A team of experts at Iowa State University has identified ways that climate change will increase the likelihood of violence, based on established models of aggression and violence. The most obvious is the effect of higher temperatures, which can cause irritability and hostility. The other effects are less direct, resulting from conditions such as failing crops and economic instability.
The study authors noted that these risk factors will become more prevalent as a result of climate change-induced disasters, including hurricanes, droughts, floods, and water shortages.
According to study co-author Professor Craig Anderson, some natural disasters are so extensive and long term that large groups of people are forced to migrate from their homeland. He explained that this “eco-migration” creates intergroup conflicts over resources, which can escalate into political violence, civil wars, or wars between nations.
“This is a global issue with very serious consequences. We need to plan for ways to reduce the negative impacts,” said Professor Anderson. “An inadequate food supply and economic disparity make it difficult to raise healthy and productive citizens, which is one way to reduce long-term violence. We also need to plan for and devote resources to aid eco-migrants in their relocation to new lands and countries.”
Professor Anderson fears the effects of eco-migration and conflict will be the most destructive. He pointed out that we are already seeing the migration of large groups in response to this type of instability, such as the ongoing conflict in Syria.
“Although the most extreme events, such as all-out war, are relatively unlikely, the consequences are so severe that we cannot afford to ignore them,” said Professor Anderson. “That is why the U.S. and other countries must make sure these regional conflicts and eco-migration problems don’t get out of hand. One way to do that is to provide appropriate aid to refugees and make it easier for them to migrate to regions where they can be productive, healthy and happy.”
Professor Anderson and study lead author Andreas Miles-Novelo explained that the purpose of their research is to raise awareness among the scientific community to help prevent harmful consequences. They also want to educate the public on the potential for increased violence with climate change.
“From past experience with natural disasters, we should be able to prepare for future problems by setting aside emergency resources and funds,” said Miles-Novelo. “We should tear down negative stereotypes and prejudices about those who will need help and humanely assist refugees and others who are displaced. By doing all these things we can reduce conflict and hostility.”
The study is published in the journal Current Climate Change Reports.
Image Credit: Christopher Gannon, Iowa State University News Service
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