International Peace Day is Sept. 21. Mekela Panditharatne, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, submitted the following op-ed to EcoWatch in commemoration.
In drought-ravaged East Africa, the cracks in the plains echo the fault lines splitting tribes.
Across the globe, the devastation of deadly brawls is being exacerbated by tensions over access to water. Water crises, often worsened by governance failures, can portend warning signs for instability and conflict. This year, the World Resources Institute cautioned that water stress is growing globally, "with 33 countries projected to face extremely high stress in 2040." The effects of such water stress span the gamut from civil unrest to open warfare.
Water alone does not explain why a polity erupts into conflict; other factors often play a role. But water scarcity can provide a tangible marker of the government's failure to deliver basic services, and spur movements of people that overburden cities and exacerbate tensions.
In India, for example, irrigation is causing social unrest and water distribution has become a flashpoint between farmers and the government. In Somalia, communities affected by drought have been exploited by Al-Shabab, a militant group. The recent water restrictions in Cape Town, South Africa, inflamed old racial fault lines in the city. In Niger, Chad and Nigeria water scarcity has fed a dangerous insurgency.
As the Syrian conflict churns towards what is likely to be a brutal climax in Idlib, it's worth remembering that the country's bitter civil war may be linked to climate change-induced drought. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2015 states that an extreme drought that occurred in Syria between 2007 and 2010 was likely contributed to by climate change, and that the drought was a key factor in the violent uprising which erupted there in 2011. The researchers stated that in Syria the drought had a "catalytic effect," prompting crop failures and the mass migration of more than one million people to urban areas, intensifying existing social stressors.
These issues are beginning to touch the U.S. in myriad ways. The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan demonstrated how democracy is implicated by water quality. In Puerto Rico, a lack of access to safe water is intimately tied to a legacy of poverty and a lack of full representation in Congress. In the parched American west, drought has sparked legal and political contests over ownership of water.
Today, vulnerable communities around the world are agitating for a human right to water that has real, practical meaning. Arid, drought-ridden cities will survive only through their ability to create economic, technical and political means to dispense water equitably and safely. Developing such innovations will be one of the most important projects of the 21st century.
India Suffers 'Worst Water Crisis in Its History' https://t.co/r6zm9xlID4 @foodandwater @waterforpeople— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1529459403.0
By Heba Kanso
After months of testing, a hospital in Syria will have uninterrupted power last week, charged by solar power in a project designers hope will save lives and can be repeated across the country.
Syria's electrical grid has taken a big hit after six years of a volatile civil war with most the electrical infrastructure bombed, dismantled or destroyed, leaving hospitals relying on diesel generators but at the mercy of fuel shortages.
So the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM), an international coalition of international medical organizations and NGOs, said it hoped creating the country's first solar-power hospital would save lives.
"To have those active (hospitals) resilient and operational, it's a matter of life (or death) for many, many people in the country," said Tarek Makdissi, project director of UOSSM told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
The France-based UOSSM launched the initiative, "Syria Solar," with the aim of getting hospitals less dependent on diesel which the organization says is expensive and not reliable. The first solar hospital—the name and location of which the UOSSM would not release for safety reasons—runs on mixture of a diesel generator and 480 solar panels built near the hospital that link to an energy storage system.
If there is a complete fuel outage, the solar system can fully power the intensive care unit, operating rooms and emergency departments for up to 24 hours without diesel, which is 20 to 30 percent of the hospital's energy cost.
Makdissi said the goal is to get five other medical facilities in Syria running like this by the end of spring 2018 with funding from places like institutions, foundations, government agencies and philanthropists.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Tim Radford
Ethnic conflict linked to tragic episodes of civil war, waves of refugees and even the collapse of nation states could be made more likely by climate-related disasters.
A team of European scientists say they can demonstrate, "in a scientifically sound way," a link between civil violence based on ethnic divisions and episodes of drought, intense heat or other climate-linked weather extremes.
Syrian refugee camp.
That climate change seems to be a factor in social collapse is now fairly firmly established. Researchers have identified evidence of prolonged drought that preceded the collapse of Assyrian and Bronze Age civilizations in prehistory.
There have also been repeated warnings that, without concerted international action, global temperatures driven by rising greenhouse gas emissions could rise to make life almost intolerable in regions already increasingly insecure.
The latest finding carries lessons for a planet that has yet to confront the demands of climate change.
Researchers who looked at the patterns of political disturbance and climate-related events weren't especially concerned with climate change: They were looking for connections. And they found one: a demonstrable probability that inter-ethnic divisions could be brought to flashpoint by extended periods of drought.
They report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that in the study period of 1980 to 2010, almost a quarter of all armed conflict in ethnically-divided societies could be connected to extremes of heat or drought.
"Although we do not report evidence that climate-related disasters act as direct triggers of armed conflicts, the disruptive nature of these events seems to play out in ethnically-fractionalized societies in a particularly tragic way," they concluded.
"This observation has important implications for future security policies as several of the world's most conflict-prone regions—including North and Central Africa, as well as Central Asia—are exceptionally vulnerable to anthropogenic climate change and are characterized by deep ethnic divides."
The scientists matched data from the reinsurance group Munich Re—which for decades has been recording disaster-related economic damage on a national level—with records of armed conflict.
They then used a mathematical method of coincidence event analysis to see whether a pattern emerged. And even without any accounting for climate change, there it was: a connection between ethnic bloodshed and climate calamity.
Study leader Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, scientific adviser at the Berlin think tank Climate Analytics and researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), said: "Climate disasters are not directly triggering conflict outbreak, but may enhance the risk of a conflict breaking out that is rooted in context-specific circumstances. As intuitive as this might seem, we can now show this in a scientifically sound way."
His co-author, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of PIK, said:
"Armed conflicts are among the biggest threats to people, killing some and forcing others to leave their home and maybe flee to far-away countries. Hence, identifying ethnic divide and natural disasters as enhancing destabilization risks is potentially quite relevant.
"Human-made climate change will clearly boost heatwaves and regional droughts. Our observations, combined with what we know about increasing climate-change impacts, can help security policy to focus on risk regions.
"So our study adds evidence of a very special co-benefit of climate stabilization: peace."
The fossil fuel industry's business model is to externalize its costs by clawing in obscene subsidies and tax deductions—causing grave environmental costs, including toxic pollution and global warming. Among the other unassessed prices of the world's addiction to oil are social chaos, war, terror, the refugee crisis overseas, and the loss of democracy and civil rights abroad and at home.
As we focus on the rise of ISIS and search for the source of the savagery that took so many innocent lives in Paris and San Bernardino, we might want to look beyond the convenient explanations of religion and ideology and focus on the more complex rationales of history and oil, which mostly point the finger of blame for terrorism back at the champions of militarism, imperialism and petroleum here on our own shores.
America's unsavory record of violent interventions in Syria—obscure to the American people yet well known to Syrians—sowed fertile ground for the violent Islamic Jihadism that now complicates any effective response by our government to address the challenge of ISIS. So long as the American public and policymakers are unaware of this past, further interventions are likely to only compound the crisis. Moreover, our enemies delight in our ignorance.
As the New York Times reported in a Dec. 8, 2015 front page story, ISIS political leaders and strategic planners are working to provoke an American military intervention which, they know from experience, will flood their ranks with volunteer fighters, drown the voices of moderation and unify the Islamic world against America.
To understand this dynamic, we need to look at history from the Syrians' perspective and particularly the seeds of the current conflict. Long before our 2003 occupation of Iraq triggered the Sunni uprising that has now morphed into the Islamic State, the CIA had nurtured violent Jihadism as a Cold War weapon and freighted U.S./Syrian relationships with toxic baggage.
