Climate Change Not Linked To African Wars
Excerpts from: Quirin Schiermeier, Nature News, 6 September 2010
In his popular 2008 book Climate Wars, the US journalist and military historian Gwynne Dyer laid out a daunting scenario. Climate change would put growing pressure on fresh water and food over the coming century, he wrote, triggering social disorder, mass migration and violent conflict.
But is there real proof of a link between climate change and civil war — particularly in crisis-ridden parts of Africa — as many have claimed?
No, says Halvard Buhaug, a political scientist with the Peace Research Institute Oslo in Norway. In research published today [this week] in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, he finds virtually no correlation between climate-change indicators such as temperature and rainfall variability and the frequency of civil wars over the past 50 years in sub-Saharan Africa — arguably the part of the world that is socially and environmentally most vulnerable to climate change. “The primary causes of civil war are political, not environmental,” says Buhaug.
The analysis challenges a study published last year that claimed to have found a causal connection between climate warming and civil violence in Africa. Marshall Burke, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues, reported a strong historical relationship between temperature and the incidence of civil war. They found that the likelihood of armed conflict across the continent rose by around 50% in unusually warm years during 1981-20022. Projected future warming threatens to offset the positive effects of democratization and eradicating poverty in Africa, they warned.
Burke maintains that his findings are robust, and counters that Buhaug has cherry-picked his data sets to support his hypothesis. “Although we have enjoyed discussing it with him, we definitely do not agree with Halvard on this,” says Burke. “There are legitimate disagreements about which data to use, [but] basically we think he’s made some serious econometric mistakes that undermine his results. He does not do a credible job of controlling for other things beyond climate that might be going on.”
Buhaug disagrees vigorously. “If they accuse me of highlighting data sets in favour of my hypothesis, then this applies tenfold more to their own paper.”
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