example, unfortunately in Australia we had this system where we had this pretty cruel offshore refugee place where we just put people off on an island called Manus Island, and they were locked away there for years, but where they don't want to be in Manus Island. But in some places in Africa, for example, the refugees are going to these camps willingly, because there is nowhere else safe for them to go, because there's so much violence, and there's no food or whatever it is that that are choosing to be there because it offers them safety. If they go back to where they came from, they're going to get killed, or they're going to just starve, or something like that.

So what I'm proposing is that, I did a basic analysis of some stats of how many of those people are working age, and then a rough back of the envelope thing of well, how many of them might be willing and able to work given that some of them would have care taking responsibilities and might be injured or might simply not want to work. But just roughly off that 90 million, let's just say that 16 million were ready and want to work. They would have this option of joining the Hyper Response Force, where they would sign up for four or five years where they get some vocational training in how to install solar panels or clearing out the plastic from the seas, or various cleanup jobs to be done. And then they could work for the Hyper Response Force for that four or five years and then that would entitle them to a thing called Earth citizenship, which would then enable them to settle in certain countries as Earth citizens. And there'd be dignity and so forth associated with that. It'd be regarded as meaningful, good work.

And when you consider that workforce, you think of South America, their so called migrant convoys, but all around the world there are a lot of people who don't have meaningful work. And some of those people end up in growing international criminal cartels that are incredibly powerful. They run in the same way like a multinational corporation. They have portfolios in drugs, human trafficking, and illegal animal trades, selling rhinoceros horn and all these sorts of pretty horrible things.

Eric: Poaching comes to mind.

Elizabeth: Yeah. What is really tragic is that these huge criminal cartels have become the new employers as other industry has fallen over. People just want to feed their family, or something like that, they think to themselves, Well, if I kill an elephant that will allow me to provide for my family. So what the idea is, is to create an alternate work option which is involved in protection of nature, and good, honorable work, and provide an alternate recruitment option for people instead of effectively working for the hyperthreat. If you work in those organizations, even, for example, the black market in oil, there's all sorts of these criminal groups that really have no concern about the environment, and they're a little bit off the leash. They're overwhelming the conservation groups, and so forth. And particularly when you think of those frontline rangers and things working in the Congo and places like that, they're facing things like helicopter gunships that come in and machine gun down a herd of elephants, poison the water holes so that the animals die and they can cut off their feet. It's just so gruesome. So part of that planetary security is addressing that sort of stuff.

Eric: Listening to you talking about that, I definitely got the appreciation for how small and powerless I am in the face of your conceptualization of hyperthreat. Another conceptualization that I've heard that seems to dovetail very well with that is thinking of the human species as a superorganism. I've heard people refer to it as a superorganism, with the idea being that it's not climate change that is this actor, but that the human species is acting as a superorganism and we have our individual consciousness, but we can't necessarily control the superorganism as a whole. People like you and I might try to reduce our consumption and use less oil—I personally don't fly on airplanes or drive a vehicle, I don't own a car—but the fact that we do these things is largely irrelevant, because the superorganism has a mind of its own and it continues to do these things. It's in bed with this hyperobject, this hyperthreat that is climate change, or global environmental change. It's a lingering question of how do we deal with this?

And your Plan E, if we were to find a way to carry that out, sounds wonderful, but how. Where do we start?

Elizabeth: I'm not under estimating how big this challenge is. We have to try. 

Plan E is imagining a situation where countries, towns, regions, industries all around the world who are declaring climate emergencies, all come together and agree that we have to do an emergency scale response. I'm saying that it gets set as the priority security objective of the planet to ensure our survival, essentially, and safety in the face of this hyperthreat. So that's a mandate. And what that means is that we choose to try to save ourselves. We're going to say, We're going to give it all we've got and we will essentially mobilize the way that we would for a war. But not militarization, because it's not appropriate in this situation, but mobilization. So the plan is envisaged as a civilian led, civil mobilization were in fact the defense and security sector becomes in support, and essentially we raise this Hyper Response Force, based in aid in each area. It's got its own sort of characteristics and so forth. It's very localized, but basically the whole grand strategy involves the whole of society, efforts much the same as you would have in a wartime effort. Every industry, everyone's involved.

