Climate Change and Civil Conflict

Nat Geo recently published an article “Climate Change Helped Spark Syrian War” and while it’s an interesting headline and argument, it really doesn’t offer any serious data. I’m also frustrated by a claim made by a UC Berkeley Professor, Solomon Hsiang :”Up until now we’ve understood and established that changes in climate may affect human conflict in the future. But everything until now has stopped short of saying climate change is already having an effect,”

But Solomon, what about India?

We’ve seen how the drought and pollution in the Ganges have caused civil conflict and a guerilla monopoly over water.

07 Dec 2001, Varanasi, India --- A sewage pipe from one of the Ganges Action Plan boosters overflows pollutants into the Ganges River in Varanasi. Considered the holiest river by Hindus, the Ganges River is now also one of the most polluted. Industrial waste and sewage flows directly into the river which brims with human activity from the millions of devout Hindus who take a holy dip in it everyday. The Ganges Action Plan, launched in 1986 by the government of India, has not achieved any success despite an expenditure of over five billion rupees. --- Image by © Amit Bhargava/Corbis
07 Dec 2001, Varanasi, India — A sewage pipe from one of the Ganges Action Plan boosters overflows pollutants into the Ganges River in Varanasi. Considered the holiest river by Hindus, the Ganges River is now also one of the most polluted. Industrial waste and sewage flows directly into the river which brims with human activity from the millions of devout Hindus who take a holy dip in it everyday. The Ganges Action Plan, launched in 1986 by the government of India, has not achieved any success despite an expenditure of over five billion rupees. — Image by © Amit Bhargava/Corbis
Residents of Sanjay Colony, a residential neighbourhood, crowd around a water tanker provided by the state-run Delhi Jal (water) Board to fill their containers in New Delhi June 30, 2009. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has given directives to tackle the burgeoning water crisis caused by uneven distribution of water in the city according to local media. The board is responsible for supplying water in the capital. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (INDIA ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY)
Residents of Sanjay Colony, a residential neighbourhood, crowd around a water tanker provided by the state-run Delhi Jal (water) Board to fill their containers in New Delhi June 30, 2009. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has given directives to tackle the burgeoning water crisis caused by uneven distribution of water in the city according to local media. The board is responsible for supplying water in the capital. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi (INDIA ENVIRONMENT SOCIETY)

Why is India overlooked in this cause and effect scenario Nat Geo has applied to the Syrian war? Surely scale has something to do with it; the Syrian war has taken a vast amount of lives in a very short time.

Could the media also play a role in this? We’ve all heard something about conflict in Syria in the news recently, but can the same be said for India? No one is talking about the lack of water in India the way they talk about Syria.

I respect this article because its intentions are good and its goal is shared by all civil scientists and climate believers: get people talking and thinking about the effects of climate change, especially those that exist already. I just wish it had been put together with more care, and that Solomon Hsiang chose his words more carefully. Up until now, there have been many signs of conflict due to climate change, one just has to want to see them.