COVID Deaths in US Will Soon Surpass Number of Americans Killed in Vietnam War

Before the weekend comes, the number of known deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. will surpass roughly 58,000. This is the same number of Americans who died during the Vietnam War. It took five presidents — Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford — and more than 20 years to amass that body count overseas.

Donald Trump needed just four months to knock on the door of that grim milestone right here at home, and then he mused on national television about whether injections of disinfectant into the human body could be used to treat COVID-19, immediately leading calls to poison control centers concerning exposure to Lysol and bleach to double in New York City.

“There’s a 9/11 happening in America every single day right now,” writes Umair Haque for Medium. These are staggering concepts to encompass. One day there’s a story about a fast-moving virus in China, then Washington State, then Boston and New York, and with the suddenness of a blindside car accident, we’re stuck at home like bugs in a bottle making Vietnam and September 11 comparisons to provide some level of context for what has happened to us.

long list of experts, including Trump hostage Anthony Fauci and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, warn that this really is only just beginning, and it will get worse. Rosy White House predictions about getting back to normal by Memorial Day must be ignored as vigorously as remarks on injecting disinfectants. The experts I trust, the ones who haven’t been wrong yet and are not trapped within Trump’s erratic orbit, say we will be contending with COVID-19 for the long remainder of 2020, and probably beyond.

I am still laboring to accept this. The stark winter landscape of New Hampshire is slowly, ever so slowly giving way to one of the greatest shows on Earth: springtime in New England. The temperate rainforest blanketing the region is reviving itself in a riot of emerald greens and yellows, with the rest of the spectrum soon to follow once the wildflowers pop.

How can this be? How can these two phenomena — the COVID-19 emergency orders and the emergence of a long-awaited spring — be happening simultaneously? This is the point in the school year when I would be signing my daughter up for summer camp, but that’s out. The future stands before us as a blank canvas, as close as our four walls and as distant as maybe.

The situation will get worse in a galloping hurry if the stay-at-home orders are lifted and people fail to observe the strictures of social distancing, yet that is exactly what is happening. In Georgia, you’d think nothing out of the ordinary was happening even as the death toll there rises by the day. Many members of Black communities in Georgia, which nationally have suffered the consequences of COVID-19 far more severely than other sectors of the populace, are outraged and terrified.

In southern California, an early-season heat wave had people flocking to the beaches in Orange County over the weekend. According to the Associated Press, there were some 40,000 people packed onto Newport Beach alone. Gov. Gavin Newsom is considering closing all public California beaches for the next three weekends, but I suspect the situation will come to require a sterner, longer closure of the shorelines. In Wisconsin, around 2,000 protesters stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the steps of the Capitol building, many without masks, demanding the state lift its stay-at-home order.

Tennessee, Oklahoma, Nevada, Texas, Mississippi and Colorado are among the states that already have or will soon “re-open” their economies to as close an approximation of business-as-usual as they can arrange. Hair salons, tattoo parlors, movie theaters, some restaurants and of course, the gun stores will fling wide their doors to an infected population, the virus will find new hosts, and the pandemic will go on, and on.

“The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Tennessee was 9,667 as of Sunday, according to the latest figures released by the Tennessee Department of Health,” reports The Tennessean. “That’s up a jump of 478 new cases, the highest number of new cases recorded in one day so far in the state. It’s an increase of 5.2 percent from Saturday’s totals.”

There is no doubt that the economy is in a Depression-level death spiral. Millions of workers and small businesses face complete financial ruin, if they have not arrived there already. Money from Congress to help offset the pain got snatched up by larger, healthier companies who saw free money and scooped it up. Even so, many prominent business leaders are deeply wary of opening the country back up too soon and risking a new spike in infections, and they are all too correct to be concerned, because that is almost certainly what is about to happen.

COVID-19 has already begun its long burn through the rural areas of the country, and the infection rate will continue to accelerate with the lifting of these stay-at-home orders. As that happens, these rural areas are going to run headlong into a critical shortage of hospitals capable of treating COVID patients. Some people will have to drive for hours to find medical care, because so many local rural hospitals have been closed. Not profitable enough, you see.

As I said last week, this is only the middle of the beginning. For many, this next slice of time will be the hardest part to cope with. Five weeks of this strange new world is wearing on people just as the weather is getting nice. Kids are beginning to get brittle with bored, scared frustration. Managing mental health has become a struggle for many, and there has been a notable spike in instances of domestic violence across the country. All this, and it is only the first wave of this thing. There are more to come, and likely soon.

Now would be the perfect moment for some rousing pep talk, but I haven’t got one in me this morning. My grandparents got “Nothing to fear but fear itself” from their president when calamity struck that generation. We get “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute” from ours, along with no national testing regimen and a lot of happy talk about how this will all be over any day now.

It won’t be. This isn’t a pep talk, but a profound warning: Do not listen to Donald Trump under any circumstances. If you live in a state with a governor who is bent on lifting the strictures that will contain this thing until a vaccine is secured next year, do not listen to them, either. Listen to your own good sense and stay home if you can. Stay well. Stay safe.

The party when this is over will be the biggest thing the planet has ever seen. We all have to wait for our invitation, however, for as long as it takes to print them. Be here for that, please. The time has come to accept the present as the way it has to be, and find ways to cope as best we can. I’m not there yet, either, but I’m working on it. In the meantime, keep the bleach in the cupboard, your head down, and your chin up. I’ll see you at the party. We will all have some stories to tell.

1918 Flu Pandemic Came From A Bird


A mysterious, very contagious, and lethal virus that had crossed over to humans from an animal spread quickly across Europe, and then the United States, leaving mass casualties in its wake. American officials, along with some members of the press, initially downplayed the significance of the 1918 influenza pandemic, promising it would soon go away. The public was told by some officials they should go about business as usual.

As the lethality of the virus became clear, with death resulting from pneumonia-like conditions as a result of the disease, officials delayed closing institutions, then pushed to have them reopened.

Protective equipment was in short supply, doctors and nurses became ill and died, and the country’s surgeon general gave the American people a lesson on how to make cloth face masks to help stop the contagion.

Sound familiar? This pandemic, commonly referred to as the Spanish influenza, although that origin was eventually debunked, closely mirrors the world’s current fight against COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website described the 1918 pandemic as being caused “by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin.” It came from a bird.

