Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Study counters case for climate change-violence link

Lou Del Bello in Climate change is far from being solely to blame for violence in Sub-Saharan Africa, say researchers — other factors matter much more. Their paper, published on 10 November in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, contradicts earlier studies that found that higher temperatures are a major risk factor in conflict.

For instance, last year a different group concluded that a shift towards hotter conditions by a single statistical unit known as a ‘standard deviation’ — equivalent to, for example, warming an African country by 0.4 degrees Celsius for a year — caused a four per cent rise in the likelihood of personal violence and a 14 per cent increase in conflict between groups.

But now a team led by John O’Loughlin, a geographer at the University of Colorado Boulder in the United States, says that previous research may have overlooked other key triggers such as political instability, poverty and geographical conditions.

O’Loughlin’s team examined these factors alongside exceptionally hot or dry periods in Sub-Saharan Africa to assess the chances of increased violence. Breaking the area down into subregional grids, the researchers pinpointed 78,000 ‘conflict events’ from the past 33 years and matched them with weather conditions and social and geographical factors.

They found that conflicts such as riots, protests or violence against civilians were more common when temperatures were particularly high. But they also discovered an inconsistent relationship between temperature deviations on the one hand and different types of conflict and different subregions on the other.

And, more critically, they found that longer periods of higher temperatures and wet or dry conditions had less impact on conflict than other influences, such as recent nearby violence and a lack of democracy, says O’Loughlin....

A British jeep passes a sign warning against looting on the outskirts of Ravenna, Italy, 7 December 1944. From the Imperial War Museum

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