The main question today was whether or not climate change can lead to war, or conflict in general. While the literature doesn't seem to make much of a direct link (eleven out of the twelve studies we're shown says there isn't much evidence), there are a number of questions that still haven't been answered.
For example, why is proximity to the equator a thing when thinking about countries likely to start a civil war? Or why is there a correlation between a capital's temperature and conflict?
So, temperatures have been rising pretty steadily since the end of WWII, with major players describing climate as a thing to watch for. Kofi Annan called climate change an all-encompassing threat, and Ban Ki-Moon called the war in Darfur the first true climate war. Even Prince Charles had a quote up there (producing a number of eye-rolls in the class).
But while there isn't a statistically established causal relationship directly from climate change to conflict, when you break things down into pieces the picture starts getting clearer. If there's a major drought, tension over land use and water access can contribute to rumblings that already exist. Or the fact of who controls rivers upstream can become a geopolitical crisis, especially in places like Central Asia. So there's the idea that climate can affect a *number* of factors that can lead to conflict.
This is especially true in coastal communities and places dependent on agriculture – the glaciers haven't melted a whole lot yet, but sea levels are starting to rise just from the fact that water expands when it gets warmer. The idea of climate migrants is a big topic bandied around NGOs and government bodies, with questions about whether or not they are entitled to reparations from countries that produce more CO2, for example.
But things are always more complicated than that – with migration, we're reminded that there are always push and pull factors involved. As in, there are always different causes. And some governmental bodies resist the idea of branding certain people 'climate migrants' because there are so many other migrant issues in the world that people (and states) could react badly to that status. Plus, people might not want to be referred to as migrants, in part because they don't want to be on the receiving end of all the connotations associated with the word.
When it comes to the field, there are four main factors that are being studied that may have an effect on conflicts appearing:
-income shock, where people's incomes are affected by climate change;
-livelihood shock, where the focus is on people's livelihoods (think pastoral people, or folks dependent on farming or fishing);
-food price shock, where food prices go up or down dramatically, and this one has the most data behind it to date;
-forced displacement, where people have to leave because of environmental factors;
One case study, with varying levels of skepticism and belief around the class, was the Syrian war. There was one of the biggest droughts in history right before the revolution, and while droughts happen all the time without wars, this one forced many people to move into the cities, increasing tension and infrastructural unrest. This could have been one of the bricks in the wall that led to such a harsh response from protesters and the gov't – not the main factor, but a contributing factor.
But, if predictions are to be believed, climate change factors will be more of a thing in the future – people study it now, even in the face of shaky evidence, in order to be ahead of the game. As well as to contribute to our understanding of who, really, feels it necessary to pick up a gun. And why.