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At a recent debate in Iowa, democratic presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders said there is a clear link between climate change and the growth of terrorism around the world. Is there a causal relationship between the two? Is climate change somehow feeding violent extremism?
A report from the National Academy of Sciences tried to answer this question, by looking at the effects of climate change in the Fertile Crescent region. The area, which includes Iraq and Syria, has seen the effects of climate change become substantially worse, beginning in 2007. That winter was the start of the region's worst drought in recorded history. This dry weather had disastrous effects on eastern Syria and northern Iraq, where a great amount of grain is usually produced. Researchers from the NAS concluded that extreme dry weather has become much more frequent in the region, with human interference playing a major role.
The drought led to a major crisis in the agriculture industry, including water insecurity and a depletion of livestock populations. This sparked a mass migration of people from rural areas into urban centers, but the Syrian cities were not equipped to sustain such an influx. High unemployment and general dissatisfaction helped to spark an uprising in Syria in March 2011, which in turn prompted a response of brute force from the Syrian regime and ultimately led to the country's civil war. That war has created a power vacuum in Syria that has allowed ISIS to station their terrorist efforts.
Drawing a direct causal relationship here between climate change and ISIS-led terrorism is not simple. In fact, it's not really accurate. Rather, research clearly indicates that the effects of climate change were compounded by other circumstances within Syria that ultimately led to the country's civil war and created a space for ISIS extremists to carry out their agenda.
Obama ends Paris climate visit with spotlight on legacy (cnn.com)
"President Barack Obama has long made clear he wants action on climate change to be part of his legacy, and Tuesday in Paris he raised the stakes."
Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought (pnas.org)
"Before the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, the greater Fertile Crescent experienced the most severe drought in the instrumental record."
Researchers Link Syrian Conflict to a Drought Made Worse by Climate Change (nytimes.com)
"Drawing one of the strongest links yet between global warming and human conflict, researchers said Monday that an extreme drought in Syria between 2006 and 2009 was most likely due to climate change, and that the drought was a factor in the violent uprising that began there in 2011."
Bernie Sanders doubles down on climate change-terrorism link (cbsnews.com)
"Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders doubled down on the link between terrorism and climate change Sunday in defense of his stance that global warming presents the greatest national security threat to the United States."