Quantcast

Climate Change Triggers Violent Conflicts

Climate

Climate News Network

By Tim Radford

Stand by for more violence. As planetary temperatures rise, so does the likelihood of murder, rape and domestic violence, as well as civil war, ethnic bloodshed and invasion, the collapse of government and even the collapse of civilization.

U.S. scientists reported yesterday that they analyzed 60 studies by 190 scholars published in 26 journals of 45 different conflicts around the world, and spanning thousands of years of human history, and came to one grim, clear conclusion.

With every significant shift in temperature there was an increased risk of social or societal violence, they report in the journal Science.

The studies they analyzed were drawn from climatology, archaeology, economics, political science and psychology. Once they had examined the data and used a common statistical framework to look at the pattern of outcomes, they found increased temperature or extended drought as significant factors.

They found spikes of violence as the thermometer soared in India and in Australia; increased assaults in the U.S. and in Tanzania; ethnic violence in Europe and South Asia, land invasions in Brazil and civil conflict throughout the tropics. Temperatures even played a role in the collapse of the Chinese empire and of Mayan civilization.

The authors specifically looked to see if there could be a link between climate and conflict, within three very different categories. These included personal violence (such as rape, assault, murder and domestic violence); inter-group violence and political instability; and institutional breakdowns such as abrupt changes in government or even the collapse of a civilization. They found a connection in all three types of conflict.

Climate Shapes Societies

Conflict, they concluded, responded most consistently to temperature: of 21 studies of modern societies, all 21 showed a positive relationship between higher temperatures and raised levels of violence.

A separate research paper in Science warns that global average temperatures could increase by two degrees Celsius between 2046 and 2065, and by four degrees Celsius between 2081 and 2100.

Because a study of contemporary and historic conflict required the researchers to identify common factors in very different cultures in very different latitudes, they also had to settle on some way to make sense of the significance of temperature shifts in very different climates. They chose a statistical yardstick called a standard deviation: the difference from the normal, or average.

One standard deviation, says Marshall Burke, a co-author, of the University of California at Berkeley, would be the equivalent to a warming of a country in Africa of 0.4 degrees Celsius for an entire year; or the warming of a U.S. county by three degrees Celsius for a given month. These, he says, are moderate changes, but they have a significant impact on those who have to live with such changes.

“We found that a one standard deviation shift towards hotter conditions causes the likelihood of personal violence to rise 4 percent and inter-group conflict to rise 14 percent,” Burke said. “Our results shed new light on how the future climate will shape human societies.”

“We often think of modern society as largely independent of the environment, due to technological advances, but our findings challenge that notion,” said Edward Miguel, also of Berkeley.

How climate links with conflict may differ in each case. In the poorer rural countries, drought and extreme heat affect harvests and therefore food prices in the city markets. In the developed world, crowded cities and hot nights mean more opportunities for sudden flashes of violence between different communities. Circumstances vary, but the connection with temperature remains in all the cases under review.

“We need to understand why climate changes cause conflict so we can help societies adapt to these events and avoid the violence," said Solomon Hsiang, who led the study at the University of Princeton. "At the same time, we should carefully consider whether our actions today are making our children’s world a more dangerous one.”

The researchers spell it out carefully in their paper:

Given the large potential changes in precipitation and temperature regimes projected in the coming decades, our findings have important implications for the social impact of anthropogenic climate change in both high income and low income countries.

Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University in California and Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution in Washington report that they used a mix of climate models to forecast warming this century. If the emission of greenhouse gases continues according to its present trajectory, they warn in Science, the planet could be four degrees Celsius warmer by 2100.

All latitudes would be affected, but the highest temperature rises would be over land, and in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere. This would represent change at an unprecedented rate: 10 times faster than at any time in the past 65 million years.

“The rapid global warming that occurred some 55 million years ago was as large as these warming projections, but that event occurred over many thousands of years, not a mere century,” said Dr. Diffenbaugh.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

——–

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Aerial assessment of Hurricane Sandy damage in Connecticut. Dannel Malloy / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Extreme weather events supercharged by climate change in 2012 led to nearly 1,000 more deaths, more than 20,000 additional hospitalizations, and cost the U.S. healthcare system $10 billion, a new report finds.

Read More Show Less
Giant sequoia trees at Sequoia National Park, California. lucky-photographer / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A Bay Area conservation group struck a deal to buy and to protect the world's largest remaining privately owned sequoia forest for $15.6 million. Now it needs to raise the money, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
This aerial view shows the Ogasayama Sports Park Ecopa Stadium, one of the venues for 2019 Rugby World Cup. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP / Getty Images

The Rugby World Cup starts Friday in Japan where Pacific Island teams from Samoa, Fiji and Tonga will face off against teams from industrialized nations. However, a new report from a UK-based NGO says that when the teams gather for the opening ceremony on Friday night and listen to the theme song "World In Union," the hypocrisy of climate injustice will take center stage.

Read More Show Less
Vera_Petrunina / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Wudan Yan

In June, New York Times journalist Andy Newman wrote an article titled, "If seeing the world helps ruin it, should we stay home?" In it, he raised the question of whether or not travel by plane, boat, or car—all of which contribute to climate change, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers—might pose a moral challenge to the responsibility that each of us has to not exacerbate the already catastrophic consequences of climate change. The premise of Newman's piece rests on his assertion that traveling "somewhere far away… is the biggest single action a private citizen can take to worsen climate change."

Read More Show Less
Volunteer caucasian woman giving grain to starving African children. Bartosz Hadyniak / E+ / Getty Images

By Frances Moore Lappé

Food will be scarce, expensive and less nutritious," CNN warns us in its coverage of the UN's new "Climate Change and Land" report. The New York Times announces that "Climate Change Threatens the World's Food Supply."

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
British Airways 757. Jon Osborne / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Adam Vaughan

Two-thirds of people in the UK think the amount people fly should be reined in to tackle climate change, polling has found.

Read More Show Less
Climate Week NYC

On Monday, Sept. 23, the Climate Group will kick off its 11th annual Climate Week NYC, a chance for governments, non-profits, businesses, communities and individuals to share possible solutions to the climate crisis while world leaders gather in the city for the UN Climate Action Summit.

Read More Show Less

By Pam Radtke Russell in New Orleans

Local TV weather forecasters have become foot soldiers in the war against climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weathercasters have begun addressing the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecasts, or in separate, independent news reports to help their viewers understand what is happening and why it is important.

Read More Show Less