Europe was consumed by what was then known as The Great War, now called World War I. The United States joined the fight in April 1917, taking sides with France, England, and Belgium. Russia dropped out of the Allied Forces effort after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Their chief opponents were the nations now known as Germany, Austria, and Turkey.

The Independent has examined the reporting in every issue of The New York Times, and local newspapers, like The East Hampton Star from that year.

In 1918, The Times was an advocate for the war effort and the President Woodrow Wilson administration. The war dominated its front page daily with every one topped by a banner headline proclaiming the day’s events on the battlefield. The influenza never made it to the front page once, despite the fact that the disease would go on to kill roughly 675,000 Americans, as reported by the CDC. According to the organization, “about 500 million people, or one-third of the world’s population, became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide.”

Of the 116,516 American troops who died in the war, over 63,000 of them were killed by the flu.

Molly Billings, an associate professor at the University of Washington’s Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, wrote about the pandemic in 1997, the year she obtained her BA from Stanford University.

“The influenza virus had a profound virulence, with a mortality rate at 2.5 percent, compared to the previous influenza epidemics, which were less than 0.1 percent,” she said. “Most of humanity felt the effects of this strain of the influenza virus. It spread following the path of its human carriers, along trade routes and shipping lines. Outbreaks swept through North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Brazil, and the South Pacific. In India, the mortality rate was extremely high, at around 50 deaths from influenza per 1000 people.”

It’s not known where the disease made the jump from bird to human, but it likely was not from Spain. While the rest of Europe was engaged in an all-out war, Spain was on the sideline. Information from the war-consumed nations was being censored, but not from Spain. The first mention of Spanish influenza appeared in The New York Times on June 21, 1918. The story is sourced from an unnamed Dutch traveler, just returning from Germany.

“Spain Affected by German Sickness and Other Countries Will Be, Says Hollander,” the headline on the story reads. “‘The mysterious sickness, now prevalent in Spain, comes from Germany and will doubtless soon reach other countries,’ said a Dutch tailor who recently returned from Germany.”

On June 25 and June 27, The Times reported that German troops were infected by disease.

“Spanish Influenza is Raging in the German Army,” a June 27 headline read. “LONDON, June 26: Influenza is now epidemic all along the German front, according to advices received from the Dutch frontier, and the prevalence of this ailment is said to be hampering the preparations for offensive operations.”

On June 28, dateline Washington, D.C., The Times reported that the “epidemic is not regarded here as having serious proportions. It is clear that the soldier who has it is incapacitated for duty, and thousands may be down with the disease at once, so that military movements may be delayed.”

“The American troops have at no time shown any form of the disease,” the story reported. “Precautions have already been ordered, however, to meet any emergency.”

On July 3, a Spanish ship came to an American port, and was fumigated, a story reports. On July 11, kaiser Wilhelm II, the leader of Germany at the time, was reported to have fallen ill with the disease, and had to leave the western front of the war.

All along, Americans were promised that the disease could never hit home.

This is the first installment of a three-part series on the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Asteroids, supervolcanoes, and nuclear wars could block the sun

castle bravo shrimp nuclear test blast bikini atoll mushroom cloud noaa
The mushroom cloud of the Castle Bravo nuclear test on March 1, 1954.

Research suggests the consequences of supervolcano eruptions and nuclear bombs could be similar to the aftermath of the asteroid that doomed the dinosaurs.

About 74,000 years ago, for example, the Toba supervolcano eruption sent clouds of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, cutting sunlight by as much as 90%. That volcanic winter might have reduced the global human population to just 3,000 people, based on one analysis.

If enough nuclear bombs (thousands of them) were to explode, that could also bring on a nuclear winter that would reduce sunlight levels by more than 90%, according to a 1983 paper co-authored by Carl Sagan. Global temperatures could drop up to 45 degrees Fahrenheit in that scenario.

“Such rapid and drastic cooling could make farming impossible, even in those regions spared by the missiles,” Walsh writes.

Mt. St. Helens
The Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980 killed 57 people and caused billions of dollars in damage. The Toba supereruption was equivalent to 2,800 Mount St. Helens eruptions.

Without sunlight, in other words, our food system would break down.

“Maybe when humans go extinct the world will be ruled by fungi again,” Denkenberger told Walsh. “Why don’t we just eat the mushrooms and not go extinct?”

Mushrooms do grow on trees, with or without the sun

drought dead almond trees california
A field of dead almond trees after a drought is seen in California’s Central Valley, May 6, 2015.
 Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS

If clouds of debris or ash were to blot out the sun and lead the climate to cool rapidly, trillions of trees would die. Humans wouldn’t be able to digest that dead wood, of course, but mushrooms could — no photosynthesis required.

That doesn’t sound like a lot, but with a small post-disaster population and efficient fungus production, Denkenberger thinks it might work.

mushrooms bunker france
Oyster mushrooms grow from a substrate bloc at the “Bunker Comestible” (the “edible bunker”) in Strasbourg, France, February 19, 2018.
Vincent Kessler/Reuters

While we’re using the wood to grow mushrooms, we could use the dead trees’ leaves, too, he said.

“The ground-up leaves could be made into tea to provide missing nutrients like vitamin C, or fed to ruminant animals like cows or rats,” Denkenberger told Walsh.

Dead trees can feed other life forms, like rats and insects

Rats, much like mushrooms, can digest cellulose, the sugar that makes up 50% of wood. So anything the mushrooms leave behind could be fed to the rats, Walsh suggests. That way, any human survivors could eat meat.

rats caged
Rats are trapped in a cage in Vertou near Nantes, France, June 5, 2019.
Stephane Mahe/Reuters

What’s more, rats reproduce quickly and they probably don’t need sunlight to do it, Walsh adds. It takes a rat just six weeks to reach sexual maturity, and from there only 70 days to produce seven to nine babies. In Denkenberger’s calculations, all of humanity could be eating rats after just two years.

Insects could also provide protein, and many of them would survive a sun-blotting catastrophe.

“The same qualities that make insects so abundant and so persistent would allow many species to weather even the most extensive, climate-changing existential catastrophes,” Walsh writes. “Beetles can feast on dead wood, and humans can feast on beetles.”

