Climate not a significant factor in East African conflicts

From the University of Colorado at Boulder, another overhyped climate meme has been put to rest by a new study that made some obvious findings about temperature and rainfall as it relates to human behavior, but more importantly in human events “…political and geographic factors play a much more substantial role than climate change.” Climate science figured out what any city beat cop knows. In street terms, the “crips and the bloods” don’t read the thermometer when they are packing heat, but when it is raining they tend to stay off the streets.

Climate variability and conflict risk in East Africa measured by Boulder team

While a new study led by the University of Colorado Boulder shows the risk of human conflict in East Africa increases somewhat with hotter temperatures and drops a bit with higher precipitation, it concludes that socioeconomic, political and geographic factors play a much more substantial role than climate change.

According to CU-Boulder geography Professor John O’Loughlin, the new CU-Boulder study undertaken with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder is an attempt to clarify the often-contradictory debate on whether climate change is affecting armed conflicts in Africa. “We wanted to get beyond the specific idea and hype of climate wars,” he said. “The idea was to bring together a team perspective to see if changes in rainfall and temperature led to more conflict in vulnerable areas of East Africa.”

The research team examined extensive climate datasets from nine countries in East Africa, including the Horn of Africa, between 1990 and 2009: Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. The team also used a dataset containing more than 16,000 violent conflicts in those countries during that time period, parsing out more specific information on conflict location and under what type of political, social, economic and geographic conditions each incident took place.

The study, which included changes in precipitation and temperature over continuous six-month periods from 1949 to 2009, also showed there was no climate effect on East African conflicts during normal and drier precipitation periods or during periods of average and cooler temperatures, said O’Loughlin.

Moderate increases in temperature reduced the risk of conflict slightly after controlling for the influence of social and political conditions, but very hot temperatures increased the risk of conflict, said O’Loughlin. Unusually wet periods also reduced the risk of conflict, according to the new study.

“The relationship between climate change and conflict in East Africa is incredibly complex and varies hugely by country and time period,” he said. “The simplistic arguments we hear on both sides are not accurate, especially those by pessimists who talk about ‘climate wars’. Compared to social, economic and political factors, climate factors adding to conflict risk are really quite modest.”

The results are being published online Oct. 22 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Co-authors on the study include CU-Boulder Research Associate Frank Witmer and graduate student Andrew Linke as well as three scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric research — Arlene Laing, Andrew Gettelman and Jimy Dudhia. The National Science Foundation funded the study.

Much of the information on the 16,359 violent events in East Africa from 1990 to 2009 came from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset, or ACLED, directed by Clionadh Raleigh of Trinity College in Dublin. The database covers individual conflicts from 1997 to 2009 in Africa, parts of Asia and Haiti – more than 60,000 violent incidents to date. Raleigh started the data collection while earning her doctorate at CU in 2007 under O’Loughlin.

In addition, more than a dozen CU-Boulder undergraduates spent thousands of hours combing online information sources like LexisNexis — a corporation that pioneered the electronic accessibility of legal and newspaper documents — in order to fill in details of individual violent conflicts by East African countries from 1990 to 1997. The student work was funded by the NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

The CU students coded each conflict event with very specific data, including geographic location coordinates, dates, people and descriptive classifications. The event information was then aggregated into months and into 100-kilometer grid cells that serve as the units of analysis for quantitative modeling.

Each conflict grid also was coded by socioeconomic and political characteristics like ethnic leadership, distance to an international border, capital city, local population size, well-being as measured by infant mortality, the extent of political rights, presidential election activity, road network density, the health of vegetation and crop conditions.

“The effects of climate variability on conflict risk is different in different countries,” O’Loughlin said. “Typically conflicts are very local and quite confined. The effects of climate on conflict in Ethiopia, for example, are different than those in Tanzania or Somalia. The idea that there is a general ‘African effect’ for conflict is wrong.”

