Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley linked climate change to the rise of ISIS earlier this week. Conservatives pounced. Score this round for O’Malley.For three years now, leading security and climate experts — and Syrians themselves — have made the connection between climate change and the Syrian civil war. Indeed, when a major peer-reviewed study came out on in March making this very case, Retired Navy Rear Admiral David Titley said it identifies “a pretty convincing climate fingerprint” for the Syrian drought.
Titley, a meteorologist who led the U.S. Navy’s Task Force on Climate Change when he was at the Pentagon, also said, “you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now.”
Compare the words of Admiral Titley — former Deputy Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance (!) and currently Director of Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risks. — with O’Malley’s (video here):
“One of the things that preceded the failure of the nation-state of Syria and the rise of ISIS was the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that affected that region, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis that created the symptoms — or rather, the conditions — of extreme poverty that has led now to the rise of ISIL and this extreme violence.”
Let’s run through the science underpinning what O’Malley, Admiral Titley, and others have said.
We know that the Syrian civil war that helped drive the rise of the terrorist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) was itself spawned in large part by what one expert called perhaps “the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent,” from 2006 to 2010.
That drought destroyed the livelihood of 800,000 people according to the U.N. and sent vastly more into poverty. The poor and displaced fled to cities, “where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011,” as the study’s news release explains.
The March 2015 study, “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” found that global warming made Syria’s 2006 to 2010 drought two to three times more likely. “While we’re not saying the drought caused the war,” lead author Dr. Colin Kelley explained. “We are saying that it certainly contributed to other factors — agricultural collapse and mass migration among them — that caused the uprising.”
In particular, the study finds that climate change is already drying the region out in two ways: “First, weakening wind patterns that bring rain-laden air from the Mediterranean reduced precipitation during the usual November-to-April wet season. In addition, higher temperatures increased moisture evaporation from soils during the usually hot summers.”
This study and others make clear that for large parts of the not-terribly-stable region around Syria — including Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and parts of Turkey and Iraq — brutal multi-year droughts are poised to become the norm in the coming decades if we don’t reverse carbon pollution trends ASAP.
Climate models had long predicted that the countries surrounding the Mediterranean would start drying out. In general, climate science says dry areas will get dryer and wet areas wetter.
Press link for more: Joe Romm | thinkprogress.org