May 19, 2019 | Updated: 11:49 AM EDT

Climate Change Helped Fuel Syrian Civil War

Mar 06, 2015 03:55 PM EST

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By now it is pretty clear that we are beginning to experience visible effects resulting from climate change.  Melting ice sheets, extreme drought and even heavy rain and snowfall can all be attributed to climate change.  But one of the most terrifying results of climate change is the increased threat of war.  A new study has found evidence that climate change stoked the fires and helped plunge Syria into civil war.

From 2006-2010, Syria faced an unprecedented drought that altered the face of the landscape drying up the groundwater forcing many farmers to abandon their homes and their farms and flood Syria's largest cities.  These cities were already struggling to sustain the influx of over 1 million refugees from the conflict in Iraq.  The Syrian government ignored warning from the people that then turned into violent protests culminating in the 2011 civil war, and eventually, ISIS.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science provides the clearest evidence to date that human-induced global warming made the drought much more likely.  The study is the first to examine drought as a cause of war in any quantitative detail in any country, ultimately linking it to climate change.

"It's a pretty convincing climate fingerprint," said Retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, a meteorologist who's now a professor at Penn State University. After decades of poor water policy, "there was no resilience left in the system." Titley says, given that context, that the record-setting drought caused Syria to "break catastrophically."

"It's not to say you could predict ISIS out of that, but you just set everything up for something really bad to happen." Given the new results, Titley says, "you can draw a very credible climate connection to this disaster we call ISIS right now."

The authors of the study are clear that global warming wasn't the direct cause of the conflict in Syria, but only one factor of many that helped make a bad situation worse.  It took a mix of social issues combined with an antagonistic government to spark the war, but the drought caused increased pressures on the population adding fuel to the fire leading to war.

Titley says that the connection between climate change and the Syrian conflict means it could be "a harbinger of where we may end up more in the future."  Titley continues to help shape the positions of the U.S. military on climate change into a more proactive one so the military is better prepared to handle increase conflict in the wake of climate change.

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