On 14 November 2016, the BISR Population, Environment and Resources Working Group hosted a talk on ‘Revolutions in a Warming World’: Lessons from Syria’ by Andreas Malm, Lund University. Here, Jonas Dudonis, an MSc student at Birkbeck, reflects on the talk.

The more we talk about the catastrophic implications of climate change, the more fossil fuels we carry on burning.

This introductory statement could depict at its finest what we clearly see in today’s world view on fossil fuels.

I recently attended a talk by Andreas Malm, an Associate Senior Lecturer from Lund University, Sweden. He delivered the talk by presenting his findings from his most recent book ‘Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming’. Although in his book, he focuses more on the historical development of fossil fuel extraction and goes through lineage from steam to coal to oil usage, during his talk, he tries to converge his most significant findings from his book and link them all together by delivering a fascinating talk on climate change linkages to revolutions/conflicts.

US National Security considers climate change as a ‘threat multiplier.’ However, the absurdity of the situation is when the president-elect Donald J. Trump declares that the global warming is a Chinese invented hoax to make the US a non-competitive economy. How can we not become detached from facts, when there is so much contradiction and climate change denialism? It is the clearest instance how the facts and illusions clearly pass each other, and the climate change becomes ‘just’ another problem amongst many others.

The most compelling argument Lund makes is that we should not focus on solving the conflicts in isolation, e.g. Syria. What is happening, as Lund says, is that we falsely see conflicts arising and continuing as events unfold rather restricted in themselves and detached from the bigger picture. For example, Syria’s revolution starts, then we are faced with a migration crisis, then the need to resolve the conflict becomes obvious and so on. However, Syria is probably the most conclusive case, where  a direct link can be made between the climate change and conflict ascending from the civil unrest. The region experienced extremely dry summers during the late 2000s and, as a result, the crops failed leaving the peasants starving. It is important to note, this was quickly forgotten as soon as the conflict had gained acceleration and the focus shifted towards Bashar al-Assad’s efforts to suppress the revolution. Later on, the main focus moved from Bashar al-Assad to emerging and strengthening ISIS and this continues to be the focal point as of today.

The talks we hear on how to resolve the Syrian conflict are almost all related to the migration crisis, stabilising the regime in Syria and bringing back the fertile crescent to a liveable place on earth. However, what is missing is the role played by climate change. To overlook its overarching impact is the biggest threat to future conflict resolution, Lund claims.

Future debates on climate change should not be solely limited to arrangements on reducing the fossil fuel burning or trying to achieve the figure X in rising temperatures by year X, but should also take into account the possible conflict resolution strategies that climate change is likely to bring in the less stable regions of the world in the future.

Listen to the podcast of the lecture

This post was contributed by Jonas Dudonis, an MSc student completing ‘Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict’ in Birkbeck’s Department of Politics.  He tweets at @JonasDudonis

The Population, Environment and Resources (PER) Working Group examines global connections between population, environment and resource dynamics and their links to politics.

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