Join The Voices Of War exclusive community by subscribing today. Connect our private feed with your favourite pod-catcher at https://thevoicesofwar.supercast.com/.
As a former refugee and migrant, I can appreciate that even a few dollars per month might be too much to spare on a podcast. If you are in this situation and cannot afford a subscription, please email me as I have an alternate solution for you.
Any universities or other educational establishments need only email me and I will share the full file with them of any episodes they wish to use.
My guest today is Dr. Elizabeth Boulton, who is an eco-military theorist with Destination Safe Earth, and a research affiliate with the ‘Climate Change & (In)Security Project’ which is a collaboration between the University of Oxford, the Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research (CHACR) and the British Army.
She joins me today to discuss her thinking behind the concepts of ‘Hyperthreat’, ‘Hyper-response’, and Plan E as a response to tackling climate change.
Some of the topics we covered are:
- Elizabeth’s background and journey towards a PhD
- Timothy Morton and the Hyperobject
- Conceptualising climate change as a ‘Hyperthreat’
- Uncovering the disguised cause and effect of the ‘Hyperthreat’
- ‘Entangled Security’ and why understanding it is crucial for tackling the climate crisis
- The problem of establishing credibility about climate change
- Corporate capture, competing priorities and corrupted incentives in the ‘Hyperthreat’
- ‘Plan E’ and the essential steps to fight climate change
- Reframing the idea of security for a sustainable future
- Why a localised response is key to addressing the climate change ‘Hyperthreat’
- Unlocking global creativity to achieve a ‘Hyper-response’
- Testing the viability of ‘Plan E’ through wargaming
- Increasing geopolitical tensions as a threat to climate change solutions
To find out more about Elizabeth and her work, you can start here.
#TheVoicesOfWar #PlanE, #hyperthreat, #EntangledSecurity, #ClimateChange, #Hyperobject, #Strategy, #ClimateEmergency, #Mobilization, #Transdisciplinary, #PlanetarySecurity, #SlowViolence, #SixthExtinctionEvent
Listen to the podcast here
Dr. Elizabeth Boulton – Tackling The Climate Change Hyperthreat: Plan E, Entangled Security And Harnessing A Hyper-Response
My guest in this episode is Dr. Elizabeth Boulton, who is an eco-military theorist with Destination Safe Earth and a research affiliate with the Climate Change & (In)Security Project, which is a collaboration between the University of Oxford, the Centre for Historical Analysis in Conflict Research, and the British Army. Her doctoral research developed the idea that climate and environmental change constitute a new form of threat, a Hyperthreat. She then applied modified military threat analysis and strategic planning tools to investigate options for a Hyper-response.
This led to Plan E, the world’s first climate and eco-centred security strategy published by the US Marine Corps University Press in 2022. Previously, Elizabeth served as an Officer in the Australian Army, where she deployed to East Timor and Iraq. Later as a civilian, she spent time in Ghana, Nigeria, and Sudan in humanitarian work.
In 2007, she completed a Master’s of Climate Policy at the University of Melbourne before moving to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, working in its National Climate Centre in Climate Risk Communication. She joined me in this episode to discuss her thinking behind the concepts of Hyperthreat, Hyper-response, and Plan E. Liz, thank you for joining me on the show.
Thanks very much for having me.
Before we get to Plan E and all the thinking that has gone into it, I think it’s useful to get to know you a little more. As mentioned in your bio, you were in the Army. Why did you join in the first place? What was your career like?
I joined straight out of school to ADFA. I was in the Navy initially. While I was there, I transferred to the Army, and yet that was the typical reaction from people. I remember one girl ran up across the quadrangle screaming at me, “What are you doing? Do you like your back? Do you like your knees?” People thought I was crazy, but I had no idea about the Army. In year twelve, there was the Hoddle Street massacre, and I remember that the shooter was an ex-Navy. He’d been kicked out of Duntroon.
I said at school at one stage that joining the Army was the last thing I would ever do. It is quite funny, but basically, I loved rock climbing, being outdoors, and all of that. Once I got to ADFA, I saw the team culture. I’d come back from a tour with the Navy where we’d be in nice hotels and shown a lot of machinery and stuff. I then saw the Army people come back covered in mud, camaraderie, and stuff. I thought that’s what I prefer. Also, the opportunities. The Army had more options for someone like me who wasn’t technically minded. I went into transport and logistics.
I went through that as well, and I distinctly remember seeing our Navy and Air Force friends coming from their exercises and in the green. It distinctly embeds in us and them very early on in our careers. As they say, the Army navigates by the stars, the Navy sail by the stars, and the Air Force sleeps in five stars. I think it’s something along those lines, or at least that was the joke. How did you then end up doing a PhD on Climate Crisis? That’s a pretty significant shift from joining the Army to being a PhD researcher on the climate crisis.
Believe it or not, the day after I got back from Iraq, I was walking down Fitzroy Street in St. Kilda. There used to be a lovely bookstore there. I came across a book browsing through, which alerted me to climate and all range of environmental problems. I was spellbound because, at that stage, I’d come out about the weapons of mass destruction not existing, etc. I couldn’t understand why I’d seen the enormous mobilisation for the Middle East or for Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, but here was this other thing that was going to potentially kill stacks of people, and it seemed nothing was being done. That was in 2004. That book prompted me to get out and start a new career.
That’s when I started. I did the Masters of Climate at Melbourne Uni and started working in that field. I then ended up at the Bureau, but while I was at the Bureau of Meteorology, which was an incredible privilege because I was working with some of the top climate scientists, and their intellects were in their absolute stratosphere. It was quite incredible. I was watching the very siloed way of analysing all the different environmental things.
I could see immediately that there was no intelligence function of joining the dots at all. When I went into that environment, I could bring my military background. I saw it as a threat and an early warning centre, but there were missing layers of interpreting those signals and also problems with communicating those signals out to people.
