Scientists in the US, UK, China and Hong Kong have released a study which shows that, in the past, climate change has been followed by war, famine, and a decline in population.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, warns that humans may not be able to adapt to the ecological changes global warming might bring. Peter Brecke, an associate professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s school of International Affairs, said: “The warmer temperatures are probably good for a while, but beyond some level plants will be stressed. With more droughts and a rapidly growing population, it is going to get harder and harder to provide food for everyone and thus we should not be surprised to see more instances of starvation and probably more cases of hungry people clashing over scarce food and water.”
The researchers studied the time between 1400 and 1900, which is known as the “Little Ice Age”. The lowest average temperatures were recorded around 1450, 1650 and 1820. In between these periods there were minor warming trends.
University of Hong Kong geography professor David Zhang said: “When such ecological situations occur, people tend to move to another place. Such mass movement leads to war, like in the 13th century, when the Mongolians suffered a drought and they invaded China. Or the Manchurians who moved into central China in 17th century because conditions in the northeast were terrible during the cooling period.”
Zhang added: “Epidemics may not be directly linked to temperature (change), but it is a consequence of migration, which creates chances for disease to spread.”
The report follows another study released last week by conflict resolution group International Alert (IA). IA’s report identified 46 countries where climate change would result in a high risk of violent conflict. The group also named 56 countries at risk for political instability.
There have already been some climate related conflicts. Farmers in northern Ghana have been clashing with livestock herders as ecological patterns change. International Alert secretary general Dan Smith said: “I would expect to see some pretty serious conflicts that are clearly linked to climate change on the international scene by 2020.”
The most likely areas for conflict are west and central Africa, as well as India and Bangladesh. The group worries climate change could destabilize peaceful countries and reignite conflicts that have calmed recently.
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