“We need to move beyond the idea that conflict is the inevitable result of climate-driven resource scarcity.”
Two years ago, the Defense Department made headlines when it deemed climate change a “threat multiplier” for the nation’s armed forces — an X factor that could exacerbate existing tensions and threats in unpredictable ways.
That unpredictability has been challenging for physical and political scientists trying to understand how shifting weather patterns, rising seas and more extreme weather will affect conflict in coming decades, experts said yesterday at a conference sponsored by the National Center for Science Education.
What appears to be an intuitive link between climate change, resource scarcity and conflict may be illusory, said Kaitlin Shilling, who recently completed a Ph.D. at Stanford University, where she studied the relationship between climate, agriculture and conflict in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We’re already committed to a certain amount of climate change in coming decades,” she said. “But we need to move beyond the idea that conflict is the inevitable result of climate-driven resource scarcity” to investigate the mechanisms by which shifting climatic conditions may influence human behavior…
Some of the strongest evidence linking climate and conflict concerns so-called communal conflicts, tensions on a smaller scale than civil wars or wars between nations, said Cullen Hendrix, a professor of international relations at the College of William and Mary.
That category includes studies that have concluded climatic conditions are “highly influential” on the frequency of cattle raids in Africa’s Sahel and played a role in post-election rioting in Kenya in 2007 and 2008. Other research suggests that, in some agriculture-dependent areas, “better” climatic conditions can actually increase violence.
“Climate variability can have impacts that are not in any obvious way resource wars,” Hendrix said.