And once you have a security mandate, that means that a security mandate can overpower economic actors. The greatest thing we have, the greatest challenge we have is with these fossil fuel companies who are just intent on extracting resources. They've become the most powerful actors in the world, and there's almost no capacity to prevent them. So within this new structure, there's a thing called the Point Force, which involves raising a whole lot of new capabilities. One of the new capabilities is called the Point Force, which is envisaged as the pointiest end of the problem, which is the economic and legal dimension. So this is a new capability, which has all the best thinkers in the world on degrowth, plus all the emerging legal apparatuses that are coming out for animal law, the rights of the environment, the rights of the river. The legal framework, as we know, it is changing to make it illegal to do some of these things. So that would get fast tracked, to develop new legal mechanisms, a new legal framework, and also a new economic framework that's oriented towards planetary viability, and so forth.

What I was seeing with that is that, because I do know that is an enormous task, but because we're in a security footing, we can actually do some quite bold things. For example, we could say, Okay, we're going to immediately eliminate all the debt. It's bad luck, we're just going to draw a line on all that debt for third world countries, and that's one of the ways we can have reparation for harm done through colonialism and so forth. But also, we might just have a temporary economic situation, we say, Okay, we're going to immediately allocate some funds for this. And we're going to set a universal basic income and something that just keeps everything afloat and funds the hyper response for four years while we more carefully consider how to rejigger our economy or systems. And it's not my area, but I know that there are stacks of people who've got amazing concepts on degrowth, and new ways of doing the economy so that it doesn't collapse, and it's just. We transition, we give this four years to do a structural change, that's fair, and so on, and also some some sort of funding arrangement during that four years.

And if people say, Oh, that's impossible, you think, Well somehow while we've been teetering on the edge of economic collapse, we're still managing to provide enormous funds for Ukraine, and also continued funds for this World War III scenario. One of the things that would hinge on is establishing a Climate Emergency Peace Treaty, which would mean that all that resource expenditure for the war machine would be shifted towards that Operation New Net, the new security mission. So by having a new security mission, that means all the intelligence agencies, even companies like Lockheed Martins and so forth like that, they would now be designing the best we can come up with in firefighting innovation, and so forth. That would transition into this new security mission. 

At the moment, there's this view that industry itself will lead an eco transition with a little bit of support from government, but I'm basically imagining we scale up when we have to go for it, we have to allocate everything we've got to it. And I think if you actually brought those huge big players to the table, and that funding, and those security agencies, that would bring a lot of horsepower and a lot of analytical capability, and a lot of ingenuity. But the other thing is, they're much maligned, this military industrial complex, but all these big companies like Lockheed Martin and so forth, I don't think we're going to make them disappear in the short term. So we just give them a new job. And their job is actually, if you say you want to be the military sector and the security sector and supporting the population, well do it. Reorientate to the biggest threat we have, and hurry up with it because we haven't got much time.

Eric: In a former life, aka, before I came to Vermont to do my doctorate, I was doing my master's work—and was actually accepted into a PhD program there, I planned on doing my doctorate at Indiana University—I was in environmental chemistry, and my lab was funded by a military contracting company. I hesitate to give the name of the company because that might be weird, but they basically were in charge of developing real time water tests—this was during the war in Iraq—so that you could test the water in a new place, make sure that it wasn't contaminated, for example, with degradation products of sarin gas or something like that. And then you could tell if the water was safe, and then drink it. So I was intimately involved in designing and building and testing the analytical chemistry apparatuses that can be taken into the field, and we're basically desert proof.

It was a fascinating because I got to meet a number of military personnel that we worked closely with, as well as all the engineers at this company. And you're right, there's an enormous amount of brain power wrapped up in those companies, because that's—at the time, and probably to a degree today—where the money is. It's a reliable flow of money through those R&D companies. They could totally turn on a dime, it's just a matter of saying, Okay, this flow of money from DARPA is drying up, and now we have this other flow of money that is coming from a different place with different goals, and please tap into it. It's easy for listeners who are not familiar with that whole area to think that a lot of the ideas you're putting forward are just outlandish and outrageous and pie in the sky thinking, but it's not clear to me that they are. It's just a matter of priorities.