It was a very interesting time because even at that stage, which was quite a long time ago, there were various climate scientists getting all types of personal attacks being censored. Some are sacked for speaking out and also suffering great depression that they’re watching the death knells of the planet the whole time and not being listened to. From being in that environment, I think I was inspired by their intellects. There was a real sense of being on the front line of an important issue, and I saw these interlinkages between military methods and so forth and threat. That’s why I then decided to do the PhD.Climate scientists are getting all types of personal attacks. Some are being censored or sacked for speaking out. They are suffering a great depression from watching the death knells of the planet the whole time and not being listened to. Click To Tweet
Is that then when the idea of the Hyperthreat was born based on what you saw at the Bureau and then applying your military hat to provide a first-level analysis of what you’re seeing in the real world?
As you mentioned, I had some time in Africa. I was in Sudan, where there was that incredible starvation. I was working around a lot of those camps where they had severely malnourished people. They were like skeletons with Glad wrap on them. It’s pretty crazy and awful to see. As soon as I read that book, in my mind, I saw this as a threat because I’d experienced starvation and that sort of thing.
I saw it as a threat immediately in my head at that stage, but the PhD, the starting point concept for me was, “Why aren’t we responding to some other big crisis or even the global financial crisis or all sorts of things? We know how to do it, but why aren’t we doing it?” That seemed to me the bigger question because a lot of people could not dare. We should do a Marshall plan, but we’re not doing a Marshall plan, so why aren’t we?
I then had quite a bit of time researching climate communication, and at that very stage, there were also a lot of people researching this because of the failures of Copenhagen and stuff. Why weren’t people responding to these climate facts? There was a massive body of research on it, and at the same time, neuroscience was making all these breakthroughs about how cognition happens.
From that, I determined that the centre of gravity, the main thing holding people back, was their deep frames, which refers to these deeply entrenched neuron pathways that are pretty much formed from birth. What we now understand about the brain is that we form these first through sensory signals. We have five senses that act as detectors of signals from the environment, and then they cross-reference each other. The more they cross reference, the more it solidifies a neuron pathway as evidence.
This is the pre-cognitive thing that builds the software. There was a lot of research on deep framing. This is not just my idea but a whole stack of brain scientists. Basically, what occurred to me is that we don’t have a neuron pathway to conceptualise this problem. We are thinking of Excel, but the problem is in Word or something. We had to build a new way of thinking and conceptualising. I saw that as the centre of gravity and diverted almost my entire focus. I stopped and started a bit, but in 2012, my centre of gravity analysis hadn’t been an hour or two on a whiteboard. It’s been years of deep inquiry into it.
You are obviously focusing a lot on human psychology and how that translates into the narratives we accept as true. Because of your background in crisis communication, I’d imagine how we then communicate that. Is that right?
That’s right. It’s even bigger than that. It’s a whole worldview. As a society, we are called moderns. We’re a unique form of humans. When you look across the spectrum of humans, we don’t get it that we are dependent on the natural world. The moderns are very disconnected.
We’re so disconnected from the natural world, especially in our urban environments.
We’re industrial creatures. We think in a particular way, and that way of thinking is now redundant for our survival. I was on the hunt then for a new way of thinking, so I was hunting. I had a military mindset with it, “I must solve this problem.” I was looking for thinkers who were at the forefront of thinking in a new way.
That’s when I came across Timothy Morton’s book, Hyperobjects. There are a few others that have influenced me, but he was critical. What struck me was that I was instantly intrigued by his book, but also, I got incredibly irritated when I was reading it. With every page, I was cursing and had to have Wikipedia open the whole time to interpret it. However, what I realised is that when you get a concept or an idea that challenges your neuron pathway, you don’t have any structures for it.
Humans have a response called flooding out, or they have a severe reaction. I realised that I was flooding out because he was telling me something new. The fact that I had such a reaction made me realise that there was something in this. The more I read it, the more I thought it totally responded to the deep-framing research. I probably should explain his concept a little bit more, I suppose.
I want to get into that, but I want to circle back on the deep frames because I think that’s an important point that might not be as obvious. These are concepts that we take to be. It’s almost like axioms. They’re self-evident truths, so we don’t question them anymore. What you described now when you were reading Morton’s book is what I’ve experienced reading work on free will or non-duality in the meditation space, which are things that strike you as so bizarre and foreign that your brain can’t compute it.
As you said, you had to walk away and come back, but there’s something that keeps pulling you back that intrigued you to try and unpack it. In a way, it makes you look at everything you know, all the previous frames that you’ve built in multitudes of layers, like layers of an onion. It makes you unpick all of those to then completely change potentially how you look at the world around you or how you see yourself as part of that world.
That’s what I’ve heard you describe when you were reading Morton’s books. It resonates with me. In my experience at least, that only happens when you delve a lot of time into one particular question rather than on Twitter, social media, reading a newspaper, or something that’s this day and now as opposed to something that takes quite some time to develop.
We’ve had this conception in the Western world probably that we’re at the peak of intellect and understanding things and all that sort of thing. Even though human evolution is finished, there’s an understanding now that it’s not finished. One of the ways that we have thought is that humans are the dominant species, and our way of philosophy, understanding, and meaning-making is the only way.
This whole field of study called new materialism looks at objects and nature and says they’re alive at a molecular level, and all sorts of things are going on there. When we go into these atoms and things and understand, particularly at the quantum level, how behaviour happens, they say, “Who said that humans are the masters of knowledge?” What if we go back to the atom and these quantum principles, understand how nature works, and derive philosophical principles from that?
There’s a lot of work going on in this area, which is quite fascinating, but it decentres the human as the locus of meaning, particularly with Morton’s concept of a Hyperobject. Instead of climate change being described, he prefers the term global warming as endless series of statistics like ice melt, soil degradation, and graphs.