During the 1950's, President Eisenhower and the Dulles brothers rebuffed Soviet treaty proposals to leave the Middle East a cold war neutral zone and let Arabs rule Arabia. Instead, they mounted a clandestine war against Arab Nationalism—which CIA Director Allan Dulles equated with communism—particularly when Arab self-rule threatened oil concessions. They pumped secret American military aid to tyrants in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon favoring puppets with conservative Jihadist ideologies which they regarded as a reliable antidote to Soviet Marxism. At a White House meeting between the CIA's Director of Plans, Frank Wisner, and Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, in September of 1957, Eisenhower advised the agency, “We should do everything possible to stress the 'holy war' aspect."
The CIA began its active meddling in Syria in 1949—barely a year after the agency's creation. Syrian patriots had declared war on the Nazis, expelled their Vichy French colonial rulers and crafted a fragile secularist democracy based on the American model. But in March of 1949, Syria's democratically elected president, Shukri-al-Kuwaiti, hesitated to approve the Trans Arabian Pipeline, an American project intended to connect the oil fields of Saudi Arabia to the ports of Lebanon via Syria. In his book, Legacy of Ashes, CIA historian Tim Weiner recounts that in retaliation, the CIA engineered a coup, replacing al-Kuwaiti with the CIA's handpicked dictator, a convicted swindler named Husni al-Za'im. Al-Za'im barely had time to dissolve parliament and approve the American pipeline before his countrymen deposed him, 14 weeks into his regime.
Following several counter coups in the newly destabilized country, the Syrian people again tried democracy in 1955, re-electing al-Kuwaiti and his Ba'ath Party. Al-Kuwaiti was still a Cold War neutralist but, stung by American involvement in his ouster, he now leaned toward the Soviet camp. That posture caused Dulles to declare that “Syria is ripe for a coup" and send his two coup wizards, Kim Roosevelt and Rocky Stone to Damascus.
Two years earlier, Roosevelt and Stone had orchestrated a coup in Iran against the democratically elected President Mohammed Mosaddegh after Mosaddegh tried to renegotiate the terms of Iran's lopsided contracts with the oil giant BP. Mosaddegh was the first elected leader in Iran's 4,000 year history, and a popular champion for democracy across the developing world. Mosaddegh expelled all British diplomats after uncovering a coup attempt by UK intelligence officers working in cahoots with BP.
Mosaddegh, however, made the fatal mistake of resisting his advisors' pleas to also expel the CIA, which they correctly suspected, and was complicit in the British plot. Mosaddegh idealized the U.S. as a role model for Iran's new democracy and incapable of such perfidies. Despite Dulles' needling, President Truman had forbidden the CIA from actively joining the British caper to topple Mosaddegh.
When Eisenhower took office in January 1953, he immediately unleashed Dulles. After ousting Mosaddegh in “Operation Ajax," Stone and Roosevelt installed Shah Reza Pahlavi, who favored U.S. oil companies, but whose two decades of CIA sponsored savagery toward his own people from the Peacock throne would finally ignite the 1979 Islamic revolution that has bedeviled our foreign policy for 35 years.
Flush from his Operation Ajax “success" in Iran, Stone arrived in Damascus in April 1956 with $3 million in Syrian pounds to arm and incite Islamic militants and to bribe Syrian military officers and politicians to overthrow al-Kuwaiti's democratically elected secularist regime. Working with the Muslim Brotherhood, Stone schemed to assassinate Syria's Chief of Intelligence, its Chief of the General Staff and the Chief of the Communist Party and to engineer “national conspiracies and various strong arm" provocations in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan that could be blamed on the Syrian Ba'athists.
The CIA's plan was to destabilize the Syrian government, and create a pretext for an invasion by Iraq and Jordan, whose governments were already under CIA control. Roosevelt forecasted that the CIA's newly installed puppet government would “rely first upon repressive measures and arbitrary exercise of power."
But all that CIA money failed to corrupt the Syrian military officers. The soldiers reported the CIA's bribery attempts to the Ba'athist regime. In response, the Syrian army invaded the American Embassy taking Stone prisoner. Following harsh interrogation, Stone made a televised confession to his roles in the Iranian coup and the CIA's aborted attempt to overthrow Syria's legitimate government.
The Syrian's ejected Stone and two U.S. Embassy staffers—the first time any American State Department diplomat was barred from an Arab country. The Eisenhower White House hollowly dismissed Stone's confession as “fabrications and slanders," a denial swallowed whole by the American press, led by the New York Times and believed by the American people, who shared Mosaddegh's idealistic view of their government.
Syria purged all politicians sympathetic to the U.S. and executed them for treason. In retaliation, the U.S. moved the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean, threatened war and goaded Turkey to invade Syria. The Turks assembled 50,000 troops on Syria's borders and only backed down in the face of unified opposition from the Arab League whose leaders were furious at the U.S. intervention.
Even after its expulsion, the CIA continued its secret efforts to topple Syria's democratically elected Ba'athist government. The CIA plotted with Britain's MI6 to form a “Free Syria Committee" and armed the Muslim Brotherhood to assassinate three Syrian government officials, who had helped expose “the American plot." (Matthew Jones in The 'Preferred Plan': The Anglo-American Working Group Report on Covert Action in Syria, 1957). The CIA's mischief pushed Syria even further away from the U.S. and into prolonged alliances with Russia and Egypt.
Following the second Syrian coup attempt, anti-American riots rocked the Mid-East from Lebanon to Algeria. Among the reverberations was the July 14, 1958 coup, led by the new wave of anti-American Army officers who overthrew Iraq's pro-American monarch, Nuri al-Said. The coup leaders published secret government documents, exposing Nuri al-Said as a highly paid CIA puppet. In response to American treachery, the new Iraqi government invited Soviet diplomats and economic advisers to Iraq and turned its back on the West.
Having alienated Iraq and Syria, Kim Roosevelt fled the Mid-East to work as an executive for the oil industry that he had served so well during his public service career. Roosevelt's replacement, as CIA Station Chief, James Critchfield attempted a failed assassination plot against the new Iraqi president using a toxic handkerchief. Five years later the CIA finally succeeded in deposing the Iraqi president and installing the Ba'ath Party to power in Iraq.
A charismatic young murderer named Saddam Hussein was one of the distinguished leaders of the CIA's Ba'athists team. The Ba'ath Party's Interior Minister, Said Aburish, who took office alongside Saddam Hussein, would later say, “We came to power on a CIA train." Aburish recounted that the CIA supplied Saddam and his cronies a “murder list" of people who “had to be eliminated immediately in order to ensure success."
Critchfield later acknowledged that the CIA had, in essence, “created Saddam Hussein." During the Reagan years, the CIA supplied Hussein with billions of dollars in training, Special Forces support, and weapons and battlefield intelligence knowing that he was using poisonous mustard and nerve gas and biological weapons—including anthrax obtained from the U.S. government—in his war against Iran.
Reagan and his CIA Director, Bill Casey, regarded Saddam as a potential friend to the U.S. oil industry and a sturdy barrier against the spread of Iran's Islamic Revolution. Their emissary, Donald Rumsfeld, presented Saddam with a pair of pearl-handled revolvers and a menu of chemical/biological and conventional weapons on a 1983 trip to Bagdad. At the same time, the CIA was illegally supplying Saddam's enemy—Iran—with thousands of anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to fight Iraq, a crime made famous during the Iran Contra scandal. Jihadists from both sides later turned many of those CIA supplied weapons against the American people.
Even as America contemplates yet another violent Mid-East intervention, most Americans are unaware of the many ways that “blowback" from previous CIA blunders has helped craft the current crisis. The reverberations from decades of CIA shenanigans continue to echo across the Mid-East today in national capitals and from mosques to madras schools over the wrecked landscape of democracy and moderate Islam that the CIA helped obliterate.
