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08/06/2013

Does global warming mean more conflict? Yes, says another study

Somalia

A file photo of Somali refugees in Dadaab in Kenya. (AFP photo)

A compelling new study in Science journal says changing climate is closely linked to increase in conflict around the world.

Researchers from Princeton University and University of California-Berkeley say that even slight spikes in temperature and rainfall have greatly increased the risk of violence and social upheaval throughout human history. At a time when earth is projected to be 2 degrees Celsius warmer by 2050, authors say more human conflict is a likely outcome of climate change.

The scientists found even small changes in temperature or rainfall correlated with a rise in assaults, rapes and murders, and group conflicts and war.

Researchers analyzed 60 studies from around the world — including criminology, economics and psychology — with data spanning hundreds of years. Then they recalculated the risk and concluded that violence would rise under hotter and wetter conditions.

For instance, there was an increase in domestic violence cases in India during recent droughts, and a spike in assaults, rapes and murders during heatwaves in the U.S.

In “larger” conflicts, the examples presented were the ethnic clashes in Europe and civil wars in Africa.

They even calculated an estimated increase in violence: a 2 degrees Celsius rise in global temperature could see personal crimes increase by about 15 per cent, and group conflicts rise by as much as 50 per cent in some already volatile regions.

Earlier this year, the Centre for American Progress published a series of essays titled The Arab Spring and Climate Change. The essays made the persuasive case that interplay between climate change, food prices and politics is a hidden stressor and it helped fuel the revolutions. 

But the researchers say that climate change is not the sole or primary cause of violence — it is a stressor, that exacerbates existing social and interpersonal tension in all societies, regardless of wealth or stability.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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