He materialises it. He turns it into one thing and says it’s a new object that means a thing in philosophical language, but it’s a new thing that humans have never encountered before. His entire book has got five characteristics, and each chapter describes an aspect of its characteristics. It moves in a way that we have to learn what it is, and we even have very limited consciousness of it. Essentially, it moves like fog. It’s diffused through everything.
He’s describing climate change as having these five keys that he claims as Hyperobjects.
One of them is that it moves like a fog. It’s distributed over vast timeframes and beyond the human’s conception of timeframes or human life type of error and planetary scale timeframes. It operates through other objects. Let’s say we have a drought. We see the cracked soil. You can point at global warming severities, but you see its impacts like the wind rustles. We know the wind is there because the leaves move.
You see the result but not necessarily the cause or where it originated from.
He has a whole series of these things, but what he’s emphasising is that this is something that is beyond our cognitive abilities and defies the way we understand the knowledge that we can’t even model it. Do you know those Russian dolls that they’re packed inside them?
My daughter is playing with some at the moment.
He’s like, “We’re like the little doll in the middle. We can’t even get out of the problem to properly see the problem.” It’s about humbling the human and saying that in this century, we are no longer in charge. The major factor is the Hyperobject, and it will exceed anything we think we can project, manage, or map or anything like that. We’ve got to be humbled that this is a gigantic thing that we don’t fully understand.
We have a lot of science, but it will still defy our understanding. This is an important thing. This concept is used in risk and disaster planning because it becomes a thing to say that it will defy our understanding of how it’ll behave. The fire will be stronger. Even in monitoring certain things, people say they’ve got certain measurements like a scale of 1 to 10 of how much humidity or when a cyclone happens, but it’s blowing those charts. What that says to me is that as a threat planner, if you know that we’re not going to be able to fully understand it, then you have to put in stacks, more mitigation, buffers, and protections because it changes your mindset of how you approach the threat.
I guess you have to account for a lot more fudge factors. Even on a household budget, when you say, “This is what I expect to spend, but let’s put a fudge factor of 10% or 20%.” Now put that into a Hyperobject, which, as you say, is so grand and spans such vast temporal horizons that we can’t imagine it at an individual level, probably at a societal level. I think the fudge factor should be a lot more significant.
Also, the capacity for us not to see it. One of the main things he says is that it’s defying our conception that is exasperated by the media control and the battle for the narrative. I heard that there are extreme fires going all through Chile, but I had to Google certain things and do a search on climate emergencies or hashtags.
They’re not coming up in the media naturally, and you’re only stumbling across these pretty amazing things sometimes randomly. I’m not researching it constantly every day, but if you think from a threat perspective, you would have proper analytics. You’d have a screen with all those things happening live with great graphics and all the rest of it, but we don’t have that.
A control centre of sorts or an operation centre, as we’ve come to know in the military, to track all the significant activities in a particular area. It’s incredible that we don’t, but again, I think the reason we don’t is that it’s such a grand problem that what matters for us in Australia now and what’s happening in Chile. The 24-hour news cycle doesn’t necessarily care about Chile because, “We’ve got another election. We’ve got a meeting here or a conference there,” or a multitude of other issues to consider, whether it’s foreign policy-related or domestic policy-related.
There’s only so much time in the day, and the things that are going to capture eyeballs are the ones that take precedence. That is, I guess, the Hyperobject and the idea of the Hyperthreat. In your writing, you also talk a lot about the concept of entangled security. How does that fit into this overarching Hyperthreat/Hyperobject concept?
Could I backtrack one little quick thing on the Hyperthreat to distinguish it? It’s not identical to Morton’s concept because he has an idea that human is powerless and we are going to be like a leaf blown around on the pavement. We have no agency. Also, an object is this neutral term, like it’s just a thing. It’s not dangerous or anything but the Hyperthreat concept I’m drawing upon saying, “Humans are not done and dusted. We have got thousands of years of knowledge of how to respond to overwhelming dangerous threats,” which we can apply and bring to the table. I still believe we still have some agency, but not as much.
The other thing is that the threat term, I’m trying to spotlight that this is presenting a new form of violence, killing, harm, and destruction. Also, it’s not only a hazard. They used to use the term hazard for natural disasters, which was distinguished from a threat that there’s no hostile intent or no consciousness of doing harm. It’s like a train driver accidentally had a heart attack and derailed the train, or there was a naturally occurring cyclone.
However, the threat thing is fairly deliberate because there are new forms of conscious intent to cause harm. We see that with particularly the fossil fuel industry’s actions over decades, they know what they’re doing. It’s a different form of hostility because it has that slow violence Hyperobject type. It’s not like walking up and shooting someone in the head, but it’s still going to kill millions. However, because we don’t conceptualise it as a threat, the threat itself is masked, and the hostile actions are masked. The Hyperthreat definition means we have to completely reconsider the nature of violence and who are the violent actors.
When you think about that, it is those actions that are contributing to the Hyperthreat. We are not going to link BP to drought in Somalia, and therefore, a mass exodus of climate refugees who are going to try to get into Europe is going to increase tensions. The further populism in Europe that is going to fracture Europe even more is going to then cause an antagonism between European nations that might ultimately lead to a conflict between those two nations.
I think the upstream causes are happening now and have been happening for decades. We are slowly seeing the results but not necessarily making the cognitive leap like, “There is a causal chain here. This has started because of our human activity on this Earth.” Without blaming individual companies or individual humans who are part of the incentive structures and incentive models that have allowed such a system, a business model, or a consumption-based perpetual growth model, it’s not about that. It’s not about demonising them but recognising that they are inadvertently increasing the threat to all of us. The flown from that is going to be this expansion of violence, death, and destruction that’s going to affect all of us. Is that a broad summary?
