Climate Change, Violent Conflict, Gender Inequality

One of these things is not like the other? No, they actually all belong. There is a lot to learn from examining the interactions between climate change and conflicts, between violence and gender, and between gender and the environment. This post starts to explore these themes, and be sure to check out the plug for at the conclusion.

We’ll begin here: there are a number of perspectives from which to view Al Gore, co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Let’s hash out a few of these:

– Al Gore deserves to share the prize for his work on global climate change advocacy.
– Al Gore has done us (humanity) a tremendous service – see above – but he does not deserve the peace prize because he was complicit in US military interventions (Somalia, The Balkans, and missile attacks on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan). Not to mention his failure to act in Rwanda.
– Al Gore deserves recognition for his environmental work, but the Nobel Prize is better used to recognize and promote individuals and organizations similarly dedicated to bettering humanity, but who lack the power and privilege of a very wealthy, white, male, former politician from a prominent developed country. (Al Gore already has an effective media-machine in place.)
– Al Gore does not deserve this honor because his work on climate change advocacy is not “the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

Al Gore may not be the best choice from the second and third perspective, but I want to make an argument that climate change is and will continue to be directly related to violent conflict.

There is a growing body of literature in the fields of geography, natural resource management, conservation biology, sociology, political science, etc. linking resource scarcity with regional and international conflicts. Here are some examples:

Rwanda’s 1994 genocide was far more complex than an ethnic conflict between Hutu and Tutsi. By 1994, Rwanda’s population density was 174 people per square mile of arable land – one of the highest in Africa and in the world (source). In addition to shrinking farm size, firewood scarcity and soil degradation further limited the effectiveness of rural livelihood strategies (source). I am not suggesting that Rwanda’s conflict was only concerning natural resources availability, rather that this mounting discontent and growing insecurity primed the populace for the political machinations which led to the murders.

I think we can all recall several international conflicts over oil – a limited natural resource. Get ready for more similar conflicts, except over water. How long do you think Turkey will allow water to flow freely down the Tigris and Euphrates to their neighbors in Iraq and Sudan? Will Turks go thirsty to maintain minimum flows? The Southeast United States is already clamoring for Great Lakes water – to the extent that Great Lakes states and provinces are compelled to establish very clear and very strict rules for use (source). I am not predicting violent conflict over GL water, but there is already political conflict, and US water resources are not nearly as scarce as elsewhere in the world.

Scholars are now suggesting the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region may be one of the first violent conflicts we can strongly link to climate change. Freshwater shortages lie at the center of the conflict (remember when everyone got excited about the potential of an enormous underground lake in the region? sadly, now suspected to have dried up centuries ago), and recent climate patterns and projected trends reveal an expansion of the Sahara Desert – creating and exacerbating these shortages… and conflicts.

How does gender inequality tie in with climate change and violent conflict? This warrants it’s own post (Part Two: coming soon), but a couple of points to ponder:

– Women are disproportionately affected by violent conflict.
– Regionally, violent conflicts are projected to increase with climate change.
– Rural women in many societies are uniquely positioned to be environmental stewards.
– Women are often excluded from war-and-peace decision-making processes.
– Women play a vital role in rebuilding societies ravaged by war.

I recently discovered this organization, which does truly remarkable work with women (and men) around the world: and until October 31, 2007, an anonymous donor is matching gifts. Please check it out.

One response to “Climate Change, Violent Conflict, Gender Inequality

  1. I feel dumb. I didn’t know that reps were so smart. Dammit. I need to go back to school.