President Barack Obama said global warming “contributed” to the Syrian civil war, shifting at least some of the blame for the deadly conflict from the repressive Assad regime to people driving gas-guzzling SUVs.
“There’s already some really interesting work — not definitive, but powerful — showing that the droughts that happened in Syria contributed to the unrest and the Syrian civil war,” Obama said during the South By South Lawn event at the White House Monday.
Obama made the remarks alongside actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who was there to debut his global warming film “Before the Flood.” Obama’s tying global warming into Syria is part of his administration’s effort to make it a national security issue.
Obama has worked hard in his second term to make global warming a key part of his presidential legacy, including incorporating man-made warming into national security planning.
“Well, if you start magnifying that across a lot of states, a lot of nation states that already contain a lot of poor people who are just right at the margins of survival, this becomes a national security issue,” Obama said Monday.“And, that’s why even as we have members of Congress who scoff at climate change at the same time as they are saluting and wearing flag pins and extolling their patriotism they’re not paying attention to our Joints Chief of Staff and the Pentagon who are saying this is one of the most significant national security threats that we face over the next fifty years,” Obama said.
The White House recently released a presidential memorandum ordering “the impacts of climate change must be considered in the development of national security-related doctrine, policies, and plans.”
Obama has seized on warnings from scientists of further temperature and sea level rise and more extreme weather to argue global warming is a “threat multiplier” in already unstable regions of the world.
His administration has continually pointed to Syria as an example of a warming-induced conflict.
“Now, I’m not telling you that the crisis in Syria was caused by climate change,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in October 2015, adding it “clearly made a bad situation a lot worse.”
Some scholars have argued global warming played a role in the Syrian civil war by making more severe the droughts that hit in the run up to the conflict.
Scholars also argue global warming could spark a massive refugee crisis. One study from May claimed global warming would drive “500 million people” from their homes in the Middle East and North Africa due to heat waves, droughts and other natural disasters.
But some national security experts have pushed back against these claims. Former U.S. Army Gen. Robert Scales told Congress in March the “administration’s new-found passion to connect climate change to war is an example of faulty theories that rely for relevance on politically-correct imaginings rather than established historical precedent.”
“The point is that in today’s wars, politically-correct theories inserted into a battle plan might well extend war needlessly and get soldiers killed,” Scales said.
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