Brazil: BOLSONARO IS THE MOST STUPID PRESIDENT IN OUR HISTORY

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BRAZIL’S 24/7 NEWS)

 

Julian Assange: Wikileaks co-founder arrested in London

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Julian Assange: Wikileaks co-founder arrested in London

Media caption Video footage shows Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy in London

Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange has been arrested at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Assange took refuge in the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over a sexual assault case that has since been dropped.

At Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Thursday he was found guilty of failing to surrender to the court.

He now faces US federal conspiracy charges related to one of the largest ever leaks of government secrets.

The UK will decide whether to extradite Assange, in response to allegations by the Department for Justice that he conspired with former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to download classified databases.

He faces up to five years in US prison if convicted on the charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said they would be fighting the extradition request. She said it set a “dangerous precedent” where any journalist could face US charges for “publishing truthful information about the United States”.

She said she had visited Assange in the police cells where he thanked supporters and said: “I told you so.”

Assange had predicted that he would face extradition to the US if he left the embassy.

What happened in court?

Sketch of Julia Assange at Westminster Magistrates' Court on 11 April 2019Image copyright JULIA QUENZLER, BBC

After his arrest, the 47-year-old Australian national was initially taken to a central London police station before appearing in court.

Dressed in a black suit and black polo shirt, he waved to the public gallery and gave a thumbs up. He pleaded not guilty to the 2012 charge of failing to surrender to the court.

Finding him guilty of that charge, District Judge Michael Snow said Assange’s behaviour was “the behaviour of a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest”.

He sent him to Southwark Crown Court for sentencing, where he faces up to 12 months in prison.

The court also heard that during his arrest at the embassy he had to be restrained and shouted: “This is unlawful, I am not leaving.”

Julian Assange pictured in a police vanImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Assange gave a thumbs up as he was taken to Westminster Magistrates’ Court in a police van

Why does the US government want to extradite Assange?

Assange set up Wikileaks in 2006 with the aim of obtaining and publishing confidential documents and images.

The organisation hit the headlines four years later when it released footage of US soldiers killing civilians from a helicopter in Iraq.

Former US intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning was arrested in 2010 for disclosing more than 700,000 confidential documents, videos and diplomatic cables to the anti-secrecy website.

She said she only did so to spark debates about foreign policy, but US officials said the leak put lives at risk.

She was found guilty by a court martial in 2013 of charges including espionage. However, her jail sentence was later commuted.

Manning was recently jailed for refusing to testify before an investigation into Wikileaks’ role in revealing the secret files.

What are the US charges against him?

The indictment against Assange, issued last year in the state of Virginia, alleges that he conspired in 2010 with Manning to access classified information on Department of Defense computers. He faces up to five years in jail.

Manning downloaded four databases from US departments and agencies between January and May 2010, the indictment says. This information, much of which was classified, was provided to Wikileaks.

The US Justice Department described it as “one of the largest compromises of classified information in the history of the United States”.

Assange's lawyer Jennifer Robinson and Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn HrafnssonImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson and Wikileaks editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson say the arrest sets a dangerous precedent

Cracking a password stored on the computers, the indictment alleges, would have allowed Manning to log on to them in such a way as to make it harder for investigators to determine the source of the disclosures. It is unclear whether the password was actually broken.

Correspondents say the narrowness of the charge seems intended to avoid falling foul of the US Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press.

Why did the Ecuadorian embassy stop protecting him?

The Wikileaks co-founder had been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, after seeking asylum there to avoid extradition to Sweden on a rape allegation.

The investigation into the alleged rape, which he denied, was later dropped because he had evaded the arrest warrant. The Swedish Prosecution Authority has said it is now considering whether to resume the inquiry before the statute of limitations runs out in August 2020.

Scotland Yard said it was invited into the embassy on Thursday by the ambassador, following the Ecuadorian government’s withdrawal of asylum.

Ecuadorian president Lenin Moreno said the country had “reached its limit on the behaviour of Mr Assange”.

Mr Moreno said: “The most recent incident occurred in January 2019, when Wikileaks leaked Vatican documents.

“This and other publications have confirmed the world’s suspicion that Mr Assange is still linked to WikiLeaks and therefore involved in interfering in internal affairs of other states.”

His accusations against Assange also included blocking security cameras at the embassy, accessing security files and confronting guards.

Julian AssangeImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Julian Assange outside the embassy in 2017

Mr Moreno said the British government had confirmed in writing that Assange “would not be extradited to a country where he could face torture or the death penalty”.

The arrest comes a day after Wikileaks said it had uncovered an extensive spying operation against its co-founder at the Ecuadorian embassy.

There has been a long-running dispute between the Ecuadorian authorities and Assange about what he was and was not allowed to do in the embassy.

BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale said that over the years they had removed his access to the internet and accused him of engaging in political activities – which is not allowed when claiming asylum.

