Study says global warming will lead to wars, experts disagree

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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People get much angrier when it’s hot outside. Does this mean that global warming could lead to more violent conflicts? A controversial new study makes exactly that claim, but national security experts are already challenging the conclusion.

The study published in the journal Science argues that throughout history shifts in the earth’s climate have been associated with violent conflict, and global warming could mean that conflicts will increase in areas around the world.

“It does change how we think about the value of avoiding climate change,” said Solomon Hsiang, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley and lead author of the study. “It makes us think that avoiding climate change is actually something we should be willing to invest more in.”

Hsiang and others analyzed 60 studies and claim that, based on history, violent conflict in certain parts of the globe could increase by 50 percent by 2050. This not only means more wars, but more crime and aggression as well.

Hsiang’s study used a formula that predicts the risk level of different types of violence as world temperatures increase. According to the study, in war-torn areas of Africa every additional degree Fahrenheit of temperature rise will increase the chance of armed conflict by 11 to 14 percent.

For the U.S., every 5.4 degree increase in temperature, the likelihood of violent crime increases by 2 to 4 percent.

However, other national security experts and scholars are skeptical of this conclusion.

“There is no consensus in the scholarly or policy communities as to what factors specifically contribute to, much less cause, conflict,” William Martel, associate professor of international security studies at Tufts University, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“There are plenty of studies that suggest exactly the opposite connection is true — environmental issues do not necessarily cause conflict,” Jeff Kueter, president of the Marshall Institute.

Last year, Kueter authored a paper which argues that environmental factors rarely incite conflict. In fact, Kueter claimed, they often breed cooperation.

Kueter argues that for environmental factors to help incite conflict there needs to be things like “repression, longstanding or simmering conflicts between two countries, [and] competition over other types of territory.”

“There are many more direct causes of conflict, which have greater explanatory capability both for the causes of specific conflicts and for our general understanding of war than temperature ever will,” he added.

In 2007, the Center for Naval Analysis claimed that global warming was a “threat multiplier” for instability in the world’s most vulnerable regions and would increase tensions even in stable regions of the world.

The Obama administration has also been using national security concerns over global warming as a call to action for the U.S. to address the issue. Secretary of State John Kerry has said global warming was the “biggest long term threat” to the U.S.

“Despite fundamental uncertainties about why conflict and violence occurs, it seems a stretch to me to believe that the link to climate is established,” Martel added. “While we believe that such factors as personality, technology, poverty, and so forth relate to the outbreak of conflict and violence, none of that is terribly persuasive — despite decades of research.”

Researchers have claimed a link between cold periods and wars and disease outbreaks. A report in the Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences found that some of Eastern Europe’s biggest wars and plagues coincided with cold periods.

“The Black Death in the mid-14th century, the Thirty Years’ War in the early 17th century, the French invasion of Russia in the early 19th century and other social upheavals occurred during cold spells,” reports ScienceNews. “The team suggests food shortages could explain the timing of some of these events.”

Hsiang’s conclusion also runs counter to the long-term trend of a decline in the amount of violence, despite warnings about rising global temperatures.

“At least in the case of the United States, hasn’t there been a secular decline in violence, as measured by crimes, in recent decades?” Martel added.

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