The researchers used a variety of complex statistical calculations to assess the role of climate in violent conflict in East Africa, including regression models and a technique to uncover nonlinear influences and decrease “noise,” said O’Loughlin, also a faculty member at CU-Boulder’s Institute of Behavioral Science.

One component of the methods used by the team extracts predictions of individual instances of conflict from the statistical model and systematically compared them with the actual observations of conflict in the data, “a rigorous validity check,” he said.

Catastrophic conflicts like those in the “Great Lakes region” — Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo — since the 1990s and the war with the Lord’s Resistance Army led by terrorist Joseph Kony that has been running since the late 1980s in northern Uganda and neighboring regions are marked with large red swaths on the maps.

Legacies of violence are extremely important for understanding and explaining unrest, he said. “Violence nearby and prior violence in the locality, especially for heavily populated areas, are the strongest predictors of conflict.”

Ongoing work is extending the study to all of sub-Saharan Africa since 1980 with a database of 63,000 violent events. Preliminary results from the work confirm the East African climate effects of higher than normal temperatures are increasing conflict risk.

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In 1992 the British Journal of Criminology published what was probably the seed to this idea that temperature increased conflict:

THE EFFECT OF TEMPERATURE ON CRIME

Abstract

An analysis of annual, quarterly, and monthly data for recorded crime in England and Wales yielded strong evidence that temperature has a positive effect on most types of property and violent crime. The effect was independent of seasonal variation. No relationship between crime and rainfall or hours of sunshine emerged in the study. The main explanation advanced is that in England and Wales higher temperatures cause people to spend more time outside the home. Time spent outside the home, in line with routine activity explanations for crime, has been shown to increase the risk of criminal victimization for most types of crime. The results suggest that temperature is one of the main factors to be taken into account when explaining quarter-to-quarter and month-to-month variations in recorded crime.

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22 thoughts on “Climate not a significant factor in East African conflicts

  1. “… after controlling for the influence of social and political conditions, …”
    Right. Their Mannomatic PC1 looks like a hockey stick, or more likely a machete.
    Maybe they can make an ACE chart like Dr Ryan Maue’s. Accumulated Conflict Energy.

    Correlation may not prove causation, but it’s good evidence that East African conflicts are causing global warming.

  2. 16,000 violent conflicts over a 20 year period? That’s 800 new conflicts per year! It sound like all it takes to start a violent conflict in Africa is a sunrise OR a sunset.

  3. Early last century the effect of climate change on conflict has also been hypothesized but in a different way where it is via the impetus to migration. One example that I recall is where nomadic tribes outside the boundaries of agricultural civilizations cross the borders and pillaged. This would be the likes of vandals, barbarians goths advancing into Eurasian civilizations (the roman empire) when climate change has cause famine due to loss of grazing pastures. Another example is with enclosure in Scotland caused by a degeneration of the climate in the highlands. Then there was the conflict associated with the Potato Famine in Ireland which was related to unusually wet seasons. The latter three were advanced by H H Lamb in the 1960s while the other proposal goes back further, as I recall, to Huntington or Bruckner.

    I am impressed with the considerable effort that these folks from Boulder have put into debunking the thesis proposed in the British Journal of Criminology. I just wish I had seen as much effort put into testing these earlier proposals that are of such monumental historical proportions.

  4. It’s slim pickings for muggers when everyone stays in on a rainy day. Likewise, more homes are unoccupied and ripe for burglery when it’s a gorgeous day to be out and about. Duh. Just don’t tell me temperature causes crime. Criminals cause crime. No criminals, no crime regardless of the temperature.

    I suppose the next study will show that snow causes snow shoveling. Where’s my grant?

