Climate change is fueling extremism, raising tempers along with temperatures, researchers say — and they’re worried the increase in violence around climate change will get worse before it gets better.
While it will be several more years before the full impacts of climate change reach the West, the scientists involved in the study say that could be an opportune time to address it.
“The longer we wait to address the question of violence in the context of climate change, the longer we’re going to go,” said David Schneider, a senior researcher and adjunct professor at the International Social Science Council’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at Columbia University.
“I think it’s something we need to do now,” he added.
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Climate change is already affecting the way people around the globe live. Temperatures are rising faster, and sea levels are rising faster than they have in the past 150 years.
War, as well, is also rising. The number of people killed in conflict-related deaths has risen significantly in recent decades, from about 400,000 in 1975 to more than one million in 2015, according to the United Nations.
In the US, the number of civilian deaths during international military conflict nearly doubled between 1998 and 2005, from 5,000 to 11,000, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
While each of these problems is distinct from the others, they all stem from an increase in the prevalence of weather-related risk factors, according to the researchers.
The report is the first to look at how climate change — which is already impacting the West — may increase risk for violence, and the researchers hope the findings will contribute to the debate over the future of conflict.
“It’s an extremely hot topic,” said Schneider, who is also a professor of global health at Harvard University. “There’s been quite a lot of research done on all these issues, and these are not isolated problems, for example, violence can happen in any place that has water shortages, and those water shortages can happen in any place in the US.”
It’s easy to see the effect of these issues on one another, he added.
“In the case of water access, it’s one thing to talk about having access to clean water, but it’s a completely different one to talk about people with access to clean water being vulnerable to violence, for example… there’s