By Brad Friedman on 9/9/2013, 6:05am PT  

During last Tuesday's Green News Report, I snarked to my co-host Desi Doyen that Sec. of State John Kerry's recent comments at the Pacific Islands Forum about the serious threats posed by global warming have convinced me: We must bomb global warming!

She noted, in response, correctly, that actually there's a lot of analysis out there supporting the idea that "climate change, causing drought, is also part of the impetus behind the unrest in the Middle East."

Of course, I dismissed the charge out of hand, mostly for comedic effect. But I really shouldn't have, as's Peter Sinclair explained in a detailed post last week, detailing exactly how drought attributed to climate change --- which devastated Syria and elsewhere in the region from 2006 to 2011 --- helped spark the initial protests at the beginning of the "Arab Spring" in 2010 and 2011, how it helped to exacerbate the current mess in the war-torn Syria, and how it's exactly what the Dept. of Defense --- and even Senator John Kerry --- had long ago tried to warn us all about...

As mercilessly cribbed from Sinclair ... Following the terrible, years-long drought, Russia banned all grain exports. In August of 2010, as reported by Washington Post, Egypt, "one of the biggest importers of wheat," began to run out, as grain harvests elsewhere were devastated as well. Production dropped that year by 35% in Canada where "heavy rain destroyed much of Canada's wheat crop" and "the worst flooding in more than a decade" slashed China's rice production.

Global food prices spiked, leading NPR to report in January of 2011 that "political Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and other Arab countries" were in response, in part, to "dramatic price hikes for basic foodstuffs."

"The advent of the unrest now referred to as 'Arab Spring'," Sinclair explains, "coincided with rising grain prices and food rioting across the region," which is among the largest food import regions in the world.

Last year, The Economist noted: "The Arab spring was obviously about much more than food. But it played a role. 'The food-price spike was the final nail in the coffin for regimes that were failing to deliver on their side of the social contract,' says Jane Harrigan of London's School of Oriental and African Studies."

In Syria, according to a memo from State Department Policy Planning veteran William Polk, published by The Atlantic over the Labor Day weekend, "Syria has been convulsed by civil war since climate change came to Syria with a vengeance."

Polk details how farmers, desperately tapped aquifers "with tens of thousands of new well[s]...But, as they did, the water table quickly dropped to a level below which their pumps could lift it."

In some areas, all agriculture ceased. In others crop failures reached 75%. And generally as much as 85% of livestock died of thirst or hunger. Hundreds of thousands of Syria's farmers gave up, abandoned their farms and fled to the cities and towns in search of almost non-existent jobs and severely short food supplies. Outside observers including UN experts estimated that between 2 and 3 million of Syria's 10 million rural inhabitants were reduced to "extreme poverty."

The domestic Syrian refugees immediately found that they had to compete not only with one another for scarce food, water and jobs, but also with the already existing foreign refugee population. Syria already was a refuge for quarter of a million Palestinians and about a hundred thousand people who had fled the war and occupation of Iraq. Formerly prosperous farmers were lucky to get jobs as hawkers or street sweepers. And in the desperation of the times, hostilities erupted among groups that were competing just to survive.

Survival was the key issue. The senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Syria turned to the USAID program for help. Terming the situation "a perfect storm," in November 2008, he warned that Syria faced "social destruction." He noted that the Syrian Minister of Agriculture had "stated publicly that [the] economic and social fallout from the drought was 'beyond our capacity as a country to deal with.'" But, his appeal fell on deaf ears: the USAID director commented that "we question whether limited USG resources should be directed toward this appeal at this time." (reported on November 26, 2008 in cable 08DAMASCUS847_a to Washington and "leaked" to Wikileaks )
Whether or not this was a wise decision, we now know that the Syrian government made the situation much worse by its next action. Lured by the high price of wheat on the world market, it sold its reserves. In 2006, according to the US Department of Agriculture, it sold 1,500,000 metric tons or twice as much as in the previous year. The next year it had little left to export; in 2008 and for the rest of the drought years it had to import enough wheat to keep its citizens alive.

So tens of thousands of frightened, angry, hungry and impoverished former farmers flooded constituted a "tinder" that was ready to catch fire. The spark was struck on March 15, 2011 when a relatively small group gathered in the town of Daraa to protest against government failure to help them. Instead of meeting with the protestors and at least hearing their complaints, the government cracked down on them as subversives. The Assads, who had ruled the country since 1971, were not known for political openness or popular sensitivity. And their action backfired. Riots broke out all over the country, As they did, the Assads attempted to quell them with military force. They failed to do so and, as outside help - money from the Gulf states and Muslim "freedom fighters" from the rest of the world - poured into the country, the government lost control over 30% of the country's rural areas and perhaps half of its population.

You can follow the rest of the trail right up to present day and the mess we now find ourself in, with the U.S. President prepared to go to war after a chemical weapons attack said (by the Obama Administration, if not proven with evidence to the public) to have been launched by the Assad regime after two years of civil war and more than 100,000 killed in the process.

While "climate change did not create the fundamental instability in countries like Syria," Sinclair explains, it "is adding a new dynamic to the game." It is, as the Dept. of Defense now describes it, a "threat multiplier".

Finally, Sinclair goes on to cite this prescient --- perhaps even haunting, at this point --- warning from then Senator John Kerry, in January of 2010, in response to the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review, (QDR) that year, as reported at the time by The Hill [emphasis added]:

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), a key architect of Senate climate plans, was the first to draw attention to the significance of climate change in the QDR. Kerry said last week that the QDR will list climate change as a security problem that could claim U.S. lives.

"I will tell you that the defense review of the United States Pentagon next week is going to come out and list climate change for the first time as an instability factor that affects our troops and may in fact wind up costing us lives down the road," Kerry said at a forum hosted by labor, business, veteran and other groups backing climate legislation.

See Sinclair at for much more on this, including his own prescient warnings on video. They are the type of warnings, as he notes, which are routinely ignored by the MSM --- and even by snarky environmental news reporters like myself --- who have, to put it very kindly, "not done a terribly effective job of putting this aspect of the problem in context."

[Hat-tip to too-occasional BRAD BLOG Guest Blogger D.R. Tucker]

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