Yeah. One of Morton’s key things is that the cause and effect thing is completely disrupted because of these vast scales, and about not demonising, I think a fairly significant thing in this new approach to threat is that you don’t focus on identities at all because there’s a whole stack of research on genocide studies and hate studies of what happens when you assign an identity as a threat identity.
I’m saying that you got to be extremely careful about that effect and only focus on behaviours and actions. Also, because the threat is diffused and got all those different variants, we still can’t ignore it. We have to develop new threat response mechanisms that match the nature of this new threat. I do think it is part of the design that they don’t want this in the security sector because if we turn the lens and go onto that, it disrupts the whole way we perceive security. We have this legacy of the last century.
We started using security forces to support that resource extraction. This is why it is quite revolutionary because it turns out we are using our security forces to support our new enemy and exasperate something that’s going to kill us. This new lens opens up a lot of things, and the other thing is that whole thing of how the threat appears. It appears in a very nice suit. It’s very wealthy. It’s gone to Yale. It’s very well-mannered.
That is not how we perceive a threat, but their threat actions. We’ve got to not obscure how dangerous they are because of the way it’s packaged and presented. I’ve been listening to Elvis lately, and the song (You’re the) Devil in Disguise was running through my head. He talks and walks like an angel. There’s a bit of that element going on.
It’s an interesting way to look at it, especially this idea of using military power ultimately to secure what’s already turned out to be our enemy or the threat. That’s because it’s in our national interest to protect our trade routes to sustain and improve our way of life. In our case, the Australian Defence Force’s mission is to protect Australia and its interests, whatever those interests might be.
If that is to secure our trade routes so that our economy stays alive, which in Australia’s case, is hugely based on the export of natural resources. We are ultimately using our nation’s defence force to undermine human security more broadly, which is an interesting way. I’m in uniform. Certainly, this is not about demonising. This is about reframing the narrative to realise what is happening and why there’s so little action. Does this then bring us to the idea of the concept of entangled security?
Yeah. With this whole thing of trying to find a new way of framing everything, the first chunk of intellectual work was to develop the Hyperthreat concept. Again, following the basic approach was to understand the threat in great detail and its nature of it. The second one was to understand the threat environment. I’m saying that the threat environment is entangled, which means that planetary, human, and state security are now inherently interconnected.The threat environment is entangled, which means that planetary, human, and state security are now inherently interconnected. Click To Tweet
That provides a different lens on the security environment, and that is at its most basic level, but there’s a whole stack of theoretical concepts behind it. However, to give a tangible example if you had an entangled security lens, when you look at the situation in Ukraine, the resource and other aspects of it aren’t spoken about that much, but firstly, it’s one of the most important food bowls of the world. When you’re weighing up military action and choices, the impacts of destroying one of the most crucial and, apparently, the thick, good soil there goes down three meters or something. This dark loom soil is incredible. An entangled thing would understand its follow-on impacts on people in Africa, etc.
People are talking about protecting trade routes or conflict in the South China Sea. What they’re completely missing from that is that the ocean is on life support. We’ve got all these fisheries struggling to survive. If we’re going to lay a whole lot of sea mines, torpedoes, and all sorts of submarines, sonars, and an underwater battlefield, we wipe out fisheries which is one of the most important food sources for the whole Asian region, especially the Pacific with the tuna. It underpins their entire economies.
Military planning now without thinking about this very fragile ecosystem will undermine all of our security. Now, we have to think of all those things when we’re thinking about security at the same time. Also, there’s the follow of human impacts because once you’re losing food and livelihood, you know what happens next.
Again, this is part of the flown effects of conflict and further destruction. The fewer resources there are, the greater competition over them and the greater attention leading to the conflict. One of the things that I think is important to unpack, and that is, unfortunately, the actual belief in climate change or human-caused climate change has been politicised. It’s accepted broadly across the halls of power. Globally, it’s real and human-caused. The clock is ticking, and we’re already way behind where we should be if we are to reverse the impacts.
There are many prominent public figures who are discrediting the science claiming that it’s overblown or alarmist. How do we overcome this? It’s because it strikes me that this is the first big hurdle before we can start even thinking about a resolution or addressing the Hyperthreat that, as you intend, is about bridging this gap of climate science denial or suppression.
It factors into why I’m saying the centre of gravity is the deep framing or capacity to see the problem because it’s not the fog of war, but it’s the fog of conception. In fact, there is massive information warfare going on, and it has gone on for a very long time. There’s a book called Merchants of Doubt which goes into great detail about all the methods of moneyed interests of the fossil fuel sector. We’re setting up these fake think tanks funding attacks on climate scientists’ credibility and all sorts of dagger and cloak background behaviour to discredit the science.
They’ve become quite masterful at it. I think it is a real problem. That’s one of the things. In this Plan E, I have a thing called Operation Visibility and Knowability. I’m not saying this is easy, but as a survival mechanism, we have to regain the sense-making mechanisms in our society. Most people are pretty aware that the media is owned by moneyed interests.
However, we also listen to it. We all still watch it. This is cognitive dissonance. We all know it’s biased, but we all still watch it, which I don’t understand.
It’s gone into overdrive. Even now, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this book called Chokepoint Capitalism. What that goes through is every form of creative expression of the human being, whether it’s musicians, singers, songwriters, writers, or authors, gets funnelled by that same elite corporate structure to get your music played on Spotify. There are all these hoops and things that it is all set up.
