‘Global warming helps terrorism’ studies show

Parched earth: no famine in the history of the world has taken place in a functioning democracy

Global warming and terrorism: our two greatest challenges according to many. What if they are deeply linked? A growing body of science says they are. Or might it be just coincidence?

The singer’s words were chilling. ‘Lots of people don’t know about this, but there is evidence to suggest that climate change was a big factor in how the Syrian conflict came about’.

Charlotte Church was talking on the BBC’s Question Time and probably because she is not a known expert on the subject her words carried little weight.

When Prince Charles said much the same thing (’one of the major reasons for this horror in Syria, funnily enough was a drought that lasted for about five or six years’) many dismissed it as typically eccentric -- as they may have done when the American Democratic presidential challenger Bernie Sanders said on primetime TV ‘climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism’.

This week, however, global leaders in Paris will be paying attention. This is mainly because they have started to notice the scientific work behind these high-profile views.

The latest study is from Columbia University. ‘We’re not saying the drought caused the war,’ said Richard Seager, a climate scientist and coauthor. ‘We’re saying that it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.’

A bigger study is from the University of California. This looked at personal crime, ethnic violence and war in 27 different societies and found that even small changes in temperature have a large impact: the higher the temperature, the greater the likelihood of violence.

Possible reasons are that (i) destitute people are more tempted to join militia to make a living (ii) impoverished governments can’t afford to put down rebellions (iii) crop failures often lead to stockpiling, envy and theft (iv) large movements of people always create urban unrest (v) people are more angry when they are hot and hungry.

Some experts even believe that if we could wean ourselves off fossil fuels such as oil and gas we would help to solve both climate change and terrorism. In other words, the causes might be shared.

After all, oil money funds a lot of violent militias, nations and arms dealers. Without oil money, Islamic State, for one, would wither.

Blame game

Faced with this argument, sceptics say that while climate change might be one of the many causes of terrorism there are others that are far more significant including corrupt leaders and religious extremism. We must be wary of blaming it all on global warming.

But think of this, say the proponents. There is undeniable evidence that a warmer world is a more violent world. This is one factor that is within our power to change. That alone should be enough to make us adjust our priorities.

You Decide

  1. Is a hungry person more likely to be violent than a well-nourished person?
  2. Is the fight against terrorism a good reason to tackle climate change?


  1. Write down a list of five problems that you believe might be strongly related to global warming. In each case give a reason why.
  2. Having followed the relevant ‘expert links’ on this story, draw a timeline of European history showing some of the major climactic cycles and the events that they triggered.

Some People Say...

“Climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism”

US senator Bernie Sanders

What do you think?

Q & A

I feel strongly about this but I am stuck in school. What can I do?
If you are a British student the answer is to find out if your school is planning to take part in Climate Week. There are lots of ideas on their website about practical things you can do. Climate Week next year starts on March 20th so you have plenty of time to get involved.
Anything specific and immediate?
The ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney, is encouraging people to go meat-free one day a week. There is a movement to make it a Monday — so ‘meat-free Monday’. The United Nations estimates that livestock production accounts for about 15% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, so reducing meat consumption is a key way to lower your carbon footprint.

Word Watch

Charlotte Church
She is a hugely successful singer, both classical and pop, as well as a songwriter, an actress and a television presenter. In August she performed a song This Bitter Earth to support a campaign by Greenpeace against the oil company Shell.
Prince Charles
For more than 40 years the Prince of Wales has used his position to champion action for a sustainable future.
Bernie Sanders
He has spoken out against black carbon pollution and drilling initiatives which carry high risk of oil spills, and he has voted and continues to work to fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund in America.
Columbia University
Based in New York, it is one of the most important universities in the world. The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences shares staff and facilities with Columbia University’s world renowned research institution, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
University of California
It is considered by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings as one of six university brands that lead in world reputation rankings. It has produced 72 Nobel prize winners (so far).


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