Eating Insects meal worm pralines
People sample mealworm pralines.
 REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

Insects are already a staple food in some parts of the world, and they’re starting to gain traction elsewhere. Walsh describes an insect food fair in Richmond, Virginia, where he tasted a pasta dish with ground cricket meatballs, called “Orthopteran Orzo,” and deep-fried mealworm larvae.

Survivors would band together

Walsh’s book debunks another popular idea about how to feed ourselves during an apocalypse: cannibalism.

That would not help in the aftermath of a catastrophe that puts humans at risk of extinction, he says, because other people are simply not a sustainable food source. Walsh points to a 2017 study in which a group of undergraduate students calculated how long the human species would last if we subsisted on cannibalism alone. They found that only one person would remain after 1,149 days (about 3 years).

He adds, however, that building a new agricultural system would require working together. He thinks such collaboration would be likely in a disaster scenario.

VEnezuela farmers farming
Women work in a cabbage field at the expropriated Fundo Aracal in the state of Yaracuy, Venezuela, August 27, 2007.

“For all our fear of what would come after, for all our bleak stories, collapse and conflict aren’t givens after a disaster,” Walsh writes. “Human beings help each other, including in those times when it doesn’t seem to be in their interest. That’s likely how Homo sapiens survived its closest brush with extinction — the Toba supereruption — and it’s the only way we would survive the next one.”

SEE ALSO: NASA’s future missions will shoot for an icy moon of Saturn, photograph the Big Bang, and more. Here’s what’s coming in the next 10 years.

More: Environment Apocalypse Mushrooms Agriculture

Don’t “Make War” on Climate Change

Talk of the next world war is in the air. In this iteration, however, those sounding the battle horns aren’t pushing for a clash between the planet’s civilizations but a campaign to save the planet itself. “We need to literally declare war on climate change,” environmentalist Bill McKibben, the founder of, has urged. “This is our World War Two,” declared the wildly popular Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

World War II is frequently cited as an inspiration for the scale of concerted effort required to avert atmospheric Armageddon. Writing in The Guardianon June 4, for example, economist Joseph Stiglitz proclaimed: “The climate emergency is our third world war. Our lives and civilization as we know it are at stake, just as they were in the second world war.”

Further, McKibben has also exhorted, “Fighting this war would be socially transformative … just as World War II sped up the push for racial and gender equality.”

While fighting the “good war” against Germany’s racist ideology was heroic indeed, it’s also true that allied forces themselves perpetuated racism. The U.S. (and Canada) turned back boats of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi government and interned more than 100,000 citizens of Japanese descent in camps, setting a precedent for racist policymaking that continues to haunt the present.

Indigenous nations were dispossessed of 1 million acres of their territory, including for the purpose of Japanese internment. Black American soldiers were confined to segregated regiments and denied veterans’ benefits; several who survived the war returned home only to be lynchedby white mobs.

What Stiglitz described as a fight for “civilization as we know it” was premised on the colonial divide between “civilized” Europeans and the non-Europeans they ruthlessly dominated and exploited. The uranium for the U.S.’s nuclear bomb, for example, was obtained using forced African labor from mines in the Congo, where Belgian colonizers enforced their rule by notoriously vicious means.

World War II also spurred the U.S. military to construct hundreds of overseas bases, most of which still remain 60 years later. Built on land expropriated from local residents, these bases pollute the soil, deforest the land and contaminate the drinking water, such as the Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa. Islands belonging to the United States but inhabited by people of color, such as the Marshall Islands and the Bikini Atoll became the testing grounds for nuclear weapons, and their inhabitants still experience exceedingly high rates of cancer. The Cold War that followed WWII also led to the U.S. and the Soviet Union sinking enormous resources into the nuclear arms race, and other countries, including China, the U.K. and France, developing their own nuclear weapons.

World War II liberated Europe, but back in the U.S. it prompted Congress to pass a series of laws suppressing dissent — all of which remained on the books long after the war was over. National security agencies took advantage of the opportunity to extend their tentacles of surveillance, including by warrantless wiretapping. Some 6,000 conscientious objectors were imprisoned, comprising a full one-sixth of the federally incarcerated population at the time.

Even the fabled war-time emancipation of women is only a partial truth. While white women constituted 40 percent of all aircraft industry workers, for instance, Black women and men combined never amounted to more than 6 percent, and many workplaces prohibited Black employees from even using the same bathrooms as their white co-workers.

Meanwhile, the biggest economic beneficiaries of the war were a select group of corporate interests: According to a Senate report on “Economic Concentration and World War II,” 40 percent of the $1 billion invested by the government in scientific research went to just 10 large corporations.

The persistent refrain that we need to wage war on climate change obscures how some of the worst state responses to climate disruption already look like war. Militaries have been conducting “war games” to train for climate disasters. Soldiers and private military contractors are being deployed to manage the aftermath of natural disasters intensified by global warming. This has frequently involved brutality against the very people they purport to be protecting — as in 2005, when Black New Orleanians left destitute by Hurricane Katrina were fired on by troops fresh from the killing fields of Iraq.

Governments around the world are expanding their state of emergency laws to encompass climate-related upheavals, perversely facilitating the repression of environmental activists who have been branded as “eco-terrorists” and subjected to counterinsurgency operations. In France, for example, the government applied emergency powers to place dozens of activists under house arrest in advance of the international climate summit in 2015. In Germany, protesters resisting the razing of the ancient Hambach forest for a lignite coal mining project have been met with one of the largest policing operations in the country since World War II.

Migrants fleeing situations of extreme violence and hardship exacerbated by climate change, from Central America to the Middle East, are being locked in cages, stranded in camps, or left to die in the sea by the thousands — while the same arms dealers fueling conflicts in these regions are now also profiting handsomely from securing the borders against them.

Also making a killing are the corporations devising techno-fixes for environmental problems they are in large part responsible for creating, and the investors buying up increasingly scarce resources of land, forests, water and food — while the Indigenous and peasant communities being dispossessed continue to pay the price.

As the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty warned in a reportreleased on June 25, our world is descending into a “climate apartheid scenario in which the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict, while the rest of the world is left to suffer.”