  5. My flimsy evidence over the last 30 years, judging by news stories from the BBC when it was a real Public Sector Braodcaster, is that mass migration takes place due to a combination of drought, floods, hunger, wars & other conflicts, mainly manmade, through petty tribal disputes, dictatorial leaders, both tribal & national, & socialism used as a means to perpetuate the former! You see, most people live in fear of pursecution so they flee! Instead of embracing fully modern lifestyles & farming methods, irrigation, fertilization, & engineering the local environment, they pursue the past approaches, often decrying the Imperialist USA & evil wicked free-enterprize capitalism & Big Oil & Globalisation, & just how evil America is in the process, & they wonder why America may just be slightly disinclined to provide oodles of dollars to help them get out of the mess they are in! As for the EU, they just prefer to keep African countries down, avoid free trade, & endorse back-door protectionism! On a slightly differnt tack, I sing with a small group on a Wednesday night, we just like singing. The husband of one of the “girls” I sing with is a Civil Engineer (I won’t hold that against the poor fellow :-) ), & he was telling me of his current high-level work in certain African states, whereby World Bank money is on offer as part of the “Global Benefits Culture”, for upgrading roads in the countryside to the Capitals. One road, carries 20 vehicles an hour/200 vehicles per day, & it is a perfectly serviceable gravel/clay bladed & rolled road. However, the World Bank says it must be upgraded to bit-mac at a cost of tens of millions $, on the grounds that so much percentage of infrastructue must be “upgraded” as part of the deal for the dosh, regardless of whether it needs it or not! Instead of asking the engineers what is best needed to upgrade infrastructure, economists & bureaucrats dictate it! Of course the engineers will get the blame if it all goes wrong! A prime (& common) example of wasteful spending just for the sake of spending money to ease the Global concience!

  6. So there are now two easy ways for scientists to make money from AGW hysteria: a) postulating imaginary connections between warming and bad stuff, and then b) demonstrating the absence of those connections.

    I suppose just consulting someone rational would have been too easy.

  7. Time spent outside the home, in line with routine activity explanations for crime, has been shown to increase the risk of criminal victimization for most types of crime. The results suggest that temperature is one of the main factors to be taken into account when explaining quarter-to-quarter and month-to-month variations in recorded crime.
    Ask us Brits whether we’d rather face a marginally increased risk of crime, or have a decent summer once in a while, and I’m pretty certain I know what the answer would be.

  8. Riots happen in summer on warm evenings – so we should expect more riots in a warming world.

    And if the “crips and the bloods” don’t read the thermometer when they are packing heat, how do they know how much heat they are packing?

  9. Ethipopia is *VERY* fertile in terms of food production, not the extreme east tho. Problem is corruption in “Officials”. Where stuff grows best there are few people and ZERO transport systems (Think horse/cart – works locally, not nationally) to get produce from where it grows to where it is needed most (Addis Ababa with ~7.5mil population and growing).

    Then add land owners being forced off their land by corrupt Govn’t officials etc so that *THAT* land is used to grow food for fuels. The UN has a hand in this.

  10. berniel:

    At October 23, 2012 at 2:24 am you attempt to to overstate the importance of climate changes and weather events on historical events. Such attempts have often been made by warmists. And climate changes do have historical importance over long (relative to a human lifetime) timescales. But it is common practice of warmists to claim historical events are climate related although they are not.

    For example, in your post you say
    Another example is with enclosure in Scotland caused by a degeneration of the climate in the highlands. Then there was the conflict associated with the Potato Famine in Ireland which was related to unusually wet seasons.
    I am not an historian, but even I know those examples are wrong.

    The enclosures with displacement of peasants from Scotland (e.g. to Northern Ireland) was induced by the increased economic value of wool, so the land owners switched to sheep farming from agriculture. The wool had gained value for political reasons mostly related to the demand for clothes for military personnel. Some of the displaced peasants tried to defend themselves from their displacement but to no effect.

    The Potato Famine was an inevitable result of over-reliance on the monoculture of a non-native species combined with the effects of absent landlords. Something like the potato blight was inevitable given sufficient time, there were no available chemical responses for the blight, and the affected peasants could not revolt against their landlords who were across the sea. So the peasants starved and revolted (to futile effect), or they left.

    Your ‘examples’ are as false as it would be to claim the relatively recent ethnic cleansing in Serbia was induced by climate change.

