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The Environment Fights Back

Our political systems and global politics are largely unequipped for the real challenges of today’s world. Global economic growth and rising populations are putting unprecedented stresses on the physical environment, and these stresses in turn are causing unprecedented challenges for our societies. Yet politicians are largely ignorant of these trends. Governments are not organized to meet them. And crises that are fundamentally ecological in nature are managed by outdated strategies of war and diplomacy.

Consider, for example, the situation in Darfur, Sudan. This horrible conflict is being addressed through threats of military force, sanctions, and generally the language of war and peacekeeping. Yet the undoubted origin of the conflict is the region’s extreme poverty, which was made disastrously worse in the 1980’s by a drought that has essentially lasted until today. It appears that long-term climate change is leading to lower rainfall not only in Sudan, but also in much of Africa just south of the Sahara Desert – an area where life depends on the rains, and where drought means death.

Darfur has been caught in a drought-induced death trap, but nobody has seen fit to approach the Darfur crisis from the perspective of long-term development rather than the perspective of war. Darfur needs a water strategy more than a military strategy. Its seven million people cannot survive without a new approach that gives them a chance to grow crops and water their animals. Yet all of the talk at the United Nations is about sanctions and armies, with no path to peace in sight.

Water stress is becoming a major obstacle to economic development in many parts of the world. The water crisis in Gaza is a cause of disease and suffering among Palestinians, and is a major source of underlying tensions between Palestine and Israel. Yet again, billions of dollars are spent on bombing and destruction in the region, while virtually nothing is done about the growing water crisis.