Just as in previous wars declared in the name of the social good, such as the war on drugs, the primary casualties are those already most vulnerable and disenfranchised. But rather than breaking this vicious circle, many of the proposed solutions spiral deeper into it instead.

Some have suggested that a future U.S. president could declare a national emergency on climate change: a move that would allow the president to unilaterally invoke up to 136 extraordinary statutory powers that “could be disastrous for our democracy,” in the words of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. Others have put their hopes in a greater role for the U.N. Security Council — which would further concentrate decision-making away from the former colonies that have contributed the least to the causes of climate disaster but bear the overwhelming brunt of its effects.

As novelist and activist Arundhati Roy predicted in her recent Arthur Miller Freedom to Write lecture for PEN: “Once again, the Global North, the creators of the problem, will see to it that they profit from the solution that they propose. A solution whose genius will, no doubt, lie deep in the heart of the ‘Market’ and involve more selling and buying, more consuming, and more profiteering by fewer and fewer people.”

War and preparations for war are not only environmentally catastrophic enterprises in their own right — the U.S. military is the largest single consumer of fossil fuels on Earth — but they also represent the apotheosis of the predatory, exploitative, anti-democratic logic that has brought the world to the brink of existential ecological crisis.

Far from needing to be more like war, our responses to climate change need to be the exact opposite of war. They should be less like the elite political and corporate structures profiting from militarism, and more like the grassroots social movements struggling to gain power and keep it where it rightfully belongs: in the hands of the people closest to the pain.

Those on the leading edges of the movement for climate justice are precisely those who have been most socially subjugated and marginalized, especially in times of war: women, children, Indigenous nations, and the communities of the global South. From Standing Rock to Morocco, from Bolivia to Nigeria, people are not only confronting the current crisis but challenging its deep capitalist and colonialist underpinnings. We dishonor these climate protectors by making them part of a war analogy.

The pervasive assumption that taking a problem seriously means treating it like a war shows how militarism has not only captured outsized portionsof government spending but has colonized our social imaginations as well. We can’t save a burning planet with the same paradigms that have repeatedly set it on fire.

Climate Change: Our Greatest National Security Threat?

The climate century is upon us: the earth is warming, humans are to blame, and we must take immediate action now to prepare for climate change’s massively disruptive consequences. Indeed, both the congressionally-mandated 2018 National Climate Assessment (NCA) and United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changereports make clear that the window to take collective action to reduce worldwide greenhouse gas emissions is shrinking. And advances in the field of climate attribution science demonstrate that climate change plays a major role in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

No longer can climate change be categorized solely as an environmental issue—it is a grave threat to national security. Indeed, it may be the threat. While there are many national security challenges facing the nation and the world, climate change is an aptly described “super wicked” problem that exacerbates and accelerates already existing threats. It is also manifestly unjust. In a cruel irony, the poorest nations of the world that contributed the least to global warming will bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts. What we, as a society, choose to do (or not do) now will define the health and welfare of future generations. Their fate is increasingly shaped by climate change’s dramatic, erratic, and catastrophic national security effects.

This article explains our current predicament and offers three reasons to hope that we may yet be able to address climate security.

We must think bigger and bolder about the national security threats posed by climate change

Beyond what we can read in the best peer-reviewed climate scientific reports, we can see firsthand climate change’s massively destabilizing effects. Consider the damage to national security infrastructure at military bases this last hurricane season, costing taxpayers billions and harming military readiness.

Consider, too, climate change’s outsized impact in the Arctic region, opening up new maritime trade routes, oil and gas extraction, and the looming potential for a heavily militarized Arctic region. And what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic: permafrost and methane emissions significantly harm the environment while causing significant sea level rise throughout the world. Ice-free Arctic summers are coming soon.

How fast is the ice melting in the Arctic? If we are honest, we don’t truly know. Past estimates of warming and ice loss in the Arctic have been widely underestimated. Indeed, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) reported that the Arctic has 3-5 degrees Celsius of warming locked inirrespective of future greenhouse gas mitigation effort. Make no mistake: we need to be prepared for a physically transformed Artic region in our lifetime, however fast the ice melts.

White House Climate Inaction Fueled by Denialism 

Yet the current Administration has stepped backwards in the face of its own government’s best peer-reviewed science, the collective wisdom of the international scientific community, and the already-evident physical destruction wrought by climate change. Unfortunately, the United States is increasingly an international climate-outlier: it has already announced its intent to withdraw from the near universally-ratified Paris Climate Agreement (that the last administration played a leading role in negotiating) and has failed to advance a meaningful domestic climate agenda. Indeed, it has effectively stepped away from the world’s climate leadership stage and has removed all mention of climate change from both the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy.

It wasn’t always this way. In 1991, then-President Bush assessed that climate change “respects no international boundaries” and contributes to political conflict in his 1991 National Security Strategy.  Climate change has been consistently mentioned in national security policy guidance since then.  Recently, the White House took the remarkable step of proposing the creation of a closed-door task force to determine the validity of the National Climate Assessment’s national security discussion.

But outside the executive branch — if you look closely enough — the climate landscape is shifting. If our political will can align with our scientific understanding, then a solution to the “super-wicked” climate security problem may just be possible. Consider the following three areas that provide hope in our fight against climate change.

  • The Intelligence Community and Military Strike Back

The intelligence and national security communities have begun to speak up louder and actively engage with the world’s most authoritative climate science reports in their own threat assessments.  Earlier this year, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued a new, clear-eyed threat assessment report that highlighted climate change’s destabilizing effects. It stated that the “negative effects of environmental degradation and climate change will impact human security challenges, threaten public health, and lead to historic levels of human displacement.” Specifically, the ODNI report noted:

global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.  Climate hazards such as extreme weather, higher temperatures, droughts, floods, wildfires, storms, sea level rise, soil degradation, and acidifying oceans are intensifying, threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.

The intelligence community—composed of sober-minded, non-partisan professionals—brings enormous credibility and perspective when weighing the complex security threats facing the nation.

Further, congressional hearings on climate security continue to occur at a steady pace.  Just last week, General David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, cited the conflict in Syria as an example of how climate change’s impact is already destabilizing some nations. His remarks came two days after the commanders of U.S. European Command and U.S. Transportation Command voiced similar views before Congress.  The military has the responsibility to prepare for future threats, however defined—this includes climate change.

