In the 2002 post-apocalyptic-movie “Reign of fire”, the last human colonies are exterminated by dragons burning the remnants of already poor crops. In 2023, the emergence of an early and powerful El Niño event amid the planetary effects of global warming raises the question of its geopolitical consequences in a world rocked by the war in Ukraine and the U.S.- China rising tensions (Nat Johnson, “May 2023 ENSO update: El Niño Knocking at the Door”, NOAA Climate.gov, 11 May 2023).
There is also a risk that potential warming effect of El Niño during the two or three next years will certainly be a dramatic driver of the impacts of climate on water and food security at the level of social cohesion in many countries.
As it happens, this El Niño event emerges while the vulnerability of societies rapidly worsens in the face of climate (Jean-Michel Valantin, “War in Ukraine, The 2023 Super El Niño and Global Disruptions – Anthropocene Wars 8”, The Red Team Analysis Society, May 9, 2023.
Thus, El Niño will also amplify the risks of interactions between its effects and current situations of wars, civil wars and migrations. Those climate-and-conflicts nexus are already creating dialectics between local, national and international tensions (Jean-Michel Valantin, “What are Climate Wars ?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 2, 2021 and “Will There be Climate Civil Wars?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 30, 2021).
In the very same time, the AI tsunami has started (Hélène Lavoix, « Exploring cascading impacts with AI », The Red Team Analysis Society, May 17, 2023 and “Portal to AI-Understanding AI and Foreseeing the AI powered world”, “Portal to Quantum Information Science and Technology- Towards a Quantum AI World ?” The Red Team Analysis Society).
So, the El Niño-climate change and artificial intelligence multiple upheavals happen in the same time. The damages that the climate change turbocharged El Niño is likely going to inflict at the global scale is also becoming “food for thought” in the geoengineering field that is itself boosted by AI (Fleur Doidge, “Using AI and Machine Learning to Kickstart Climate Fightback”, IT Pro, July 19, 2022).
So, there is a very strong possibility that the 2023 El Niño is going to interact with the AI and political geoengineering field.
El Niño, the war in Ukraine and the great agricultural destabilization
The Reign of Fire
The great heat wave and historical drought that hammers Spain since April 2023 affects 80% of the country’s agricultural production (Jennifer O’Mahony and Joseph Wilson“Drought will causes crop failures in Spain, farmers warn“, AP, April 13, 2023). In Asia, the April-May 23 continental heatwaves put harvest under a huge thermic and hydric stress. Between April and June, a monster of a heatwave stretches from China and India to Central Asia.
From there, it spreads into the Middle East as well as Siberia and penetrates the Arctic (“Intense Heatwaves singe Asia as Summer Keeps eating into Spring”, The Federal, 16 April, 2023).
In the U.S, the historical mega drought keeps getting longer. Thus, it maintains its pressure upon the U.S. croplands in the Midwest and the Southwest (U.S Drought Monitor, 1 June, 2023). Meanwhile, in Canada, one of the world’s leading agricultural powers, mega wildfires have been ravaging the north of the country since the beginning of May. In the same timeline, the Pacific Northwest braces itself in the face of a major heatwave alert (“Canada on Track for its Worst Ever Wildfire Season”, Reuters, June 6, 2023).
It is in this climate and weather context that numerous weather centres warn of an early return of an El Niño cycle in 2023. El Niño events are cyclical climate-ocean events. They happen when the equatorial and tropical Pacific Ocean surface cyclically warms up for one to three years. The current cycle has begun as soon as June 2023. It is two to three months ahead of the March-April weather forecasts (“El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Diagnostic Discussion”, Climate prediction Centre-National Weather Service-NOAA, 8 June, 2023).
Enter the El Niño Dragon King
Regularly, those events trigger cascades of extreme climate events all around the world. The previous 2016 El Niño was historically powerful. The 2023 El Niño may very well be even more dangerous. This is because of the rapid worsening of climate change that will very possibly reinforce El Niño’s intensity. (Paloma Trascasa-Castro, “Four Possible Consequences of the El Niño Return in 2023”, The Conversation, 26 January 2023).
