Syria: A climatic war foreshadowing those to come
The idea that the war in Syria can be partially explained by climate change is one that is often overlooked. The connection between conflict and climate change – whether it’s down to drought, food scarcity, or environmental degradation to homes – is stronger than it appears, and is one that needs to be urgently addressed before it is too late.
This article was originally published in Eldiario on the 9th of September 2015.
We have finally remembered that there is a war in Syria and that its horrors are forcing its people to flee to Europe. So, now is also the time to understand the reasons behind the war in Syria. Let’s remember that in September 2010, a drought in the north-east of the country left millions of people in extreme poverty. The war began in March 2011 with the first revolts occurring in the driest regions of the country.
Can a drought provoke a war? Of course, given its serious repercussions on harvests or the availability of water. Equally, it can be caused through the overexploitation of resources, deforestation, loss of fertile lands and, in general, any climate or environmental phenomenon that changes the population’s conditions of life and access to basic resources. Some of these causes, together with a series of political, social and production factors, can trigger or intensify a crisis.
Thomas L. Friedman, a New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize recipient, has vividly connected the conflicts in the Middle East, such as that in Syria, with environmental factors in various books and articles. We should not forget that Darfur could be considered the first climate war and that there are studies showing the influence of El Niño on civil wars in tropical countries since the mid-20th century. Meanwhile, the Arab Springs in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, etc. were first and foremost “food riots” where the underlying food crisis was, in turn, strongly influenced by environmental, climate and energy factors.
So that there are no further doubts: conflicts and climate change threats are going to multiply and, as Freeman writes, “[t]wenty years from now, this could be all that we’re talking about.” And with those threats, the number of migrants and refugees will obviously increase. Indeed, climate change is today the principal cause for migrations in the world (more than 40 million people in 2011 alone!). According to the UNHCR, over the next 50 years up to one billion people, mainly from, but not only, the poorest countries, will be forced to migrate due to climate change.
So now, the question is, whether once all refugees from Syria have been distributed among the European countries, and once we have forgotten the drowned Syrian children, or the disgraceful confinements at refugee camps in Hungary, and once this tragedy disappears from the front pages, will we then have the courage to decisively confront climate change, which is largely due to us, the Northern Hemisphere countries (the European Union and Spain among others)?
The interdependence of the world is such that the coal-fired power stations of our electricity cartel, our transportation system based on the private car, and our level of unsustainable consumption are directly responsible for the climate change from which millions of people migrate, seek refuge, or die. The quantity of carbon emissions poured into the atmosphere by the wealthiest countries has and continues to generate misery and violence, the consequences of which, as in the case of Syria, arrive sooner or later at our doors.
The pressure from citizens demanding that Syrian refugees be welcomed and properly treated has been exemplary. Let’s use this tide to go further and demand resolute and effective actions to stem the causes generating millions of forced displacements across the world. With this momentum, the Paris Climate Summit (COP21) at the end of this year presents a political opportunity to commit to the discarding of fossil fuel subsidies and investments; engage in an environmental transition towards a new production and consumption model in which prosperity is compatible with the limitations of the planet; and fund the poorest countries in their struggle against climate change. However, like the refugee settlements, we cannot wait for the government to act; let’s start a grassroots green revolution.
We owe it to Aylan and his family, to all those unknown people risking their life every day in an attempt to reach a safe haven, to those who cannot escape and must suffer the horrors of wars created in part by us in the West, to our planet, to ourselves, and to our children.