  • Congress Awakens

Congress, too, has slowly awoken from its climate slumber, including provisions in the yearly National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that address climate adaptation efforts within DoD. It recently required that DoD report on military installations especially vulnerable to climate change. While the details of the DoD report fell shortof expectations, it signaled congressional willingness to actively engage on this issue.  Congress also addressed climate adaptation efforts, recently placing restrictions on military construction in the riskiest floodplain areas.

Earlier this week, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel (former Senators and Secretaries of State and Defense, respectively) testified in front of the House Oversight Committee on the national security implications of climate change. We should look for more action in the climate security space as Congress holds hearings on climate change’s national security impacts and looks to include provisions in the annual DoD budget bill.

Finally, the Green New Deal – though it may not be on a fast track to becoming law – does not shy away from climate change’s security implications, explicitly stating that climate change:

constitutes a direct threat to the national security of the United States . . .by impacting the economic, environmental, and social stability of countries and communities around the world and by acting as a threat multiplier.

While Congress has yet to pass comprehensive legislation that would require the United States to meet the emission reduction goals the last administration set in joining the Paris Agreement — and the Obama-era Clean Power Plan was halted by the Supreme Court — the groundwork may be in the process of being laid for such action in the national security arena.

  • Innovative Legal Solutions to Combat Climate Change

As a general matter, most of our domestic law environmental statutes suspendenvironmental protections for reasons of national security. For example, the Clean Air Act—the major environmental statute governing EPA regulation of carbon dioxide and other Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions—authorizes the President to suspend regulation of stationary sources (such as coal-fired power plants) if it is in the “paramount interest of the United States” to do so.

But what if climate change is the underlying emergency and we needed greater authorities to decrease GHG emissions?

While there is no “break glass in case of climate emergency” statute, Congress has delegated broad powers to the President possesses in the 1976 National Emergencies Act. In the aftermath of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a border wall, commentators have begun to speculate that future Presidents could use similar legal authorities to declare climate change a national emergency. The term “emergency” is undefined in law. Moreover, there should be little debate that as a scientific matter, climate change does present an extraordinary threat to the security of the United States. There are certain authorities that could potentially be actuatedpursuant to a “climate emergency” declaration, from reducing oil drilling to restricting car emissions to investing in climate adaptation measures. While I do not argue for this approach at this time, we must begin to think innovatively about all the legal authorities available.

Internationally, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has shown a renewed willingness to discuss climate change’s multifaceted impacts on peace and security.  Under Article 39 of the UN Charter, the UNSC has special authorities to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, [or] breach of the peace.” While the UNSC has not (yet) formally declared climate change a threat to international peace and security — thereby actuating legal authorities under Chapter VI and VII — scholars have begun to assess the implications of doing so.

David Wallace-Wells, in his recent book the Uninhabitable Earth, foreshadows a world where tens of millions of climate refugees flee drought, food insecurity, and extreme weather. Yet these “climate refugees” lack legal protections, including under the 1951 Refugee Convention. How should international law account for and safeguard future refugees fleeing from the disruptive effects of climate change? And if you are a citizen of a small island developing state that may not be habitable due to climate change, what is a more pressing issue facing you?  The Security Council may yet need to step in to resolve some of these vexing questions.

Looking Ahead

Let me be clear: we need domestic climate legislation, re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement, and massive governmental investment in renewable energy technology before we actuate these innovative climate legal solutions. However, there is some good news:  we have made enormous strides in clean energy technology in recent years and climate denialism and inaction policy have helped energize the electorate. The technology is there; but the political will among our current leaders is not.

And in a twist of fate, the United States cannot formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement until November 4, 2020—one day after the next Presidential election.  Whether climate change is on the ballot as a core issue in 2020 still remains to be seen.  But the electoral landscape, too, may be changing.  Governor Inslee of Washington is seeking the Democratic nomination based upon a climate change platform and Mayor Pete Buttigeig spoke at length about the climate security challenge in his announcement for his Presidential bid on Sunday, explicitly stating“let’s pick our heads up to face what might be the great security issue of our time, climate change and disruption.”

As I have argued before, climate change cannot be wished away and we are already paying a “do nothing” climate tax on our economy and environment. Indeed, if “we are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it” we must meet the climate century head on. It’s time to get moving on climate action. If not now, when?

Comedian Trevor Noah slammed as ‘racist’ for India-Pakistan joke

Trevor Noah, the host of “The Daily Show,” raised eyebrows after he joked that a war between Pakistan and India would “probably be the most entertaining” of all time, saying that Indian soldiers would enter battle dancing Bollywood style.

“It would be the longest war of all time,” he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “Another dance number?”

Swara Bhasker, an Indian actress, called Noah’s comments “ignorant and racist.” She reportedly said, “Ur set smacks of essentialism & a patronizing generalization.” Another Indian comedian wrote, “If you’re going to be a racist comic than at least get the comic bit right.”

Most of the comments were posted on Twitter. Noah responded to one, “I am sorry that this hurt you and others, that’s not what I was trying to do.”

At least eight civilians and two soldiers have been killed in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir since tensions soared following India’s airstrike last Tuesday inside Pakistan. India said the strike targeted militants behind a Feb. 14 suicide bombing in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed more than 40 Indian troops.

Pakistan retaliated, shooting down a fighter jet on Wednesday and detaining its pilot, who was returned to India on Friday. India, in turn, on Saturday handed over the body of a Pakistani civilian prisoner beaten to death by inmates in a jail in India last week. The man, Skahir Ullah, was buried Sunday in his home village of Sialkot in Punjab province.

Noah said he used comedy to “process pain and discomfort.”

Stand-off in Kashmir: ‘Our last hope is that a war will sort this once and for all’

As tensions grow, some say a decisive India-Pakistan conflict might be better than a status quo that satisfies no one

A Kashmiri Muslim woman walks looks on as Indian government forces stand guard
 A Kashmiri Muslim woman looks on as Indian government forces stand guard after clashes with separatist protesters. Photograph: Yawar Nazir/Getty Images

The sonorous pre-dawn call to prayer mingled with the roar of warplanes last week in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir. Less than 100 miles from the Himalayan city, two nuclear-equipped armies were fighting duels in the sky.