Most of our creative industries are funded by fossil fuels. Human expression across the entire world is completely choked and controlled by moneyed interests. The hope that gives me is that there are quite a lot of people are already aware of this, and we are seeing this rise of all these independent podcasts and YouTube sites. A whole stack of people has just gone off mainstream media.Most of our creative industries are funded by fossil fuels. Human expression across the entire world is completely choked and controlled by moneyed interests. Click To Tweet
For example, Russell Brand. He’s taking a role where he’s committed to listening to both sides because there’s a perception that climate change is a hoax. He engages with so-called right-wing and left-wing concepts. He’s trying to understand that these ideas of divide and conquer are working against us. One of the things is that we have to acknowledge that the Hyperthreat enablers have taken our sense-making and communication systems. Part of the strategy is reclaiming those. I have a concept called the 60,000 Artists. It’s not people who paint. It’s your best filmmakers and YouTube and TikTok creatives, people who are incredibly good at communicating.
The other thing I think is quite important is to unpack for people how this science is distorted. To give you one example. When I worked at the Bureau, something that’s always stayed in my mind is that we had a conference on climate change miscommunication. The director of the Bureau at that time, whose name was Greg Ayers, an atmospheric physicist, brought in a pile of these sceptic’s books. It’s about nine of them.
He had read the whole lot of them. He was shaking with horror. He went through one example. He pulled out one paragraph of some supposed stat and then demonstrated how they manipulated the stats and graph. As someone who loved science and was very dedicated to science, he was visibly shaking at how upset he was to see someone so blatantly distort science.
However, to do that for every single book and sentence that comes out, it’s an incredible amount of effort. What is important is to discredit the agencies who are doing this and show a couple of examples of how they do this. I thought it might just take the chance that some of your readers might be thinking, “Given the role of the money-making influence that came into the pandemic, there is some distrust of elites for a good reason.” I do understand that there is good reason, and I also am sceptical. I’ve seen things that I’ve lost trust with some of these. I think we all have, and the whole society has.
I wish it were untrue, but what makes me certain that it is true is that, those three years working with the scientists and the integrity of these individuals, there is no way that hundreds of thousands of people would all be in on a lie. For example, the Bureau of Meteorology gets 50,000 sets of data every day. One person described it as being like a house made of bricks that they might find one brick with a bit of a chink in it. For example, there was one reading, which was a bit funny on one weather meter, but when they visited the site, they realised that the guy who ran that centre was parking his car right in front of it.
He would often turn his engine on for ages to warm it up and talk on his phone or something. The heat from that exhaust went straight onto the temperature monitor. You see the rigour that goes behind assessing all these statistics and so on. My confidence in them as people that they’re not lying is what convinces me. Also, having visited the Pacific and talked, people showed me where the sea level used to be. People in the Marshall Islands are pointing it out, locals, and things like that. That is from my personal level.
I think in terms of tackling it, one is it’s a very big thing to regain control of that information space. For example, in the news, we have the weather. You might have a global map come up, which shows all the events that are going on at the moment, the fires in Chile, and the whole lot. Every night, the public should know about this. The other thing I think is that in the plan, they have a concept of these ready centres, which are probably expanded CFA and all sorts of emergency response, but that would have a much more detailed meteorological component for local areas.
Not only meteorologically but water, ground flow, and the whole ecological issues. I would envision that it’s more accessible to the local people. I would see people having open days where they can come in and be familiarised with how this science is being conducted. Essentially, you need a massive strategy, and that requires resources.
It requires resources and trust. As you rightly pointed out, just with COVID alone, that trust has been significantly eroded with exposés after exposés of betrayal of public trust by those we’ve entrusted. Whether in senior political leadership positions or in big pharma who are trying to backpedal on some of their previous statements on vaccine effectiveness, etc.
This is above the complete debate of whether COVID is real or not. There’s an entirely new layer below that where there’s a significant portion of the population that doesn’t even consider COVID to have been a threat. This is only one example of how fractured our society is. When you have a social media model that is attention-based, we also know through research that fake news gets six times more virality than objective truth.
It’s an uphill battle to try and convince humanity of the fact because the distortion is an uphill battle. It’s because it always comes down to, “Have you googled? Have you done your research?” There are 1,001 examples where this has worked against prominent intellectuals who genuinely have the best interest of humanity in mind rather than some competing priorities or incentives.
One criticism I would have of the IPCC process and the climate sector is that I don’t think they are averse to using creatives and generally humanities-type skills people. Unfortunately, they haven’t launched a proper information campaign with a lot of this stuff. One thing that I think is positive when you go into this stage is I do engage with these. I’m friends with some people in the Army. I’ve worked with a guy who was adamant that it was wrong, and so forth. Even talking to some people who probably are extremely right-winged, one thing I find there is an area of alignment that the Hyperthreat is not just climate. That’s only one part of it.
They are deeply concerned about environmental issues, plastic in the ocean, and people dumping toxins and radioactive things. People are dumping all this crap in the ocean, and there’s increasing deoxygenation of the ocean. Also, they’re very worried about toxins in food. When you look at some of those right-winged movements, they want to go back to organic farming and go off-grid.
Also, the people who love the environment do want to protect it. They don’t want plastic. When they’re surfing in the ocean, they don’t want to be surfing among rubbish. My thought is that because time is so short, it’s now so divisive to even use the word climate. The focus would be on the restoration of our beautiful habitat. We’ve got this incredibly beautiful Earth and ecosystems. A lot of people love being in nature.
Why else do people pay a fortune for beachside property and the rest of it? The thought that we would destroy all these beautiful species, fish, and oceans and bomb the crap out of them, and lay mines in this desperate fight to the death of our resources is completely insane. That’s what is going on at the moment. It’s a fight for what’s left and for dominance, but that fight will derail the chance to save our ecology and a safe planet. If you fight over the South China Sea for the fisheries, you destroy the fisheries. The logic has changed.
