Climate change has an impact on all sorts of human activity in the 21st century. It makes it more difficult for people to put gas in their cars and food on the dinner table; it also affects companies’ long-term business strategies. But does it cause more military conflict? That’s a more difficult case to make.
A recent paper published in Nature Climate Change examined the question of whether climate change can be tied to the escalation of military conflict worldwide. The analysis of more than 100 academic works on the topic found that in general, the “climate causes war” arguments tend to be flawed, and literature on the topic typically “overstates the links between both phenomena.” How much are those links really overstated, though? According to The Atlantic, the answer still isn’t clear.
“Some may read this paper as saying that there’s lots of literature that says climate change causes conflict, and that this literature is based on sampling errors,” University of Sussex professor Jan Selby told The Atlantic. “But even before this paper, there was huge disagreement about what links could be made between climate change and conflict. And irrespective of the question of sampling error, I think the evidence in many of those papers is really weak.”
The debate about the connection between military conflict and climate change rages on. On one side, scientists have said there’s a clear link—places that have more climate change also have more war. The counterargument is that many of these studies focus on places where war would be prevalent anyway: Kenya, Sudan, Egypt, India, Iraq, and Israel. There’s less discussion of other countries that are equally affected by climate change but more peaceful: Rwanda, Honduras, Haiti, Myanmar, and the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.
Academics are far from settling this debate, but either way, the issue will surely remain in the public eye. In recent years, many major political figures have weighed in. Former President Barack Obama said in 2015 that droughts and the resulting crop failures helped fuel military conflict in Syria, and Senator Bernie Sanders also declared that climate change is “directly related to the growth of terrorism.”