Hot and Cold Wars

James Lee | Exclusively written for | January 2011

Issue:Climate change


Climate change will do more than just raise the temperature. Around the equator, rising temperatures and declining precipitation will lower agricultural production. People in this area (especially Africa and the Middle East) are particularly reliant on agriculture to support income and livelihoods. This trend (Hot Wars), coupled with rapidly increasing populations, will create conditions for livelihood wars. 
At the Arctic Pole especially, the increasing temperature will lead to a vastly different outcome. Warming there will make it increasingly likely that resources (energy, minerals, timber, etc.) will become economically viable both on land and offshore. New transportation routes may come into common use with the disappearance of sea ice. This trend (Cold Wars) will set the stage for resource conflict.
These two distinct behaviors will orient a kaleidoscope of impacts from climate change rather than a uniform one.  Even within Hot and Cold zones, there will be differences in climate change, demographic and industrial change, and adaptation capacity that will produce a myriad of differing consequences.
Out of the Hot and Cold Zones, increased tension due to instances of declining and expanding resources will set the stage for conflict, given sustained trends and conflict triggers (see Figure 1). Climate and conflict has long been a reality in the “Old Tension Belt” and impacts will focus on developing countries. Conflict has been rare in the Arctic, but that may change in the race to control new resources. This conflict will include developed countries.
Figure 1: The Two Tension Belts
Now that the debate on the existence of climate change is over, the time is to move to the next question. What will be the social consequences of climate change? This effort will require a commitment of resources equal to that devoted to building climate models. So far, it has not been on the agenda for climate talks.
My book on Climate Change and Armed Conflict: Hot and Cold Wars (Routledge Press) was recently released in paperback.  The book examines historic and forecast cases of climate change and conflict.
The book builds on my project the "Inventory of Conflict and Environment" or ICE, an online collection of more than 200 categorically coded case studies. There are also search and expert options exploring and applying the case database.  There will be new cases focusing on climate change and conflict added in January 2011.

Image source: James Lee


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