He said: “Precisely what has happened in the embassy is not clear – there has been claim and counter claim.”

How have people reacted?

Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons: “This goes to show that in the UK, no one is above the law.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the arrest was the result of “years of careful diplomacy” and that it was “not acceptable” for someone to “escape facing justice”.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Assange had revealed “evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan” and his extradition “should be opposed by the British government”.

Press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders said that the UK should resist extradition, because it would “set a dangerous precedent for journalists, whistleblowers, and other journalistic sources that the US may wish to pursue in the future”.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne said he would continue to receive “the usual consular support” and that consular officers will try to visit him.

And actress Pamela Anderson, who has visited the embassy to support Assange, said the arrest was a “vile injustice”.


Timeline: Julian Assange saga

  • August 2010 – The Swedish Prosecutor’s Office first issues an arrest warrant for Assange. It says there are two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation. Assange says the claims are “without basis”
  • December 2010 – Assange is arrested in London and bailed at the second attempt
  • May 2012 – The UK’s Supreme Court rules he should be extradited to Sweden to face questioning over the allegations
  • June 2012 – Assange enters the Ecuadorean embassy in London
  • August 2012 – Ecuador grants asylum to Assange, saying there are fears his human rights might be violated if he is extradited
  • August 2015 – Swedish prosecutors drop their investigation into two allegations – one of sexual molestation and one of unlawful coercion because they have run out of time to question him. But he still faces the more serious accusation of rape.
  • October 2015 – Metropolitan Police announces that officers will no longer be stationed outside the Ecuadorean embassy
  • February 2016 – A UN panel rules that Assange has been “arbitrarily detained” by UK and Swedish authorities since 2010
  • May 2017 – Sweden’s director of public prosecutions announces that the rape investigation into Assange is being dropped
  • July 2018 – The UK and Ecuador confirm they are holding ongoing talks over the fate of Assange
  • October 2018 – Assange is given a set of house rules at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. He then launches legal action against the government of Ecuador
  • December 2018 – Assange’s lawyer rejects an agreement announced by Ecuador’s president to see him leave the Ecuadorean embassy
  • February 2019 – Australia grants Assange a new passport amid fears Ecuador may bring his asylum to an end
  • April 2019 – The Metropolitan Police arrests him for “failing to surrender to the court” over a warrant issued in 2012. He is found guilty and faces up to 12 months in prison, as well as extradition over US charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

Sudan military coup topples ruler after protests

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Omar al-Bashir: Sudan military coup topples ruler after protests

Media caption The announcement was made by the defence minister Awad Ibn Ouf

After nearly 30 years in power, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has been ousted and arrested, the defence minister says.

Speaking on state TV, Awad Ibn Ouf said the army had decided to oversee a two-year transitional period followed by elections.

He also said a three-month state of emergency was being put in place.

Protests against Mr Bashir, who has governed Sudan since 1989, have been under way for several months.

Meanwhile, the main group that has been organising the demonstrations called for them to continue on Thursday, despite the military intervention.

“I announce as minister of defence the toppling of the regime and detaining its chief in a secure place,” Mr Ibn Ouf said in a statement.

It is not clear where Mr Bashir is being held.

Mr Ibn Ouf said the country had been suffering from “poor management, corruption, and an absence of justice” and he apologised “for the killing and violence that took place”.

Demonstrators wave flags after Sudan's defence minister said that President Omar al-Bashir had been detained in Khartoum, Sudan April 11, 2019Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionSome people celebrated in Khartoum after the army announcement

He said Sudan’s constitution was being suspended, border crossings were being shut until further notice and airspace was being closed for 24 hours.

As the news broke, crowds of protesters celebrated outside army headquarters in the capital, Khartoum, embracing soldiers and climbing on top of armoured vehicles.

Sudan’s intelligence service said it was freeing all political prisoners, state-run Suna news agency reported.

Sudanese demonstrators cheer as they drive towards a military vehicle. Khartoum 11 April 2019Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionAnti-government protesters have been cheering the military

Mr Bashir is the subject of an international arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), which accuses him of organising war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s western Darfur region.

However it is not clear what will happen to him following his arrest.

How did events unfold?

In the early hours of Thursday, military vehicles were seen entering the large compound in Khartoum that houses the defence ministry, the army headquarters and Mr Bashir’s personal residence, AFP news agency reported.

State TV and radio later interrupted their programming with a message that the army would be making a statement.

Omar al-Bashir - 5 AprilImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionOmar al-Bashir has been in power since 1989

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through central Khartoum, some chanting “It has fallen, we won”.

Will this end the protests?

In a strongly worded statement, the main organisation behind the demonstrations, the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), said the military had announced a “coup” that would reproduce the same “faces and institutions that our great people revolted against”.

It urged people to continue the sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum and to stay on the streets of cities across the country.

