In recent weeks, Barack Obama has blamed his predecessor, George W. Bush, and more recently his own intelligence team for the creation of ISIS. But apparently he’s wrong. According to an article in the Huffington Post, the reason ISIS was able to form and grow so fast was global warming.
The authors of the piece are Charles B. Strozier, Professor of History at the City University of New York, and Kelly A. Berkell, an attorney and research associate at the Center on Terrorism at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Their treatise maintains that ISIS formed because of a severe drought in Syria from 2006 to 2010. And said drought occurred because of — you guessed it — climate change.
As the Obama administration undertakes a highly public, multilateral campaign to degrade and destroy the militant jihadists known as ISIS, ISIL and the Islamic State, many in the West remain unaware that climate played a significant role in the rise of Syria’s extremists. A historic drought afflicted the country from 2006 through 2010, setting off a dire humanitarian crisis for millions of Syrians. Yet the four-year drought evoked little response from Bashar al-Assad’s government. Rage at the regime’s callousness boiled over in 2011, helping to fuel the popular uprising. In the ensuing chaos, ISIS stole onto the scene, proclaimed a caliphate in late June and accelerated its rampage of atrocities including the recent beheadings of three Western civilians.
While ISIS threatens brutal violence against all who dissent from its harsh ideology, climate change menaces communities (less maliciously) with increasingly extreme weather.
The drought that preceded the current conflict in Syria fits into a pattern of increased dryness in the Mediterranean and Middle East, for which scientists hold climate change partly responsible. Affecting 60 percent of Syria’s land, drought ravaged the country’s northeastern breadbasket region; devastated the livelihoods of 800,000 farmers and herders; and knocked two to three million people into extreme poverty. Many became climate refugees, abandoning their homes and migrating to already overcrowded cities. They forged temporary settlements on the outskirts of areas like Aleppo, Damascus, Hama and Homs. Some of the displaced settled in Daraa, where protests in early 2011 fanned out and eventually ignited a full-fledged war.
Although I am not a climate scientist (then again, neither is either of the authors) it is easy to strike down their theory, both from a political and a scientific point of view:
- ISIS did not form in Syria; it formed in Iraq. In fact, one of the reasons each party has been able to blame the other for the rise of the terrorist group is that ISIS used to be al Qaeda in Iraq. They were thrown out of the bin Laden group because the ISIS leaders did not play nice with the al Qaeda leaders.
- Perhaps the single most important factor in ISIS’s recent resurgence is the conflict between Iraqi Shias and Iraqi Sunnis. ISIS fighters themselves are Sunnis, and the tension between the two groups is a powerful recruiting tool for ISIS. The Shia government of Iraq refused to share power with the Sunnis (who held power under Saddam Hussein). The Shia/Sunni fight began as a fight over who got to take power after the Prophet Muhammad’s death and has been going on for almost 1400 years — way before ISIS.
- Most observers believe ISIS was able to grow because American troops pulled out of Iraq too early and didn’t help out in Syria until it was too late. Unless the drought happened in Washington DC, it couldn’t have had any influence on the U.S. president’s decision.
- Droughts? There has been no increase in droughts worldwide. Professor Roger Pielke, a meteorologist, testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that “it is misleading and just plain incorrect to claim that disasters associated with hurricanes, tornadoes, floods or droughts have increased on climate timescales either in the United States or globally.” In May he published a graph showing that neither the number nor the intensity of droughts has grown between 1982 and 2012.
Cross-posted at The Lid