In July 1956, less than two months after the CIA's failed Syrian Coup, my uncle, Senator John F. Kennedy, infuriated the Eisenhower White House, the leaders of both political parties and our European allies with a milestone speech endorsing the right of self-governance in the Arab world and an end to America's imperialist meddling in Arab countries. Throughout my lifetime, and particularly during my frequent travels to the Mid-East, countless Arabs have fondly recalled that speech to me as the clearest statement of the idealism they expected from the U.S.
Kennedy's speech was a call for recommitting America to the high values our country had championed in the Atlantic Charter, the formal pledge that all the former European colonies would have the right to self-determination following World War II. FDR had strong-armed Churchill and the other allied leaders to sign the Atlantic Charter in 1941 as a precondition for U.S. support in the European war against fascism.
Thanks in large part to Allan Dulles and the CIA, whose foreign policy intrigues were often directly at odds with the stated policies of our nation, the idealistic path outlined in the Atlantic Charter was the road not taken. In 1957, my grandfather, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, sat on a secret committee charged with investigating CIA's clandestine mischief in the Mid-East. The so called “Bruce Lovett Report," to which he was a signatory, described CIA coup plots in Jordan, Syria, Iran, Iraq and Egypt, all common knowledge on the Arab street, but virtually unknown to the American people who believed, at face value, their government's denials.
The report blamed the CIA for the rampant anti-Americanism that was then mysteriously taking root “in the many countries in the world today." The Bruce Lovett Report pointed out that such interventions were antithetical to American values and had compromised America's international leadership and moral authority without the knowledge of the American people. The report points out that the CIA never considered how we would treat such interventions if some foreign government engineered them in our country. This is the bloody history that modern interventionists like George W. Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio miss when they recite their narcissistic trope that Mid-East nationalists “hate us for our freedoms."
The Syrian and Iranian coups soiled America's reputation across the Mid-East and ploughed the fields of Islamic Jihadism which we have, ironically, purposefully nurtured. A parade of Iranian and Syrian dictators, including Bashar al-Assad and his father, have invoked the history of the CIA's bloody coups as a pretext for their authoritarian rule, repressive tactics and their need for a strong Russian alliance. These stories are therefore well known to the people of Syria and Iran who naturally interpret talk of U.S. intervention in the context of that history.
While the compliant American press parrots the narrative that our military support for the Syrian insurgency is purely humanitarian, many Syrians see the present crisis as just another proxy war over pipelines and geopolitics. Before rushing deeper into the conflagration, it would be wise for us to consider the abundant facts supporting that perspective.
A Pipeline War
In their view, our war against Bashar Assad did not begin with the peaceful civil protests of the Arab Spring in 2011. Instead it began in 2000 when Qatar proposed to construct a $10 billion, 1,500km pipeline through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Turkey.
Note the purple line which traces the proposed Qatar-Turkey natural gas pipeline and note that all of the countries highlighted in red are part of a new coalition hastily put together after Turkey finally (in exchange for NATO's acquiescence on Erdogan's politically-motivated war with the PKK) agreed to allow the US to fly combat missions against ISIS targets from Incirlik. Now note which country along the purple line is not highlighted in red. That's because Bashar al-Assad didn't support the pipeline and now we're seeing what happens when you're a Mid-East strongman and you decide not to support something the US and Saudi Arabia want to get done. (Map: ZeroHedge.com via MintPress News)
Qatar shares with Iran, the South Pars/North Dome gas field, the world's richest natural gas repository. The international trade embargo, until recently, prohibited Iran from selling gas abroad and ensured that Qatar's gas could only reach European markets if it is liquefied and shipped by sea, a route that restricts volume and dramatically raises costs.
The proposed pipeline would have linked Qatar directly to European energy markets via distribution terminals in Turkey which would pocket rich transit fees. The Qatar/Turkey pipeline would have given the Sunni Kingdoms of the Persian Gulf decisive domination of world natural gas markets and strengthen Qatar, America's closest ally in the Arab world. Qatar hosts two massive American military bases and the U.S. Central Command's Mid-East headquarters.
The EU, which gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, was equally hungry for the pipeline which would have given its members cheap energy and relief from Vladimir Putin's stifling economic and political leverage. Turkey, Russia's second largest gas customer, was particularly anxious to end its reliance on its ancient rival and to position itself as the lucrative transect hub for Asian fuels to EU markets. The Qatari pipeline would have benefited Saudi Arabia's conservative Sunni Monarchy by giving them a foothold in Shia dominated Syria.
The Saudi's geopolitical goal is to contain the economic and political power of the Kingdom's principal rival, Iran, a Shiite state, and close ally of Bashar Assad. The Saudi monarchy viewed the U.S. sponsored Shia takeover in Iraq as a demotion to its regional power and was already engaged in a proxy war against Tehran in Yemen, highlighted by the Saudi genocide against the Iranian backed Houthi tribe.
Of course, the Russians, who sell 70 percent of their gas exports to Europe, viewed the Qatar/Turkey pipeline as an existential threat. In Putin's view, the Qatar pipeline is a NATO plot to change the status quo, deprive Russia of its only foothold in the Middle East, strangle the Russian economy and end Russian leverage in the European energy market. In 2009, Assad announced that he would refuse to sign the agreement to allow the pipeline to run through Syria “to protect the interests of our Russian ally."
Assad further enraged the Gulf's Sunni monarchs by endorsing a Russian approved “Islamic pipeline" running from Iran's side of the gas field through Syria and to the ports of Lebanon. The Islamic pipeline would make Shia Iran instead of Sunni Qatar, the principal supplier to the European energy market and dramatically increase Tehran's influence in the Mid-East and the world. Israel also was understandably determined to derail the Islamic pipeline which would enrich Iran and Syria and presumably strengthen their proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas.
Secret cables and reports by the U.S., Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies indicate that the moment Assad rejected the Qatari pipeline, military and intelligence planners quickly arrived at the consensus that fomenting a Sunni uprising in Syria to overthrow the uncooperative Bashar Assad was a feasible path to achieving the shared objective of completing the Qatar/Turkey gas link. In 2009, according to WikiLeaks, soon after Bashar Assad rejected the Qatar pipeline, the CIA began funding opposition groups in Syria.
Bashar Assad's family is Alawite, a Muslim sect widely perceived as aligned with the Shia camp. “Bashar Assad was never supposed to be president," says journalist Sy Hersh. “His father brought him back from medical school in London when his elder brother, the heir apparent, was killed in a car crash."
Before the war started, according to Hersh, Assad was moving to liberalize the country—“They had internet and newspapers and ATM machines and Assad wanted to move toward the west. After 9/11, he gave thousands of invaluable files to the CIA on Jihadist radicals, who he considered a mutual enemy."
Assad's regime was deliberately secular and Syria was impressively diverse. The Syrian government and military, for example, were 80 percent Sunni. Assad maintained peace among his diverse peoples by a strong disciplined army loyal to the Assad family, an allegiance secured by a nationally esteemed and highly paid officer corps, a coldly efficient intelligence apparatus and a penchant for brutality which, prior to the war, was rather moderate compared to other Mideast leaders, including our current allies.
According to Hersh, “He certainly wasn't beheading people every Wednesday like the Saudis do in Mecca." Another veteran journalist, Bob Parry, echoes that assessment. “No one in the region has clean hands but in the realms of torture, mass killings, civil liberties and supporting terrorism, Assad is much better than the Saudis."
No one believed that the regime was vulnerable to the anarchy that had riven Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia. By the spring of 2011, there were small, peaceful demonstrations in Damascus against repression by Assad's regime. These were mainly the effluvia of the Arab Spring which spread virally across the Arab League states the previous summer. However, Huffington Post UK reported that in Syria the protests were, at least in part, orchestrated by the CIA. WikiLeaks cables indicate that the CIA was already on the ground in Syria.
