How Do You Link Climate Change with Terrorism?

shutterstock_292582598On Saturday night, during the Democratic presidential debate, candidate Bernie Sanders a Senator from Vermont, stressed that there was a relationship between the Paris terrorist attacks that occurred the night before, and the issue of climate change. His comments, deemed controversial by numerous political analysts and media organizations, followed previous studies that had established a link between the extensive drought experienced in Syria in 2007 to 2010 and the civil unrest that followed in 2011, together with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Controversy put aside, the considerable attention gained by Mr. Sander’s comments help to underscore the fact that climate change is not just another environmental problem, but an issue with extensive socio-economic ramifications that requires our urgent attention.

Sanders told the audience that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism”, explaining that the CIA had found that there would be numerous international conflict as countries around the world increasingly “struggle over limited amounts of water [and] limited amounts of land to grow their crops”. Although his remarks, speaking to a direct relationship to terrorism were deemed by several media organizations to be quite strong, the same organizations also found there to be undoubtedly a connection between the two. Indeed, his fellow candidate at the debate, Mr. Martin O’Malley had himself several months before also made a connection between climate change to the rise of ISIS. These assertions were in line with the publication of several studies by leading non-profit organizations such as the Center for Naval Analyses, found climate change to be a “threat multiplier,” and one of many things that can lay the groundwork for conflict.

shutterstock_298797602Interviewing Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell of the Center for Climate and Security in 2013, had reported how the Syrian drought, which had occurred more frequently due to a rise in global warming, “combined with the mismanagement of natural resources by [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, who subsidized water-intensive crops like wheat and cotton farming and promoted bad irrigation techniques — led to significant devastation.” The drought it reported, would have displaced 1.5 million people within Syria, making the region prime for conflict. Finally, in March 2015, Marcus King, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University and an expert in climate and security, in an interview with Eric Holthaus a reporter from, confirmed how ISIS had used the water shortfall resulting from the severe drought experienced in the Fertile Crescent region (which includes Syria and Iraq) by controlling all three major dams in Iraq, a feat that would have quickly motivated an enhanced U.S. military presence there and escalated conflict.

shutterstock_339306212So Mr. Sanders did not break new ground when he talked about the relationship between climatic phenomenon and instability, he simply restated some well-established points about the extensive socio-economic impact of climate disruptions when they are mixed in with poverty and mismanagement of natural resources. The attacks in Paris on Friday evening marked one of the gravest tragedies to hit the capital in several decades. Now, as the city mourns the loss of over 120 of its inhabitants, it will continue to prepare for the arrival of global leaders next month at the 2015 international conference on climate change. The resilience of Parisians should serve as a reminder to the conference delegates of the importance of reaching a bold international agreement on climate change, one that will go far enough to address the social, economic and environmental adaptation needs of those communities most vulnerable to climate disruptions.

If you wish to find out more about the issue of climate change and its impact on coastal communities of the Dominican Republic then please read our latest publication in the series, Research and Ideas, entitled, “Climate Change in the Dominican Republic: Impact on Coastal Resources and Communities,” by GFDD Research Fellows GFDD Fellows Hilary Lohmann and Mat Rosa, available here.

To find out more about the transverse impacts of climate change on issues such as terrorism and public health, please view an episode of the 2014 Emmy-winning Showtime series, “Years of Living Dangerously,” which can be viewed on Netflix right here. To host a screening in your area in the Dominican Republic please visit GFDD’s Year Round Environmental Film Screenings webpage available here.


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