Researchers at Columbia say they’ve found a link to climate cycles and civil conflict, while skeptics charge there's a political motivation behind the results.
Ask any ER nurse and they’ll tell you things get crazy when the moon is full. Similarly, a police officer may tell you his beat is less busy on extremely hot days and during rainy spells. But for the most part these can be put off as urban legends. Study after study have tried to find some kind of relationship between clear weather and crime or ER admissions and a full moon and come up with no conclusive evidence. Now researchers at Columbia University New York say they’ve found a link to climate cycles and civil conflict, with critics charging correlation doesn't prove causation.
A research team lead by Solomon Hsiang, a postdoctoral fellow in Applied Econometrics at Columbia, found that cyclical climatic changes double the risk of a civil war breaking out in nations affected by the El Nino weather pattern. Their research was published in the most recent issue of the science journal Nature.
“The probability of new civil conflicts arising throughout the tropics doubles during El Nino years,” the study says noting that El Nino had a role in 21 percent of all civil conflicts since 1950. Two-hundred fifty conflicts between 1950 and 2004 happened during hotter, dryer weather.
“Altered environmental conditions stress the human psyche, sometimes leading to aggressive behavior,” the study states. Previous studies have shown when people get warm and uncomfortable, they are more prone to fight, Mark Cane, a member of the team was quoted by the Guardian .
Other factors include rise in unemployment, crop failure, and the change in a society’s general mood because of natural disasters.
Hsiang said less developed countries lack the resources to cope with the impacts of El Nino, making them more prone to poverty and conflict leading to wars. El Nino cycles occur every three to seven years.
"This study shows a systematic pattern of global climate affecting conflict right now. We are still dependent on climate to a very large extent,” Hsiang told the Guardian. And, he says, because El Nino events can be predicted in advance, bloodshed could be prevented.
From the Guardian:
... bad weather does appear to tip less developed countries into chaos more easily, said Hsiang, pointing to the example of southern Sudan, where intense warfare broke out in the El Niño year of 1963.
After a flare-up in another El Niño year, 1976, a severe El Niño, in 1983, saw the start of more than 20 years of fighting, which left 2 million people dead and culminated only this year when South Sudan was formed as a separate nation.
But is it junk science? Well, JunkScience.com thinks so. It says that the study’s major problem is that even if there is a statistical correlation between El Nino weather and wars, "the study authors failed to examine any of the actual socio-political circumstances surrounding the wars.”
Other critics say the sample time frame examined in the study (1950-2009) is too short, and that the study doesn’t account for countries like Australia who are considerably affected by El Nino weather patterns, but haven’t had civil wars.
Junk Science speculates the goal of the research was to link CO2 emissions with national security to provide more ammunition for climate change scientists. But Hsiang said the study's goal was to help prevent and reduce humanitarian suffering.
♦ photo by hdptcar from flickr