During an El Niño event, the equatorial Pacific Ocean may heat up to 3°, thus heating up the whole atmosphere. The singular aspect of the 2023-2024 El Niño is that it happens in a time of rapidly intensifying climate change. The atmosphere temperature is already 1.2° above the mid-18th century pre-industrial level. So, the El Niño peak temperature may very well temporarily heighten the atmosphere’s heat around 1.5° (“Global Temperatures set to Reach New Records in Next Five Years”, World Meteorological Organization, 17 May 2023).
As it happens, this level is nothing but the upper peak limit of what climate scientists established as the upper climate security limit (Kate Abnett, “World could face record temperatures in 2023 as El Niño returns”, Reuters, April 20, 2023 and Ajit Niranjan, “How climate change affect El Niño and La Nina cycles?”, DW, 01/27/2023).
Historically, El Niño’s events trigger massive climate disasters. There will be droughts, floods, wildfires, vegetation stress and crop failures around the world. That’s why the 2023-24 El Niño may induce a planetary interaction between a berserker climate and massive geopolitical disruptions. (Laura Paddison and Rachel Ramirez, “The oceans just reached their hottest temperatures on record, as El Niño looms. Here are 6 things to watch for”, CNN, April 1, 2023).
In other terms, the combination of the 2023 El Niño with the already dramatic consequences of an accelerating climate change on agriculture, temperatures and water cycle has a humongous potential to place entire countries in regional or continental “danger zones” (Mark Lynas, Our Last Warning: 6 Degrees of Climate Emergency, 2020).
The geopolitical implications of this situation are gigantic.
Civil wars, migrations and international wars
As we have seen, on the international side, since its start on 24 February 2022, the war in Ukraine has disruptive effects on the international markets of cereals and of fertilizers. The war blocks the exports of an important proportion of the Ukrainian harvest. In Russia, financial sanctions have a similar effect on Russian cereals exports (Jean-Michel Valantin, “War in Ukraine, The U.S Mega drought and the Coming Global Food Crisis”, The Red Team Analysis Society, May 1, 2022).
From domestic food security tensions…
In an international context where extreme weather events hammer the crops in the main rice, wheat and maize production zones, the combination of the war in Ukraine, of climate change and of El Niño is going to exacerbate food insecurity in poor countries as well as in richer nations for the middle and lower class (Malau, “Study of ENSO on Agricultural food crop prices as Basic Knowledge to Improve Community Resiliency in Climate Change”, IOP Conference Series- Earth and Environmental Science, 2021).
Thus, the disruptions of the agricultural and food markets become the medium of domestic heightening tensions (“El Niño to Return in after a Three Years La Nina Phase”, FAO, 26 April 2023).
However, these multiple national domestic tensions, as, for example, in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, southern Africa, Sudan, Ukraine, Pakistan are already spilling over (“A Global Food Crisis”, World Food Program). They do so by triggering massive internal and external flows of refugees (Jordi Paniagua, Marta Suarez-Varela, Federico Carril-Caccia, “Forced Migration and Food Crisis : A Coming Catastrophe”, Social Sciences Research Network-SSRN, 26 August 2022).
As it happens, it would be a mistake to “only” consider these countries. Indeed, the climate crisis is already fuelling the massive migration crisis that extends itself from Central America to the U.S border. As it happens, the climate crisis is literally desiccating Central America. It is driving hundreds of thousands of poor farmers as well as desperate urban poors to leave profoundly dysfunctional and dangerous countries to go North.
And from there, the migration flows spreads into the North American hinterland (Francesco Faimia and Caitlin Werrell, “Central American Climate Migration is a Human Security Crisis”, The Centre for Climate and Security, July 13, 2021.
…To continental international crisis
This migrant crisis is rapidly saturating the absorption capacities of the border camps as well as of a growing number of U.S cities and megapolis, such as New-York, Los Angeles, Chicago. This massive and uninterrupted flow turns the migration issue into a particularly dividing political issue. In this context, the political conflict between conservatives and liberals reaches historically and dangerously high levels (Claire Kobucista, Amelia Cheatam, Diana Roy, “The U.S Immigration debate”, Council on Foreign Relations, 6 June 2023.
