Sierra Magazine article - January/February 2008
What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Gore, and Global Warming?
How climate change spurs global insecurity
The Norwegian Nobel Committee's decision to award its 2007 peace prize to Al Gore and the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had many of the former vice president's critics scoffing about "Ozone Man" last October. How, they wondered, were global warming and world peace connected?
What planet are they from?
To understand the links, let's start with Sudan. Though the media generally frame Darfur's genocide as ethnic, its roots are ecological. Black farmers once welcomed Arab herders on their home soil, but the hospitality ended when the rains stopped. With water scarce, farmers fenced their land, and the herders became hostile. Similar water conflicts loom in hot spots worldwide, including the arid Middle East.
Drought is only one way that climate change puts peace at risk. Consider, for example, the specter of vast displaced populations. As refugees spill from regions hard-hit by rising seas, intense storms, and failing crops, armed conflict seems inevitable. The U.N. estimates that in the next ten years desertification alone could displace some 50 million people.
Other climate-related changes, too, could rile the dogs of war. Probably no place has been freer of strife than the Arctic, but that was before rising temperatures began opening sea channels and laying minerals bare. When the crew from a Russian submersible planted a flag on the Arctic seafloor last summer, it gave new meaning to the term cold war.
The Pentagon takes such threats seriously. In 2003 it commissioned a study whose worst-case scenario concluded: "Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life." More recently, the International Institute for Strategic Studies stated that the effects of unchecked climate change on global security would be "on the level of nuclear war."
The Nobel committee said it honored Gore and the U.N. scientists for their efforts "to protect the world's future climate, and thereby to reduce the threat to the security of mankind." The committee stressed the need for immediate action, "before climate change moves beyond man's control."
In his will, Alfred Nobel declared that the peace prize should go to someone who has "done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations." Finding ways to keep us from killing each other over resources is a pretty good start. --Pat Joseph —Paul Rauber