Emergent patterns in nature and society

Posts tagged “Conflict

Climate change and conflict – violence

It’s becoming a trendy topic, the connection between future climate scenarios and conflict, violence and terrorism. Some quotes from The Guardian – Climate change will increase threat of war, Chris Huhne [UK climate secretary] to warn:

“Climate change is a threat multiplier. It will make unstable states more unstable, poor nations poorer, inequality more pronounced, and conflict more likely,” Huhne is expected to say in a speech to defence experts. “And the areas of most geopolitical risk are also most at risk of climate change.”


His comparison of climate change and terrorism echoes Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the government who warned in 2004 that global warning posed “a bigger threat than terrorism”. The warning so incensed the then US president George W Bush that he phoned Tony Blair to ask him to gag the scientist.


Climate change intensifies security threats in three ways: increasing competition for resources; more natural and humanitarian disasters, such as the droughts now causing famine in Africa, which will also lead to mass migration and the conflicts that ensue; and threats to the security of energy supplies.

The recently published book Tropic of Chaos: Climate change and the New Geography of Violence by Christian Parenti seems to be on the same line of thought. Although disentangling causality from a bunch of case studies is a delicate issue, by looking at the TOC’s one get some curiosity on his arguments on the links between e.g. monsoons, droughts, CPR dilemmas -cattle, water management- and particular syndromes of violence in different places of the planet. The interested reader may have a look at his interview on Grist: Packing heat: Why violence boils over on a warming planet. He for example picked up on the link between food crises and the Arab spring also reported by Bar-Yam and Homer-Dixon on a previous post here. Such linkages reinforces my idea that the frequency of disturbance is a key component on a regime shift archetype that operationalize the link between social and ecological processes. Let’s see how the idea evolves. In the meanwhile, I’ll need an extra summer to catch up my readings list.


War and biodiversity

Today National Geographic reports on how important is to study biodiversity in conflict areas. War and wildlife happen more often than expected to be found in the same places. But it’s also true that violent conflicts usually stop or at least diminish the impacts of the main drivers of biodiversity loss. It’s not a topic that actually attract a lot of scientist. Who would be likely to risk life to study biological diversity? Although I’ve been a bit far away from the related literature, some of my professors studying landscape change in my country, Colombia, have found similar patterns: there is a correlation amongst biodiversity hotspots and violence, conflict or war. I don’t claim war is good for biodiversity; it’s clearly not the case either. Here some lessons from Afghanistan:

Afghanistan Animals Not Out of the Woods


For example, satellite studies show that Nuristan’s forest cover has been greatly reduced during the past two decades, and it’s still disappearing today.

“If this continues, I think we’ll see the last of the larger animals disappear from the area,” Zahler said. “We were delighted that there is wildlife here, but its long-term survival is still very much in question.”

Some deforestation is the result of people cutting trees for fuel or building materials, but the bulk of forest loss is driven by timber industries, which are able to operate with little oversight or regulation in the politically unstable region, Zahler said. The violence has “created a lack of management,” he said. “It’s not complete lawlessness, but a lot of cultural institutions have been degraded to the point where it’s more of a free-for-all—which I think has greatly accelerated the drain on natural resources.”

And when local people sell timber rights for a pittance, Zahler added, it’s not only animals that suffer—people also lose precious resources.

“With the forest clear-cut, they lose the ability to build houses and find firewood in the winter. They lose mushrooms and pine nuts and everything that they depend on for local sale and for food,” he explained.


War and Conservation: Unlikely Partners

In places like Afghanistan, where human misery is a major concern, the environment often takes a backseat. But conservation biologist and author Thor Hanson, who was not involved in the recent study, said conservationists need to work in conflict zones, because these regions harbor some of the planet’s most important habitats. For example, Hanson has co-authored a study showing how wars are usually located in species-rich areas.

“If you look at the overlap between biological diversity and the locations of wars in the second half of the 20th century, we found that 80 percent of those major armed conflicts occurred within recognized global biodiversity hot spots,” he said.

Hanson added that this correlation means some of the world’s most important conservation work is based in dangerous areas, where most people don’t—or can’t—give environmental concerns top priority.

“The practical reality for conservation groups is that we pull out of areas when things get hot. But where groups have tried to stay engaged by supporting local people, we find that it can actually make a real difference in biodiversity outcomes over the course of a conflict,” he said.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s Zahler agreed that keeping Afghanistan’s wildlife safe is an important way to help keep the peace.

“It’s not just about bears and leopards—it’s about natural resources that people depend on, and wildlife is just an example. Losing those resources means that communities are going to fall apart, because they won’t be able to support themselves.

“So helping them manage those resources is an important part of maintaining stability and security in a country like Afghanistan.”

It worth to follow up on Hanson work. For the interested reader, here is a couple of his papers that just got into my summer-to-read list:

Hanson et a. 2009. Warfare in Biodiversity Hotspots. Coservation Biology 23 (3):578-587

Machlis & Hanson. 2008. Warfare Ecology. BioScience 58 (8):729-736

Afghanistan Bright Spot: Wildlife Thriving in War Zones.

Climate change and conflict: arguments about causality.

Mark Levy, deputy director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (Columbia University), explain the controversy risen by recent studies on the linkages of climate change and conflict. He summarizes challenges for future research:

Here’s how I would characterize what we know and we are trying to learn:

1) Economic deprivation almost certainly heightens the risk of internal war.

2) Economic shocks, as a form of deprivation, almost certainly heighten the risk of internal war.

3) Sharp declines in rainfall, compared to average, almost certainly generate economic shocks and deprivation.

4) Therefore, we are almost certain that sharp declines in rainfall raise the risk of internal war.

To understand how climate change might affect future conflict, we need to know much more. We need to understand how changing climate patterns interact with year-to-year variability to affect deprivation and shocks. We need to construct plausible socioeconomic scenarios of change to enable us to explore how the dynamics of climate, economics, demography, and politics will interact and unfold to shape conflict risk.

via Climate-Security Linkages Lost in Translation – State of the Planet.