07 August 2013

Climate Change and Conflict Linked? It's Complicated

Researchers have long connected climate change and conflict. They warn that the effects of climate change will lead to instability that will lead to fighting. Problem is that the evidence was quite thin.

Mauritania village struck by drought in 2011.
Mauritania village struck by drought in 2011. UN
A new study, published last week in Science, by Princeton’s Solomon Hsiang and University of California, Berkeley’s Marshall Burke again found that conflict and climate change are connected. They say that the evidence is overwhelming, but other researchers disagree.

"We think that by collecting all the research together now, we're pretty clearly establishing that there is a causal relationship between the climate and human conflict," said Hsiang in a press release. "People have been skeptical up to now of an individual study here or there. But considering the body of work together, we can now show that these patterns are extremely general. It's more of the rule than the exception."

The findings come from an analysis of 60 previous studies on climate change and conflict. The data shows that for every standard deviation increase in temperature and extreme rainfall person-to-person violence increases by 4% and group-based conflict rises by 14%. In other words, climate change leads to more fighting. They raise the alarm by saying that parts of the world are expected to warm up by 2 to 4 standard deviations by 2050. Fighting is on its way!

So news outlets perked up. The math seems easy and it makes for quite the headline. Slate's headline was ominous reading:
Increased murder and war linked to climate change
Some researchers say it is not quite so simple.

"I fundamentally question the contribution of this paper. In a nutshell, there is almost nothing new here," blogged University of South Carolina geographer Ed Carr after the paper's release.

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