It was a week of milestones in the abysmal relationship between the subcontinent’s two biggest powers: the first time India bombed Pakistani territory in five decades; the first publicly acknowledged dogfight between their jets in as many years; and the closest the pair have come to war so far this century.

No city bears the brunt of the tensions between the two more than Srinagar, a city whose Mughal architecture, tranquil lakes and mountain surroundings are the scenic backdrop for regular gunfights, bombings and violent protests. Last week red crosses were painted on the roofs of hospitals in the city – marking them out as medical facilities from the sky – and stocks of food, water and fuel dwindled as the prospect of a fourth war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir suddenly appeared real.

Pakistan’s return of a captured Indian pilot on Friday night was the first sign of de-escalation and a possible return to a fragile status quo. That is precisely what some Kashmiris say that they fear. “When they fly, I pray something happens now,” says Mohammad Ashraf Wani of the jets that woke him every night last week. “Our last hope is that war will solve this once and for all.”

Kashmir was a semi-independent princely state until the British left India in 1947. Under invasion from Pakistan, Kashmir’s Hindu monarch opted to be absorbed into India. An ensuing war cleaved Kashmir into parts, one controlled by India and the other by Pakistan. (A third section in the east is ruled by China.)

India’s union with Kashmir, its only Muslim-majority region, has always been unstable. In 1989 it turned toxic with the eruption of a full-blown militancy fuelled by money and fighters from across the heavily militarised border with Pakistan.

The insurgency has grown again in the past five years, this time with a difference. Its ranks have been swelled by young Kashmiris, who disappear from their colleges or homes and surface again clutching rifles in videos widely circulated on social media. India’s government has responded with force: more militants were killed last year than any year in the previous decade.

Such announcements are celebrated in Delhi, but brew alienation and anger among Kashmiris. Civilians have started running to the sites of armed clashes, putting their bodies on the line to help insurgents escape.

Wani, 28, is part of a generation of Kashmiris who have grown up during the insurgency. In 2016 he was blinded by pellets fired by Indian security personnel trying to put down popular protests against Delhi’s rule.

If India and Pakistan were to fight another war over Kashmir, it would make no difference to his life, he says. “We have been seeing war every day. We have never seen peace.”

A bitter winter in Srinagar had just started to ease when the latest crisis was sparked on 14 February. That afternoon a local member of a Pakistan-based militant group rammed a car laden with explosives into a bus carrying Indian paramilitaries. The explosion was heard for miles around. At least 40 people were killed, the highest death toll from a single attack in the history of the insurgency.

India promised retribution; in Srinagar, police and doctors’ leave was cancelled, health departments were ordered to stockpile medicine and 100 extra companies of paramilitary forces were shuttled to the region.

After hundreds of separatist and religious leaders were rounded up and jailed by police, businesses across the city shut in protest, leaving Srinagar’s streets and markets deserted. “People just do nothing at home,” says Arshad Ahmad, who lives in the restive southern district of Shopian, which frequently shuts down in solidarity when militants are killed by security forces. “We sit at home, meet friends, visit relatives, and just discuss politics and the situation.”

Economic life in the region, which is frequently interrupted, has virtually ground to a halt, said the manager of an insurance company. “People hold money back and focus on the essentials,” he says. “They don’t feel fear so much as an anxiety over what will happen next.”

Kashmir is landlocked, and supplies of food and petrol were already running short after landslides and snow closed the only highway into the region. The prospect of war prompted panic buying. Supermarket shelves emptied of staple foods and there were long queues for fuel.

Dal Lake in Srinagar, India
 Dal Lake, in the north-east of Srinagar, is one of the troubled region’s most beautiful. Photograph: Duy Phuong Nguyen/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy

“When all these things were happening and we saw convoys of artillery moving, we felt something was going to happen,” said Obaid Qadir, a state employee. “Immediately we made sure to purchase gas, rice, cooking oil and spices. We got stocks to last for at least two months.”

Heavy mortar fire across the line of control, a regular occurrence along a de facto border Bill Clinton once called “the most dangerous place in the world”, disrupted an unlikely trade route.

Since 2007 merchants on both sides of divided Kashmir have exchanged goods in a barter system intended to build confidence between the countries. “The trade remained shut because of the shelling,” said Hilal Turki, the president of the union for cross-border traders. The 140 trucks that ply the route have been dormant, parked at a trading point near the ceasefire line, for more than two weeks.

Traffic could resume again soon and, with the threat of war averted, Kashmir will disappear from the world’s attention. But resentment among those who live there will continue to grow, planting the seeds for the next crisis, says Noor Ahmad Baba, a retired professor of political science at the Central University of Kashmir.

“This muscular policy under [Indian prime minister] Narendra Modi has created mistrust and it has created more problems,” Baba says.

Significantly, it was a local man, Adil Ahmad Dar, who carried out the 14 February attack on the Indian convoy. It is estimated that more than 250 like him are hiding in the hills around Srinagar or in safe houses scattered throughout the region.

Heavy firing over the border continued throughout this weekend. The stalemate between Delhi and Islamabad proves only what Kashmiris already know, says Madhosh Balhami, a poet whose home – containing his life’s work – was destroyed during a gunfight between militants and police last year.

“Kashmir cannot be a military issue,” he says. “Both these countries are not learning any lessons.”

In the same breath, he adds that he, too, would welcome a war. “Better than the last 30 years is to have a seven-day war and finish this issue for once and all,” he says.

Pakistan says it will free Indian pilot, but warns India not to “take this any further”
New Delhi — Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan announced Thursday that his country would release a captured Indian fighter pilot on Friday “as a peace gesture.” It was a major sign that the tension between the nuclear-armed Asian neighbors was easing at the end of a tense week that saw both carry out airstrikes and exchange fire across their disputed border.

Addressing the Pakistani Parliament, Khan also said he was ready to hold a phone conversation with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.

“I want to say it to India today: Don’t take this any further, Pakistan will be forced to retaliate,” Khan said. “I hope the international community will play its part to ensure the situation does not escalate beyond this.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t immediately respond to Khan’s remarks, or comment on Pakistan saying Khan had tried to reach out to him over the phone on Wednesday.