    Richard

  11. “The team also used a dataset containing more than 16,000 violent conflicts…”

    Does this include soccer matches? The events took place in eight countries over nineteen years. That’s over one-hundred events per country per year. Of course you probably cannot divide those numbers equally per country. Anyway you look at the situation, that’s a lot of violence for those small countries, even if they are in Africa.

    From the ACLED web page:
    These data contain information on the specific dates and locations of political violence, the types of event, the groups involved, fatalities and changes in territorial control. Information is recorded on the battles, killings, riots, and recruitment activities of rebels, governments, militias, armed groups, protesters and civilians. Event data are derived from a variety of sources, mainly concentrating on reports from war zones, humanitarian agencies, and research publications.”

    Apparently, one war can be hundreds, or thousands of violent events. Each battle, raid, or reported incident of violence is recorded as an individual occurrence.

  12. I don’t recollect that temperature is being advanced as a strong cause of violence. On the other hand drought leading to increased food prices probably is being advanced as a potential cause of war. And extreme drought is related to changes in weather patterns as well as higher temperatures.

  13. I think there are two separate correlations here.

    Heat correlates with violence regardless of race. People who are inclined to violence get more inclined when it’s hot.

    Rain is a racial correlation. I used to be desk clerk at a no-tell motel in a bad part of town. I learned by observation that my customers would be mixed in hot weather and nearly all white in rainy weather. Africans just don’t like to go out when it’s raining.

  14. Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:
    Please follow the link to Anthony’s site to read the article, but I want to emphasize this tragic fact: “Much of the information on the 16,359 violent events in East Africa from 1990 to 2009 came from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset, or ACLED, directed by Clionadh Raleigh of Trinity College in Dublin.” That is nearly two-and-one-half new (or restarted) conflicts per day in the East African countries! That is why peace-makers like Gary and Shirley Bohanon working in Rwanda are so important.

  15. I have worked on mining/exploration projects in Africa numerous times between 1964 and the present. In Nigeria between 1964 and 1967 there were numerous military coups leading up to a civil war that lasted 3 years and an estimated 3 million people died. I believe it was the largest known toll in conflict outside of the world wars. At the same time there were dozens of military coups following riots across Africa. Even a UN Secretary General (Dag Hammerskold) lost his life in the Congo (Katanga) civil war. Wasn’t this a cool period?

    What on earth gives these characters expertise and experience to carry out such a ridiculous study. Instead of violent conflict with Temp increase, when the temp exceeded 45C in the upper Niger basin, people lolled around in the shade. Myself as a geologist, probably because of the mad- dogs- and -Englishmen syndrome, carried on working. When it rained, people took cover. Boulder is making an ass of itself. Also, note that they are talking about the equatorial, where according to all their models there is no temp increases (I can vouch for that, in the 1960s Lagos was the same temp as it is now.

  16. In East Africa 95% of the native forest has been destroyed by human activities in the last 75 years. No doubt this has affected the regional climate. The reduced rainfall has certainly had a negative impact on agriculture. The cause is anthropogenic but little to do with carbon dioxide.

  17. Spen, I am sure you are right, but, (haven’t been able to locate it as yet) there is a charity over here in the PDEU UK satellite state, that encourages actors, actresses, entertainers of various kinds, oh & the ubiquitous celebrities, to hand over paltry amounts of their dosh to equally encourage local African farmers to stop cutting down trees. I suspect that because these ignorant yet well meaning “slebs” et al think anyone outside the entertainment world in also ignorant, they haven’t worked out that farmers are now (presumeably because evidence is neede to support a claim), deliberately cutting down trees to claim more dosh to stop them………cutting down trees!!!

  18. It sounds so strange that an important issue like climate has been at backburner in most part of the world and global demagogues are involved in number games on the basis of proxy-type war on terrorism wherever most of the powerful countries are using smaller ones against each other. Making huge promises to take action for climate has become routine at global forums where reviewes are made extensively but actions are taken so briefly.

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