“Those who destroyed the country and killed the people are seeking to steal every drop of blood and sweat that the Sudanese people poured in their revolution that the shook the throne of tyranny,” the statement read.

Graphic of lngest-serving leaders
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The SPA has previously said that any transitional administration must not include anyone from what it called the “tyrannical regime”.

The protests were originally sparked by a rise in the cost of living, but demonstrators then began calling for the president to resign and his government to go.

Media captionA woman dubbed ‘Kandaka’, which means Nubian queen, has become a symbol for protesters

Omar el-Digeir, a senior protest member, told AFP news agency last week that the group was seeking a path “that represents the wish of the revolution”.

Police had ordered officers not to intervene against the protests, but the government was criticised by rights groups for a heavy-handed response to the unrest.

Government officials say 38 people have died since the unrest began in December, but the pressure group Human Rights Watch said the number was higher.

In February, it looked as though the president might step down at that point, but instead Mr Bashir declared a state of national emergency.

Media captionSudan protests: So what’s going on?

Who is Omar al-Bashir?

Formerly an army officer, he seized power in a military coup in 1989.

His rule has been marked by civil war. The civil conflict with the south of the country ended in 2005 and South Sudan became independent in 2011.

Another civil conflict has been taking place in the western region of Darfur. Mr Bashir is accused of organising war crimes and crimes against humanity there by the ICC.

Despite an international arrest warrant issued by the ICC, he won consecutive elections in 2010 and 2015. However, his last victory was marred by a boycott by the main opposition parties.

The arrest warrant has led to an international travel ban. However, Mr Bashir has made diplomatic visits to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. He was forced into a hasty departure from South Africa in June 2015 as a court there considered whether to enforce the arrest warrant.

China chemical blast death toll rises to 44

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

China chemical blast death toll rises to 44

Armed police officers carry an injured man after an explosion at a chemical industrial parkImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Hundreds were injured in the explosion, which was reportedly started by a fire at the plant

The death toll in a huge blast at a chemical plant in eastern China has jumped to 44, with 640 injured, according to state news agency Xinhua.

The powerful explosion followed a fire at the factory, which produces fertiliser.

China’s earthquake administration reported a tremor equivalent to 2.2-magnitude at the time of the blast.

The death toll makes it one of the country’s worst industrial accidents in recent years.

The blast happened at about 14:50 local time (06:50 GMT) on Thursday at a plant in Yancheng, run by Tianjiayi Chemical.

According to Xinhua, a total of 640 people were sent to hospital. Some 32 are in a critical condition and 58 have severe injuries, the agency reports.

Images on social media showed a fireball exploding at the site, billowing clouds enveloping the area, injured people, and damage to buildings.

The blast was so powerful that it knocked down factory buildings some distance away, trapping workers, according to local media.

Staff at the Henglida Chemical Factory, 3km (1.8 miles) from the explosion, said its roof collapsed as they fled, and windows and doors were blown out.

Provincial authorities said firefighters had to be brought in from across the province.

The fire was brought under control at around 0300 local time on Friday, state TV said.

Police at the site of the explosionImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption The cause of the accident is under investigation

Industrial accidents ranging from factory fires to mining disasters are common in China, often due to poorly enforced safety standards.

In November 2018, at least 22 people died and 22 more were injured when a vehicle carrying chemicals exploded in northern Zhangjiakou.

In July the same year, 13 people died after an explosion at a chemical plant in southwestern Sichuan.

The biggest accident in recent years was the August 2015 Tianjin explosion, which killed more than 160 people and injured nearly 1,000.

The exact cause of Thursday’s explosion is still under investigation. Tianjiayi Chemical, founded in 2007, has received six government penalties in the past over waste management and air pollution, according to the South China Morning Post.

Yancheng, China

Cyclone Idai: Mozambique survivors desperate for help

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Cyclone Idai: Mozambique survivors desperate for help

Related Topics

Media caption Cyclone Idai: Survivors rescued by land and air

Mozambique’s port city of Beira is reeling from the damage inflicted by Cyclone Idai.

So far 200 people have been confirmed dead in the southern African country, along with another 100 in neighbouring Zimbabwe, but the death toll could be much higher.

Those who survived the disaster have had little reprieve to mourn the loss of their loved ones or salvage the little that is remaining of their belongings. They are in desperate need of food, shelter and clothing, as the BBC’s Pumza Fihlani reports from Beira.

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Inside a makeshift response centre at the airport in Beira, aid agencies are scrambling to get to those still trapped across the region.

It’s the first point of call for all the teams coming in from around the world and offers the first glimpse of how heavily this operation is relying on outside help.

A few kilometres away, panic is setting in. The people of Beira are growing anxious – help is coming, but it is really slow and not nearly enough.

“I have nothing. I have lost everything. We don’t have food. I don’t even have blankets. We need help,” one woman tells me as we make our way through the village of Manhava.