But the Sunni Kingdoms wanted a much deeper involvement from America. On Sept. 4, 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry told a congressional hearing that the Sunni kingdoms had offered to foot the bill for a US. invasion of Syria to oust Bashar al-Assad. “In fact, some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing, the way we've done it previously in other places [Iraq], they'll carry the cost," he stated. Kerry reiterated the offer to Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL27): “With respect to Arab countries offering to bear the costs of [an American invasion] to topple Assad, the answer is profoundly Yes, they have. The offer is on the table."
Despite pressure from Republicans, Barrack Obama balked at hiring out young Americans to die as mercenaries for a pipeline conglomerate. Obama wisely ignored Republican clamoring to put ground troops in Syria or to funnel more funding to “moderate insurgents." But by late 2011, Republican pressure and our Sunni allies had pushed the American government into the fray.
In 2011, the U.S. joined France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and England to form the “Friends of Syria Coalition," which formally demanded the removal of Assad. The CIA provided $6 million to Barada, a British T.V. channel, to produce pieces entreating Assad's ouster. Saudi intelligence documents, published by WikiLeaks, show that by 2012, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia were arming, training and funding radical Jihadist Sunni fighters from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere to overthrow the Assad's Shia allied regime. Qatar, which had the most to gain, invested $3 billion in building the insurgency and invited the Pentagon to train insurgents at U.S. bases in Qatar. U.S. personnel also provided logistical support and intelligence to the rebels on the ground. The Times of London reported on Sept. 14, 2012, that the CIA also armed Jihadists with anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons from Libyan armories that the agency smuggled by ratlines to Syria via Turkey. According to an April 2014 article by Seymour Hersh, the CIA weapons ratlines were financed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The idea of fomenting a Sunni-Shia civil war to weaken the Syrian and Iranian regimes so as to maintain control of the region's petro-chemical supplies was not a novel notion in the Pentagon's lexicon. A damning 2008 Pentagon funded Rand report proposed a precise blueprint for what was about to happen. That report observes that control of the Persian Gulf oil and gas deposits will remain, for the U.S., “a strategic priority" that “will interact strongly with that of prosecuting the long war."
Rand recommends using “covert action, information operations, unconventional warfare" to enforce a “divide and rule" strategy. “The United States and its local allies could use the nationalist jihadists to launch a proxy campaign" and “U.S. leaders could also choose to capitalize on the sustained Shia-Sunni conflict trajectory by taking the side of the conservative Sunni regimes against Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world ... possibly supporting authoritative Sunni governments against a continuingly hostile Iran."
WikiLeaks cables from as early as 2006 show the U.S. State Department, at the urging of the Israeli government, proposing to partner with Turkey, Qatar and Egypt to foment Sunni civil war in Syria to weaken Iran. The stated purpose, according to the secret cable, was to incite Assad into a brutal crackdown of Syria's Sunni population.
As predicted, Assad's overreaction to the foreign made crisis—dropping barrel bombs onto Sunni strongholds and killing civilians—polarized Syria's Shia/Sunni divide and allowed U.S. policymakers to sell Americans the idea that the pipeline struggle was a humanitarian war. When Sunni soldiers of the Syrian Army began defecting in 2013, the Western Coalition armed the “Free Syrian Army" to further destabilize Syria. The press portrait of the Free Syria Army as cohesive battalions of Syrian moderates was delusional. The dissolved units regrouped in hundreds of independent militias most of whom were commanded by or allied with Jihadi militants who were the most committed and effective fighters. By then, the Sunni armies of Al Qaeda Iraq (AQI) were crossing the border from Iraq into Syria and joining forces with the battalions of deserters from the Free Syria Army, many of them trained and armed by the U.S.
Despite the prevailing media portrait of a moderate Arab uprising against the tyrant Assad, U.S. Intelligence planners knew from the outset that their pipeline proxies were radical jihadists who would probably carve themselves a brand new Islamic caliphate from the Sunni regions of Syria and Iraq. Two years before ISIS throat cutters stepped on the world stage, a seven-page Aug. 12, 2012 study by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), obtained by the right wing group Judicial Watch, warned that thanks to the ongoing support by U.S./Sunni Coalition for radical Sunni Jihadists, “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI (now ISIS), are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria."
Using U.S. and Gulf State funding, these groups had turned the peaceful protests against Bashar Assad toward “a clear sectarian (Shiite vs Sunni) direction." The paper notes that the conflict had become a sectarian civil war supported by Sunni “religious and political powers." The report paints the Syrian conflict as a global war for control of the region's resources with “the west, Gulf countries and Turkey supporting [Assad's] opposition, while Russia, China and Iran support the regime."
The Pentagon authors of the seven-page report appear to endorse the predicted advent of the ISIS caliphate:
“If the situation continues unravelling, there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in eastern Syria (Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor) and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want in order to isolate the Syrian regime." The Pentagon report warns that this new principality could move across the Iraqi border to Mosul and Ramadi and “declare an Islamic state through its union with other terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria."
Of course, this is precisely what has happened. Not coincidentally, the regions of Syria occupied by ISIS exactly encompass the proposed route of the Qatari pipeline.
But then in 2014, our Sunni proxies horrified the American people by severing heads and driving a million refugees toward Europe. “Strategies based upon the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend can be kind of blinding," says Tim Clemente, who chaired the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force between 2004 and 2008 and served as liaison in Iraq between the FBI, the Iraqi National Police and the U.S. Military. “We made the same mistake when we trained the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. The moment the Russians left, our supposed friends started smashing antiquities, enslaving women, severing body parts and shooting at us."
When ISIS' “Jihadi John" began murdering prisoners on TV, the White House pivoted, talking less about deposing Assad and more about regional stability. The Obama Administration began putting daylight between itself and the insurgency we had funded. The White House pointed accusing fingers at our allies. On Oct. 3, 2014, Vice President Joe Biden told students at the John F. Kennedy, Jr. forum at the Institute of Politics at Harvard that “Our allies in the region are our biggest problem in Syria." He explained that Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were “so determined to take down Assad" that they had launched a “proxy Sunni-Shia war" funneling “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons to Jihadists of the al-Nusra front and al-Qaeda"—the two groups that merged in 2014 to form ISIS.
Biden seemed angered that our trusted “friends" could not be trusted to follow the American agenda. “ISI[S] is a direct outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion," declared Obama, disassociating himself from the Sunni rebellion, “which is an example of unintended consequences which is why we should generally aim before we shoot." As if to demonstrate their contempt for America's new found restraint, our putative allies, the Turks responded to the U.S. rebukes by shooting down a plane belonging to our other putative ally, the Russians—probably to spoil a potential deal between Russia and the U.S. that would leave Assad in power.
Across the Mid-East, Arab leaders routinely accuse the U.S. of having created ISIS. To most Americans immersed in U.S. media perspective, such accusations seem insane. However, to many Arabs, the evidence of U.S. involvement is so abundant that they conclude that our role in fostering ISIS must have been deliberate. On Sept. 22, 2014, according to the New York Times, Iraqi leader, Shiite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told Baghdad demonstrators that “the CIA created ISIS." Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, Bahaa Al-Araji, echoed al-Sadr's accusation. “We know who made Daesh," Iraq's Treasury Secretary, Haidar al-Assadi, told the Digital News Aggregate, “The Islamic State is a clear creation of the United States, and the United States is trying to intervene again using the excuse of the Islamic State."
In fact, many of the ISIS fighters and their commanders are ideological and organizational successors to the Jihadists that the CIA has been nurturing for 30 years. The CIA began arming and training the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in 1979 to fight the Soviets. Following the Soviet withdrawal, the CIA's Afghan Mujahedeen became the Taliban while its foreign fighters, including Osama bin Laden, formed Al-Qaeda. In 2004, then British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook told the House of Commons that Al-Qaeda took its name—meaning “database" in Arabic—from the voluminous CIA database of Jihadists—Mujahedeen foreign fighters and arms smugglers trained and equipped by the CIA during the Afghan conflict.
