Darfur = foreshadowing of a climate changed future?

photo credit: International Land Coalition

I was working in Washington, D.C., all summer, for a non profit called Climate Science Watch, or CSW. CSW is a public interest education and advocacy project dedicated to holding public officials accountable for using climate science and related research with integrity in policymaking, working towards the goal of enabling society to respond effectively to the challenges posed by global climate disruption.

A lot of what I did at CSW involved attending lectures, hearings, and briefings focused on the intersection of climate science and policy. A while back I was at an event at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars called “The Conflict Potential of Climate Mitigation and Adaptation”. There, experts in the area of climate change impacts on international security talked about how climate change adaptation (preparing for climate change’s impacts) and mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emission) plans may be the cause of future conflicts. For example, one nation using geoengineering techniques to divert rainclouds to their croplands may lead to droughts in surrounding nations, resulting in a dispute. If you’re interested, you can read more about the panel here.

At the discussion, Darfur was used as an example of one of the first of many climate change conflicts and wars to come. I’ve been involved in Darfur advocacy for a while – I was Co President of Stand UBC for the past two years – and I’ve always thought of the situation in Darfur as an incredibly complex problem, stemming from ethnic and racial strife in a land that is unable to sustain all its inhabitants. I never thought it was unsolvable, that Darfur wouldn’t one day be a region of peace. Until now. The experts talked about the Darfur conflict not as an event, but as the new normal. With ongoing climate change, they said, Darfur-type situations will be everywhere. As droughts and floods and fires strike increasingly around the world, as seen this summer, life sustaining resource supplies will beincreasingly strained, and conflicts will inevitably erupt.

It’s mind-boggling and heart wrenching to imagine that the horrors of Darfur may become the status quo around the world. But, recently seeing Pakistan drowning and Russia burning, it doesn’t seem improbable. With ongoing climate change, extreme events are predicted to only keep increasing in frequency and intensity. As critical resource stocks become increasingly erratic, nations will become desperate. Unfortunately, the nations playing the largest part in altering state of the climate (ours and our  Southern neighbours, to name a couple), are so much more resilient to these extreme weather events than poor, low carbon footprint nations that lack the necessary infrastructure to cope. I do believe that human innovation and ingenuity have the ability to prepare us all for a wilder and more unfriendly world. Whether or not we (the wealthy and guilty) make those most desperate for climate change preparedness a priority in adaptation and mitigation efforts is a different matter altogether.

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