Indian fighter pilot Abhinandan Varthaman remained Thursday in the custody of the Pakistani Army. His jet was shot down by Pakistan’s Air Force during a dogfight along the border in the region of Kashmir, which is split roughly in half. India controls one side and Pakistan the other, but both nations insist they rightfully own the full territory.

The dogfight took place on Wednesday as Pakistan carried out airstrikes on Indian territory in retaliation for Indian strikes the previous day, which struck deep inside Pakistani territory. Both nations denied that any damage had been inflicted by their adversaries’ strikes.

India on Wednesday demanded the “safe” and “immediate” release of the pilot and “objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display” of the injured air force officer after videos emerged on social media of him being beaten by civilians during his capture and later interrogated.

The signs of détente came hours after U.S. President Donald Trump, near the end of his summit in Vietnam with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said that he expected “reasonably attractive news” from the region.

Mr. Trump said the U.S. had been involved, “trying to help them both out” to “see if we can get some organization and some peace.”

The long-simmering tension between India and Pakistan spiked sharply on February 14, when more than 40 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Indian controlled Kashmir by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Muhammad.

People chant slogans as they burn an effigy depicting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after Pakistan shot down two Indian military aircrafts, according to Pakistani officials, in Peshawar
Pakistani demonstrators chant slogans and burn an effigy depicting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Peshawar, Pakistan, Feb. 28, 2019, as tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors mounted.REUTERS

India accuses Pakistan of supporting the group, or at least allowing it to operate on its territory and carry out attacks on Indian forces. Pakistan rejects that, insisting it combats all terrorist organizations.

Speaking earlier on Thursday, Modi spoke in strong words against Pakistan, urging his nation to “stand like a wall” against an enemy he said “supports terror.”

“India will fight as one, India will win as one,” Modi said.

U.S. General Considered Nuclear Response in Vietnam War, Cables Show

President Johnson with Gen. William Westmoreland in South Vietnam in 1967.CreditCreditYoichi Okamoto/Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library

WASHINGTON — In one of the darkest moments of the Vietnam War, the top American military commander in Saigon activated a plan in 1968 to move nuclear weapons to South Vietnam until he was overruled by President Lyndon B. Johnson, according to recently declassified documents cited in a new history of wartime presidential decisions.

The documents reveal a long-secret set of preparations by the commander, Gen. William C. Westmoreland, to have nuclear weapons at hand should American forces find themselves on the brink of defeat at Khe Sanh, one of the fiercest battles of the war.

With the approval of the American commander in the Pacific, General Westmoreland had put together a secret operation, code-named Fracture Jaw, that included moving nuclear weapons into South Vietnam so that they could be used on short notice against North Vietnamese troops.

Johnson’s national security adviser, Walt W. Rostow, alerted the president in a memorandum on White House stationery.

The president rejected the plan, and ordered a turnaround, according to Tom Johnson, then a young special assistant to the president and note-taker at the meetings on the issue, which were held in the family dining room on the second floor of the White House.
The White House national security adviser, Walt W. Rostow, alerted President Lyndon B. Johnson of plans to move nuclear weapons into South Vietnam on the same day that Gen. William C. Westmoreland had told the American commander in the Pacific that he approved the operation.

“When he learned that the planning had been set in motion, he was extraordinarily upset and forcefully sent word through Rostow, and I think directly to Westmoreland, to shut it down,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview.

He said the president’s fear was “a wider war” in which the Chinese would enter the fray, as they had in Korea in 1950.

“Johnson never fully trusted his generals,” said Mr. Johnson, who is of no relation to the president. “He had great admiration for General Westmoreland, but he didn’t want his generals to run the war.”

Had the weapons been used, it would have added to the horrors of one of the most tumultuous and violent years in modern American history. Johnson announced weeks later that he would not run for re-election. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated shortly thereafter.

The story of how close the United States came to reaching for nuclear weapons in Vietnam, 23 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender, is contained in “Presidents of War,” a coming book by Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian.

“Johnson certainly made serious mistakes in waging the Vietnam War,” said Mr. Beschloss, who found the documents during his research for the book. “But we have to thank him for making sure that there was no chance in early 1968 of that tragic conflict going nuclear.”

The new documents — some of which were quietly declassified two years ago — suggest it was moving in that direction.

With the Khe Sanh battle on the horizon, Johnson pressed his commanders to make sure the United States did not suffer an embarrassing defeat — one that would have proved to be a political disaster and a personal humiliation.

The North Vietnamese forces were using everything they had against two regiments of United States Marines and a comparatively small number of South Vietnamese troops.

While publicly expressing confidence in the outcome of the battle at Khe Sanh, General Westmoreland was also privately organizing a group to meet in Okinawa to plan how to move nuclear weapons into the South — and how they might be used against the North Vietnamese forces.

“Oplan Fracture Jaw has been approved by me,” General Westmoreland wrote to Adm. Ulysses S. Grant Sharp Jr., the American commander in the Pacific, on Feb. 10, 1968. (The admiral was named for the Civil War general and president, who was married to an ancestor.)


The planned operation “Fracture Jaw” to move nuclear weapons into South Vietnam was to be set in motion under this Feb. 10, 1968, notice by Gen. Willam C. Westmoreland, commander of American forces in Vietnam.

The plan did not last long.

That day, Mr. Rostow sent an “eyes only” memorandum to the president, his second in a week warning of the impending plan.

Two days later, Admiral Sharp sent an order to “discontinue all planning for Fracture Jaw” and to place all the planning material, “including messages and correspondence relating thereto, under positive security.”


“Discontinue all planning for Fracture Jaw,” the commander for American operations in the Pacific, Adm. Ulysses S. Grant Sharp Jr., ordered in a terse cable dated Feb. 12, 1968. “Security of this action and prior actions must be air tight.”

The incident has echoes for modern times. It was only 14 months ago that President Trump was threatening the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea — which, unlike North Vietnam at the time, possesses its own small nuclear arsenal.

There have been other moments when presidents had to consider, or bluff about, using atomic weapons. The most famous was the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the closest that the United States and the Soviet Union came to nuclear conflict.

And before he was dismissed in 1951 by President Harry S. Truman, Gen. Douglas MacArthur explored with his superiors the use of nuclear weapons in the Korean War. Truman had feared that MacArthur’s aggressive strategy would set off a larger war with China, but at one point did move atomic warheads to bases in the Pacific, though not to Korea itself.