I hear you and the echoes of previous discussions about the growing threat of China and the risk to Taiwan, the challenge of the US hegemony. As you said, this is a contest for global influence and dominance. How do you convince people that in the absence of aliens, like on Independence Day? How do we unite the world behind a common goal and defend against this threat, as the movie did against aliens?
How do we do that against something like this Hyperthreat of climate and environmental change and forcing those in positions of power to put aside their squabbles over global, regional dominance and focus on what is going to matter to every one of us? I might have jumped ahead with some of the questions because I never asked you to contextualise what Plan E is. I understand that Plan E, having read your work, is very extensive and deep. Maybe we can start with some of the wavetops of what it is and how you envisage it being implemented. Perhaps then we can dive into some of the more important areas.
You know this is the science requirement, but also, there’s a stack of calls for people. We want an emergency or crisis response to the climate and ecological emergency. Everyone is calling for it, but nobody maps it out. Hypothetically, if we decided we are going to go for it, how could we do it and what would it look like?
It answers that call for an emergency crisis response and what it could look like. The other one is when people are saying, “The ecological climate crisis is our greatest threat. This is a security strategy that centres the Hyperthreat as the main threat. It’s a climate and ecologically-centred security strategy, and it prioritises.” It’s different from the UN’s Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, which in fact, undermine each other because some of them are based on continuing the global capitalist extractive system. They require profit.
It is coded in there in quite an underhand way, but the sustainable development goals rely on the system. Also, there’s no prioritisation across those seventeen. It does prioritise. Let’s say we’ve got one thing, and because of the timeframes, we have to go now. Do you know that phrase you can’t choose the time and place of battle? We can’t choose. It’s now. To be honest, we are running. A lot of people think that the tipping points are already activated and that we have missed that window, which is pretty bad.
It’s envisaged as a civil mobilisation, which is distinct from militarisation, and it’s raising a massive civil Hyper-response force. When I think about the Hyperthreat and how we fight something that’s so vast and spread out across such enormous distances and filtered through everything, I think, “How would you fight a threat like that?” One of the ideas I have is the humanist ant strategy. That is the idea that the individual human can’t do much, but like ants, when we align and bring that mass together, we can, and we have 8 billion people. If we can harness that population somehow, we could have a seismic influence.
One of the parts of it that’s probably a little bit new is that at the moment, we have 90 million people in refugee camps around the world, and they’re paid for in terms of their accommodation and some food in most places. Some of them are languishing there for ten years or more. There’s likely to be more as we get more climate refugees.
I’m talking about this not only refugees but all sorts of people who are unemployed. We might talk about the wave that’s apparently coming across the Mexican border in America. There are stacks of people around the world who want something to do. There has been an opportunity for them to join this Hyper-response force for years, and in return for that, they would get something called Earth citizenship, which would entitle them to settle somewhere and gain citizenship somewhere.
A bit of a back of an envelope calculation would be a workforce working out. How many are adults? How many will be willing to work? It may be about 18 million people. I guess the way to conceive it is it is a massive planetary clean-up activity. One of the activities is clearing out the plastic from oceans and replanting mangroves. One thing is called Operation Beauty, which is to re-establish the fact that we do live in Eden. We have the most beautiful planet, and let’s restore it.
However, there’s also Operation New Net, which is given that we’re entangled in this Hyperthreat, you have to drive your kid to school because there’s no railway or you’re forced to use fossil fuels, etc. People are deeply entangled with the threat. It’s like a net that we are stuck in. We can’t get off the net until we build a new net. The other operation is Operation New Net. That’s envisaged as the defence security sector, your Raytheon, Boeing, and all that might of engineering and technical capability would be shifted towards that as a security imperative.
To jump on that because there are two points. The first one, as a former refugee, I can see some of the responses if that idea was to be publicised. The narratives, how quickly will be swallowed up, are we trying to exploit the most vulnerable, etc.? Again, that’s going to be a significant cognitive hurdle to make that look like an actual genuine offer to those who are in need rather than punishing them for their suffering and turning him ultimately into a slave force which I think is a genuine potential resource that people would want to support. For the second point, I’m going to have to come back.
We have the military-industrial complex coming to the party.
The military-industrial complex is turning them towards that. In many ways, it would be profitable. It would be changing the narratives. If we look at it, since Afghanistan and onwards, your Raytheons and so on, their share prices have skyrocketed and are skyrocketing right now as Ukraine is unfolding. To convince them that there is still profit to be made in this Hyper-response, I can’t see a reason why they would argue against it.
If the case was made that we are still using all your brain power, all your rhetoric of protecting the nation, doing the thinking so you don’t have to, and being there when you need us. All of these narratives are embodied in these organisations in the military-industrial complex and shifting their focus towards saving the world literally and saving every human. I can’t see why that would be a bridge too far.
You’ve raised a really good point about the risk of that Hyper-response force and that slave force or anything like that. I wasn’t seeing it that way. I was seeing it a bit like almost joining, in some ways, a different military where they’d get some training and vocational skills. There’s a huge training requirement, and it would be a net positive for them, but it’s not them doing it. It’s a whole society mobilisation. They’re one little part, but when I say it’s humanist ants, it’s everybody.
There’s raising a thing called a home force. To create capacity in the community, say a standard suburban block. Even if you knocked down one derelict house and created that block as a food source for everybody on that block or that street, you could employ somebody to do that job. It’s often done as a charity. All these community gardens are done, and people do it in their free time.
However, we would have a whole stack of new jobs and roles in the home force because every food grown at home and everything done has a seismic effect on global supply chains and emissions. They should be paid and rewarded. Part of tackling this threat is shifting the resources to local levels and the source.Every food grown at home and everything done has a seismic effect on global supply chains and emissions. They should be paid and rewarded. Click To Tweet
Also, when it comes to protecting the community, are security forces going back into communities and their areas instead of being so appropriated by the state? You see what’s happening in Syria at the moment. It’s all hands on deck. It’s people in the community who are pulling out those rocks and everything. It’s beautiful to see. When something like that happens, it crystallises what’s important for people. I think there’s even talk now about having a ceasefire in Syria to say, “What are we doing here?”
