After ostensibly trying to separate global warming from national security concerns, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley Monday jumped on the bandwagon of those claiming global warming created the conditions necessary for Islamic State to grow.
“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 now led to the rise of ISIL and this extreme violence,” O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, told Bloomberg news in a question about foreign policy.
O’Malley’s comments echo those of the Obama administration and environmentalists who are trying to paint global warming as not just an environmental issue, but also a national security problem.
In May, Obama told graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to prepare for the fight against global warming. The White House has been trying to shift the focus of global warming away from temperature and more towards public health and national security.
In past comments, O’Malley made a point to declare global warming a “natural threat,” distinguishing it from “man-made” threats, the greatest of which he said is a nuclear Iran.
“The greatest danger that we face right now on a consistent basis in terms of manmade threats is — is — nuclear Iran and related to that, extremist violence,” O’Malley told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos March 29. “I don’t think you can separate the two. I think they go together.”
“In terms of natural threats, clearly, it’s climate change. And we have to confront — we have to confront manmade and natural threats,” O’Malley added.
Now it seems O’Malley is playing up the national security side of global warming, joining a chorus of scientists and environmental activists claiming the war in Syria is a prime example of how a warming Earth will cause violent conflicts.
For years, reports have been trickling out attempting to link the beginnings of Syria’s deadly civil war and the rise of Islamic State to global warming. Most recently, a study out of the University of California, Berkeley argued that man-made global warming made Syria’s 2006 to 2010 drought worse, therefore driving political discontent and civil war.
Though the study’s authors are careful not claim that the drought directly caused the rise of ISIS, liberal media outlets were quick to make the jump.
So, is global warming responsible for the rise of Islamic State? Not likely.
Even if a drought did exacerbate tensions in Syria, research shows environmental factors are rarely the cause of violent conflict. Other researchers have postulated it was the Bashar Assad regime’s response to the drought that sparked tensions, not the drought itself. Syrians are no strangers to prolonged, vicious droughts. People there have weathered their way through low rainfall.
In terms of the climate science behind the claim: there’s not much evidence of a man-made fingerprint on the climatic backdrop of the conflict.
“It is not until you dig pretty deep into the technical scientific literature, that you find out that the anthropogenic climate change impact on drought conditions in the Fertile Crescent is extremely minimal and tenuous—so much so that it is debatable as to whether it is detectable at all,” wrote Chip Knappenberger and Patrick Michaels, climate scientists at the libertarian Cato Institute March 5.
The two scientists argued “the identifiable influence of human-caused climate change on recent drought conditions in the Fertile Crescent was almost certainly not the so-called straw that broke the camel’s back and led to the outbreak of conflict in Syria.”
Drought “conditions which are part and parcel of the region climate and the intensity and frequency of which remain dominated by natural variability, even in this era of increasing greenhouse gas emissions from human activities,” the scientists added.
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