Climate Change and Political Instability

In a recent study by scientists from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the authors show not only that the drought that devastated parts of Syria from 2006 to 2010 was probably the result of climate change driven by human activities, but also that the drought may also have contributed to the outbreak of Syria’s uprising in 2011. Let’s recall that the ensuing civil war left at least 200,000 people dead, and has displaced millions of others.

The drought, which was the worst ever recorded in the region, ravaged agriculture in the northern Syria, driving dispossessed farmers to the cities where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created the unrest that exploded four years ago. In a recent lecture at Desert U, Thomas Friedman talked about the relationship between climate change and the violence in Syria and the growing awareness of a global connection between climate change and political instability. That connection is being taken seriously by two influential groups – insurers and military planners.

China-desert-002There’s consensus among 97 percent of climate scientists that climate change is happening and that’s it’s a human-made disaster. Now, if you’re like me, that consensus means something, and it’s something that keeps me up at night. I worry not so much about myself or Mr. Desert and our friends, but rather about the kids that live in our neighborhood, my great nieces, my students, and future generation. That consensus among climate scientists and their warnings about what comes next makes clear that young people today are going to feel in very real and devastating ways the impact of climate change is just a few decades.

The signs are everywhere I look: my beloved home state of California is shriveling up like its famous dancing grapes, and many predict imminent mega-droughts across the west; Boston is somewhere under a record amount of snow that’s been falling for months; and residents from New York to Tennessee to Georgia have been shoveling snows and skidding across ice-packed roads and sidewalks, and runways.

What’s happening here and across the globe isn’t all that different than what happened in Syria. As the drought and eventual uprising in Syria show, climate change means that the places that once fed  the world will no longer be able to grow the crops and livestock we need, people will go hungry, and conflicts will arise. In the US, unlike Syria, we have a stable government and infrastructure, so civil unrest won’t develop overnight, but it will develop and it will grow where the crops no longer do. Climate change also means that we’ll start running out of water as a number of places in the west have already. Mass water shortages will put a tremendous strain on our infrastructure. We don’t yet know how long our government can withstand the pressures of an increasingly uninhabitable world, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be around to find out. But many who are alive today will, and that’s one of the many things that keep me up at night.


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One Response to Climate Change and Political Instability

  1. Pingback: Climate Change Changes Everything | Thinking it Through

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