A general view of the damage after a cyclone swept through BeiraImage copyright REUTERS
Image caption Most of the port city of Beira is under water

Beira’s geography, with parts of it lying below sea level, has always made it vulnerable to effects of extreme weather like Cyclone Ida which made landfall last week with winds of up to 177 km/h (106 mph).

The city bore the full brunt of the destructive storm, which triggered flooding of the whole city and knocked down buildings and cut off roads. This is now stalling rescuers from reaching desperate people in need.


More on Cyclone Idai:


Some people here are trying to salvage what they can to create shelter. Those who can are repairing their metal roofs, while others are tying together pine branches to sleep under.

Homes have been damaged, some even completely destroyed, and there are pools of water everywhere.

Man mending roof
Image caption Some people have been trying to repair their houses

A local church has become a temporary home for scores of people. Half of its roof was blown off, but the walls have held and to some it is better than being out in the cold.

Locals stand beside a damaged section of the road between Beira and Chimoio in Nhamatanda district, central MozambiqueImage copyright AFP
Image caption Floodwaters have cut off roads and knocked down buildings

The UN has said that Cyclone Idai triggered a “massive disaster” in southern Africa, affecting hundreds of thousands if not millions of people.

Neighbouring Zimbabwe and Malawi have also been affected by the freak storm that has caused the deaths of dozens and displacement of thousands of people.

A map showing areas of Mozambique before and after they were flooded

Everyone we come across here is begging us to come into their homes to show us what they have lost and how nature has stolen from them.

We are the first people they have seen since the cyclone hit on Thursday night.

“Please help us. Tell the world we are suffering. We don’t know where we are going to sleep,” says Pedro, a father of three children – all under the age of 10.

The residents here feel like they have been forgotten.

A UN camp for the people displaced in BeiraImage copyright AFP
Image caption A UN camp for the people displaced in Beira

As the full picture of this crisis slowly becomes clear, there are questions about whether the government of Mozambique could have done more to prepare for the disaster.

The floods of the year 2000 claimed hundreds of lives and yet some here feel lessons have not been learned.

“Our city was destroyed so easily because our infrastructure is not taken care of. Every time there is a problem here we need foreign countries to save us. What is our government doing, what is our own plan?” our driver asks me.

‘100,000 people at risk’

Back at the airport, a helicopter has just landed and rescue workers rush out, carrying in their arms children whose eyes are wide with fear.

“Many villages have been washed away. We found women and children holding on to trees. We are doing what we can,” said one of the rescuers.

A map showing flooding in Beira
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Many of those trapped are trying to get to higher ground but persistent rainfall has been hampering rescue operations.

Those rescued are being taken to a network of 56 camps dotted across the region.

More rains are expected and those who made it to safety are the lucky ones. Mozambique President Felipe Nyusi has said more than 100,000 people are at risk – and there is growing concern that help may not get to them in time.

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Cyclone Idai: ‘Massive disaster’ in Mozambique and Zimbabwe

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Cyclone Idai: ‘Massive disaster’ in Mozambique and Zimbabwe

Media caption Cyclone Idai survivors are being rescued by land and air

Cyclone Idai has triggered a “massive disaster” in southern Africa affecting hundreds of thousands if not millions of people, the UN has said.

The region has been hit by widespread flooding and devastation affecting Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi called it “a humanitarian disaster of great proportion”.

He said more than 1,000 people may have been killed after the cyclone hit the country last week.

Cyclone Idai made landfall near the port city of Beira in Sofala province on Thursday with winds of up to 177 km/h (106 mph).

“This is shaping up to be one of the worst weather-related disasters ever to hit the southern hemisphere,” Clare Nullis, from the UN’s weather agency, told the BBC on Tuesday.

Christian Lindmeier from the UN’s World Health Organization, said: “We need all the logistical support that we can get.”

Media caption Aerial footage showing the disaster in Mozambique

Mozambique’s government said 84 people had died and 100,000 needed to be urgently rescued near Beira.

An aerial survey of the province showed that a 50km (30 mile) stretch of land was under water after the Buzi river burst its banks, charity Save The Children said.

Image shows a general aerial view of a damaged neighbourhood in Sofala Province, Central MozambiqueImage copyright EPA
Image caption An aerial view of a severely damaged neighbourhood in Mozambique

The governor of neighbouring Manica province, Manuel Rodrigues, says there is an urgent need to rescue people still trapped, the BBC’s Jose Tembe reports.

“It’s very sad and very complicated, given what we saw when we flew over the area. We saw people besieged and asking for help,” Mr Rodrigues told reporters.

“They were on top of their roofs made up of zinc sheets. Others under flood waters. We saw many people.

“We can only imagine that they had been there for more than two or three days, without food and without clean drinking water.”

