I watched a talk by Clionadh Raleigh on Climate Violence (see video at the end of the post). I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it, but I certainly found it quite thought provoking. The bottom line was that there is very little evidence (if any) to suggest a link between climate change and conflict/violence. In fact, the speaker appears to have significant issues with the climate conflict debate. In particular, the idea that it’s deterministic. In other words, the suggestion that people in some regions might respond deterministically to changes in climate: it gets warmer and they become more violent, for example. This is clearly nonsense. Similarly, the military regarding it as a security issue, rather than a humanitarian issue, is also problematic.
However, it wasn’t clear to me that what some are suggesting is that it is indeed deterministic. My understanding (and I’m not that familiar with this, so may be wrong) is that there are indications that climate change may be exaccerbating factors that could enhance instability in regions that might be prone to instability. I’m not aware of examples where people have made claims of actual environmental determinism. Additionally, even if there is little evidence of a link now, continuing to pump CO2 into the atmosphere could produce changes that could impact these regions. In fact, the speaker seemed to acknowledge that environmental factors could be linked to conflict, but seemed rather dismissive of a link between these environmental factors and climate change.
However, there was an aspect of the talk that I thought I would comment on further. Part of what was presented seemed to be rather critical of natural/physical scientists and suggested that some of what they were supposedly doing was appalling and dangerous. Not only are these quite value-laden, but if someone thinks this rhetoric is appropriate, then they become open for it to be applied to them too. Someone in the audience pointed out that after reading the talk abstract, they’d assumed that the speaker was a science denier, which the speaker strongly denied (and their talk did make this pretty clear).
It was also pointed out that by dismissing a link between climate and conflict you run the risk of people assuming that mitigating climate change is pointless, especially given that we can’t dismiss such a link in future even if there is little evidence for such a link now. Given who seem to be promoting this talk (Global Warming Policy Foundation, cliscep, Paul Homewood) this would seem to be a valid concern. I think it’s perfectly fine to be clear about what the evidence suggests, but one has to be careful of making too strong statements (there is no link to climate) to rebut others who are also making statements that are too strong (there is a clear link to climate).
However, I did find the talk very thought provoking and would be interested in other people’s views. I do think we have to be careful of presenting results that suggest that there are people in some regions who will mindlessly respond to climatic changes, because this is clearly nonsense. On the other hand, we have the potential to emit enough GHGs that we could produce substantial changes in regions that are potentially prone to instability, and appearing to dismiss this (or being interpreted as dismissing this) can also be problematic.