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Time to Drop the Climate War Talk


Time to Drop the Climate War Talk

Betsy Hartmann, Jan Selby

Only one day after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris, Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Bernie Sanders, told a national TV audience that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” Citing the CIA as his source, he went on to say that climate change was likely to cause international conflict because of struggles over “limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land…to grow crops.”


I think you may be underestimating the role that climate change can,or has historically had, in the rise and fall of civilizations, mass migrations, etc. Given that we are now in a period of rapid worldwide climate change, I would fully expect to see it play a significant, if not major role in geopolitics.


I understand your concern about not having an overly militaristic or isolationist reaction to refugees, and also understand your concern about not overstating the linkages between climate change and refugees. Fair enough. However, I think it's pretty certain that climate change will create more suffering, instability, war, terrorism, and thus many more refugees. So are you really asking people to pretend that one of the likely effects of climate change doesn't exist? How are people to understand what is happening in the world if we don't discuss all of the systems effects involved? Remaining silent about the effects of climate change on war, terrorism, and refugees is a bit like only discussing the effects of unhealthy diet on obesity and diabetes, but refusing to discuss the effects of unhealthy diet on heart disease, strokes, and dementia.

We need to be rational when we discuss the effects of climate change on war, terrorism, and refugees, but discuss it we must. If we don't discuss it, inaccurate attributions for these problems will rapidly fill the void, and those incorrect diagnoses of the causes of these problems will give birth to off-target and counterproductive policy responses.