Does global warming cause climate change
Syrian workers living in Jordan work on a tomato farm in Shouneh. Varying degrees of drought are hitting almost two thirds of the limited arable land across Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, and some researchers say it’s contributing to conflict. Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
Humans have fought over resources for millennia, so recent studies indicating a link between severe drought and the civil war in Syria shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. That said, some researchers warn we might be jumping to conclusions too quickly.
Any attempt by scholars over the past several years to link climate change with conflict has been hotly contested, and not just by climate deniers. Many respected conflict researchers believe that climate change is happening, that humans are contributing to it, and that it’s a big problem, but that focusing on it as a cause of war may be wrongheaded.
The problem is both scientific and social. “If you want to show that climate change has contributed to an increase in civil violence, then you need to control for other factors, ” explains Andrew Solow, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts. “This is a fundamental scientific principle. But it is difficult to do.”
Half a dozen or so researchers have attempted to do this, and a few have come close. In 2013, Stanford researchers Sol Hsiang and Marshall Burke, for example, 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.
I sometimes have the feeling that some people only care about human suffering if it can be traced to climate change.Andrew Solow
But dig into any particular case and the connection is less clear-cut. “The factors influencing civil violence can be quite complicated and vary in complicated ways from situation to situation, ” Solow says. “It’s like what [Tolstoy] said about unhappy families: they are all unhappy in different ways.”
In many cases, the researchers themselves are appropriately cautious when making any claims about the connection between climate and conflict. In a statement that accompanied Hsiang and Burke’s study, for example, Hsiang wrote: “There’s no conflict that we think should be wholly attributed to some specific climatic event. Every conflict has roots in interpersonal and intergroup relations. What we’re trying to point out is that climate is one of the critical factors [that] affect how things escalate, and if they escalate to the point of violence.”
What is climate change? Incompatibility between the definitions used by science and policy organizations is an obstacle to effective action.: An article from: Issues in Science and Technology
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