(In response to President Obama's recent speech linking conflict and Climate Change.)
Climate Change has never started a conflict. Even the well-worn example of the Syrian Civil War is so far off the mark that it verges on propaganda because it is propaganda. Bluntly, the Syrian Civil War, not the protests, was started and fueled by Saudi Arabia and Qatar with United States support signaling with weapons and diplomatic cover their war would be supported. It takes weapons to fight a war and those weapons were supplied by these nations.
Even the original Daraa protests were not caused by Climate Change. The protests were caused by the lack of governance and lack of political space for the farmers who were forced off their land by a drought. Logic dictates that if one statement is true and another identical statement is true then both statements must be equal.
Ethiopia is the prime disproof. Ethiopia has had a major famine and continues to be in significant food insecurity, but there is no civil war or violence stemming from that drought and famine. First, Ethiopia, having learned from past famines, developed a food-for-work distribution scheme that worked. Second, there were no other countries with a vested interest in pulling apart Ethiopia. Third, there were international aid partners who assisted and not hindered. Save your hate mails I am not holding Ethiopia up as the perfect human rights nation nor saying there was no violence. I am saying there was no large scale conflict or civil war and there were similar symptoms as in Syria.
Lets take the opposite example: South Africa. South Africa is in the midst of significant food insecurity, electricity has been curtailed causing protests, and South Africa is headed for steep decline both economic and social. The number of daily violent--by some estimates 30 a day--protests in South Africa grew so large that the South African Broadcasting Corporation has banned any coverage and mention of the protests.
The difference is governance. South Africa has a disintegrating governance at the local level, and at the national level, the African National Congress is splintering and in complete disarray. Corruption has reached all the way to President Zuma and as a nation, its GDP is about ready to go into free fall.
There was a drought. There was food insecurity. There was a lack of electricity which stalled the mining industry and there was no governance and conflict is raging.
Lets take an example in President Obama's backyard. By President Obama's formula California's Central Valley should be in full civil war right now. Climate Change forced a multi-year drought that forced 10s of thousands of farm workers off the land into an idle lifestyle. There was no violence. There was governance. Despite an unemployment rate double and let me repeat double the national average caused by the drought the United States federal government, California state government, and local governments created a safety net that was supported by regular visits by politicians telling the workers they would be supported. Governance.
Conflict is caused by man's inability to see, plan, and execute an alternative to conflict. At the core of that statement is man's chronic inability to truly weigh the costs and consequences of not avoiding conflict.
Now back to reality. The world is standing at the gates of hell. In the next 14 years Climate Change drought could cause more than 40 million Africans to be without food and starving daily. Much of Sub-Saharan Africa--with the notable but not singular exception of Rwanda-lacks core governance. Zimbabwe has both good news and bad news. The good news is that Robert Mugabe's days are numbered--even he has said this recently--and the bad news is that Robert Mugabe's days are numbered. A good example is that recently an aspiring young politician referred to President Mugabe with a term suggesting that he would have carnal knowledge of Mugabe.
The real lesson from Zimbabwe is a lesson that should shake us to our bones. During the early non-drought years, Zimbabwe was consumed by a hasty--but needed--land reform program that dropped their food production back a decade. A once great exporter of grain turned into a dependent importer nation. The lesson is that no sooner than the farm segment recovered it was hit almost immediately by the multi-year drought. Zimbabwe wasted valuable planning years in a disastrous political game.
The Sahel is the perfect mix of hell. Extended drought, no governance, and terror groups like Boko Haram and Daesh, like Hermit Crabs, looking for a new lawless territory to call home.
In the China Sea, the conflict has already started because of the combination of lack of governance and Climate Change. Fish stocks are dwindling because of over fishing and fish migrating north to cooler waters. China, not exactly my candidate for saint of the week, has desperately tried to impose order in terms of fishing in the China Sea but distrust and national rivalries hinder cooperation. And yes, there is the presence of the United States acting like in Syria stoking the flames of division to its own advantage.
Finally, migrants from Africa will make the current wave of migrants look like a good deal. African migrants are already developing a new slave route from West Africa to Central America and eventually the United States border. What is now a trickle will turn into a flood unless action is taken. Must we act surprised? Must we stand by and scratch our heads and ask, "Where did they come from?"
Will there be decades of violence? Absolutely yes! Must there be decades of violence? No!
Managing Editor, Centre for Infrastructural Warfare Studies