Chris Blattman

Climate change and conflict: Thank goodness the skeptics have not given up

There are many reasons to fear climate change, but I am a great skeptic of the flurry of papers claiming that global warming will precipitate war and violence.

This is a general concern with the whole warfare literature, where people are far too quick to write, remember and report the “end is nigh” finding, and reluctant to trumpet the “but on closer inspection not much is there” result.

I may be biased by my recent difficulties publishing a nor-do-commodity-shocks-cause-conflict paper. A blog post for another day, while I mull whether blogging about referee responses is a good idea or not. Probably not.

In any case, I am pleased to see a Journal of Peace Research special issue entitled “Climate Change Link to War Remains Tenuous”. I have not read it, and nor will I have the time before it is old news. But access to the issue is free until the end of the month of February.

If you read it, comments below will be welcomed.

9 Responses

  1. One important point that emerges from several contributions to the special issue is that better environmental conditions (more rain, foliage, etc) lead to more violence. Hendrix and Salehyan, Theisen, and Adano et al, all show this using different data and units of analysis. Here is an apt quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War:

    “Make forays in fertile country in order to supply your army with food.”

    Put simply, it is hard to sustain violence when fighters are hungry. This is an argument that is often ignored in the scarcity and conflict literature.

  2. I haven’t gone through the entire issue yet, but I’ve tried to reconcile one of the empirical papers with our 2011 Nature paper here. Our findings, which Kevin mentioned, seem to hold up. Although the new findings seem a bit more sensitive.

  3. While it is controversial whether human-influenced climate change is currently driving increased conflict, there is good evidence that NATURAL climate shifts are capable of helping drive civil wars. The prime example is the increase in modern civil wars during strong El Nino cycles. And, those cycles are projected by many scientists to become more pronounced in the future, due to human-influenced climate shifts. See this recent study by researchers at Columbia University’s Earth Institute:

  4. Hey Chris,
    Your “nor-do-commodity-shocks-cause-conflict paper” link seems to be faulty.

  5. I definitely agree that there is not really any evidence to show that climate change results in conflict, but I don’t find this surprising. It seems as though if there is a relationship it is a very indirect one, with multiple intervening steps, and will be pretty hard to show empirically.

Why We Fight - Book Cover
Subscribe to Blog