Is global warming helping al-Qaida?

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Has global warming helped al-Qaida’s recruiting? At least one expert says that Islamic fundamentalist groups feed upon people’s frustrations and fears in a warmer climate to turn them against the West.

The GlobalPost asked climate experts how rising global temperatures would affect Africa’s Sahel region, which includes countries like Sudan and Chad, where conflicts have been raging for years.

“[C]limate change makes people feel small and helpless, and Islamic fundamentalists have been very good at turning helplessness and despair into anger and action,” Drew Sloan of energy efficiency company Opower told the GlobalPost. “If you give someone who feels small a gun, they stop feeling small.”

“If you give them a direction to point that gun they stop feeling helpless,” said Sloan, a U.S. Army veteran.

However, such claims are controversial among defense experts who argue that other issues like poverty and government oppression rank higher on the list of what causes religious extremism in the region.

“Count me as highly skeptical of any purported link between global warming and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism,” William Martel, associate professor of international security studies at Tufts University, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Facing so many problems in the areas of repressive governments, poverty, and the lack of opportunity in societies, it seems to me that global warming is not on the serious list of explanations for extremism,” Martel added. “In my judgment, it is vastly more prudent for the West to focus on helping societies build opportunities for their citizens, which is a far better antidote to confronting the forces that contribute to extremism.”

Defense experts have been debating for years the link between climate and conflict. One study published in August found that violence rises with hotter temperatures. University of California researchers claim that violent conflict — wars, aggression and crime — in certain parts of the globe could increase by 50 percent by 2050.

However, that study was hotly contested by defense experts who argued that environmental issues aren’t necessarily the reasons behind conflicts. “There are plenty of studies that suggest exactly the opposite connection is true — environmental issues do not necessarily cause conflict,” said Jeff Kueter, president of the Marshall Institute.

In Africa’s Sahel region, there are already many underlying conditions that are conducive to conflict in the region, according to Josh Busby of the University of Texas at Austin.

“What you have is a region with poor countries living in marginal economic conditions with a history of internal conflict and secessionist movements and emergent religious tensions affected by spillover affects of a widening movement of an al-Qaida franchise,” Busby said to the GlobalPost.

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