Elizabeth: That is the thing. One of the arguments is that, if you think about it, the taxpayers pay for security forces. And the citizenry provide the security forces through their children, they raise those children, whether it's a family member, or a friend, their husband or brother or friend they went to school with, all the security forces come from the citizenry, and they're paid by the citizens. And the reason citizens pay for them is that there's this understanding that they're there for them, that they will help provide their security.

So in my view, is a responsibility. Now we're at this massive juncture, facing a completely new sort of violence and threat. They have to go back to the civilian people and say, Well, what is your security priority? How do we support you? It's obviously incomprehensible that if the security sector is going to go off and, in terms of that World War III scenario, which actually goes against the security of their own people, it's not coherent anymore. That's why I'm really keen to try to get Plan E into the narrative, because I think the more this goes into the security narrative, the more we can tease this out and recalibrate the security sector with what is the priority for the civil population.

Because ultimately a lot of service people—and I was a service person—they really are motivated by the thought that they are protecting their people, and they like to be doing the right thing. They want to be the good guys. They don't want to be the bad guys, generally. It's not motivating. You might have heard of moral injury, when people feel what happened in Afghanistan, Iraq, a lot of soldiers suffered moral injury, which was where they felt that what they were doing conflicted with their morality, and some fundamental values that they had. It's very, very hard for people to participate in that sort of stuff, and they have awful effects later on in life.

I can tell you the difference between the morale in East Timor versus the morale in Iraq. It was completely different, because in the first one people really believed in what they were doing. They saw people getting massacred in the street, and they were desperate to stop that. I try to think of a pure warrior ethic which is around protection and goodness, and force used only to protect life when it's absolutely necessary. For example, it's only necessary to kill that person so as to save seven other people. Not the wanton use of violence. And so I do think that there is some beautiful things about warrior ethics, the samurai and all that sort of thing, that if it is properly recalibrated with the right thing of protecting the community, and doing the right thing, then that appeals to a lot of people, a type of person who thinks that way, that they want to protect others. 

When you were saying about that water capability that you were talking about, a lot of people say that water supply will be a real killer in the future. And imagine if you had, at scale, sea water purification things and so forth, so that we don't have people dying of thirst for God's sake. There's so much work to be done, when you think about it.

Eric: You were talking about getting Plan E into the narrative. And also, you've suggested in our private conversations that you've felt like you've been censored in certain circumstances. I wonder if this is an opportunity to talk about that a little bit, if you want to talk about your experiences, what your experiences are of perhaps being censored?

Elizabeth: Thanks for the opportunity to talk about that, because I think this is actually part of how the hyperthreat is working. People talk about state capture, and so forth. I think one of the things that's happening is that there's a deliberate shutting out of alternative security strategies, because there's this catchphrase called Control the Narrative, Control the Strategy. So if the broader population thinks that there's really only one security option, then they're more likely to accept it. But if you get alternate competing narratives, then people start thinking, Well, hold on, why are we doing this? You can get more of that critical thought.

I have been actually working on this project on and off since 2012. I had to stop at times to work, and things like that. But over that entire time I got virtually no opportunities to talk about it. One thing that was quite astounding for me was when I finished my final oral presentation—I'm just gonna say this, I know this sounds like I'm bragging, but I just want to say it because it I think it shows the problem—when I did that presentation, there were various people in the audience who said, Oh, this is a major breakthrough. And they're very excited and said, You've got to get these ideas to Hollywood and all of that. And at that point, I noticed various senior professors at the back of the room shifting in their seats. They knew there was a good idea, but it seemed to me, from then on, they moved to a position of shutting it down, and shutting all doors to me.