I find it quite interesting because if I talk about masculinity studies in a way that there is this traditional role of men protecting the family and the community, but in some ways, those protective assets have been taken out of the community and taken by the state. It’s bringing them back to protect their families and their communities, which we are going to need. Not only men, but there’s a concept that the stronger members and the same as women who are very capable. We don’t have those capabilities in our community anymore, and they’re going to be needed.
It reminds me of something. When I interviewed John Blaxland, we also put out something on this. He talks about this idea of a volunteer force that, in the Australian context, helps in times of bushfires and flood assists, rather than relying continuously on the Australian Defence Force. He can react and is capable of assisting, but he is not necessarily always well-equipped.
It’s too stretched, and it’s also fundamentally not its ultimate purpose. It’s not to necessarily be used in a domestic emergency situation. It resonates with that. In my view, at least, it’s not too far, except what you’re saying is not necessarily making it a volunteer force, but doing these jobs and advertising this, also putting it out there as a potentially noble career path for many people to embrace. This has a protective and nurturing component of it, but there’s this deeply infused nobility with it which oftentimes is attributed to service in a defence force because you are protecting your home, country, and people.
A lot of people join militaries at their heart. They have that concept of wanting to protect their communities, and they feel that they are fighting for their country and their people. People talk about the corporate capture of governments and institutions. If you’ve got corporate capture of government, you also have corporate capture of militaries. That means that instead of protecting their people, they’re protecting the Hyperthreat. They’re working for big fossil fuels.
We now know Iraq was completely about oil. It’s reclaiming the security narrative for the communities and the people who pay the taxes for it and provide for the people. It becomes a big discussion about what do the community want as their security strategy and plan? When we were talking about what you were talking about with John Blaxland, I remember my train of thought now, and that thought is that it’s about professionalising it. Using a lot of the approaches that you see in the military, you get that high skill, but it’s got to be tailored to the particular nature of this threat. We’ve got to be able to develop expertise and levels of entry-level people, supervisors, and all the rest. Also, keep developing and fine-tuning it.
You look at how capable someone who flies a helicopter, for example. It takes years to develop the capacity to do that and respond to a Hyperobject with that chaotic surprise to manage in chaos. It’s some of those skills that you learn that the defence has. The standard thing of any defence thinking is to get prepared, train people properly, rehearse it, and all of that thing.
Again, to use some military jargon, the VUCA world, which we’ve come to know in military planning. That’s Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous, which is how we describe war and combat. I think we can apply that same acronym to Hyperthreat as you defined it. It does oftentimes seem a little bit too big a problem to address and implement. You’ve had some breakthroughs as far as getting your thinking in front of a significantly large audience. As I said in the introduction, Plan E was published by the US Marine Corps University Press. I believe they are doing some war gaming soon with the Australian National University.
Your appointment with the Climate Change & (In)Security Project which is a collaboration between the University of Oxford, the Centre for Historical Analysis and Conflict Research, and the British Army. Can we maybe have a little bit of positivity now to shift from the Hyperthreat and the Hyper-response and the daunting task that it is to discuss some of the successes you’ve had? What has been the response so far to your thinking, or are you seeing it slowly shift?
Because there is all this fear around securitisation, etc., I was quite nervous about presenting this idea to the communities. The first three community groups that I presented it to, which the first one was where I did my oral presentation of the PhD. The next was in Castlemaine for the School Strike Community and the Ballarat community at a green drinks event in a pub.
At all those events, the community was behind it, and they liked it because they were scared and desperate for a solution. They were comfortable with how it wasn’t being militarised but with their prior priorities for urgent action. That was nice to see with the community. In fact, at the oral presentation, people said things like, “This is a major breakthrough. You’ve got to get these ideas to Hollywood and so on,” but then, the university, that department then shut down the concept.
I’ve noticed a trend of community-level people being quite receptive and open-minded. I think the Marines were very much open-minded about trying to understand the future environment and stuff like that. As I may mention, the mainstream media and some of the mainstream institutions initially wouldn’t have a bar on it.
Is that because of competing interests?
I think it’s part of that general power that controls the narrative. If you are talking about a plan to take on the Hyperthreat, that is challenging the current structure. This occurs in the same context that we’re having. We had an environmental activist killed in America. It was the first one that’s been killed, and some would say draconian responses to climate activists. There is a larger context of a whole lot of environmental groups being shut down and the long history of climate scientists being muted. I sit in that context, but what is happening in that context is that everybody knows what’s happening.
People are doing workarounds, and in different places, there are people of goodwill who will open the door because they realise what’s going on. It is exciting, and I think people realise that we are at an amazing and critical time in history that we’re either going to go keep going down this World War III fight for what’s left pathway, which is a form of mutually assured destruction. It’s because it derails any chance to save our planet. A lot of these ecological systems are on their last legs. There’s no path to victory with our current security strategy. It’s people wanting something new.There's no path to victory with our current security strategy. People want something new. Click To Tweet
I guess you had some positive responses.
I have had some. Also, some people knowing about the blocks on their own accounts have helped me out and things like that. That’s been good. The thing about the community, the sense that I got with them, is that they like the idea of them being involved. A lot of them immediately are like, “Where do I sign? Where can we set this up? Can I lead the local one?” They’re itching to mobilise, and they want to act. They like the idea that they’re involved.
It’s a very different approach. One of the dangers is that we see these ideas of this top-down emergency response, which won’t work in this context. The thing that’s a bit different from this that people don’t fully grasp initially is that Plan E is a large idea, but then it’s envisaged that we have these hyper conversations all around the communities and around the world where people devise their own Hyper-response, which suits their particular context and regions.