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‘It was like a war’

A general view shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in Beira, MozambiqueImage copyright REUTERS

Nelson Moda was in Beira in Mozambique when the storm hit. He told his story to the BBC OS radio programme:

It was my son’s birthday on 14 March and we were all at home. In the morning this strong storm started and it was moving the city, the trees, and the houses.

It was like a war. It was horrific. The children were crying and we were hiding in the bathroom. I could see people dying and the house where I live has been destroyed.

There are children who now have no father, no mother, and no home. I saw the city where I grew up being destroyed with my naked eyes.

In Beira, there are no basic services and people don’t know what they’re going to eat or where they’re going to sleep.

I haven’t been able to sleep since that night.

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In Zimbabwe, the government says 98 people have been killed and more than 200 are missing.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said that the government was conducting rescue missions and delivering food aid.

In the south-eastern town of Chimanimani residents told harrowing stories of how they lost their relatives when the storm hit.

Some rescuers said homes and even bodies were washed away in the rivers to neighbouring Mozambique, the BBC’s Shingai Nyoka reports.

Timber company workers stand stranded on a damaged road on March 18, 2019, at Charter Estate, Chimanimani, eastern ZimbabweImage copyright AFP
Image caption Timber company workers were stranded after a road was damaged in Chimanimani, eastern Zimbabwe

Floods of up to six metres deep had caused “incredible devastation” over a huge area in Mozambique, World Food Programme regional chief Lola Castro said.

At least 1.7 million people were in the direct path of the cyclone in Mozambique and 920,000 have been affected in Malawi, the UN said.

In Zimbabwe, at least 20,000 houses have been partially damaged in the south-eastern town of Chipinge, 600 others were completely destroyed.

Local officials say they are distributing rice and maize from the national food reserve to those displaced.

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What are the relief teams doing?

In Mozambique, several aid agencies are assisting government efforts in the search and rescue operations and in the distribution of food aid, ReliefWeb reports.

Telecoms Sans Frontiers has sent a team to Beira to help set up communication networks – which has been severely hindered – for humanitarian operations.

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Many aid trucks are stuck on the impassable roads and unable to reach their destinations. The conditions have also limited air operations.

Mozambique’s National Institute for Disaster Management is also housing 3,800 families in Sofala province.

The Red Cross has warned there could be an outbreak of waterborne diseases, including cholera, due to the expected contamination of the water supply and disruption of usual water treatment.

A cargo plane carrying emergency supplies is also scheduled to arrive in Mozambique on Tuesday, Sacha Myers, from Save The Children, told the BBC.


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Are We On The Road To Civilization Collapse?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Studying the demise of historic civilisations can tell us how much risk we face today, says collapse expert Luke Kemp. Worryingly, the signs are worsening.

Great civilisations are not murdered. Instead, they take their own lives.

DEEP CIVILISATION

This article is part of a new BBC Future series about the long view of humanity, which aims to stand back from the daily news cycle and widen the lens of our current place in time. Modern society is suffering from “temporal exhaustion”, the sociologist Elise Boulding once said. “If one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future,” she wrote.

That’s why the Deep Civilisation season will explore what really matters in the broader arc of human history and what it means for us and our descendants.

So concluded the historian Arnold Toynbee in his 12-volume magnum opus A Study of History. It was an exploration of the rise and fall of 28 different civilisations.

He was right in some respects: civilisations are often responsible for their own decline. However, their self-destruction is usually assisted.

The Roman Empire, for example, was the victim of many ills including overexpansion, climatic change, environmental degradation and poor leadership. But it was also brought to its knees when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and the Vandals in 455.

Collapse is often quick and greatness provides no immunity. The Roman Empire covered 4.4 million sq km (1.9 million sq miles) in 390. Five years later, it had plummeted to 2 million sq km (770,000 sq miles). By 476, the empire’s reach was zero.

Our deep past is marked by recurring failure. As part of my research at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, I am attempting to find out why collapse occurs through a historical autopsy. What can the rise and fall of historic civilisations tell us about our own? What are the forces that precipitate or delay a collapse? And do we see similar patterns today?

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The first way to look at past civilisations is to compare their longevity. This can be difficult, because there is no strict definition of civilisation, nor an overarching database of their births and deaths.

In the graphic below, I have compared the lifespan of various civilisations, which I define as a society with agriculture, multiple cities, military dominance in its geographical region and a continuous political structure. Given this definition, all empires are civilisations, but not all civilisations are empires. The data is drawn from two studies on the growth and decline of empires (for 3000-600BC and 600BC-600), and an informal, crowd-sourced survey of ancient civilisations (which I have amended).

“Historic

Click/pinch to enlarge. Here’s the full list of the civilisations displayed above. (Credit: Nigel Hawtin)

Collapse can be defined as a rapid and enduring loss of population, identity and socio-economic complexity. Public services crumble and disorder ensues as government loses control of its monopoly on violence.

