10 July 2007
Chill Out... And Fight!
by Kate Melville
Chinese researchers have found a startling correlation between peaks of warfare in China and cold phases. David Zhang, from the University of Hong Kong, writes in the journal Human Ecology that climate change, and the resulting shortage of ecological resources, could be a trigger for armed conflicts in the future. His research highlights how temperature fluctuations and reduced agricultural production explain past warfare frequency in eastern China.
Zhang reviewed warfare data from 899 wars in eastern China between 1000 and 1911, documented in the Tabulation of Wars in Ancient China, and then cross-referenced these data with Northern Hemispheric climate series temperature data for the same period.
He found that warfare frequency in eastern China, and the southern part in particular, significantly correlated with temperature oscillations. In fact, almost all peaks of warfare and dynastic changes coincided with cold phases.
Zhang speculates that in times of such ecological stress, warfare could be the ultimate means of redistributing resources.
Zhang concludes that; "it was the oscillations of agricultural production brought by long-term climate change that drove China's historical war-peace cycles." Looking to the future, Zhang and colleagues suggest that shortages of essential resources, such as fresh water, agricultural land, energy sources and minerals may trigger more armed conflicts among human societies.
Meanwhile, other academics have also been turning their attention to the potential crises that climate change might trigger. Last month, the UN issued a stark warning that climate change and associated desertification will undoubtedly trigger conflicts and mass migrations in the near future.
The analysis, by the United Nations University, claims that desertification, exacerbated by climate change, will represent; "the greatest environmental challenge of our times." They are urging governments to overhaul policy approaches to the issue or face mass migrations of people driven from degraded homelands.
Based on the input of 200 experts from 25 countries, the analysis urges governments to adopt a broader, overarching view and a more coordinated, integrated and interlinked approach to dealing with desertification, climate change, poverty reduction and other public concerns. "Some forces of globalization, while striving to reduce economic inequality and eliminate poverty, are contributing to worsening desertification. Perverse agricultural subsidies are one such example," says Prof. Hans van Ginkel, UN Under Secretary-General.
Astonishingly, the report says that one-third of all people on Earth are potential victims of desertification's creeping effect. And, left unchecked, the number of people at risk of displacement due to severe desertification is an estimated 50 million over the next 10 years.
"Addressing desertification is a critical and essential part of adaptation to climate change and mitigation of global biodiversity losses," says Prof. van Ginkel. "The expected climatic change scenarios as projected by the recently published report of the IPCC give an additional dark shade to an already gloomy picture. However, it is difficult to properly quantify the number of environmental migrants and the migration routes as long as the concept itself remains debated even from a scientific point of view," he concludes.
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Source: United Nations University, Human Ecology