Prior to the American invasion, there was no Al-Qaeda in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Bush destroyed Saddam's secularist government and his viceroy, Paul Bremer, in a monumental act of mismanagement, effectively created the Sunni Army, now named ISIS. Bremer elevated the Shiites to power and banned Saddam's ruling Ba'ath Party laying off some 700,000, mostly Sunni, government and party officials from ministers to school teachers. He then disbanded the 380,000 man army, which was 80 percent Sunni.
Bremer's actions stripped a million of Iraq's Sunnis of rank, property, wealth and power; leaving a desperate underclass of angry, educated, capable, trained and heavily armed Sunnis with little left to lose. General Petraeus' decision to import dirty war tactics, including torture and death squads, from the CIA's El Salvador conflict in order to shock and awe the Sunni resistance, instead ignited a shockingly bloody spiral of sectarian violence that devolved quickly into escalating atrocities topped finally by the Sunni Army signature head cutting. The Sunni insurgency named itself Al-Qaeda Iraq (AQI).
Beginning in 2011, our allies funded the invasion by AQI fighters into Syria. In June 2014 having entered Syria, AQI changed its name to ISIS. According to the New Yorker, “ISIS is run by a council of former Iraqi Generals ... many are members of Saddam Hussein's secular Ba'ath Party, who converted to radical Islam in American prisons." The $500 million in U.S. military aid that Obama did send to Syria almost certainly ended up benefiting these militant Jihadists. On Sept. 16, 2015, incredulous senators from the Armed Services Committee listened to U.S. General Lloyd Austin, Commander of the U.S. Central Command, explain that the Pentagon had spent $500 million to train and arm “moderate" insurgents in Syria and had only “four or five reliable moderate fighters" to show instead of the promised 5,000. The remainder apparently deserted or defected to ISIS.
Tim Clemente told me that the incomprehensible difference between the Iraq and Syria conflicts are the millions of military aged men who are fleeing the battlefield for Europe rather than staying to fight for their communities. “You have this formidable fighting force and they are all running away. I don't understand how you can have millions of military aged men running away from the battlefield. In Iraq, the bravery was heartbreaking—I had friends who refused to leave the country even though they knew they would die. They'd just tell you it's my country, I need to stay and fight," Clemente said.
The obvious explanation is that the nation's moderates are fleeing a war that is not their war. They simply want to escape being crushed between the anvil of Assad's Russian backed tyranny and the vicious Jihadi Sunni hammer that we had a hand in wielding in a global battle over competing pipelines. You can't blame the Syrian people for not widely embracing a blueprint for their nation minted in either Washington or Moscow. The super powers have left no options for an idealistic future that moderate Syrians might consider fighting for. And no one wants to die for a pipeline.
What is the answer? If our objective is long-term peace in the Mid-East, self-government by the Arab nations and national security at home, we must undertake any new intervention in the region with an eye on history and an intense desire to learn its lessons. Only when we Americans understand the historical and political context of this conflict will we apply appropriate scrutiny to the decisions of our leaders.
Using the same imagery and language that supported our 2003 war against Saddam Hussein, our political leaders led Americans to believe that our Syrian intervention is an idealistic war against tyranny, terrorism and religious fanaticism. We tend to dismiss, as mere cynicism, the views of those Arabs who see the current crisis as a rerun of the same old plots about pipelines and geopolitics. But, if we are to have an effective foreign policy, we must recognize the Syrian conflict is a war over control of resources indistinguishable from the myriad clandestine and undeclared oil wars we have been fighting in the Mid-East for 65 years. And only when we see this conflict as a proxy war over a pipeline do events become comprehensible.
It's the only paradigm that explains why the GOP on Capitol Hill and the Obama administration are still fixated on regime change rather than regional stability, why the Obama administration can find no Syrian moderates to fight the war, why ISIS blew up a Russian passenger plane, why the Saudi's just executed a powerful Shia cleric only to have their embassy burned in Tehran, why Russia is bombing non-ISIS fighters and why Turkey went out of its way to down a Russian jet. The million refugees now flooding into Europe are refugees of a pipeline war and CIA blundering.
Clemente compares ISIS to Colombia's FARC—a drug cartel with a revolutionary ideology to inspire its foot soldiers. “You have to think of ISIS as an oil cartel," Clemente said. “In the end, money is the governing rationale. The religious ideology is a tool that inspires its soldiers to give their lives for an oil cartel."
Once we strip this conflict of its humanitarian patina and recognize the Syrian conflict as an oil war, our foreign policy strategy becomes clear. Instead, our first priority should be the one no one ever mentions—we need to kick our Mid-East oil jones, an increasingly feasible objective, as the U.S. becomes more energy independent. Next, we need to dramatically reduce our military profile in the Middle East and let the Arabs run Arabia. Other than humanitarian assistance and guaranteeing the security of Israel's borders, the U.S. has no legitimate role in this conflict. While the facts prove that we played a role in creating the crisis, history shows that we have little power to resolve it.
As we contemplate history, it's breathtaking to consider the astonishing consistency with which virtually every violent intervention in the Middle East since World War II by our country has resulted in miserable failure. The long list of CIA and military adventures has each cost us dearly in national treasure, in liberty at home, in our moral authority abroad and in our national security. Without any memorable exception, every violent intervention has resulted in a catastrophic blowback far more costly to our country than any problems the authors meddling intended to solve. Our mischief has neither improved life in the Middle East nor has it made America safer.
A 1997 U.S. Department of Defense report found that “the data show a strong correlation between U.S. involvement abroad and an increase in terrorist attacks against the U.S." Let's face it, what we call the “war on terror" is really just another oil war. We've squandered $6 trillion on three wars abroad and on constructing a national security warfare state at home since oilman Cheney declared the “Long War" in 2001. The only winners have been the military contractors and oil companies who have pocketed historic profits. We have compromised our values, butchered our own youth, killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, subverted our idealism and squandered our national treasures in fruitless and costly adventures abroad. In the process, we have turned America, once the world's beacon of freedom, into a national security surveillance state and an international moral pariah.
America's founding fathers warned Americans against standing armies, foreign entanglements and, in John Adams' words, “going abroad in search of monsters to destroy." Those wise men understood that imperialism abroad is incompatible with democracy and civil rights at home. They wanted America to be a “city on a hill"—a model of democracy for the rest of the world.
The Atlantic Charter echoed their seminal American ideal that each nation should have the right to self-determination. Over the past seven decades, the Dulles brothers, the Cheney Gang, the neocons and their ilk have hijacked that fundamental principle of American idealism and deployed our military and intelligence apparatus to serve the mercantile interests of large corporations and particularly, the petroleum companies and military contractors who have literally made a killing from these conflicts. It's time for Americans to turn America away from this new imperialism and back to the path of idealism and democracy. We should let the Arabs govern Arabia and turn our energies to the great endeavor of nation building at home. We need to begin this process, not by invading Syria, but by ending our ruinous addiction to oil.
By John Light
Climate change is already hurting the world’s most vulnerable populations. Those who live in areas hit hard by drought, severe storms or rising seas and can’t relocate because of economic or social factors bear the brunt of our planet’s increasing volatility.
One way the changing climate has already made itself known is through a devastating drought—and ensuing food shortage—in Syria; it created a powder keg, and played a significant role in sparking the country’s civil war. We can expect to see similar scenarios unfold in the future.
Moyers & Company’s John Light spoke with Francesco Femia, co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security—a think tank with an advisory board consisting of retired military commanders and international affairs experts—about how climate change serves as a “threat multiplier” in volatile regions such as Syria, Egypt and Pakistan, and what America’s role should be in a world in which climate change increasingly exacerbates—and cause—international crises:
Light: What’s been going on with Syria’s water resources over the past several years?
