Green Or Gone

A Climate Of Insecurity: Global Warming As “Threat Multiplier”

An EU report issued to member states seven years ago offered an eerily accurate warning of what was to come — that areas affected by global warming and political tension (Yemen, Syria, etc.) would be vulnerable to destabilization.

Syrian farmers in a wheat field
Syrian farmers in a wheat field
Stéphane Foucart

PARIS â€" The question was clearly meant to be a trap. At the Nov. 14, Democratic party presidential debate, Bernie Sanders was asked if he still thought that climate change was "the most important threat for U.S. security," as the candidate had recently said. The day before, of course, Paris had been bloodied by terrorist attacks of unprecedented brutality in France, which seemed to relegate the urgency of the "climate emergency" for a lower level.

Sanders answered that he "absolutely" maintained his opinion. "Climate change is indeed directly related to the raised terrorist threat," he said. "If we do not listen to what the scientists tell us, we will see countries around the world â€" that's what the CIA says â€" fighting for access to water, to arable land, and we would see all sorts of conflicts arising."

Drawing a link between security and climate change inspired mockery from some quarters. But this link is a certainty, and a sufficiently unpleasant one that we systematically forget it, only to see it raise its ugly head over and over again.

In March 2008, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy forwarded an unambiguous report to member states on this very issue. Seven years after it was written, it clearly served as an eerily accurate warning. The text said that global warming acts as a "threat multiplier" in areas already suffering from social, political, religious or ethnic tensions.

"In the future, climate change is likely to affect the social and political stability in the Middle East and North Africa," the report read, pointing to "tensions related to the management of water resources in the Jordan Valley and the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which are becoming scarce" and the worsening tensions caused by rising temperatures.

It also emphasized that there would be "a significant increase of the population in the Maghreb and the Sahel" in the coming years which, combined with climate change and the loss of agricultural land, could lead to a "political destabilization" and an "increase in migratory pressures."

The Syrian textbook example

Disturbingly, almost all the areas identified in 2008 as the most sensitive to global warming â€" from Mesopotamia to the Levant via Yemen, the Sahel and North Africa â€" are indeed marked by instability and chaos seven years later, tumult that directly contributed to the Nov. 13 attacks.

Syria in particular is the subject of several studies examining the role of climate change in the civil war. Francesca de Châtel, a Middle East water management expert from Nijmegen's Radboud University, in the Netherlands, delivered a striking chronicle published in the January 2014 Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. Châtel writes that the Syrian government has totally neglected environmental management.

Fostered by the current warming, a drought so severe that there's been nothing like it since the beginning of weather records settled over the region between 2007 and 2010. The UN estimates that it affects at least 1.3 million Syrians. In 2008, the country had to import wheat for the first time in its history. The following year, more than 300,000 farmers left the country's northeast because they couldn't continue working. It's not just lack of rain that's problematic but also continued overexploitation of ground waters since the 1980s, which have combined to leave 17% of the Syrian population food insecure.

Environmental factors don't invalidate others â€" religious, political, ethnic, etc. But their role is clear. It's foolish to think that the partial destruction of a country's primary production has no effect on the stability and security of its neighbors.

In a study published in May's Journal of Development Economics, Swiss economists Matthias Flückiger and Markus Ludwig demonstrated remarkably well the link between the environment and security. They analyzed data on acts of piracy in about 100 countries, and on plankton abundance in the same waters. According to their calculations, when the amount of plankton is lowered, the number of acts of piracy increases in due proportion.

This isn't as far-fetched as it may seem. In fact, it's absolutely logical: Affected by global warming, plankton form the base of the marine food chain; when it is depleted, fishermen find themselves with boats that can no longer be used for fishing. They must therefore find another way to make money â€" and piracy is one.

With the Nov. 13 attacks, ISIS is dominating the political agenda in the short term. The decisive COP21 climate conference that is scheduled to begin in the French capital Nov. 30 has become less of a priority, by virtue of the circumstances. This is bad news for the fight against global warming. But for ISIS and those who thrive on the desperation of the poor, it's a major victory.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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