How Science Fiction can change the world from East to West

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed

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Six years ago, I decided to write a sci-fi novel. It was the year of the 2008 financial crash, and the story of ‘progress’ based on unlimited economic growth was under threat. In the wake of the global economic crisis, new social movements were erupting across East and West, from the aborted ‘Arab Spring’, to the now dispersed ‘Occupy’ movement. Heavy-handed state response provoked peaceful protests into eruptions of violent unrest.

What many didn’t realize, sadly, is that the new age of unrest that has unfolded since then is not simply a consequence of a failed economic model – but, going deeper, the consequence of an economic model that had failed precisely because it was blind to humanity’s embeddedness in nature.

We cannot continue the business-as-usual of endless growth on a finite planet without creating escalating problems for ourselves

The global economic crisis and the rising unrest across the Middle East and North Africa were a direct consequence of escalating resource scarcity due to energy and climate convergence: massive political repression and corruption across the region; large young populations increasingly disenfranchised by failed economic policies that blindly followed the IMF-World Bank austerity prescriptions; the end of the era of cheap oil due to the peak and plateau of conventional crude oil; rocketing food prices due to accelerating extreme weather, driven by climate change in key crop-producing regions from North America to Russia.

The upshot is that the new era of unrest is symptomatic of a deeper fundamental transition in the very underpinnings of what makes our civilization tick – fossil fuel energy isn’t cheap anymore; our dependence on fossil fuels is killing the climate; it’s also killing economic growth through debilitating high oil prices; and it’s fueling terror as oil states pour money into supporting dubious groups they think will export their regional interests; consequently, the geopolitical landscape across East and West, tied up with the global addiction to cheap oil, is under increasing strain as great and regional powers jockey and compete for domination in hard times.

Despite all this, political and financial leaders have managed to, at least temporarily, rehabilitate the prevailing story of endless growth on a finite planet by confusing public debate on a whole host of issues from austerity to climate change to foreign policy. We need more business-as-usual, not less, they would have us believe.

But the story we’re being told is wrong. We cannot continue the business-as-usual of endless growth on a finite planet without creating escalating problems for ourselves. The belief that we can is the delusion of our age.

Zero Point

I began working on my novel, Zero Point, in earnest because I realized that for our societies to embark on the dramatic socio-economic and political changes essential to avert the danger of renewed global economic, energy and environmental crises, we needed to challenge the delusion of our age. That delusion, of course, is fundamentally bound up with culture – a global culture of crude reductionism that relentlessly bombards us with the flashing sights and sounds of materialistic consumerism.

The culture of consumerism keeps us grinding along, accelerating our exploitation of planetary resources at unsustainable rates at the expense of the vast numbers of those less fortunate than us. We have become like the sleeping batteries in The Matrix: mere cogs in a global industrial machine hell-bent on a trajectory the U.N. predicts could culminate in an uninhabitable planet due to carbon pollution, in less than one life-time.

If the story of endless growth is leading us to disaster, then the planet clearly needs a new, somewhat more accurate story.

In this context, I believe that authors cannot evade the gravity of responsibility in the stories we choose to tell. We are not mere random generators of text in a vacuum. We ourselves are situated in the political context of the global struggle in which we find ourselves – the struggle between the old systems of hierarchical control clinging to business-as-usual at any cost, and emerging new paradigms of decentralized power and mutuality based on the unity of the human family and nature.

When we tell stories, therefore, we should ask ourselves how what we’re writing impacts on this struggle - because as story-makers, whether we know it or not we are de facto change-makers, who are able to change the world by offering people the chance to see it through new lenses and to explore new visions.

‘Fourth Iraq War’

Zero Point, is a political science fiction thriller set in the near future after a Fourth Iraq War. My background in international security and my access to insiders – having contributed for instance to two major official terrorism investigations in the U.S. and the UK, as well as broken a wide range of exclusive stories on military intelligence malpractice - gave me a unique perspective to draw from.

The novel imagines what could happen if business-as-usual continues in a world facing increasingly secretive concentrations of excessive power associated with the national security system, coupled with escalating energy and environmental crises.

In my last article here, I wrote critically about the rise of ISIS, a phenomenon which I anticipated in Zero Point. The story in my novel fasts-forward to a future in which Maliki’s Iraq is collapsing under the weight of its own lack of legitimacy, along with the rise of an al-Qaeda affiliated insurgency; post-NATO Libya has collapsed into full-scale civil war; U.S.-backed military expeditions to shore-up the falling dominoes of favored regional regimes ramp up to maintain a semblance of stability; and the threat of terrorism in Britain and elsewhere in the west leads to the assassination of the Prime Minister (and a lot more besides). In this context, the battle to dominate scarce resources becomes far stranger when the protagonist in the story stumbles upon top secret black weapons programs with the power to unravel spacetime itself.

When writing, little did I know how quickly events would proceed. Indeed, my Iraq forecast at least is no longer near future but present-day reality. We have yet to see whether the rest will come to pass – and of course, much of it won’t as it’s meant to be fiction! But I do hope that readers will see in Zero Point not just a fun story, but a subversion of the usual tropes in thriller writing of ‘us good’ and ‘them bad’, thus opening up the complexity of ‘deep politics’ – the extent to which the inherent corruption of the system is its greatest asset, and simultaneously the public’s own worst enemy.

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar. His forthcoming novel, Zero Point, is due out on 18th August. He is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development in London, and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization among other books. His work on international terrorism was officially used by the 9/11 Commission, among other government agencies. He writes for the Guardian on the geopolitics of environmental, energy and economic crises on his Earth insight blog. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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