When Life Gives You Yemens

What happens when Yemenis have had enough, as they did in 2011. It’s not about which son of Allah you follow, or whether you get to vote; it’s about food and water and fuel. Always. (Wikipedia Photo)

What happens when Yemenis have had enough, as they did in 2011. It’s not about which son of Allah you follow, or whether you get to vote; it’s about food and water and fuel. Always. (Wikipedia Photo)

When the nation of Yemen was put on a gurney and trundled down the hall from the global intensive-care unit to hospice, it was in pretty bad shape. The United States runs the ICU, of course, and has only two treatments to offer, whatever the symptoms presented: massive injections of cash, or invasion surgery. The outcomes are universally terrible, and have been since about 1950, but no one seems able to think of another approach. That may have something to do with the quality of diagnosis: a patient who is starving and dehydrated is unlikely to respond well to either a high-pressure currency infusion or a brain transplant.  

There is a global glut of glib explanations for the plight of Yemen and the nations with which it shares the hopeless ward: Venezuela, Libya, Bangladesh, Iraq, and the like. (Then there’s the waiting list: Brazil, Egypt, Afghanistan, Greece.) The pundits punt about sectarian strife between Shia and Sunni Muslims, or the struggle between the Yemeni government and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or the struggle for power among the Houthi Shia rebels and the Sunni government and the Sunni Al Qaeda (except, wait, the Houthi aren’t just Shia, they follow the Zaidi sect of Islam — never mind, Shia is close enough). Then there’s the “yearning for democracy” myth, which goes hand in hand with the “they hate us because of our freedoms” fallacy.

What has actually been happening in Yemen, and in just about every other disintegrating country in the world, is happening because their people are increasingly without food, water, energy and hope. And these conditions are the result primarily of two things: peak oil and climate change. We need to know this, because we, too, are about to be subjected to the ministrations of these evil twins, and understanding what they are doing to Yemen might give us an inkling of our own future.

Instead, we are on a diet of Yemenade. The US has “supported” Yemen, we are told endlessly, with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to a succession of brutal dictators who used the cash to pay and equip police forces and military units that ruthlessly maintained “stability” by repressing their own people. Abdullah Saleh was a faithful ally of our “war on terror,” but when popular rage unseated him in 2011, the US promptly branded him an incompetent stabilizer, and began firehosing cash to his equally brutal successor, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Who is now trying to govern from the southern seaport of Aden, having been run out of the capital city by the Houthis.

The United States has spent hundreds of millions — probably billions — of dollars supporting the government and striking at Al Qaeda in Yemen, whose accomplishments outside of Yemen, where we live, are two in number: the attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and the failed operation of the pathetic underwear bomber. They are credited with “inspiring” the inept Boston Marathon pressure-cooker bombers, and a deranged soldier who shot 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas. In the same sense, one supposes, you could explain Jeffrey Dahmer’s cannibalistic crimes by saying he was inspired by Julia Childs.

Time for a reality check. [Thanks to the one person — Nafeez Ahmed — writing in the Middle East Eye — on whom we can rely for consistently straight talk.]

  • The reason we are interested in Yemen is the same reason we are interested in the downtrodden and the underprivileged everywhere: they live where our oil is.
  • Yemen started to come apart in 2001 because that’s the year it experienced peak oil. It pumped 450,000 barrels a day back then, last year 100,000 barrels a day and in about two years — 0 barrels a day. Since oil was and is the country’s only significant source of income, this is a big problem. (So why are we still interested in them? Because their disintegration is endangering Saudi Arabia, who still has lots of our oil, that’s why.)
  • Things have gone from bad to worse as a result of climate change. Never a rainforest country — it’s Arabia, after all — Yemen used to be able to count on having about 37,000 gallons of clean water per person per year. As the aridity of the whole country has inexorably increased, the average amount of water per capita has dropped to 22,000 gallons a year. (That would keep a typical American household going for 73 days.)
  • As life in Yemen has become harder, it has become much more expensive. Oil income used to subsidize the cost of fuel and electricity to ordinary people. No more. As a result, the price of everything whose production requires energy or water — food, for example —  has skyrocketed. So has the unemployment rate, now at about 40% for all adults, 60% for young people.

Leaders who try to deal with problems such as these with tanks, tear gas and automatic weapons will soon find themselves experiencing the business ends of pitchforks. Countries that try to help them with cash, waterboards and drone strikes will soon find themselves up to their eyeballs in a quagmire. People who describe the agony of countries such as Yemen as having an Arab Spring, or indulging in a passion for freedom, will be given a special, long-term assignment in the Orwellian Language Department of Hell.

So, please. Don’t drink the Yemenade.


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6 Responses to When Life Gives You Yemens

  1. witsendnj says:

    The two sources identified – peak oil and climate change – are both thanks to overpopulation and overconsumption.