But the case of Khe Sanh was different, the documents show.

“In Korea, MacArthur did not make a direct appeal to move nuclear weapons into the theater almost immediately,” when it appeared that South Korea might fall to the North’s invasion in 1950, Mr. Beschloss said. “But in Vietnam, Westmoreland was pressuring the president to do exactly that.”

The seriousness of that discussion was revealed in a lengthy cable about the Khe Sanh battle that General Westmoreland sent to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Earle Wheeler, on Feb. 3, 1968.


President Lyndon B. Johnson with, from left, Gen. Earle Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Westmoreland; and Robert S. McNamara, the defense secretary, in 1967.CreditAssociated Press

“Should the situation in the DMZ area change dramatically, we should be prepared to introduce weapons of greater effectiveness against massed forces,” General Westmoreland wrote in a cable that was declassified in 2014 but did not come to light until Mr. Beschloss cited it in his forthcoming book.

“Under such circumstances, I visualize that either tactical nuclear weapons or chemical agents would be active candidates for employment.”

Within four days, Admiral Sharp, the Pacific commander, wrote that he had “been briefed on the contingency plan for the employement of tactical nuclear weapons in the Khe Sanh/DMZ area which was drafted by members of our respective staffs last week in Okinawa.’’

He declared it “conceptually sound” with some minor alterations, and asked for a full plan to be forwarded to him “on an expedited basis so that the necessary supporting plans can be drawn up.”

Three days later, General Westmoreland wrote back that he had approved the plan. At the White House, Mr. Rostow noted to the president: “There are no nuclear weapons in South Vietnam. Presidential authority would be required to put them there.”

That notification led to the president’s angry eruption, and within days Admiral Sharp, once so eager to develop the plans, ordered a shutdown.

“Discontinue all planning for Fracture Jaw,” he commanded in a Feb. 12, 1968, cable to General Westmoreland, with copies to the Joint Chiefs. “Debrief all personnel with access to this planning project that there can be no disclosure of the content of the plan or knowledge that such planning was either underway or suspended.”

None of this was known to the American Marines and other soldiers who were being shelled at Khe Sanh.

“I don’t remember any discussion of atomic weapons on the ground at Khe Sanh,” Lewis M. Simons, then an Associated Press reporter on the ground with the troops, and later a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who worked at The Washington Post and Knight Ridder newspapers.

Mr. Beschloss’s book, which will be published on Tuesday by Crown, examines challenges facing presidents from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush. It also reveals that at the same time the nuclear debate was underway, senators were outraged to discover that the president and his aides had misled them about progress in the Vietnam War.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright, Democrat of Arkansas, told his fellow senators that “we were just plain lied to,” and that the lying meant that the United States had lost “a form of democracy,” according to transcripts obtained by Mr. Beschloss, who is a frequent contributor to The New York Times.

There was even discussion of the possibility of impeaching the president for those lies. That discussion was terminated by Johnson’s decision, announced later that spring, not to seek re-election.

Conflict and climate change lead to a rise in global hunger

October 4, 2017 by Evan Fraser, The Conversation
Conflict and climate change lead to a rise in global hunger
122 million of 155 million stunted children live in conflict countries. Credit: Piyaset/

Last year about 11 per cent of the total human population (approximately 850 million people on the planet) suffered from daily hunger, according to a recent United Nations report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world.

This is a tragedy no matter how you look at it. The numbers show a 4.5 per cent increase—or 38 million more hungry people —from the previous year. This rise in hunger is especially significant because it is the first rise in global hunger we have seen in more than a decade.

Though global hunger was at 14 per cent of the world’s population in 2005, each year since then, between 2005 and 2016, the number of hungry people on the planet dropped. Development officials were cautiously optimistic that we were on our way to eradicating hunger.

Conflict and  are the culprits behind this year’s rise in numbers.

According to the United Nations,  worsened across major parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Western Asia. For instance, South Sudan is mired in conflict and experienced a major famine earlier this year.

Bad weather can lead to conflict

If you overlay a map of the world’s conflicts with a map of the world’s worst  security problems, there is a clear connection. The UN notes 20 million people are at risk of dying of hunger not only in South Sudan but also Somalia, Yemen and the northeast tip of Nigeria. All of these areas are affected by conflicts that undermine people’s ability to feed themselves.

Similarly, deteriorating  have ravaged many of these areas. The UN report notes that Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Yemen all experienced bad floods in 2016 while Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan and Syria all suffered bad droughts.

What we are probably witnessing is an interaction between deteriorating environmental conditions that help exacerbate already existing social tensions and undermine the livelihoods of millions.

We’ve been here before; history shows us that there are often links between  and .

For instance, there is a complex but well-established connection between droughts and the start of the Syrian Civil War. It seems that faltering rainfall in the early 2000s upended Syria’s rural communities and brought people into cities where they began protesting political corruption in the Assad government.

Similarly, there is a link between droughts and the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s. And if we look further back in time, it is well-recognized by historians that the French Revolution began as protests over food prices after harvest failures sent waves of penniless refugees into the streets of Paris.

Possible solution: drought-tolerant crops

Luckily, there are potential solutions—even right here in Canada. For example, at the University of Guelph we are breeding more drought-tolerant varieties of our important crops. We can promote agricultural practices that build up the soil’s organic matter. The extra organic matter acts like a sponge by trapping rainfall and holding onto it for when it is needed.

In addition, we can support international development projects focusing in particular on female-headed households, to help small-scale farmers access markets and become more efficient. Focusing on women is critical because in Africa, as much as 80 per cent of food is produced by small farmers who are mostly rural women.

For years, academics and activists have been trying to raise alarm bells that population growth and climate change will make it increasingly hard to maintain food security over the next generation, and that conflict is almost inevitable as a result.

But until this year, there didn’t seem to be much data, outside of historic antecedents, to confirm these worries. With hunger decreasing every year, what was the big deal? But the uptick in  signalled in this most recent UN report should focus our attention.

In the future, will we remember 2017 as the year when we started to lose the battle to ensure the future is well fed? Or will we heed this warning and take the actions necessary to help communities everywhere build more resilient food systems?

 Explore further: Climate change aggravates global hunger: UN

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