The pseudoscience of climate wars: climate does not control human violence

A welcome paper after last weeks nonsense where a new “scientific field” was created to study the effects of climate on human conflict. This paper claimed – by playing rather silly numbers games – that conflict was linked to the El Niño cycles. What passes for science: Mindless number games show El Niño correlates with civil war! Correlations do not necessarily indicate causality. It is not difficult to find correlations between entirely unrelated parameters. The El Niño – civil war correlation fulfils all the requirements of a pseudoscience.

The “Climate Wars” pseudoscience is clearly shown up by Dr. Bruno Tertrais in a new paper in The Washington Quarterly • 34:3 pp. 1729, The Climate Wars MythDOI: 10.1080/0163660X.2011.587951.

He writes:

The first decade of the 21st century was the hottest since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution….. Think tanks have enthusiastically embraced this new field of research, and militaries around the world are now actively studying the possible impact of a warming planet on global security. Books with titles such as Climate Wars predict a bleak future. 

A well-known French consultant claims that a five degree Celsius increase in average global temperature would generate no less than a ‘‘bloodbath.’’ Former World Bank economist Lord Nicholas Stern the author of the 2006 ‘‘Stern Report’’ on the possible economic impact of climate change even declares that failing to deal with climate change decisively would lead to ‘‘an extended world war.’’ 

However, there is every reason to be more than circumspect regarding such dire predictions. History shows that ‘‘warm’’ periods are more peaceful than ‘‘cold’’ ones. In the modern era, the evolution of the climate is not an essential factor to explain collective violence. Nothing indicates that ‘‘water wars’’ or floods of ‘‘climate refugees’’ are on the horizon. And to claim that climate change may have an impact on security is to state the obviousbut it does not make it meaningful for defense planning.

… if there was any significant link between warfare and warming, the number of conflicts should have been rising in the past two decades. It has not quite the contrary. Since the end of the Cold War, the total number of wars, after having steadily increased since 1945, has diminished. Statistics published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which come from work done at the Uppsala University, clearly show such a decrease. 

Some of the most catastrophic scenarios of climate change-induced conflict just do not stand up to scrutiny. … 

He concludes:

There are indeed, it seems, some causal links between climate and warfare. But they are of a seasonal nature: ‘‘nations address seasonal climate change in terms of where they fight, rather than through when or whether disputes occur.  . . . Fighting moves to higher latitudes in the summer, and lower latitudes during the cooler months of the year.’’ 
The stakes of climate change are important and that is why this area should not be the object of intellectual fantasies or fashions. It is appropriate for defense and security planners to monitor the evolution of the scientific and political debate on its possible consequences. But there is no objective reason today to list climate change as a key issue for defense and security planning.

Read the whole paper

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