Femia: Essentially, a massive, five-and-a-half-year drought. From 2006 to 2011, 60 percent of Syria’s land experienced, in the words of one expert, the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago. That, on top of natural resource mismanagement by the Assad regime—subsidizing water-intensive wheat and cotton farming and unsustainable irrigation techniques—led to a large amount of devastation.
There are some quite frightening numbers. Herders and farmers in the north and south had to pick up and move. Nearly 75 percent of farmers in the northeast suffered total crop failure. Herders in the northeast lost around 85 percent of their livestock, which affected about 1.3 million people. That was happening before the civil war in Syria broke out.
Many international security analysts were saying, right up to the day before protest broke out in the small rural town of Daraa, that Syria was immune to the Arab Spring and to the grievances that other Arab publics had brought to bear on their leaders. And that clearly wasn’t the case.
There was quite a bit of displacement happening; millions were trekking into urban areas. Those urban areas were experiencing quite a bit of economic insecurity. Some of that was also coming from poverty and competition from other influxes of people—for example, Iraqi refugees who had been flowing into Syria since 2003, and also Palestinian refugees. These were cities that were already hard-pressed economically.
There wasn’t a lot of information on this until quite recently. The Assad regime wasn’t allowing journalists access to these farmers and herders who were moving into the cities. The military would often accompany the migrants to make sure that journalists had no access. But under the surface of what seemed to be a stable country, there was a large-scale environmental and human disaster happening.
Light: How would you explain to a security analyst that this is related to climate change?
Femia: Part of the picture that was missing when we started looking into this issue were the climate dynamics. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study published in October 2011 showed that there was strong evidence that the recent prolonged period of drought in the Mediterranean littoral area, including the Middle East, is linked to climate change. It was one of the first studies linking climate to observable changes as opposed to just looking out at projected changes.
And then a recent model of climate impact for the future conducted by the International Food Policy Research Institute projected that if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions continue, yields of rain-fed crops in Syria will likely decline between 29 and 57 percent from 2010 to 2050. That’s a huge number.
And when you look at the effects of the drought on people within Syria, we can see that displacement has put strains on urban areas and could have contributed to the spread of unrest in Syria.
Of course the conflict is ongoing, and it’s very difficult to study anything that’s happening in Syria at this point. We still have yet to disentangle the line from climate and drought, to displacement, to conflict. We’re not making any causal claims about climate change causing conflict, but it certainly is what the security community calls a “threat multiplier.” It makes other threats to human security worse, and in this case we see it fast at hand.
If security analysts had been incorporating environmental security variables, including climate, into their assessments of how stable Syria was, they may have been able to make a different assessment of Syria’s stability and warned policymakers.
Light: What are some other effects of climate change that you can see exacerbating tensions in already-tense areas?
Femia: Climate change primarily manifests itself through water. But it varies; different kinds of water, different ways. It can lead to more extreme weather events: either a drought or a major storm or an amount of rainfall that’s unusual and leads to flooding. It’s not just scarcity, it’s too much, too little and unpredictably. For example, it’s already difficult to predict how the monsoon season will change from year to year. It’s the same with droughts in the Sahel behaving differently.
And then with salt water you have the problem of sea level rise and ocean acidification. Sea level rise is likely to devastate infrastructure along the coastlines, but it will also have a significant impact on freshwater and the economies that are tied to coastal infrastructure, which go far inland in many countries. It’s not divorced from fresh water: sea level rise can penetrate aquifers that are close to the coast and then you have salt water intrusion, which makes that fresh water useless. Egypt is going to be facing a pretty significant problem in the future as a result of this, a problem that it doesn’t need, as its coastal aquifers—there are many, there’s a lot of water there— have sea water intrude. A significant part of Egypt’s economy is based on that area of the Nile delta in and around the coastline, and a lot of the country’s population is there.
Light: How do these climate change-related conflicts—what we see now in Syria, or what we will see elsewhere in the future—affect U.S. security interests? How should we be thinking about these conflicts strategically?
Femia: The U.S. has started to define its security not just in terms of potential conflicts between nations but also in terms of how failed and fragile states might contribute to transnational security problems. These states can pose any number of problematic security risks, whether it’s a sharp increase in cross-border refugee movement creating refugee crises, whether it’s the implosion of a state that leads to the proliferation of non-state actors—terrorist organizations that might feed on such a situation—or the proliferation of weapons. It can also lead to significant food insecurity, which can have global implications.
For example, Pakistan is a very worrying place, not just because you have a number of terrorist organizations that operate in Pakistan, but also because they have a lot of nuclear material, fissile material and weapons floating around in that country. At the same time, Pakistan is quite vulnerable to the effects of glacial melting, which provides a lot of its water. We saw the impacts of flooding in Pakistan not that long ago, which displaced millions of people. So you don’t want to place this climate strain on a country that’s already so fragile and vulnerable. There are a lot of security problems associated with the situation on the ground in places like Pakistan, places like East Africa, etc.
We also need to look at the issue in a broader sense. Obviously, arctic melt is going to affect the movement of goods. Climate change may be affecting the movement of fisheries in, for example, places like the South China Sea. It’s a main shipping lane for the U.S. The South China Sea is very important for both the U.S. and China, and global trade, and is sort of a sticking point, with many disputes over who can operate in what part of the sea. Climate change is going to have security implications across the globe and conflict is just one area of concern.
Light: How would you recommend America address the increasing number of conflicts exacerbated by climate change?
Femia: What the U.S. should do in this context is, first, focus on integrating climate change and environmental security variables into how it analyzes intelligence and how it looks at the conflict potential of a region or nation. What that means is that the analysts—not just in the intelligence community but also in places like U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the State Department—who look at parts of the world and try to anticipate what might go wrong in these areas, they really need to look at the climate and environmental security variables that impact people’s lives and also look out 10, 15, 20 years at potential conflicts down the line.
Secondly, the U.S. has to do the same sort of thing in its broader national security planning. The Department of Defense has actually been leading the charge in this area. For example, in 2010, it included climate change in its quadrennial defense review. The Navy has a task force on climate change looking at the impacts of sea level rise, not just on the Navy itself, but on how that might influence national security.
Thirdly, based on those assessments, put some resources into the issue. We put a lot of money—oftentimes with bipartisan support—into counterterrorism. We put a lot of money into nonproliferation. But we don’t see that level of resources going into combating climate change. I’d say the U.S., by elevating this issue in its national security thinking, should prioritize devoting resources to both adapting to climate change itself and to helping countries that are vulnerable adapt to climate impacts. It should be a bipartisan issue. It is a national security issue. There’s nothing ideological about the problem. Climate change is happening and we should do something about it. There are differences in how to go about addressing the issue, but in general this is something that there should be widespread agreement on. When you look at it in the context of security, it’s obvious that this has nothing to do with party divisions and we should be putting the necessary resources into it.
Part of the problem is some analysts will say, “well, we don’t want, for example, the military doing much about climate change, that’s not what they do.” Well, that’s true. But if you let this problem get out of hand you’re going to have a number of situations in the future, whether they’re major disasters or conflicts, that our security forces may have to respond to. It will cost us a lot more in the long term if we do nothing now.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Peak oil has generated headlines in recent years, but the real threat to our future is peak water. There are substitutes for oil, but not for water. We can produce food without oil, but not without water.
We drink on average four liters of water per day, in one form or another, but the food we eat each day requires 2,000 liters of water to produce, or 500 times as much. Getting enough water to drink is relatively easy, but finding enough to produce the ever-growing quantities of grain the world consumes is another matter.
Grain consumed directly supplies nearly half of our calories. That consumed indirectly as meat, milk and eggs supplies a large part of the remainder. Today, roughly 40 percent of the world grain harvest comes from irrigated land. It thus comes as no surprise that irrigation expansion has played a central role in tripling the world grain harvest over the last six decades.
