What You’re Saying: Uncommon Discourse on Climate-Security LinkagesOctober 8, 2010 By Wilson Center StaffMarc Levy’s response to Halvard Buhaug’s much ballyhooed paper, “Climate not to blame for African civil wars,” has drawn a number of thoughtful, interesting responses from our readers.
Idean Salehyan, of PRIO and the University of North Texas, defends Halvard’s paper and points out that Marshall Burke and his colleagues (see “Warming increases the risk of civil war in Africa”) are guilty of similar immodesty:
I think Halvard would agree with all of this (I was a discussant on a previous version of this paper). His analysis simply points out problems with the Burke et al paper’s model specification. Buhaug’s is a modest contribution about model specification and appropriate data; it should be read as a response to an earlier paper rather than as a definitive statement about climate change and conflict. The headline is certainly provocative and unfortunate. However, he makes a useful corrective to overly simplistic causal claims, which typically dominate the popular literature on climate change and conflict. Yes, he could have been a little more modest with the title and with the conclusions, but then again, so could Burke and his colleagues.Cullen Hendrix, of the Climate Change and African Political Stability team and also of the University of North Texas, highlights the complexity of the many degrees of conflict:
Marc’s assessment is spot-on, so I won’t belabor the point other than to reiterate that Halvard is making a limited point about specific empirical relationships and causal pathways.And Halvard himself chimes in as well:
In addition to the issues raised by Idean, I would add that there’s an unfortunate tendency to think about social conflict only through the lens of civil war. The environment and conflict literature is dominated by such studies. While civil war is undoubtedly an important subject of inquiry, there are many types of social conflict that could be related to climate change, warming, and environmental shocks. We need to pay increasing attention to conflict that doesn’t fit neatly into either the interstate or intrastate war paradigm.
I believe we’re all pretty much on the same page here. My article has little to do with climate change per se; instead is focuses on short-term climate variability and the extent to which it affects the risk of intrastate armed conflict. Yet, as climate change is expected to bring about more variability and less predictability in future weather patterns, knowing how past climatic shocks or anomalies relate to armed conflict is relevant.To follow the full conversation or respond yourself, see Marc Levy’s post, “On the Beat: Climate-Security Linkages Lost in Translation.”
I absolutely agree that breaking out of the state-centered understanding of conflict is an important next step. Similarly, as Marc points to, more research is needed on possible scope conditions and longer-term indirect causal links that might connect climate with violent behavior. That said, we should not ignore established, robust correlates of conflict. Climate change is not likely to bring about conflict and war in well-functioning societies, so improving the quality of governance and creating opportunities for sustainable economic growth, regardless of the specific role of climate in all of this, are likely to remain key policy priorities.
Photo Credit: “Symposium scene,” courtesy of flickr user Ian W Scott.