Virtually all past civilisations have faced this fate. Some recovered or transformed, such as the Chinese and Egyptian. Other collapses were permanent, as was the case of Easter Island. Sometimes the cities at the epicentre of collapse are revived, as was the case with Rome. In other cases, such as the Mayan ruins, they are left abandoned as a mausoleum for future tourists.

What can this tell us about the future of global modern civilisation? Are the lessons of agrarian empires applicable to our post-18th Century period of industrial capitalism?

Collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and technological stage

I would argue that they are. Societies of the past and present are just complex systems composed of people and technology. The theory of “normal accidents” suggests that complex technological systems regularly give way to failure. So collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and stage.

We may be more technologically advanced now. But this gives little ground to believe that we are immune to the threats that undid our ancestors. Our newfound technological abilities even bring new, unprecedented challenges to the mix.

And while our scale may now be global, collapse appears to happen to both sprawling empires and fledgling kingdoms alike. There is no reason to believe that greater size is armour against societal dissolution. Our tightly-coupled, globalised economic system is, if anything, more likely to make crisis spread.

Building falling into sea

Climatic pressures are worsening (Credit: Getty Images)

If the fate of previous civilisations can be a roadmap to our future, what does it say? One method is to examine the trends that preceded historic collapses and see how they are unfolding today.

While there is no single accepted theory for why collapses happen, historians, anthropologists and others have proposed various explanations, including:

CLIMATIC CHANGE: When climatic stability changes, the results can be disastrous, resulting in crop failure, starvation and desertification. The collapse of the Anasazi, the Tiwanaku civilisation, the Akkadians, the Mayan, the Roman Empire, and many others have all coincided with abrupt climatic changes, usually droughts.

ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION: Collapse can occur when societies overshoot the carrying capacity of their environment. This ecological collapse theory, which has been the subject of bestselling books, points to excessive deforestation, water pollution, soil degradation and the loss of biodiversity as precipitating causes.

INEQUALITY AND OLIGARCHY: Wealth and political inequality can be central drivers of social disintegration, as can oligarchy and centralisation of power among leaders. This not only causes social distress, but handicaps a society’s ability to respond to ecological, social and economic problems.

The field of cliodynamics models how factors such as equality and demography correlate with political violence. Statistical analysis of previous societies suggests that this happens in cycles. As population increases, the supply of labour outstrips demand, workers become cheap and society becomes top-heavy. This inequality undermines collective solidarity and political turbulence follows.

COMPLEXITY: Collapse expert and historian Joseph Tainter has proposed that societies eventually collapse under the weight of their own accumulated complexity and bureaucracy. Societies are problem-solving collectives that grow in complexity in order to overcome new issues. However, the returns from complexity eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. After this point, collapse will eventually ensue.

Another measure of increasing complexity is called Energy Return on Investment (EROI). This refers to the ratio between the amount of energy produced by a resource relative to the energy needed to obtain it. Like complexity, EROI appears to have a point of diminishing returns. In his book The Upside of Down, the political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon observed that environmental degradation throughout the Roman Empire led to falling EROI from their staple energy source: crops of wheat and alfalfa. The empire fell alongside their EROI. Tainter also blames it as a chief culprit of collapse, including for the Mayan.

EXTERNAL SHOCKS: In other words, the “four horsemen”: war, natural disasters, famine and plagues. The Aztec Empire, for example, was brought to an end by Spanish invaders. Most early agrarian states were fleeting due to deadly epidemics. The concentration of humans and cattle in walled settlements with poor hygiene made disease outbreaks unavoidable and catastrophic. Sometimes disasters combined, as was the case with the Spanish introducing salmonella to the Americas.

RANDOMNESS/BAD LUCK: Statistical analysis on empiressuggests that collapse is random and independent of age. Evolutionary biologist and data scientist Indre Zliobaite and her colleagues have observed a similar pattern in the evolutionary record of species. A common explanation of this apparent randomness is the “Red Queen Effect”: if species are constantly fighting for survival in a changing environment with numerous competitors, extinction is a consistent possibility.

Despite the abundance of books and articles, we don’t have a conclusive explanation as to why civilisations collapse. What we do know is this: the factors highlighted above can all contribute. Collapse is a tipping point phenomena, when compounding stressors overrun societal coping capacity.

We can examine these indicators of danger to see if our chance of collapse is falling or rising. Here are four of those possible metrics, measured over the past few decades:

Graphics showing collapse risk rising

Click/pinch to enlarge (Credit: Nigel Hawtin)

Temperature is a clear metric for climate change, GDP is a proxy for complexity and the ecological footprint is an indicator for environmental degradation. Each of these has been trending steeply upwards.

Inequality is more difficult to calculate. The typical measurement of the Gini Index suggests that inequality has decreased slightly globally (although it is increasing within countries). However, the Gini Index can be misleading as it only measures relative changes in income. In other words, if two individuals earning $1 and $100,000 both doubled their income, the Gini would show no change. But the gap between the two would have jumped from $99,999 to $198,000.