    I saw a video (not really all that great) but still, it helped me crystalize in my mind how people react when dealing with an overwhelming threat.

    While the right engages in out-and-out denialism, the mechanism of defense employed by the liberal left is “displacement”. In Freud’s diagnosis, it refers to:

    Redirecting an impulse away from the actual threat and directing it toward something safer or more comfortable.

    actual threat: basic human nature leading to overshoot, collapse and, eventually, extinction

    displaced threat: capitalism, determinism, atheism, the 1%, the military/industrial complex, CO2 emissions, chemtrails, etc…the list is endless.

    Displacement as a strategy is doomed to be ineffective because it doesn’t go to the source of the problem.


  2. Tom says:

    Oh, the intrigue! Before 2020, the U.S. will be in the same boat or worse (since we’re “larger”) than that of Yemen and the others you mentioned, Mr. Lewis, and it’ll all be due to what Gail said above, climate change and peak oil (also peak water, food, etc.). There’s no escaping the dilemma, the predicament we’ve gotten ourselves into with industrial civilization. Having taken that road to the “Bridge Out Ahead” sign that’s recently come into view and receded, we who have been paying attention know that we’re driving right off the cliff without even slowing down.

    Lots of people think it’s just going to keep getting gradually worse – like it has been for the past decade. It won’t last because climate change will make food production less and less possible with steadily decreasing yields and then we go into abrupt collapse . Our situation is too tenuous to even describe (but i’ll try) – the utter fragility of the system guarantees that it will be overwhelmed somewhere – economically, cyber threats, resource shortages, climate change, natural disasters, disease, environmental collapse – any one and all the other interacting factors are effected. Money will become worthless, violence will explode everywhere, law and order will evaporate like the phoney government that’s been switched out on us, and who knows how bad foreign policy will get (nuclear confrontation)? All shipping will stop, and water will become the most important commodity. Lack of medical care will cause pandemics and the dead will litter the landscape. It will be brutal, ugly and awful on a world-wide scale. Then the lights go out for good. Chaos.

    The reactors will all go Fuk and add to the already too much radiation levels and it’ll spread throughout the atmosphere. People who thought survival was within their grasp will finally realize how hopeless their plight is and will seek a quick death rather than starve or dehydrate, be attacked by animals or try to make it through one more day. One soon realizes that it’s NEVER going to get any better (as far as human time-scales are concerned)! Daily survival becomes a self-sustaining torture, and life will is inverted for humanity, who had it so good for such a “sweet” little while.

    Thanks for the failed state preview, Mr. Lewis.

    • colinc says:

      One soon realizes that it’s NEVER going to get any better (as far as human time-scales are concerned)!

      Today is the BEST day of the rest of our lives! It won’t/can’t get any better than this, heretofore known as progress! :)

  3. Michael says:

    Fascinating and insightful analysis, Mr. Lewis, proving once again that we are as people have always been. That is, in search of the basics for survival–food, safety, and shelter. Additionally, the earth has always handled sustainability in the same way. Too many people, for example, has been followed by such things as plagues and other conditions that tend to correct the problem.

    I will defer to the experts, but any doubt in my mind has always been in things like the timing of events and the level of severity. After all, there are always unexpected events and other unplanned things. There are, of course, those who will say, “What does it matter? The end result is the same.”

    That may be, but I believe it does matter because there is a big difference between Mother Nature and the laws of physics seeking (imposing) balance among things like population and resources and the total end of our way of life as we know it and just plain darkness where nothing really survives.

    The one thing for sure is that at some point down the road we are going to find out.

  4. gwb says:

    The Washington Post publishes a freebie tabloid called The Express, which is distributed at Metrorail stations in the D.C. area. Their Monday, Feb. 23 issue contained an article “Doomsday: What Are The Odds?” (p. 10):


    It summarizes a report by the Global Challenges Foundation, in which they identify a dozen threats to humanity, such as artificial intelligence, asteroid strike, global pandemic, etc., and assign numerical odds to each that range from 0-10 percent.

    The final three threats — ecological collapse (species going extinct at high rates), global systems collapse (the world’s economic and political systems facing risk due to their interconnectedness), and bad global governance (clueless leaders) — have been assigned odds of?? “Not available”… Probably not to alarm the public by how high the odds are — as in, they’re already happening…

    One of the threats they identify is extreme climate change, with odds of 0.01 percent occurring in the next 200 years — hmm, might be a bit higher than that, but let’s hope not —

    And no mention of peak oil — as usual, this is not on the radar screen of the system —

    • colinc says:

      One of the threats they identify is extreme climate change, with odds of 0.01 percent occurring in the next 200 years — hmm, might be a bit higher than that, but let’s hope not

      “Hope” is congruent with “expectation.” So, as I always say, “Expect in one hand, expectorate in the other and see which hand fills up first.”