World Policy Blog: Don’t Blame the Weather
Truman Fellow Lionel Beehner writes in the World Policy Blog:
The spike in so-called “green-on-blue” killings by Afghan troops has prompted at least one theory by General John Allen, America’s top commander there, and others: The weather made them do it. The combination of Ramadan, whereby Afghan Muslims are prohibited from drinking water from dawn till dusk, and the humid August weather, has made these troops especially twitchy. In Syria, a related theory links the success of rebels to the weather, in particular to rainfall patterns. C.J. Chivers, blogging recently in The New York Times, found the prospect of rebel victories aligns with the northern region’s unpredictable rainy season. Rain, his theory goes, leads to abundant harvests, which in turn fuels the insurgency by keeping its fighters well fed. “Revolutions need many things,” Chivers wrote, “but one element is essential: food.” And Nature magazine made waves last summer after publishing an article claiming that the warming effects of El Niño can explain over one-fifth of all civil wars.
Can abnormal climate patterns really predict political violence, much less predict green-on-blue attacks by Afghan forces or future civil wars? The answer is: It’s complicated, but generally no. The conventional wisdom among Neo-Malthusian scientists is that higher temperatures lead to lower agricultural yields, which can heighten conflict due to droughts, food insecurity, and the social dislocations of migratory rural workers. Others stress the internal migration of rural workers in search of jobs to cities or regions less vulnerable to climate swings or the social unrest this dislocation creates.