However, one must keep in mind that those feedback loops between geopolitical and domestic tensions in a time of climate change are not new but has already started previously (Jean-Michel Valantin, “What are Climate Wars ?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 2, 2021 and “Will There be Climate Civil Wars?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, November 30, 2021).
Indeed, our planet is already 1.2° hotter than during the eighteenth century. As we have seen, there is a high risk that El Niño pushes this thermic ration higher. Thus, in a span of two to three years, global temperatures may climb from 1.2° to 1.5°. In that case, all the aforementioned tendencies will be exacerbated.
So, this dynamic will certainly trigger violent competitions in order to access food, water as well as colder latitudes. Those competitions will be “channeled” through those domestic-international dynamics and put them in overdrive (David Wallace Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth, Life after Warming, 2019).
Thus, the potential for, for example, “water civil wars” in the Middle East will combine with flows of refugees from Central Asia and Africa. Those refugee flows will try to reach Europe, Turkey and Russia. In America, the Central American refugee crisis will interact with the El Niño dry spells in a time of mega drought (Paloma Trascasa-Castro, “Four Possible Consequences of the El Niño Return in 2023”, The Conversation, 26 January 2023). And this “El Niño-mega drought nexus” will also interact with the overheated politics of the U.S 2024 presidential election.
In other terms, the world is on the verge of entering a global and planetary danger zone. Facing the rapidly escalating consequences of the El Niño interaction with our overheating planet, the issue of “emergency responses” appears as a very strong possibility.
Burning World meets Geoengineering
From Earth to “Burning and Flooding World”
However, as the Earth turns into a new planet. Called “Burning World” by Hélène Lavoix, we build upon her concept and turn it into “Burning and Flooding World” (Hélène Lavoix, “When Denial and Passivity Verge on Stupidity” – The Red Team Analysis Weekly – 9 January 2020 and Jean-Michel Valantin, « Adapting to the Burning World », The Red Team Analysis Society, November 9, 2020).
The basic characteristics of the Burning and Flooding World is that the biological beings, the habitats and the ecosystems are now fuel for the Burning World or potential drowning wrecks. As a result, this helps us to understand the coming new geography of our Burning and Flooding World.
For example, in a few year’s time, through the combination of accelerating climate change and El Niño, California, the West Coast of North America, the Amazon Basin, and Australia risk becoming zones of ash and soot. Those massive climate destructions will trigger immense geopolitical upheavals (Gwynn Dyer, Climate Wars, The Fight for Survival as the World overheats, 2011).
For example, the Amazon basin risks dessication and burning beyond any resiliency. If that happens, the planet loses a major water cycle regulator and biological reservoir. Thus the riparian countries will also lose the plantations forcibly installed through the burning of the primal forest (Mark Lynas, Our Last Warning: 6 Degrees of Climate Emergency, 2020).
Losing this agricultural capacity will have massive consequences for China, because it imports massive quantities of Brazil soybean. Thus, it will put under stress the social cohesion of the 1.4 billion strong Asian giant (Cede Silva, “Lula and Xi sign 15 agreements on trade, agriculture, new satellite”, The Brazilian Report, April 14, 2023 and Genevieve Donnellon-May and Felipe Porto, “Brazilian soybeans and China’s food security”, The Strategist, 21 April 2023).
It’s in this new world that the AI revolution emerges and spreads. It transforms the world, again as coined by Hélène Lavoix, into “AI world” (Hélène Lavoix, “Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning – The New AI World in the Making”, The Red Team Analysis Society, December 18, 2017).
The emergence of survival politics
This will certainly entail emergency and survival politics (David Wallace Wells, The Uninhabitable Earth, Life after Warming, 2019). Those would be based on the combined imperatives of of the biological and social survival of nations and people. This follows the transformation from Planet Earth into “Burning and Flooding World” planet.
Indeed, through the cycle of the starting El Niño, there is a very high risk that Humanity is going to experience, at a global and collective level, what runaway climate change actually means.
AI World and the geoengineering issue
In this context, the “AI world” and its political, technological and industrial actors is going to defend itself. As a result, it will also protects the life conditions upon which it depends. One must keep in mind that the main AI actors are also quite keen at geoengineering schemes. Those are planetary technological schemes and devices.