During the last half of the twentieth century, the world’s irrigated area expanded from close to 250 million acres (100 million hectares) in 1950 to roughly 700 million in 2000. This near tripling of world irrigation within 50 years was historically unique. But since then the growth in irrigation has come to a near standstill, expanding only 10 percent between 2000 and 2010.
In looking at water and our future, we face many questions and few answers. Could the world be facing peak water? Or has it already peaked?
Farmers get their irrigation water either from rivers or from underground aquifers. Historically, beginning with the Sumerians some 6,000 years ago, irrigation water came from building dams across rivers, creating reservoirs that then enabled them to divert the water onto the land through a network of gravity-fed canals. This method of irrigation prevailed until the second half of the twentieth century, where with few sites remaining for building dams, the prospects for expanding surface irrigation faded. Farmers then turned to drilling wells to tap underground water resources.
In doing so, they learned that there are two types of aquifers: those that are replenishable through rainfall, which are in the majority, and those that consist of water laid down eons ago, and thus do not recharge. The latter, known as fossil aquifers, include two strategically important ones, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain and the Ogallala aquifer under the U.S. Great Plains.
Tapping underground water resources helped expand world food production, but as the demand for grain continued climbing, so too did the amount of water pumped. Eventually the extraction of water began to exceed the recharge of aquifers from precipitation, and water tables began to fall. And then wells begin to go dry. In effect, overpumping creates a water-based food bubble, one that will burst when the aquifer is depleted and the rate of pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge.
Today some 18 countries, containing half the world’s people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers—China, India and the U.S.—and several other populous countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Mexico.
During the last couple of decades, several of these countries have overpumped to the point that aquifers are being depleted and wells are going dry. They have passed not only peak water, but also peak grain production. Among the countries whose use of water has peaked and begun to decline are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. In these countries peak grain has followed peak water.
Nowhere are falling water tables and the shrinkage of irrigated agriculture more dramatic than in Saudi Arabia, a country as water-poor as it is oil-rich. After the Arab oil export embargo in 1973, the Saudis realized they were vulnerable to a counter-embargo on grain. To become self-sufficient in wheat, they developed a heavily subsidized irrigated agriculture based heavily on pumping water from fossil aquifers.
After being self-sufficient in wheat for over 20 years, the Saudis announced in early 2008 that, with their aquifers largely depleted, they would reduce wheat planting by one eighth each year until 2016, when production would end. By then Saudi Arabia projects it will be importing some 15 million tons of wheat, rice, corn and barley to feed its 30 million people. It is the first country to publicly project how aquifer depletion will shrink its grain harvest.
Syria, a country of 22 million people riddled by civil war, is also overpumping its underground water. Its grain production peaked in 2001 and during the years since has dropped 32 percent. It, too, is becoming heavily dependent on imported grain.
In neighboring Iraq, grain production has plateaued over the last decade. In 2012 it was dependent on the world market for two thirds of its consumption. In addition to aquifer depletion, both Syria and Iraq are also suffering from a reduced flow in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers as upstream Turkey claims more water for its own use.
In Yemen, a nation of 24 million people that shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, the water table is falling by roughly six feet a year as water use outstrips aquifer recharge. With one of the world’s fastest-growing populations and with water tables falling throughout the country, Yemen is fast becoming a hydrological basket case. Grain production has fallen by nearly half over the last 40 years. By 2015, irrigated fields will be a rarity and the country will be importing virtually all of its grain. Living on borrowed water and borrowed time, Yemen could disintegrate into a group of tribal fiefdoms warring over water.
Thus in the Arab Middle East the world is seeing the collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Because of the failure of governments in the region to mesh population and water policies, each day now brings 9,000 more people to feed and less irrigation water with which to feed them.
Other countries with much larger populations are also near or beyond peak water. In Iran, a country with 77 million people, grain production dropped 10 percent between 2007 and 2012 as irrigation wells started to go dry. One-quarter of its current grain harvest is based on overpumping. With its population growing by a million people per year, it, too, faces a day of reckoning.
Pakistan, with a population of 182 million that is growing by 3 million per year, is also mining its underground water. Most of its irrigation water comes from the Indus river system, but in the Pakistani part of the fertile Punjab plain, the drop in water tables appears to be similar to the better-known fall that is occurring in India.
Observation wells near the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi showed a fall in the water table between 1982 and 2000 that ranged from three to six feet a year. In the Pakistani province of Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan, water tables around the capital, Quetta, are falling by 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) per year—pointing to the day when the city will run out of water. Sardar Riaz A. Khan, former director of Pakistan’s Arid Zone Research Institute in Quetta, reports that six of Balochistan’s seven basins have exhausted their groundwater supplies, leaving their irrigated lands barren.
In a World Bank study, water expert John Briscoe says: “Pakistan is already one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, a situation which is going to degrade into outright water scarcity due to high population growth.” He then notes that “the survival of a modern and growing Pakistan is threatened by water.”
In Mexico—home to a population of 122 million that is projected to reach 156 million by 2050—the demand for water is outstripping supply. Mexico City’s water problems are well known. Rural areas are also suffering. In the agricultural state of Guanajuato, the water table is falling by six feet or more a year. In the northwestern wheat-growing state of Sonora, farmers once pumped water from the Hermosillo aquifer at a depth of 40 feet. Today they pump from over 400 feet. Mexico may be near peak water use. Peak grain may be imminent.
In addition to these small and midsize countries, aquifer depletion now also threatens harvests in the big three grain producers—China, India and the U.S.—that together produce half of the world’s grain. The question is not whether water shortages will affect future harvests in these countries, but rather when they will do so.
Among the big three, dependence on irrigation varies widely. Some four fifths of China’s grain harvest comes from irrigated land, most of it drawing on surface water, principally the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. For India, three fifths of its grain is irrigated, mostly with groundwater. For the U.S., only one-fifth of the harvest is from irrigated land. The bulk of the grain crop is rain-fed, produced in the highly productive Midwestern Corn Belt where there is little or no irrigation.
Falling water tables are already adversely affecting harvest prospects in China, which rivals the U.S. as the world’s largest grain producer. A groundwater survey released in Beijing in 2001 indicated that the water table under the North China Plain, an area that produces half of the country’s wheat and a third of its corn, was falling fast. Overpumping has largely depleted the shallow aquifer, forcing well-drillers to turn to the region’s deep aquifer, which is not replenishable.
The survey reported that under Hebei Province in the heart of the North China Plain, the average level of the deep aquifer was dropping nearly 10 feet per year. Around some cities in the province, it was falling twice as fast. He Qingcheng, head of the groundwater monitoring team, notes that as the deep aquifer is depleted, the region is losing its last water reserve—its only safety cushion.
In 2010, He Qingcheng reported that Beijing was drilling down 1,000 feet to reach an aquifer, five times deeper than 20 years ago. His concerns are mirrored in the unusually strong language of a World Bank report on China’s water situation that foresees “catastrophic consequences for future generations” unless water use and supply can quickly be brought back into balance.
As serious as water shortages are in China, they are even more alarming in India, where the margin between food consumption and survival is so precarious. In India, whose population is growing by 15 million per year, irrigation depends heavily on underground water. And since there are no restrictions on well drilling, farmers have drilled more than 27 million irrigation wells and are pumping vast amounts of underground water.
In this global epicenter of well drilling, pumps powered by heavily subsidized electricity are dropping water tables at an alarming rate. Among the states most affected are Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat in the north and Tamil Nadu in the south. In North Gujarat the water table is falling by 20 feet per year. In Tamil Nadu, a state of 72 million people, water tables are falling everywhere. Kuppannan Palanisami of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University noted in 2004 that 95 percent of the wells owned by small farmers have dried up, reducing the irrigated area in the state by half over the preceding decade.
