US President Barack Obama recently gave an impassioned address at the US Coast Guard Academy:
‘I understand climate change did not cause the conflicts we see around the world, yet what we also know is that severe drought helped to create the instability in Nigeria that was exploited by the terrorist group Boko Haram. It’s now believed that drought and crop failures and high food prices helped fuel the early unrest in Syria, which descended into civil war in the heart of the Middle East.’
As expected, this speech was met with derision from the Republican Party and its media allies, claiming that taking further steps to help resolve the environmental issue could affect the US economy. It’s hard to see what steps Obama is taking to prevent climate catastrophe in light of recent events: the US Department of the Interior has allowed drilling in the Arctic region to go ahead, the Keystone Pipeline still remains a dangerously unresolved issue and land sacred to the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Yavapai-Apache Nation is about to be handed over to a mining corporation. While it’s business as usual for government-corporate relations, a growing threat is dismissed as scaremongering.
In June 2008 a Statement for the Record given by Thomas Fingar, Chairman of the National Intelligence Council and Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis said that climate change ‘will aggravate existing problems such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions. All of this threatens the domestic stability of a number of African, Asian, Central American and Central Asian countries……The conditions exacerbated by the effects of climate change could increase the pool of potential recruits into terrorist activity.’ The National Intelligence Assessment on the National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030 remains classified. Peter Hoekstra, the Republican representative of Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District said at the time: ‘There are a lot more pressing issues out there for the intelligence community to be focused on right now that would help keep America safe.’ This might strike one as a typical comment from politicians reluctant to tackle problems at the root cause, because climate change is the problem at the root of many issues and to disregard terrorism as one of them is foolhardy and dangerous.
The US is moving slowly closer to that truth. The US Defense Department Quadrennial Defense Review of 2014 states: ‘The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economics, societies and governance institutions around the world….The effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.’
why does it take the US Defense Department and other intelligence outfits to be the ones to state this more than others?
So why is tackling damage caused to the environment not top everyone’s to-do list? It is evident that those in power are aware of the issue. But here is the problem: why does it take the US Defense Department and other intelligence outfits to be the ones to state this more than others? It’s in the wording. Climate change will influence resource competition. Many speculate that the wars in Iraq and Libya, for example, were nothing more than resource grabs. Selling oil from these regions has provided significant revenue boosts for oil companies. But now they are under attack from groups of fighters pledging allegiance to ISIS.
And so begins a self-perpetuating cycle of violence and resource theft. While oil remains the top resource in demand, water will soon become a serious issue. If the military are aware of this, what actions will they take to preserve water supplies? The rate at which water is being plundered, certainly in the US and Canada, how long until states start running dry? And how long until corporations start stealing water from Africa? In Syria only 28% of the land is arable. The region has a long history of conflicts over water scarcity. Prior to the war, it had livestock of around 21 million but that has now decreased to about 14 million. The war and nature have taken their toll, but peace remains a long way off and so the rise of ISIS represents an alternative, sometimes the only alternative, that is available to the people.
While governments will cover up wars as just and in the cause of democracy, these conflicts will inevitably be against everyone.
Climate change is not directly responsible for terrorism. Many terrorists have come from wealthy and affluent families so not all of them are born out of desperation. However, the wide-ranging effects of climate change continue to crack open cultures around the globe and the political establishment is not doing enough. While we continue to deplete resources at a ridiculous rate, the race is on to identify those we will be in competition with for the remaining resources. While governments will cover up wars as just and in the cause of democracy, these conflicts will inevitably be against everyone. If governments allow corporations to take complete control of all our resources, will we then be seen as a threat to political stability? Will demonstrations and petitions, and all the things we do to fight the establishment be seen as causing social tensions?
The author John Perkins once said, ’ I’ve never met anyone who wanted to be a terrorist. They are desperate people.’ One day, you and I may be desperate, like so many others whose homes, cultures and resources have been destroyed and stolen to preserve our way of life. Will we too be terrorists then?