October 21, 2015

GLOBAL IMPACT | Global Warming and War

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For as long as I can remember, in my history classes we always focused on a few primary causes for war:

  1. Religion
  2. Hunger
  3. Repression
  4. Gain

As far as I know, these factors have been the impetus of most wars for the past few thousand years. However I now believe that global warming, as the Syrian Civil War has shown, is another important factor in the starting of wars.

Despite the heated debates that pop up every election season in the U.S., global climate change is, generally speaking, considered a real threat throughout the rest of the world. In fact, many nations are already beginning to see its impacts in consequences from warmer months to harsher winters. But nowhere has the punishment of climate change been harsher than in Syria. For three years Syria experienced a heavy drought. The already poor farming systems led many farmers to rely on well-water to keep their farms going and eventually the groundwater reserves ran out. While their water ran out, Syria was also forced to take in thousands of refugees from the war in Iraq. Due to government ineptitude, these refugees ended up becoming a massive drain on Syria’s already rapidly depleting resources. The drought combined with the influx of refugees had by the time of the Arab Spring left many Syrians not only poor, but also hungry. This powerful combination exacerbated the already deep tension against the Assad regime and caused the riots which eventually led to the Syrian Civil War.

Scientists now agree that the drought was most likely caused by climate change. Then while there were already other factors leading up to the Syrian Civil War such as cause number three (repression) or four (personal gain) from my list, climate change led ultimately to hunger and exacerbated the other two causes. So climate change can be not only a factor in the proliferation of war, but also an enhancer of current problems. In fact, as a paper by Dr. McCormick of Harvard University suggests, climate change has been a major factor in geopolitical change since as early as the Roman Empire.

But why don’t we have these problems here at home? After all, this past year we all read a lot about the droughts in California and the wildfires along the West Coast. However, these droughts, arguably the worst since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, will lead to a 150 billion dollar loss for the U.S. GDP and likely stop there. Businesses will suffer and people will be inevitably annoyed, but day to day life will go on. This happens because our government, despite all the bashing people do on it, is remarkably well run and capable of handling situations like this by diverting its massive resources when needed. Unfortunately, every country isn’t as capable of coping this well.

I believe that as the current state of the Middle East and South Asia, in general, shows, a state will inevitably be a hotspot (no pun intended) for strife and probably cause negative externalities in its surrounding region when a government is incapable of providing for its people in the event of negative climate impact. This could mean an impact as small as stealing some water from a neighbor to as large as the global impact the influx of Syrian refugees is causing in Europe. Either way, I believe that it is important for us to start coming up with solutions to climate change before we start seeing Syria-like cases throughout the world.