Because of this, I have also depicted the income share of the global top 1%. The 1% have increased in their share of global income from approximately 16% in 1980 to over 20% today. Importantly, wealth inequality is even worse. The share of global wealth from the 1% has swelled from 25-30% in the 1980s to approximately 40% in 2016. The reality is likely to be starker as these numbers do not capture wealth and income siphoned into overseas tax havens.

Homeless on Wall Street (Credit: Getty Images)

The rich are getting richer, which in past civilisations has created additional stress on societies (Credit: Getty Images)

Studies suggest that the EROI for fossil fuels has been steadily decreasing over time as the easiest to reach and richest reserves are depleted. Unfortunately, most renewable replacements, such as solar, have a markedly lower EROI, largely due to their energy density and the rare earth metals and manufacturing required to produce them.

This has led much of the literature to discuss the possibility of an “energy cliff” as EROI declines to a point where current societal levels of affluence can no longer be maintained. The energy cliff need not be terminal if renewable technologies continue to improve and energy efficiency measures are speedily implemented.

Measures of resilience

The somewhat reassuring news is that collapse metrics are not the entire picture. Societal resilience may be able to delay or prevent collapse.

For example, globally “economic diversity” – a measurement of the diversity and sophistication of country exports ­– is greater today than it was in the 1960s and 1970s, as measured by the Economic Complexity Index (ECI). Nations are, on average, less reliant on single types of exports than they once were. For example, a nation that had diversified beyond only exporting agricultural products would be more likely to weather ecological degradation or the loss of trading partners. The ECI also measures the knowledge-intensity of exports. More skilled populations may have a greater capacity to respond to crises as they arise.

There are some reasons to be optimistic, thanks to our ability to innovate and diversify away from disaster. Yet the world is worsening in areas that have contributed to the collapse of previous societies

Similarly, innovation – as measured by per capita patent applications– is also rising. In theory, a civilisation might be less vulnerable to collapse if new technologies can mitigate against pressures such as climate change.

It’s also possible that “collapse” can happen without violent catastrophe. As Rachel Nuwer wrote on BBC Future in 2017, “in some cases, civilisations simply fade out of existence – becoming the stuff of history not with a bang but a whimper”.

Factory workers welding (Credit: Getty Images)

Our technological capabilities may have the potential to delay collapse (Credit: Getty Images)

Still, when we look at all these collapse and resilience indicators as a whole, the message is clear that we should not be complacent. There are some reasons to be optimistic, thanks to our ability to innovate and diversify away from disaster. Yet the world is worsening in areas that have contributed to the collapse of previous societies. The climate is changing, the gap between the rich and poor is widening, the world is becoming increasingly complex, and our demands on the environment are outstripping planetary carrying capacity.

The rungless ladder

That’s not all. Worryingly, the world is now deeply interconnected and interdependent. In the past, collapse was confined to regions – it was a temporary setback, and people often could easily return to agrarian or hunter-gatherer lifestyles. For many, it was even a welcome reprieve from the oppression of early states. Moreover, the weapons available during social disorder were rudimentary: swords, arrows and occasionally guns.

Today, societal collapse is a more treacherous prospect. The weapons available to a state, and sometimes even groups, during a breakdown now range from biological agents to nuclear weapons. New instruments of violence, such as lethal autonomous weapons, may be available in the near future. People are increasingly specialised and disconnected from the production of food and basic goods. And a changing climate may irreparably damage our ability to return to simple farming practices.

Think of civilisation as a poorly-built ladder. As you climb, each step that you used falls away. A fall from a height of just a few rungs is fine. Yet the higher you climb, the larger the fall. Eventually, once you reach a sufficient height, any drop from the ladder is fatal.

With the proliferation of nuclear weapons, we may have already reached this point of civilisational “terminal velocity”. Any collapse – any fall from the ladder – risks being permanent. Nuclear war in itself could result in an existential risk: either the extinction of our species, or a permanent catapult back to the Stone Age.

Syria ruin

A woman walks in the ruins of a town in Syria following conflict between fighters (Credit: Getty Images)

While we are becoming more economically powerful and resilient, our technological capabilities also present unprecedented threats that no civilisation has had to contend with. For example, the climatic changes we face are of a different nature to what undid the Maya or Anazasi. They are global, human-driven, quicker, and more severe.

Assistance in our self-imposed ruin will not come from hostile neighbors, but from our own technological powers. Collapse, in our case, would be a progress trap.

The collapse of our civilisation is not inevitable. History suggests it is likely, but we have the unique advantage of being able to learn from the wreckages of societies past.