It’s giving them some conceptual tools, the idea of the Hyperthreat, the idea of its enablers, and the idea of tangled security and how we can remodify some tried and tested military planning tools. We can remodify this to our current situation to protect people and to create the freedom for people to create and devise solutions. When I was talking before about chokepoint capitalism, it is a testimony to the suppression of people’s creative problem-solving ability because voice and ideas are so controlled that we’re stifling our biggest asset, which is that creative problem-solving ability that people have.
What your concepts do as well is they give us language to use, which allows us to contextualise the problem because if we don’t even have the language that allows us to bring it into a discussion, that’s what climate change has been. You made the point previously about silos, at least at the Bureau, because concepts are deeply understood by small disparate communities. It doesn’t create a cohesive narrative for the everyday person, which is what the idea of a Hyperthreat and then a Hyper-response is.
It visually represents or allows us to visually imagine firstly the problem and then also the solution that we can work on together. I believe you have been doing war gaming with the Australian National University of the concepts. Can you talk about that a little bit? What is that going to look like? How are you going to war game this? Do you have any ideas at the moment about that?
That activity is called the ASEAN-Australia Defence Postgraduate Scholarship Program. There are about fourteen students from ASEAN militaries and the defence sector who are doing their Master’s. We’ve decided to situate the problem in the ASEAN region. These are all based on the fact that the civilian world has given a mandate. They said, “We want an emergency response with the security sector. Please, go away and come up with something.”
The scenario for them is that there’s been a series of terrible Hyperthreat attacks worldwide, and that’s prompted massive civilian protest action and demand for new leadership. We are now in a crisis situation, and what the civilian leadership has said to this ASEAN group, “We have endorsed an emergency response, and we are interested in Plan E.” What we want you to do is critically evaluate Plan E. What are its key risks and what aspects don’t work or would work in the ASEAN region and what other things do we need to do?
They’ve been tasked to do a critical assessment in a quick emergency thing of how viable Plan E is. The idea is that the Plan E mission doesn’t change, but their method to achieve it can. The criteria for the civilian leadership said they want all people to be provided with the basics like food, water, shelter, and safety. Also, they prioritised developing strong long-term preparedness for major Hyperthreat to future results. The scenario also now has a new legal context, with ecocide being a crime. Fifty percent of our oceans and land are being set aside for conservation.
Ecocide as in homicide, but ecocide.
It’s becoming a new crime. It is when you destroy an ecosystem or something or a certain habitat. That’s illegal. This is part of this non-human approach to threat. This is a security approach where the fish’s security is as important as the human’s. It’s as important as the tree. The lens shifts to planetary security. Humans are only one part of an ecosystem that we’ve got to keep alive for our own benefit.
We’ve got a blue team, a red team, and a brown team in Hyperthreat. The Hyperthreat will have two actors. One is the climate, and one is the environment. The brown team is hostile but unlikely to use violent groups, which are antagonistic corporates and maybe civil groups that are ideologically opposed. The red team is your normal hostile state. They are armed non-state actors, transnational criminals, but particularly environmental criminals.
For the blue team, we’re getting people to be one of the commanders of each of the major operations and also the directors of the three lines of effort for the strategy. It’s interesting because you realise that the blue force has got three major foes. There is the red force, the brown force, and the Hyperthreat. They are all actors that will be seeking to derail them. It makes you realise why we haven’t made much progress and how big this is. Their job is to identify the critical risks and essential modifications and improvements. They go back into a scenario, then go back and back brief their civilian leadership, who are demanding an emergency response.
The fact that the students from nations in the region no doubt all have different requirements and local challenges, which across our region are many and varied, is a great initiative. Well done for getting in there and trying this out. Also, I know that it’s fairly recent for you to become affiliated with the Climate Change & (In)Security Project, but are you able to talk about what the broad intent is with that organisation and how you fit into it?
They’ve just established themselves as well. I think it’s an exciting opportunity. They’re at the start of framing what their work is and so forth, but it is quite an amazing opportunity that to have the British Army working with Oxford on concepts of how to respond. From what I know of my role so far is simply to do a brief for them on my work and a presentation at some stage. Also, share those ideas. That’s the extent of my role, but I’ll at least be exposed to what they’re doing. I guess it’s starting the conversation.
I know we’ve jumped around a little bit, partially because of my own eagerness to ask you questions, but are there any points that you feel we haven’t hit or want to make before we wrap it up?
I want to emphasise that there’s the question of concurrency and timing. This decade is the last opportunity to go for this. We’re already behind schedule, but it is simply incompatible to have World War III or massive escalation of warfare and address the Hyperthreat because the more warfare you do, the more you strengthen the Hyperthreat.
Hypothetically, even if an alliance of Russia, China, or Iran did defeat the West, the effort of that conflict would mean that we are then on the fast track to dangerous climate change and ecological collapse. It wouldn’t just devastate human populations. It would devastate the environment. It’s a dead-end route the way we are going at the moment. It’s a new form of mutually assured destruction. It’s about realigning that security forces to what is the major threat. I think the concurrency issues are a key thing.
The way I say it is it’s a collectively assured destruction, not necessarily mutually because that would imply only two sides, but it’s all of us, whether they’re involved or not in any way in the World War III conflict that might occur. Thank you for doing all the work and all the thinking. I’m very pleased that you are finally starting to make some inroads into institutions that can push this along and normalise our discussion and conceptualisation of the Hyperthreat. Hopefully, in the very near future can lead to an organised Hyper-response. Thanks very much for the work you’ve done and also for giving me so much of your time.
Thanks so much for the opportunity. I appreciate it. I enjoyed all the other episodes very much so. It’s an honour to be involved.
That’s wonderful. Thank you very much.