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The conflict that has torn Syria apart can be traced, in part, to a record drought worsened by global warming, a new study says.
In what scientists say is one of the most detailed and strongest connections between violence and human-caused climate change, researchers from Columbia University and the University of California Santa Barbara trace the effects of Syria’s drought from the collapse of farming, to the migration of 1.5 million farmers to the cities, and then to poverty and civil unrest. Syria’s drought started in 2007 and continued until at least 2010 — and perhaps longer. Weather records are more difficult to get in wartime.
“There are various things going on, but you’re talking about 1.5 million people migrating from the rural north to the cities,” said climate scientist Richard Seager at Columbia, a co-author of the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “It was a contributing factor to the social unravelling that occurred that eventually led to the civil war.”[…]
Kelley and Seager do statistical and computer simulation analysis to connect global warming to the multi-year drought, finding that such dry spells are two to three times more likely because of human-caused heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than under natural conditions. The connection between climate change and drought in the eastern Mediterranean is one of the most robust in science, said Seager and other scientists.
They also show that Syria’s temperature has risen by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, which adds to drying through evaporation, and winter rainfall has dropped, too. Three of the four worst multi-year droughts in Syria’s history have occurred in the last 30 years, Kelley said.
Martin Hoerling, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist, praised the study and the arguments as “quite compelling.” Hoerling, who has produced studies dismissing global warming’s role in some U.S. droughts including California’s, said the Kelley paper makes a strong case for the Syrian drought and the violence being connected to climate change.
David Titley, a Pennsylvania State University scientist and retired Navy admiral, said the paper does a good job linking climate change and drought to “varsity-level instability.”[…]
But the link between climate change and conflict has been suggested often in recent years. Last October, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled a Pentagon report that made exactly that point. “Droughts and crop failures can leave millions of people without any lifeline, and trigger waves of mass migration,” Hagel said.
Also last year the Nobel Peace Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded: “Human security will be progressively threatened as the climate changes.”