The Question Behind the Question

I dedicate this post to my role model and intellectual hero, Michael Brooks, 1983–2020.

Todd Daniel
5 min readJul 26, 2020

I have learned to take EVERYTHING I hear with a grain of salt. When someone tells you something or you read a report in the media, question it, research it, and give it some thought. Don’t ever just “drink the Kool-Aid” unless you’re sure that your drink doesn’t contain poison.

Also, like your car side mirror says, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” Or, better said, “objects are NOT as they appear.” Whenever there is a major issue in the news I encourage you to “ask the question behind the question” and examine root causes.

Okay, let me give a random example. The violence in Syria has dominated the news for months now. We are led to believe that the common people are trying to overthrow their tyrant leader, the monster known as Bashar al-Assad.

More confusion is added to the mix because we are told that Muslim extremists and Al-Qaeda may take over the country and make things even worse.

But what we’re not told is the following:

  • Global climate change is real, and is responsible for extreme drought conditions in parts of the world, including Syria.
  • The human population of Syria, just like other Middle Eastern nations, has skyrocketed.

What we are really seeing in Syria is a habitat collapse, followed by extreme social unrest. It is a precursor for things to come in other nations, including the United States.

And for the record, Al-Qaeda is an extremist, violent splinter group of Islam, which is trying to force order into chaos. If life was more tolerable and sustainable in the Middle East, and if young men had jobs, and if young women had opportunities, then I believe the influence of Al-Qaeda would be nominal.

Okay, let’s get back to the two bullet points above. The drought makes it impossible to successfully farm in the countryside. Desperate people move to the cities to find work. These cities are already burdened with Iraqi refugees. So, what you have is crowded, urban areas, with lots of young men who have no jobs and nothing to do. The government does little to help. What you have are the ingredients for a disaster.

The Syrian conflict is NOT a simple civil war. It is a fight for resources and survival.

By 2010, roughly one million Syrian farmers, herders and their families were forced off the land into already overpopulated and underserved cities. These climate refugees were crowded together with one million Iraqi war refugees. The Assad regime failed to effectively help any of them, so when the Arab awakenings erupted in Tunisia and Egypt, Syrian democrats followed suit and quickly found many willing recruits from all those dislocated by the drought.
- Thomas Friedman, NY Times

So, what are the answers to Syria’s crisis? The answers are the same as what I’ve been blogging about for years:

  • Universal access to contraceptives.
  • Complete social and legal parity between men and women.
  • Cease and desist burning fossil fuels into the atmosphere.

These are huge goals but we have to do them, or we will continue to see weaker states like Syria wobble out of orbit, crash and burn, and disintegrate.

In addition, we need to work with the Syrian people to teach them sustainable agriculture. We need to provide whatever infrastructure we can and educate them about surviving in drought-plagued environments.

In regards for the recent call of keeping the Assad monster in power because he is a better monster than the militant Islamists, I say HELL NO. We must always push for democracy, for without democracy there is not freedom. Freedom is one of the things I value most in life, and without freedom I don’t think you can ever achieve true sustainability. As a Sierra Club leader once said, “If it’s not fun it’s not sustainable.” And if someone has to live under the yoke of an evil, power-hungry tyrant, then that can NEVER be sustainable. So, to add to my bullet points above, we need to promote democratic reforms in Syria. While there are some bad groups on the rebel side, there are some good groups too, and these individuals need positive support.

Last May 9, The Times of Israel quoted Israeli geographer Arnon Soffer as observing that in the past 60 years, the population in the Middle East has twice doubled. “There is no example of this anywhere else on earth.”

And, finally, one more point. If the world’s more stable nations like the United States are constantly dealing with extreme weather events caused by climate change, like Superstorm Sandy, how can we ever help our less stable fellow humans in nations like Syria.

“In the future, who will help a country like Syria when it gets devastated by its next drought if we are in a world where everyone is dealing with something like a Superstorm Sandy,” which alone cost the U.S. $60 billion to clean up? asks Joe Romm, founder of

Right now Iran and Saudi Arabia are throwing money in Syria to create a nice little proxy war between the Sunni and Shiite/Alawite sects of Islam. But, as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman says, “All I can say is that you’re fighting for control of a potential human/ecological disaster zone. You need to be working together to rebuild Syria’s resiliency, and its commons, not destroying it. I know that in saying this I am shouting into a dust storm. But there is nothing else worth saying.”

Well, Mr. Friedman, you are sounding exactly like me. Maybe this is why I’m a huge fan of your columns and books. No one listens to me when I rattle off this crap, but maybe they’ll listen to you. I’m just a lowly blogger from a small suburban town in Georgia. What the heck would I know. I mean, really….

Photo credit: / Public Domain Mark 1.0

Originally published on my personal blog, We Live on a Planet, January 26, 2014.



Todd Daniel

Mother Earth screams, yet few people hear except for the poets and idealists. I write about my planetary home. Newsletter ver: