Jeff Nesbit, author of This is the Way the World Ends, talks climate change, resource depletion, and how to talk to the climate change skeptic in your life.
Jeff Nesbit is the executive director of Climate Nexus and the author of the book This is the Way the World Ends. He discusses the impending effects of climate change, those that already exist in our world, and the "water wars" of the future.
Talk to us about resource depletion. What is one resource that is being affected by climate change, and what does this mean for civilization?
This Is the Way the World Ends takes a hard look at water scarcity, food insecurity, mass migration and other climate impacts happening right now all over the world. But why should we care about water scarcity in places far removed from us, like Yemen?
Beyond the obvious humanitarian concerns, environmental changes also threaten the geopolitical landscape due to conflicts over life-sustaining resources. Lack of water are already starting wars and causing mass migrations. Climate change is driving all of it. It’s long past time we recognize that it’s here, right now, and it’s causing immense pain, suffering and damage.
“Forget the global financial crisis, the world is running out of water,” U.S. embassy officials told the State Department in a 2009 cable. They’d just been briefed by Global 500 company Nestlé’s senior officials who pay close attention to political regime changes and environmental and ecological challenges. With a third of the world experiencing freshwater scarcity by 2025, and the situation “potentially catastrophic” by 2050, this changing “water economy” will wreak havoc on the way of life and livelihood of millions within a decade, the cable stated.
No one paid much attention to that internal briefing. It wasn’t breaking news about nuclear weapons or terrorists. But it was a harbinger of water wars.
Without water, no civil society is possible. People become desperate. As drought and starvation kill millions, those remaining either must migrate or fight over shrinking freshwater. Water scarcity and food insecurity can throw a country into civil war and destabilize an entire region, creating a breeding ground for worldwide terrorism.
Yemen—the poorest country in the Middle East—has few prospects for development, constant political crisis due to its brutal civil war, a continuous flow of refugees, high cost of living increases, lack of basic health and social services, chronic food shortages, and devastating poverty. But for all their political troubles, “the headlines do not reveal the part that water plays in this crisis,” The Guardian said. “13 million Yemenis—50% of the population—struggle daily to find or buy enough clean water to drink or grow food.” Each year, 14,000 Yemeni children under five die of nutrition and diarrhea.