Was the Syrian civil war partly caused by climate change? In an interview with Sky News on November 23, Britain’s Prince Charles made headlines when he informed listeners of a direct link between climate change and the ongoing civil war in Syria.
“There is very good evidence indeed that one of the major reasons for this horror in Syria was a drought that lasted for about five or six years,” he told Sky News, adding that climate change is having a “huge impact” on conflict and terrorism. Before him, United States President Barack Obama, Al Gore, and the democratic presidential hopefuls Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, had linked climate change to the Syrian conflict.
Have you ever wondered why most of the wars and conflicts between and with countries are now being linked to human-induced climate change or against the Earth? Does religion, politics or oil have nothing to do with wars?
Climate Change & Wars
The National Geographic Channel’s 2007 documentary Six Degrees Could Change the World, explained that at 2 degrees Celsius warmer, urban Bolivians will move into rural areas in search of water; at 4 degrees hotter, we are set to experience worldwide political upheaval, economic disaster, and armed conflict as heat-weary migrants seek climate refuge in places like Northern Europe and New Zealand.
A team of researchers in 2009 came to an alarming conclusion that almost 400,000 more people would die as a result of armed conflict in Africa by 2030 if global warming continues.
Environmental shifts were already causing wars, argued a team of experts in Nature published in 2011. The authors explained that events like droughts put strain on food and water resources, which can cause conflict. Natural disasters can also cause disease, famine, and economic distress, which may create tensions between factions.
In 2013, Stanford researchers Sol Hsiang and Marshall Burke conducted a Meta analysis of 50 studies on conflict and climate change and found that higher temperatures and extreme precipitation tend to correlate with greater incidence of conflict.
“Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty and conflict,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement announcing the US defense department’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap.
The ‘Science’ Behind Global Warming And War
BUT there is something beneath global warming that nobody is paying any attention to. What looks like religious and economic violence has a strong ecological cause.
In 2011, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had warned that climate change posed as much of a danger to the world as war and therefore urged the US – the world’s biggest producer of greenhouse gases – to take the lead in fighting global warming. He was right in warning but he was wrong in urging.
What’s behind climate change? Industrial agriculture, a fossil fuel-based system that contributes more than 40% of the greenhouse gases; along with the globalised food system, industrial agriculture is to be blamed for at least 50% of the global warming.
How does Industrial agriculture contribute to global warming? Today’s industrial-scale farms would not be possible without synthetic nitrogen fertilizers – a high-temperature, energy-intensive process to synthesize plant-available nitrate from air. Manufacturing one kg of nitrogen fertilizer requires the energy equivalent to two liters of diesel. Energy used during fertilizer manufacture was equivalent to 191 billion liters of diesel in 2000 and is projected to rise to 277 billion in 2030.
Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are based on fossil fuels – therefore contribute to climate change –AND use the same chemical processes used to make explosives and ammunition – therefore provide impetus to wage war.
Dr. Vandana Shiva, environmental activist and former adviser to governments in India, says, “There is a deep and intimate connection between the November 13 Paris attacks and the ecological devastation unleashed by the fossil fuel era of human history. The same processes that contribute to climate change also contribute towards growing violence amongst people. Both are results of a war against the Earth.”
“Industrial agriculture’s reliance on plentiful synthetic nitrogen brings with it a whole bevy of environmental liabilities: excess nitrogen that seeps into streams and eventually into the Mississippi River, feeding a massive annual algae bloom that blots out sea life; emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon; and the destruction of organic matter in soil,” wrote Tom Philpott for Mother Jones.
He also noted that the US fertilizer industry increasingly relies on cheap natural gas extracted by hydro fracturing, or fracking—the controversial process of extracting gas from rock formations by bombarding them with water spiked with toxic chemicals.
“To make matter worse, ecologically non-sustainable models of agriculture, dependent on fossil fuels, have been imposed through “aid” and “development” projects in the name of Green Revolution. As soil and water are destroyed, ecosystems that produced food and supported livelihoods can no longer sustain societies. As a result, there’s anger, discontent, frustration, protests and conflicts,” adds Shiva.
There’s no doubt that climate change can, on some occasions, be linked to violence and warfare. Yet, land, water and agriculture-related conflicts — induced by non-sustainable farming systems — are repeatedly and deliberately mutated into religious conflicts to protect the militarized agriculture model.
Nigeria is one of the places in the world where wars with religious overtones are being waged. It is largely a Christian/Muslim conflict – with an underlying ecological basis. Northern Nigeria is close to the Sahara and has been the traditional home of herders, largely Muslim. Southern Nigeria is largely Christian, and farmers. As the climate has heated up, grasslands for the Muslim-owned herds are disappearing, and they are taking their animals into southern farmlands, igniting violent clashes. So what looks like religious violence has a strong ecological cause.
Lake Chad, which supported 30 million people in four countries, shrank as much as 95% from about 1963 to 1998; 50% of the disappearance of Lake Chad is attributed to the building of dams and intensive irrigation for industrial agriculture. The changes in the lake contributed to local lack of water, crop failures, livestock deaths, collapsed fisheries, soil salinity, and increasing poverty throughout the region. As the water disappeared, conflicts between Muslim pastoralists and settled Christian farmers over the dwindling water resources led to unrest.
Syria has borne the brunt of the worst drought in the country’s recorded history. For five years, from 2006 to 2011, the drought destroyed the agricultural base of the economy, pushed up food prices, increased levels of poverty, and caused mass migration to cities. When protests against government inaction erupted, the paranoid Assad regime responded with violence and suppression. In no time, civil unrest turned into an armed rebellion, thereafter a Shia-Sunni (two main divisions of Islam) conflict and now a proxy war. Today, half of Syria is in refugee camps, the war is escalating and the root causes of the violence continue to be actively disguised as religion.
Religion & Wars
The wars of the ancient world were rarely, if ever, based on religion. Most modern wars, including the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russia Revolution, World War II, and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, were not religious in nature or cause. But this is not to say that religion is not a cause of conflict. People have and continue to commit horrendous acts based on religious fanaticism. But those, who believe that violence is the will of God and that the murder of innocents is a holy act are a small, are insane minority. Human desire for power, conformance, and control – is not religion.
Criticism & Conclusion
A team of research ecologists based mostly at Colorado State University has challenged the suggestion that higher temperatures increase the risk of civil war in Africa. They argue that attributing such causal powers to climate “oversimplifies systems affected by many geopolitical and social factors”. Halvard Buhaug, a political scientist at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, also has serious reservations about climatic supremacism. “Climate variability is a poor predictor of armed conflict,” he observes.
Of course, the weather shifts can’t be the only reason for a conflict. “But if you have social inequality, people are poor, and there are underlying tensions, it seems possible that climate can deliver the knockout punch,” concludes the researchers at Earth Institute at Columbia University.
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