Mon, Jun 10, 2019 - Page 6 News List

The climate war ‘myth’ is an issue of security

By Wang Ching-ning 王慶寧

An article by Alaa Murabit and Luca Bucken said that while climate change might have exacerbated social unrest in Syria or Sudan, it did not cause the civil wars (“The myth of climate wars,” May 27, page 7).

The authors worried that by framing climate change as a security issue, it could be used as an excuse to dodge responsibility for the humanitarian and geopolitical crises there.

The authors also worried that securitization of climate change and the narrative of climate war could be used to justify political tactics such as anti-migration practices or developing hard power.

However, this line of argument is equally problematic, because readers might mistakenly conclude that climate change is not a security issue at all and is still distant from day-to-day life.

It is already demonstrated in the literature that degraded environments and extreme weather damage the stability of food supply and clean water. This might lead to social, political and economic instability in the long run. Deforestation also jeopardizes the balance of the biosystem, which could lead to diseases and public health crises.

All these threats qualify climate change as a serious security issue in need of immediate attention and action.

In the article, Murabit and Bucken emphasized that climate change was not a cause — or causal factor — of the civil war in Syria, but the relationship between climate change and conflict has not actually been completely ruled out.

The academic paper that inspired scrutiny into a causal link between climate change and the Syrian civil war was Climate change and the Syrian Civil War revisited by Jan Selby, Omar Dahi, Christiane Frohlich and Mike Hulme.

It reviewed three papers articulating links between the Syrian conflict and climate change.

Although they found that methodologically the three papers did not provide convincing evidence to support climate change as a cause, they emphasized that their finding “does not prove that climate change and northeast Syria’s drought were not factors in its civil war.”

They stressed that their findings did not refute links between climate change and the war, and called for more evidence to be uncovered to support a causal path.

In other words, climate change, if not a single cause, still played a role or served as a risk factor in the Syrian war.

A methodologically, randomized controlled trial comparing an experiment group to a control group is the best method to validate causal factors.

However, while the method is manageable in a laboratory, it is difficult — if not impossible — to apply in real-world geopolitics.

Specifically, it is difficult to compare Syria (ie, the experiment group) with another country (ie, the control group) while having enough similarity in aspects other than climate change to justify advancing a causal relationship between climate factors and conflict.

Difficulty in validating a causal relationship in practice should not be interpreted as no existence of a causal relationship in reality.

While some influential politicians and opportunists still frame climate change as a fake issue, calling it a security issue does more good than harm, as it highlights the urgency needed to tackle climate change immediately to prevent catastrophic consequences.

Wang Ching-ning is a medical information analyst and independent researcher.

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