New Study on Climate Change and a Possible Surge in Conflicts

by Chris Borgen

Following-up on Kevin’s post that illustrated the increasing temperature anomalies of the world’s climate, I want to point out a recent study pointing to evidence of a link between increasing global temperatures and a rise in violent crime and larger-scale conflicts, such as wars. reports:

Now, in the most comprehensive analysis of the work on climate change and armed  conflict to date, a team from UC Berkeley and elsewhere has found that  these climate trends are indeed likely to significantly increase the incidence  of armed conflict overall. Their paper, published[on August 1st] in Science, examined  60 studies to aggregate sets of data on events spanning 8000 B.C.E. to the  present that examined climate variables and incidences of violence in all major  regions of the globe.

But, the part of the study that has been getting the most attention isn’t the historical analysis, but the forward-looking projections .

Extrapolating to the future, these rates mean that if the entire planet went  through an average of 3.6°F of warming by 2050—an optimistic limit set at the 2009 Copenhagen conference—we’d see personal  crime rise by 16 percent and intergroup conflicts surge by 50 percent. The  distribution of violence wouldn’t be equal, either, as climate models indicate  that some areas will be hit with warming periods that fall outside two, three or  even four standard deviations of the norm (and thus experience more conflict)…

To get an idea of which areas may face the most violence, see this map of climate deviations from the norm. There are various caveats, but the researchers believe:

that they conducted the most rigorous analysis possible. The fact that the  climate-violence relationship was consistently found among a wide range of time  periods, cultures and regions, they argue, indicates that there is a substantial  link between the two.

And, of course, keep in mind that increasing climate may be linked to increasing societal and inter-communal violence because rising temperatures can also adversely affect agricultural production, spawn stronger storms that destroy communities and result in environmental refugees, and so on.

For a recent examination of the legal and policy issues related to climate change, see Andrew Guzman’s new book Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change. Also, see this video of Guzman speaking on climate change.  See, also, Hari Osofsky’s and Roger Alford’s posts discussing Andrew’s book.

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  1. […] The report can be found here. However, the report cannot be accessed without a subscription to Science magazine. For more on the report and the issue of climate change and armed conflict, see this recent post at Opinio Juris. […]