Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

4 September 2013

As the Oceania entries for “World’s Most Environmentally Vulnerable Nation” converge in Majuro in the Marshall Islands this week to kick off the 44th Pacific Islands Forum, all eyes are squarely on the weather. The forecast? Aggressive, covetous and decidedly homicidal.

This year’s conference focuses on the gigantic challenges of climate change for the region’s low-lying island states – and the heads of state assembled could be forgiven for thinking the existential threat is limited to capitals sinking under the waves. But they may also, unfortunately, be preoccupied with a more grisly state of affairs: underwater capitals wracked by violence. A new study in the journal Science claims that climate change correlates strongly with a rise in violent conflict.

On one hand, this is not entirely surprising. Anyone who’s stood packed in a steamy underground train plagued with raised armpits and endless delays understands the anger-inducing qualities of heat and humidity. Sweltering summers in general tend to be more violent and crime-ridden than the other seasons. Yet, the study doesn’t suggest the quiet moderation of Northern European affairs is due to its cool and peaceful skies, nor does it tie the Middle East’s conflicts to such sustained high temperatures. The danger here is not simply a hot climate but a rise in the mercury.

The Science research, which analysed 60 existing studies on the subject, took a wholistic approach – from economics to archaeology and psychology. The study compared the frequency of violent acts during times of “normal” temperatures with those which were “irregular”, such as during changes in temperature and rainfall, for instance. The authors concluded that not only did many historic societies die off due to bad weather but that a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius could make us more violent – by a whopping 50 per cent.

Weather, of course, has always had a role in the rise and fall of civilisations but it has never been deemed to be the deciding factor. Throughout the ages, philosophers, theologians, political scientists and international relations scholars have searched for the true causes of war and conflict. Was it human nature? Poverty? Identity politics? It’s become clearer now that hot-tempered exchanges and heated run-ins on the street may have more to do with CO2 emissions than a primal hatred of our fellow man.

All of which makes the job of our delegates in the lovely Marshall Islands even more complex, as if vanishing coastlines weren’t worry enough. Let’s wish them luck.

Daniel Giacopelli is a producer at Monocle 24

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