India’s grain harvest has been expanding rapidly in recent years, but in part for the wrong reason, namely massive overpumping. A World Bank study estimates that 15 percent of India’s food supply is produced by mining groundwater. Stated otherwise, 175 million Indians are now fed with grain produced with the unsustainable use of water. As early as 2004, Fred Pearce reported in New Scientist that “half of India’s traditional hand-dug wells and millions of shallower tube wells have already dried up, bringing a spate of suicides among those who rely on them. Electricity blackouts are reaching epidemic proportions in states where half of the electricity is used to pump water from depths of up to a kilometer.”
As India’s water tables fall, larger farmers are using modified oil-drilling technology to reach water, going as deep as 1,000 feet in some locations. In communities where underground water sources have dried up entirely, all agriculture is now rain-fed and drinking water must be trucked in. Tushaar Shah of the International Water Management Institute says of India’s water situation: “When the balloon bursts, untold anarchy will be the lot of rural India.”
In the U.S., farmers are over-pumping in the Great Plains, including in several leading grain-producing states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. In these states, irrigation has not only raised wheat yields but it has also enabled a shift from wheat to corn, a much higher-yielding crop. Kansas, for example, long known as the leading wheat state, now produces more corn than wheat.
Irrigated agriculture has thrived in these states, but the water is drawn from the Ogallala aquifer, a huge underground water body that stretches from Nebraska southwards to the Texas Panhandle. It is, unfortunately, a fossil aquifer, one that does not recharge. Once it is depleted, the wells go dry and farmers either go back to dryland farming or abandon farming altogether, depending on local conditions.
In Texas, a large grain and cattle state, whose northern part overlies the shallow end of the Ogallala, irrigated grain area peaked in 1975. Since then it has shrunk by two-thirds, with the most precipitous drop in recent years. In Kansas the peak came in 1982 and irrigated grain area has since fallen 41 percent. Nebraska, now also a leading corn-producing state, saw its irrigated area peak most recently, in 2007. Even though aquifer depletion is reducing grain output in several key states, it is not yet sufficient to reduce the overall U.S. grain harvest, the bulk of which is produced in the rain-fed Midwestern Corn Belt.
At the international level, water conflicts, such as the one in the Nile river basin between Egypt and the upstream countries, make the news. But within countries it is the competition for water between cities and farms that preoccupies political leaders. Indeed, in many countries farmers now face not only a shrinking water supply as aquifers are pumped dry, but also a shrinking share of that shrinking supply.
In large areas of the U.S., such as the southern Great Plains and the Southwest, virtually all water is now spoken for. The growing water needs of major cities and thousands of small towns often can be satisfied only by taking water from agriculture. As the value of water rises, more farmers are selling their irrigation rights to cities, letting their land dry up. Hardly a day goes by without the announcement of a new sale. Half or more of all sales are by individual farmers or their irrigation districts to cities and municipalities.
In the largest farm-to-city water transfer in U.S. history, farmers in California’s highly productive Imperial Valley agreed in 2003 to send San Diego County enough water to meet the household needs of close to one million people each year. The agreement spans 45 years. This could reduce food production in the Imperial Valley, a huge vegetable garden not only for California, but for countless other markets as well. Writing from the area in the New York Times, Felicity Barringer notes that many fear that “a century after Colorado River water allowed this land to be a cornucopia, unfettered urban water transfers could turn it back into a desert.”
Colorado, with a fast-growing population, has one of the world’s most active water markets. Cities and towns of all sizes are buying irrigation water rights from farmers and ranchers. In the Arkansas river basin, which occupies the southeastern quarter of the state, Colorado Springs and Aurora (a suburb of Denver) have already bought water rights to one-third of the basin’s farmland. Aurora has purchased rights to water that was once used to irrigate 19,000 acres of cropland in the Arkansas valley. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that 400,000 acres of farmland dried up statewide between 2000 and 2005.
Colorado is not alone in losing irrigation water. Farmers in rural India are also losing their irrigation water to cities. This is strikingly evident in Chennai (formerly Madras), a city of 9 million on the east coast. As a result of the city government’s inability to supply water to many of its people, a thriving tank-truck industry has emerged that buys water from nearby farmers and hauls it to the city’s thirsty residents.
For farmers near cities, the market price of water typically far exceeds the value of the crops they can produce with it. Unfortunately the 13,000 privately owned tank trucks hauling water to Chennai are mining the region’s underground water resources. As water tables fall, eventually even the deeper wells will go dry, depriving rural communities of both their food supply and their livelihood.
In the competition for water between farmers on the one hand and cities and industries on the other, farmers always lose. The economics do not favor agriculture. In countries such as China, where industrial development and the jobs associated with it are an overriding national economic goal, agriculture is becoming the residual claimant on the water supply.
Where virtually all water has been claimed, cities can typically get more water only by taking it from irrigation. Countries then import grain to offset the loss of irrigated grain production. Since it takes 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain, importing grain is the most efficient way to import water. Thus trading in grain futures is, in a sense, trading in water futures. To the extent that there is a world water market, it is embodied in the world grain market.
We can now see how overpumping, whether in the Middle East or the U.S. Great Plains, can lead to aquifer depletion and shrinking grain harvests. In short, peak water can lead to peak grain. For some countries this is no longer merely a theoretical possibility. It is a reality.
Thus far, aquifer depletion has translated into shrinking harvests only in smaller countries in the Middle East. When we look at middle-sized countries such as Iran, Mexico and Pakistan, with tightening water supplies, we see that Iran is already in deep trouble. It is feeling the effects of shrinking water supplies from overpumping. Pakistan may also have reached peak water. If so, peak grain may not be far behind. In Mexico, the water supply may have already peaked. With less water for irrigation, Mexico may be on the verge of a downturn in its grain harvest.
In summarizing prospects for the three big grain producers—the U.S., China and India—we see sharp contrasts. In the U.S., the irrigated grainland is starting to shrink largely as a result of depletion of the Ogallala aquifer, making it more difficult to rapidly increase overall grain production.
China, with four-fifths of its grain harvest coming from irrigated land, relies heavily on irrigation, but it is largely river water. A notable exception to this is the all-important North China Plain which relies heavily on underground water. With tight water supplies in northern China and with cities claiming more irrigation water, the shrinking water supply will likely reduce the harvest in some local situations. And before long it could more than offset production gains, leading to an absolute decline in China’s grain harvest.
Of the big three countries, the one most vulnerable to overpumping is India. Three-fifths of its grain harvest comes from irrigated land. And since only a minor share of its irrigation water comes from rivers, India is overwhelmingly dependent on underground water. Its millions of wells, each powered with a diesel engine or electric motor, are dropping water tables at an alarming rate. Accurate data are hard to come by, but India may have already passed peak water. The question is, will peak water be followed by peak grain or is there enough unrealized technological potential remaining to raise yields enough to offset any imminent losses from wells going dry?
The world has quietly transitioned into a situation where water, not land, has emerged as the principal constraint on expanding food supplies. There is a large area of land that could produce food if water were available.
Water scarcity is not our only challenge. Just as harvests are shrinking in some countries because of aquifer depletion, they are shrinking in other countries because of soil erosion. Among the more dramatic examples are Mongolia and Lesotho, which have each seen their grain area shrink as a result of soil erosion. And as a result of overplowing and overgrazing, two huge new dust bowls are forming in the world today, one in northwest China and the other in the Sahelian region of Africa. These giant dust bowls dwarf the U.S. Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
The bottom line is that water constraints—augmented by soil erosion, the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, a plateauing of yields in major producing areas and climate change—are making it more difficult to expand world food production. The question raised is this: is it conceivable that the negative influences on future food production could one day offset the positive ones, leading to a cessation in the world grain harvest?