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Putting the war in warming

23 Mar 2022 | News Roundup

It was a matter of time. A major conflict erupts and the press tells us “How global warming is making armed conflict worse.” This subject line on an email teaser from the New York Times “Climate Forward”, not itself available online, takes us to a story that in besieged Mariupol, Ukraine, “the people of that city are trying to survive not just shelling by Russian forces. They are also trying to survive without water.” Now some naïve souls might suppose they have no water because of the shelling which destroyed their infrastructure including water pipes. But no, that’s backwards. They report that the Water Conflict Chronology from an Oakland-based research outfit called the Pacific institute describes “episodes throughout human history where access to water has triggered unrest or become a weapon of war,” and “A hotter planet often makes dry places drier and hotter, supercharging competition over an already-scarce resource.” So if you’ll pardon the history degree, if they’re going to try to argue that wars are caused by water shortages due to warming, we want to bring up a few inconvenient historical facts.

For starters, they are right to contradict the whole alarmist narrative about unprecedented changes by conceding that during the lamentably long period in which humans have had the capacity to wage organized war, basically the whole period since the invention of agriculture early in the Holocene, there have “often” been hotter and cooler periods. Oh, say, the Holocene Climatic Optimum, Minoan Warm Period, Roman Warm Period, Medieval Warm Period and modern warm period in the former category, and the unnamed cooling that coincided with the Iron Age and sack of Troy, the Dark Ages and the Little Ice Age in the latter.

As to the spectacular claim that heat causes wars over water, the story actually tries to have it both ways, conceding that “How much of a role climate change plays in each conflict is hard to know, and, most certainly, poor management and rising demand for water play a role equally if not more important.” But this statement hardly begins to cover the situation, or the assertion about what a hotter planet “often” does.

For instance, the 20th century apparently saw more destructive wars than previous epochs. But most reasonable people agree that the pre-1940 warming was mostly natural and there was no warming from 1940 to 1970 which means neither World War coincided with greenhouse warming. And besides, no sane person thinks either World War was fought over water.

It also seems that their destructiveness was primarily due to the nature of their underlying causes rather than the industrial and technical capacities of modern combatants. Though looking further back, it’s worth noting that both the Thirty Years’ War and the English Civil War were, per capita, more deadly than either World War in the areas where they were fought despite the lack of high explosives, barbed wire, machine guns, submarines or poison gas. And that they both happened in the Little Ice Age. And that neither was fought over water.

As for the sack of Troy, looking hard for some plausible confirming instance for the hot-world water-war theory, it was in some sense apparently fought over a waterway and trade. But it was also triggered by the widespread availability of cheap weapons due to diffusion of iron-smelting techniques. And widespread disruption of cultures and peoples caused not by warming but by cooling as well as this disruptive innovation. But whatever its causes, it wasn’t about wells or streams.

Nor was the Hundred Years’ War, the Korean War, the Mongol invasions, Rome’s civil wars, the Yom Kippur War, the War of Jenkins’ Ear, the Flower Wars or, to be frank, any war you ever heard of and a lot you didn’t. So that claim that “A hotter planet often makes dry places drier and hotter, supercharging competition over an already-scarce resource” is gibberish except for the bit we’re focusing on, the admission that there have been enough hotter periods to furnish some basis for comparison, and all except the last indisputably entirely natural.

Speaking of natural, naturally the story is not about the actual history of warfare. Instead “said Peter Gleick, president emeritus of the Pacific Institute, who has studied water conflicts for decades, ‘climate change is unambiguously worsening the very conditions that contribute to water conflicts: drought, scarcity and inequities.’” Unambiguously. Climate change is worsening inequalities, and they contribute to water conflicts.

This man is not a historian or an economist. He actually does seem to be a “climate scientist” in that he has “a B.S. from Yale University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Energy and Resources from the University of California, Berkeley”. But his claim is a tissue of unsubstantiated suppositions in fields wherein he evidently lacks not just the right paper certificate of Thinkology but the requisite informed layman’s understanding. Instead he has a hammer, so everything looks like a nail.

According to Wikipedia, “Gleick produced some of the earliest work on the links between environmental issues, especially water and climate change, and international security, identifying a long history of conflicts over water resources and the use of water as both a weapon and target of war.” And it footnotes… three of his own publications, from 1989 and 1993. So where are these conflicts?

The “Climate Forward” piece insists that they’re everywhere: “Water conflicts have gone up sharply in the last 20 years, the study found…. Farmers and herders have clashed in parts of Africa over access to water, conflicts all the more acute in a region that has suffered from abnormally bad droughts. Antigovernment protests have erupted in Iran over scarce water. Water-sharing has riven several former Soviet states of Central Asia that straddle the Amu Darya River.” OK. Those are conflicts, and possibly very unpleasant if you happen to be caught in them. But now think of major wars in the last 20 years.

Like Russia invading Georgia. And bits of Ukraine. And all of Ukraine. And the Second Congo War between 1998 and 2003 which Britannica calls “Far and away the deadliest war of the 21st century” and says was triggered among other things by the Rwandan genocide. And the Syrian civil war in which Vladimir Putin again played a major and horrible role. Or the Iraq war. Or the Afghan war. Or the long struggle against Boko Haram in Nigeria. Or the civil war in Yemen.

So, nothing to see here? Well, “Climate Forward” is not easily deterred. “Since 2000, Gleick pointed out, a fourth of the conflicts triggered by access to water have been in three water-scarce areas pummeled by global warming: the Middle East, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.” Pointed out. Not alleged. And pummeled by global warming. South Asia is water-scarce. Would that be the Mekong Delta? As for Africa, “Most nations on the continent face higher levels of risk to extreme weather events, that study adds, as climate change makes them more frequent and more severe, outpacing the countries’ ability to adapt.”

This claim is not supported by evidence, in the piece or elsewhere. But at least we got one prediction. “In wealthy countries, few places are feeling the impacts of climate change on the water supply as acutely as Gleick’s home state of California. The long-running drought affecting the Western United States is likely to go on through this spring, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.”

Stay tuned for the Forest Fire War between California and Arizona. Brought to you by climate alarmism.

4 comments on “Putting the war in warming”

  1. Very amusing to read that climate change causes water scarcity and droughts. That, of course, has been the leitmotif of the climate hysteria movement for decades - except that now we have just had catastrophic floods in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia resulting from unusually (but not even close to unprecedented, despite pundit talking points) heavy rain, the general - as usual lazy - general view is that climate change has caused the rain and floods.

  2. A good deal of California's domestic and tourism population resides in what was desert lands, including plenty of farming. Surely the people living there knew that and could surmise the climate there is quite dry indeed.
    The same goes for those who build in flood plains and complain of too much water and flooding.
    It would seem the human judgement is the problem not "climate change".

  3. More bilge from academia but at least the author knew how to spin his "research" to tick the right boxes to pick up a piece of the rent seeking bounty flowing like rivers exclusively available to the CAGW congregation and chorus. It's done more for the health of the state than war and much more effective than the old class struggle.

  4. Given that they are snowed upon in Ukraine it would seem that the availability of water per se might not be a problem ,maybe unfreezing it could be (thinking of drinking water quantities only ) it seems to be a new low in climate catastrophism to exploit a tragic war for warming propaganda.

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