I remember laughing to myself when I first read about this in The Guardian. I thought it was junk science then, turns out I was right.
There is a new study from the University of Melbourne, the Georg Eckert Institute and Freie Universität which has found several problems with research related to assessing the propensity for war amid environmental changes due to ‘global warming’.
The paper, just published in Nature Climate Change, demonstrates that much of current research on the topic (such as what was pushed by the Guardian article) suffers from a multitude of flaws and bias. The study points out that making predictions regarding future conflicts must be based on unbiased research efforts, and this is something that has not been done very well so far.
The researchers examined over 100 papers published from 1990 to 2017 claiming a link between global warming and warfare, and they found substantial bias. For example, much of the research was focused on headline-making conflicts rather than small-scale affairs.
They also noted that most of the conflicts occurred in areas where people spoke English, making it easier for the researchers (the low hanging fruit problem), but leaving out many areas that they likely should have studied but did not. They also found that many of the studies focused on areas that were already experiencing conflict, such as Syria and Sudan.
Here’s the kicker; they found that areas of study were often not even those that have been deemed more likely to be affected by global warming in the first place.
This is the second study in the last year debunking claims of the Syrian war being started by climate change, I reported on the first back in Sept, 2017: Sorry alarmists: New research disputes claims that climate change helped spark the Syrian civil war
Here is the new study: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0068-2
Sampling bias in climate–conflict research, Nature Climate Change (2018).
Critics have argued that the evidence of an association between climate change and conflict is flawed because the research relies on a dependent variable sampling strategy. Similarly, it has been hypothesized that convenience of access biases the sample of cases studied (the ‘streetlight effect’). This also gives rise to claims that the climate–conflict literature stigmatizes some places as being more ‘naturally’ violent. Yet there has been no proof of such sampling patterns. Here we test whether climate–conflict research is based on such a biased sample through a systematic review of the literature. We demonstrate that research on climate change and violent conflict suffers from a streetlight effect. Further, studies which focus on a small number of cases in particular are strongly informed by cases where there has been conflict, do not sample on the independent variables (climate impact or risk), and hence tend to find some association between these two variables. These biases mean that research on climate change and conflict primarily focuses on a few accessible regions, overstates the links between both phenomena and cannot explain peaceful outcomes from climate change. This could result in maladaptive responses in those places that are stigmatized as being inherently more prone to climate-induced violence.