There’s a tough irony in a study earlier this month that predicted higher levels of violence and conflict in a warming world.
The research, led by economists Solomon Hsiang and Edward Miguel of UC Berkeley and published in the early August edition of Science, [sub required], suggested that “as the world gets warmer, people are more likely to get hot under the collar,” CBS News reported. After analysing 60 studies of war, violent crime, and the collapse of empires, researchers “found a common thread over centuries: Extreme weather—very hot or dry—means more violence.”
Among other findings, the Berkeley team concluded that civil wars are more likely to break out, police officers are quicker to fire their weapons, drivers are less patient, and violent spouses become more so, when tempers are frayed by hotter weather. Even a 2°C temperature increase—an accepted international target that seems increasingly beyond our grasp, and may itself still be a “prescription for disaster”—could boost armed conflicts by more than 50%.
It’s a problem that could feed on itself, when you consider that:
- Hotter, more extreme weather is exactly what we can expect for the foreseeable future.
- It’s hard to see how humanity will gain control of the climate crisis if we’re more inclined to fight and less inclined to talk.
Closing the Window on Cooperation
This isn’t the first study to connect climate change with violence and war.
In 2008, Canadian journalist and military historian Gwynne Dyer published the first edition of Climate Wars, a book that explored the security risks we can foresee in a warming world. After a career of analysing and reporting on war, conflict, and peacekeeping, Dyer approached climate change by doing what he always does: He interviewed his contacts in some of the world’s top military and scientific establishments to find out what they were thinking.
“In a number of great powers, climate change scenarios are already playing a large and increasing role in the military planning process,” Dyer reported.
“There is a probability of wars, even nuclear wars, if temperatures rise two to three degrees Celsius. Once that happens, all hope of international cooperation to curb emissions and stop the warming goes out the window.”
Talking Our Way to a Solution
That’s troubling, because so much of the search for climate change solutions—and anything having to do with climate communication—depends on dialogue, deliberation, and trust.
When I attended the Climate Reality Project training program in Chicago earlier this summer, I was one of 1,500 participants who spent half a week learning the science and impacts of climate change and honing the skills we would need to tell the story in our communities. The underlying assumption was that people can learn through dialogue, then change our practices and shift our societies and economies on the strength of that learning.
Last December, when the Trottier Energy Futures Project held a dialogue on biomass fuels, we took on a specialized but very important topic, the sustainability of bioenergy feedstocks in a low-carbon future. That was where we thought in-depth deliberation across a wide range of assumptions, philosophies, and technical backgrounds would generate useful knowledge.
Whether we’re working to communicate the problems or understand the solutions, it will take ideas, inspiration, trust, patience with each other, and impatience with the sources of carbon pollution to solve the climate crisis. If the warmer world we’re creating makes some of those intellectual resources more scarce, we’ll just have to dig deeper and try even harder to get the job done.
This post is part of a regular series on climate change communications, policy, and action. Sustainability is at the core of Smarter Shift’s operations, and we see the transition to low-carbon energy futures as the single most important area to apply our expertise in content marketing and online community management. Whether you’re an energy specialist, a communicator, or a marketer, please join this conversation as though the future depended on it!