We know what needs to be done: emissions can be reduced, inequalities levelled, environmental degradation reversed, innovation unleashed and economies diversified. The policy proposals are there. Only the political will is lacking. We can also invest in recovery. There are already well-developed ideas for improving the ability of food and knowledge systems to be recuperated after catastrophe. Avoiding the creation of dangerous and widely-accessible technologies is also critical. Such steps will lessen the chance of a future collapse becoming irreversible.

We will only march into collapse if we advance blindly. We are only doomed if we are unwilling to listen to the past.

Luke Kemp is a researcher based at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge. He tweets @lukakemp.

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Strong chance of a new El Niño forming by early 2019

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Strong chance of a new El Niño forming by early 2019

El NiñoImage copyright NOAA/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Image caption An image showing the 2015 El Niño with rising temperatures in the Pacific

The World Meteorological Organization says there’s a 75-80% chance of a weak El Niño forming within three months.

The naturally occurring event causes changes in the temperature of the Pacific Ocean and has a major influence on weather patterns around the world.

It is linked to floods in South America and droughts in Africa and Asia.

El Niño events often lead to record temperatures as heat rises from the Pacific.

According to the WMO update, sea surface temperatures in the east-central tropical Pacific have been at weak El Niño levels since October. However the atmosphere has not yet responded to the extra warmth that’s produced by the upwelling seas.

Scientists have been predicting the likelihood of a new event since May this year, with confidence increasing.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology are now estimating that an El Niño event will start in December. US forecasters are saying there’s a 90% chance of the event starting in January.

El NiñoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionDroughts in some places and floods in many others are linked to El Niño

The WMO models are say that a fully fledged El Niño is estimated to be 75-80% likely between December and February 2019.

At this point, the WMO says its predictions for the event range from just a warm-neutral condition through to a moderate strength event with sea surface temperatures peaking between 0.8C to 1.2C above average.

The chance of a strong event are currently low.

“The forecast El Niño is not expected to be as powerful as the event in 2015-2016, which was linked with droughts, flooding and coral bleaching in different parts of the world,” said Maxx Dilley, director of WMO’s Climate Prediction and Adaptation branch.

“Even so, it can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns in many regions, with important consequences to agricultural and food security sectors, and for management of water resources and public health, and it may combine with long-term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures,” he said.

In terms of food security, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have issued a report detailing the countries that could suffer food shortages as a result of the event.

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Science & Environment

Kabul suicide bomber kills dozens at gathering of clerics

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Kabul suicide bomber kills dozens at gathering of clerics

An injured person is taken to hospital in KabulImage copyright EPA
Image caption This is one of the deadliest attacks in Kabul in recent months

A suicide bomb attack on a gathering of religious scholars in the Afghan capital, Kabul, has killed at least 43 people, officials say.

At least 83 more were injured as the clerics met at the Uranus hall to mark the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

It is one of the deadliest attacks in Kabul in recent months.

No-one has admitted responsibility for the blast, but the Islamic State group has said it was behind most of the recent deadliest attacks.

Continuing attacks by the Taliban have also stepped up pressure on security forces.

Basir Mujahid, a spokesman for Kabul police, said: “Hundreds of Islamic scholars and their followers had gathered to recite verses from the holy Koran to observe the Eid Milad-un-Nabi festival at the private banquet hall.”

A manager at the hall said the suicide bomber blew himself up in the middle of the gathering.

1TV News quoted the health ministry as saying that 24 of the wounded are severely injured.

Map

The Islamic State group said it was behind two attacks in Kabul in August that killed dozens of people.

Dozens were also killed across the country as voters cast ballots in the nation’s parliamentary elections in October.

However, there have been recent moves to try to end decades of war.

This month, Taliban militants for the first time attended an international meeting, hosted by Russia, to discuss the matter.

The Taliban’s power and reach have surged since foreign combat troops left Afghanistan in 2014.

But the Islamic State in Afghanistan group, sometimes known as Islamic State Khorasan, also remains highly active.

Civilian deaths and injuries have have hit record highs. Casualty figures for the conflict, which began in 2001, are the highest since the UN started keeping records in 2009.

Chart showing total civilian casualties in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2017 with steady rise until 2016 and slight decrease in 2017

El Chapo goes on trial

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

El Chapo goes on trial

Three different images of El ChapoImage copyright AFP/GETTY/REUTERS
Image caption The numerous faces of El Chapo

What’s happening?

Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán goes on trial in New York City on Tuesday. The trial could last up to four months.

Why does it matter?

There is a case to be made that El Chapo is the most powerful person to be prosecuted in modern times. He is certainly among the richest.

He headed up the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico, which became the world’s most powerful drug trafficking gang and dominated the heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine trade into the US.

The cartel made up to $3bn (£2.3bn) a year and had influence in at least 50 countries.

El Chapo escaped twice from prison and was finally caught in 2016, then extradited to the US. He’s also accused of being behind the killing of rivals and witnesses, so security in court will be extremely tight.