Different perspectives on climate and conflict

Nature Climate Change had a special feature article on climate and conflict in the current issue.

Perhaps more interesting than the coverage of our paper (which received more than its fair share already) are the various perspectives, stories and interpretations that Ms. Jones, the writer of the article, obtained from different researchers in the field.  Read it here.

A map of previous conflicts (1980–2005) attributed
to environmental issues, their sizes and causes.
Credit: Nature Climate Change

The only substantive comment I'll add is that the correlation between ENSO and conflict doesn't seem to be weakening in our data.  Jones writes
This 'recent-resilience' effect can also be seen in Africa: include very recent data and the link between heat and conflict starts to evaporate, says Buhaug. Even Miguel agrees that the link is disappearing, thanks in large part to recent economic recovery of some African nations and an overall decline in conflicts on the continent over the past 15 years. “If the trend in Africa continues, and this relationship continues to weaken, that would be a wonderful thing,” he says. Homer-Dixon, however, is sceptical. “We're seeing resurgent conflict in many places now. When the current food crisis hit, it knocked a lot of countries back.”
When our paper was being reviewed, my coauthors and I checked if this weakening was visible in our data since one of our referees pointed out that the relationship in Burke et al. weakened in the last decade. Unfortunately, if there is any trend in the strength of the link between ENSO and conflict, it's a strengthening of the relationship in the last two decades.  Because we weren't certain if this trend was meaningful (we have a very small sample to begin with) we didn't include this result in the paper.  But it is somewhat concerning, from a social perspective, that we don't find the weakening trend that one might expect.  We're not sure why such weakening isn't visible, but my coauthor Kyle Meng is using new datasets and analysis to try and figure it out (so stay tuned).  One hypothesis is that in our rapidly globalizing world, planetary-scale spatial correlations in environmental factors play an increasingly important role in commodity markets or geopolitics, but this is still only a hypothesis.

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