They aim at reducing the quantity of sun radiation and heat that the Earth system absorbs (John Shepherd et al. “GeoEngineering the Climate: Science, Governance and Uncertainties”, The Royal Society, 2009 and Clive Hamilton, “Geoengineering and the Politics of Science”, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 1, 2014).
For example, certain avenues of research are exploring the possibility to inject sulphur in the stratosphere. Other investigate the possibility to install space mirrors between earth and the sun, among other impressive projects (Clive Hamilton, Earthmasters – The Dawn of the Age of the Climate Engineers, Yale University Press, 2014).
One must keep in mind that experimental geoengineering schemes are currently massively proliferating. Indeed, dedicated research centres are installed in major universities such as Oxford, Harvard, and the University of Victoria in British Columbia. At the international level, the United Nations and other international bodies call for advanced research in the field (Alejandro de la Garza, “A Controversial Technology is Creating an Unprecedented Rift among Climate Scientists”, Time, March 17, 2023.
The same is true of the U.S. Biden administration (James Temple, “The U.S Government is Developing a Federal Solar GeoEngineering Research Plan”, MIT Technology Review, July 1, 2022). A few private experimentations are being led even though some of these are shut down by governments that didn’t give their authorization (Cassandra Garrisson, “How two weather balloons led Mexico to ban solar geoengineering”, Reuters, 27 March, 2023.
In India, China, Vietnam, the debate on geoengineering is raging. Meanwhile, geoengineering projects are also of utmost interest to oil and gas companies. This is especially true in the carbon capture field, as those companies expand their activities in Africa (GeoEngineering Monitor).
Many research bodies, as the IPCC, after having been strongly opposed to geoengineering, are now, cautiously, advising to study. They do so, as well as a growing number of scientists, because of the increasing danger posed by the climate crisis turning rapidly into a “long emergency” (Fred Pearce, “Geoingineering the Planet? More Scientists now say it Must be an Option”, Yale 360°, May 29, 2019).
In this context, the exponential emergence and diffusion of AI is a tipping point. Indeed, it generates new capabilities in order to calculate and to industrially master very complex mega projects. AI also generates piloting tools for very large scale technological devices (Hélène Lavoix, « Exploring cascading impacts with AI », The Red Team Analysis Society, May 17, 2023 and “Portal to AI-Understanding AI and Foreseeing the AI powered world”, and “Portal to Quantum Information Science and Technology- Towards a Quantum AI World ?” The Red Team Analysis Society. Thus, the AI development is of direct interest for geoengineering actors.
Furthermore, geoengineering projects and the technological spectre are intersecting with other fields in the wide domain of geo-technics such as mining, space exploration and satellite installation. As it happens, AI is already deeply embedded in theses ventures (Nguyen et al. Applications of Artificial Intelligence in Mining, Geo-technical and Geoengineering, Elsevier, 2023). It is also already and used by mining as well as by space companies.
However, the interactions between geoengineering projects and the mammoth complexity of the Earth-system and its crisis will certainly have unintended consequences. That’s why, since 2009 and the first sweeping academic report by the Royal Society, geoengineering has appeared as being potentially quite worrying. For example, one wonders what would be the consequences of solar “dimming” on the vegetation (Alistair Doyle, “Dimming Sunlight to Slow Global Warming May Harm Crop Yields: Study”, Reuters, 8 August 2018) ?
But, on the other hand, what will be the consequences of having no “planetary emergency measures” while El Niño fans the flames of “Burning World”?
Towards new international hierarchies
Moreover, the El Niño-climate change nexus turbo-charging geopolitics, geoengineering will be the equivalent of planetary politics led by an as yet unknown number of nations and industrialists. Thus, it will have tremendous geopolitical impacts. Indeed, it will create new divides between “pros” and “cons”, “haves” geo-engineering” and “haves not” and the “helped ones” and the “suffering ones”.
In this context, the AI power will be a powerful tool to help anticipating and mitigating those impacts. In other terms, the “AI world” will have to mobilize carefully a geoengineered world, in order to try to reduce the worst of “Burning World”.
And, as geoengineering systems will be “desperate measures for desperate times”, their conception begs the question of the politics and geopolitics of “what comes next”, in terms of political decision-making about geoengineering as in the strategic question of “what about the climate crisis after geoengineering”?