Harvard professor Steven Pinker has argued that violence is on the decline. In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, he attributed such a statistically proven fact to, among other things, the growth of scientific knowledge and the diffusion of economic prosperity. But what if a changing atmosphere ends up... changing the atmosphere? What if a warming planet breaks a somewhat peaceful intermission in a violent human past?
Unfortunately, the case is not far-fetched. Droughts and conflict are already interrelated, as they left almost 124 million people in 51 countries facing acute food insecurity last year according to recent UN reports. Another study published in March by the World Bank, titled Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, holds that climate change will force tens of millions of people to migrate by 2050. Security experts maintain that hunger and migration are powerful enough forces to promote instability. Sea level rise, hurricanes and wildfires may add to the case.
If we cannot say that a hotter atmosphere directly generates conflicts, climate change is clearly a ‘threat multiplier’ (a term coined by Sherri Goodman, a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington) as it accelerates security risks. Just think of water. ‘Water stress can empower violent extremist organisations and place stable governments at risk,’ reads another report from CNA, an American security think-tank populated with retired generals and admirals.
Sure, the Pentagon has long been worried about the geopolitical implications of a changing climate. ‘The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet,’ US Navy admiral and oceanographer David Titley told me ten years ago, ‘and the Bering Strait will be as strategically vital as the Strait of Hormuz,’ where Saudi oil navigates. But something has changed. Just a month after expressing concern that 128 military bases in the US could be threatened by three feet of sea level rise, the Pentagon has scrapped climate change from its latest defence strategy. While so many papers point to the dangers of converging climate and war, the world’s biggest military magically erased the dilemma from its papers.
Needless to say, we enthusiastically root for the better angels of our nature, especially among the human generations to come. Provided they find themselves in the worldly paradise we all know, and not in a scorching hell.
This was published in the May 2018 edition of Geographical magazine
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