Syria: the first climate change induced conflict with more to come.

28 October 2015 3:26 pm

While the world has been focusing on the geopolitics and sickening slaughter in Syria, it’s worth thinking back to the conflict’s origins. In 2006, before the first shots were fired, there was drought that set off the most severe crop failures since agricultural civilisations in that part of the world millennia ago.


As National Geographic tells us, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences compiled statistics showing that water shortages in the Fertile Crescent in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey killed livestock.

The lack of water drove up food prices, sickened children, and forced 1.5 million rural residents to the outskirts of Syria's jam-packed cities—just as that country was exploding with immigrants from the Iraq war.
After assessing the meteorological data, the researchers determined that natural variability alone was unlikely to account for the trends in wind, rain, and heat that led to the massive drought.

All these factors, they said, combined with high unemployment and bad government, helped tip Syria into violence.
Study co-author Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said what’s happened in Syria could be a sign of things to come.

"The entire world needs to be planning for a drier future in that area. And there will be lots of global implications," Seager said.

In other words, Syria is a case study for the kinds of conflicts that we’re likely to see more frequently as the Earth continues to warm.

Christine Parthemore, who spent five years at the Pentagon as a senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs before founding a consulting firm called CLP Global LLC told Joshua Holland at The Nation that Syria might be the first climate change conflict but it won’t be the last.

“We’re not in the world war era anymore, but people are fighting and dying and at war all over the world in ways that we don’t really consider warfare in the same way,’’ Parthemore said. “I’m really concerned about the effects on food supplies, and how that can lead to social unrest, the movement of people, people rioting and that sort of thing.”

“That not only threatens billions of dollars of infrastructure, but also leads to people moving or being forcibly relocated. And when things like that happen in countries with existing social cleavages–along ethnic or tribal lines–that’s where social tensions tend to get exacerbated by environmental effects in ways that can lead to armed conflict.”

So how much of a link is there between climate change and conflict? On one hand, it looks like a good argument, but on the other, I feel it might be better to focus first on drivers like abject poverty and corruption. They seem to be more powerful forces creating what we have seen today.

That said, climate change has to be a factor.

Global warming is what the Pentagon calls a threat multiplier.

In which case Syria would be a prime example of what to expect.