Let’s see: we know that it couldn’t be that the jihadis think that Islamic texts and teachings justify violence and warfare against unbelievers (and apostates and heretics). And we know it couldn’t be that Sunnis in Iraq were never going to acquiesce to Shi’ite rule, and that ultimately their resentments boiled over into all-out jihad. We know that it couldn’t have anything whatsoever to do with Islam, right? So the problems in Iraq must then be attributable to global warming!
“Hot Zone: Is climate change destabilizing Iraq?,” by Eric Holthaus, Slate, June 25, 2014 (thanks to Elizabeth):
This winter was not a good one for farmers in the Fertile Crescent.
A punishing drought hit most of Syria and northern Iraq during what’s normally the wettest time of the year. In the mountains of eastern Turkey, which form the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, snow and rain were less than half of normal. The region has seen one of the worst droughts in decades.
Drought is becoming a fixture in the parched landscape, due to a drying trend of the Mediterranean and Middle East region fueled by global warming. The last major drought in this region (2006-2010) finished only a few years ago. When taken in combination with other complex drivers, increasing temperatures and drying of agricultural land is widely seen as assisting in the destabilization of Syria under the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Before civil war broke out there, farmers abandoned their desiccated fields and flooded the cities with protests. A series of U.N. reports released earlier this year found that global warming is already destabilizing nation states around the world, and Syria has been no exception.
With the ongoing crisis in Iraq seemingly devolving by the day, it’s not a stretch to think something similar could already be underway just next door.
Could there be a connection between climate change and the emerging conflict in Iraq?
The short answer is a qualified yes, according to Frank Femia of the Center for Climate and Security, a Washington-based policy institute advised by senior retired military and national security leaders. He explained in a phone interview:
It’s far too early, considering this is happening in real time, to figure out what is motivating ISIS and its members. Certainly, the natural resource stresses in the region make things worse. Terrorist organizations can try to control those resources and gain significant influence and power. You can’t say climate change is causing ISIS to do what it’s doing, but it [climate change] certainly has a role to play in the region.
Increasing temperatures may also be playing a role in the recent uptick in violence. A study published last year in the journal Science showed a strong connection between high temperatures and political instability, like civil wars, riots, and ethnic violence, though the cause is not well known. A previous study has linked dehydration with decreased cognitive performance and increased levels of anxiety.
Sure enough, this year has been unusually hot so far in Iraq with the March-April-May season ranking as the warmest on record across much of the country. (Reliable records from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration date back to 1880.) The emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria around the same time may just be an interesting coincidence, but the implications are important enough for us to consider a broader connection….