Last week NASA released a study declaring the current drought in the Middle East the worst in the past 900 years. While acknowledging that the area’s climate has varied widely in the past nine centuries, its researchers note with alarm that the past two decades stand out for volatility. The researchers also leave no doubt that the drought was likely exacerbated by human activities, supporting other studies indicating human causes of extreme climate events.
The subject of climate change has largely been ignored in the current presidential election, with its understandable focus on economic insecurity and fears of global violence and extremism, especially in and from the Middle East. But there is a growing consensus that environmental and political issues are tightly connected, and that the water shortage is one of several contributing factors that destabilized Syria in the lead-up to its devastating civil war. Displaced people flooded into Syria’s cities to escape drought conditions, leading to unrest, insurgency, and ultimately a refugee crisis that has spread to Europe and beyond.
Meanwhile, the effects of extreme weather are being felt across the planet, from devastating winds in the South Pacific to the warming trends that have allowed Zika-carrying mosquitoes to thrive and spread. As environmental activist Bill McKibben warns, “Global warming is not a future threat — it’s the present reality, a menace not to our grandchildren but to our present civilizations.”
Israel has weathered the effects of the epic Mideast drought through technology, building six desalination plants that account for nearly 70 percent of Israel’s domestic water consumption. The plants are the result of a partnership between public policy and science — the stewards of the former took seriously the warnings of the latter, marshalling the start-up nation’s resources to address the problem.
As the planet warms and the presidential election heats up, our policymakers owe it to us and our children to accept responsibility, acknowledge the threat, and champion solutions.