When I got the PhD, I did get excellent examiner reports, and all that sort of stuff. And I just assumed that if you'd come up with an idea on a climate emergency response, which we had the bushfires in Australia going on at that time, it seemed a really critical issue that someone would say, go talk to so and so, you should talk to this research project, or is there any journal you recommend, or anything like that? And at every stage, there was a no, no, no. And people who ran, for example, our climate institute, I said, Can I be considered for a seminar there? And they said, We'll keep you in mind, but nothing ever came from it. Even since Plan E was published, I went back to the university where the research was done and said, Would you like to do a media release? And they said we won't, because you're no longer with the university. Which seemed a little bit odd, seeing that the research was done at the university. But there's always these polite, declining, and just complete non involvement.

And the same has happened with the mainstream media. I've tried endless amount of journalists and eco journalists, journalists who are writing prominently on environmental stuff, none of them will run with it. There's all these climate security think tanks around the world, not a single one of them will feature it, or cover it, or anything like that, especially since Plan E has been published. And so basically, almost all the doors have been shut.

So what I ended up starting to do, the lifesaver was the community. Local community groups allowed me to do some talks. And then from that, I got on to a couple of these podcasts and stuff. And then there was one university, which they ran these seminars, and I just applied. I think they perhaps didn't know the idea was controversial or something. But by hook or by crook, somehow I got to do a webinar for them. I think I'm probably getting a little bit more ground, but even after Plan E got published by the US Marine Corps, the normal process in these things is that you get invited for webinars or you get invited to participate in a policy forums and so on. And globally, not one invitation from any of these military trade groups, or think tanks, or security think tanks, or international relations groups, or climate emergency groups in the entire world has shown any interest in it.

And feeling like a shadow ban on Twitter at times. I do specifically notice certain things, like, for example, that seminar I did, the only people who have tweeted it are the organizers and one other person who knows about it, but you can see it's hardly getting any retweets. And so I think there's a function in Twitter where they can turn down your voice, where you you appear in less threads, and that sort of thing. So all of this stuff, this type of censorship I'm experiencing, is very, very subtle. And then when I start talking to other people who are involved in various climate groups, they're coming back at me and saying, Well, they're experiencing very similar things. Like for example, they can no longer get published in The Conversation, their area of research. And I also had a PhD student the other day contact me, and she she was wanting to do a PhD, a bit controversial, on these extractive resource industries. And she said, to her shock, she couldn't find any supervisor who would take her on.

Eric: That doesn't surprise me a bit.

Elizabeth: I could go on and on, even some peace institutions like SIPRI, that's one of the major policy peace institutions in the world, just not interested at all. But I note when I'm presenting the stuff, the public are receptive. And when I do the seminars, people are saying this is interesting. So I'm not sure if that's just the way things work. But as a military emergency crisis sort of person, I just think this is crazy. How we would normally respond to a threat, for example, once in a military situation, when we know there is a threat people just go crazy trying to go as fast as possible to get ahead of the threat. I remember people running down the corridor when we had to respond to a tsunami crisis or something, because this is how fast everything's happening. So what if we were serious about responding to the climate crisis? Why isn't there some agency saying quick, anyone who's done relevant climate emergency research, let's get them in the room, and they should be in a team. And let's be getting all these ideas on the table as fast as we can and getting them out there. But the fact there's nobody doing that? What the hell?

Eric: I don't mean to be cynical, but the fact that no one is doing it doesn't surprise me. The challenge we have is that solving global warming, as a hyperthreat, as an issue, is necessary for the continuation of human habitation of Earth. And it's probably, at least in the kind of economy that we have today, probably the most unprofitable action anyone could undertake over the short term. And it seems like all of our economic institutions are rigged, not necessarily by a nefarious actor, but they just evolved so that everything is short-term planning. No one is thinking 10 years out. They're thinking this quarter, next quarter, and everything beyond that is too far in the future to worry about.

Elizabeth: Yeah, it's a real failure. I'm going to be bold here and just say it's a real failure of the security community. The field of international relations has all these specialized areas of study called strategy, and there's think tanks and universities all around the world who study strategy. I don't understand why we haven't had a proper strategic planning process to create proper safety for our citizens of the world, when we've got this obvious thing that's going to—that's just the statement that the scientists make—that this will be an environment uninhabitable for most forms of life, that should immediately trigger a whole stack of proper planning. And for these industries, you find a lot of businesses are saying, well, give us the levers, the economic levers that help us transition, that make it viable for us to transition. I think a lot of these businesses, they want to be part of the solution. And I think if you did set up one of those Super Point Forces that I was talking about with it, the new economic thinkers and the new legal thinkers, it doesn't have to be destitution for all those companies. It's just like, How do we help you transition as fast as we possibly can, and move into new sorts of forms of activity. I think it is a failure of strategic thinking.

