Now that the impending attack on Syria for the alleged use of chemical weapons on its people has somewhat been defused, perhaps now would be a good time for a serious discussion on what drove the country, long thought to be one of the most stable of Arab region, into bloody civil war.
To provide some background, in the five years preceding the unrest in Daraa that kicked off the revolt, 60% of Syria’s land suffered the longest and most devastating drought in modern history. Exacerbated by land-use policies promoting the farming of water intensive crops, the result was a situation in which 75% of Syria’s farmers experienced total crop failure, with some regions experiencing a complimentary 85% loss in livestock. Since the primary means of surviving a prolonged drought has nearly always been abandonment, over 160 villages were ultimately deserted, with a subsequent mass migration of approximately 15% of the total population into already stressed urban environments . All with the sole purpose of seeking work and food.
To put this into perspective, an equivalent migration in the U. S. would equate to the dislocation of around 45 million people over a five year period, and the abandonment of much of the farmland in the 35 states affected by the drought of 2012. Obviously, even the U. S. would be hard-pressed to peacefully manage the mass migrations of such a large number of people, in combination with the loss of much of its food growing capacity. This is not to say that this would push the U. S. into bloody civil war. But, certainly, it would elevate other, long simmering tensions to a probable boil-over point.
The reason this is relevant to climate change has to do with a 2011 report by the U. S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that linked the prolonged drying in the Mediterranean and the Middle East to global warming attributed to the increase in atmospheric CO2. Thus, what the world observed in Syria is merely a prelude to what the rest of us are in store for in a ‘business as usual” environment that could ultimately see a CO2 concentration of nearly 1000 ppm by the end of the century, and the subsequent mass migrations of half the world’s population from areas literally too hot for survival.
Was the strife and civil war in Syria the direct result of global warming? Probably not, as there were many other contributing factors. But like an explosion in a lumber mill, the drought-induced mass migration of people in search of work, food, and water into areas without the resources to absorb them further energized a volatile environment until a single spark ignited into civil unrest, which was further inflamed by the harsh actions of the government to quell it.
Syria is the proverbial canary in the coal mine, and the most recent indicator yet of the need for a comprehensive, forward-looking policy for both mitigating the further injection of CO2 into the atmosphere, and for preparing now for the climate changes currently programmed into the system.
Any society is only three meals from anarchy. As goes Syria, so goes the world.