And it's partly one of these things that because climate and environmental issues have often been framed as scientific issues, and there's been a very, very strong argument saying, Oh, we don't want to securitize the problem, because then it's going to be this top down draconian, totalitarian sort of solution. People have associated securitization with that. And I say, No, it doesn't have to be that. It can be how we want it to be. But the fact is, we have to understand it is a new form of killing and destruction, that is a threat. And then start doing the hard work of strategic planning to work out a viable pathway and confront the fact that this COP and IPCC method is not working. And we saw that it was probably contaminated from what happened at COP 26, with the UN. I think it was over 500 fossil fuel delegates came in on fast jets. They had a larger delegation than almost any nation. Whoever's running that process, it's been compromised in the way there's been a light who's allowed to participate.

This could be bumped up as an issue at the Security Council, and stuff like that. I think we have to confront that those mechanisms aren't working, and the rules based order that we had from that was set in place with the UN, from World War II, it was well intentioned, perhaps at the start, but somehow it's become compromised. But the other thing is that it's less and less acceptable to non-Western nations. A lot of them see it as a sort of Western construct that works for only certain nations, and all these other nations around the world saying, Well, we don't even get a say in the Security Council. So I'm suggesting, why do we got this idea that we can't change? The people after World War II had this idea of, okay, let's put new processes in place—that's when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written up—so that never again does humanity descend into the barbarity that we had in World War II. So let's set up and build a new fair system. They came up with all these mechanisms and stuff. 

But they were all developed in a pre-climate change awareness world. And so the idea that we keep clutching to them or say that they're the only solution, why can't we reimagine the environment, the rules based order, and habits around ecological limits? It's as though we can't change. Any student of history would know we reinvent our forms of governance all throughout human history, and I don't really understand why we have this stagnation, when, in fact, we're very creative and we could redesign these things in quite a nice sort of manner.

Eric: Yeah, we've been at this a while. I'm curious if you have any final thoughts you'd like to offer before we wrap up?

Elizabeth: I would defer to the listeners, just say look, I'm battling a narrative battle at the moment with the hyperthreat that wants to shut down this narrative because it directly confronts it. So I have to rely on the citizenry to get these ideas out. I'm not really asking for the sake of myself, but in the sake of avoiding a World War III, or disastrous trajectory. If you like these ideas, and think they're important, please pass them on. Because I think this is what's happening is that our media and our sense making systems have been taken from us, in a way. Big interests have grabbed ahold of those. So we are now relying on the citizenry, and thank God that there are people like you, Eric, running these podcasts, which provide an alternate space to get alternate narratives out. I'm so grateful to you. Basically I think the issue comes back on the citizenry. We have to acknowledge that those things aren't working and create other systems and other ways of getting ideas out. And so just please pass the ideas on if you like them. And I'm just immeasurably grateful that there's a few citizens like yourself that are providing that lifeline and that look at that safety net when other democratic systems fail. And don't underestimate how important that is.

Eric: And just for listeners' awareness, I'll put some links to Liz's website and also some of the documents that she's written that describe Plan E, for example, in more detail, and a technical article that she wrote also. I'll definitely create opportunities for people to follow up. And I'll probably reach out to some other folks that I know that have podcasts and see if I can get you on there.

Elizabeth: Thank you so much.


Eric: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Quillwood Podcast. Again, this episode is brought to you by Quillwood Academy. You can find it on the web at quillwood.org. Check out the Undaunted Study Group that I will co-facilitate with author of the book Undaunted, Carolyn Baker. I hope to see you at our orientation on September 29.

Until the next episode of this Quillwood Podcast, this is Eric Garza signing off. Walk softly, and take good care.