Deescalate Violence caused by Climate Change

“global warming poses not only environmental hazards but profound risks to planetary peace and stability as well” — Sherri Goodman, the Wilson Center

I’ve written a great deal recently about climate change and my grave concern for the world in which our grand children are expected to live. It seems obvious their world will be much warmer and frequently subject to violent weather including hurricanes, tornados and flooding.

However, what I’ve not written much about is my elevated concern about the violence and asymmetric warfare that is also the result of climate change and it’s affect on the world in which our grandchildren and these young boys I met in Addis Ababa Ethiopia will live. I should have known better.

For quite some time I worked in East Africa in both Ethiopia and Kenya. While there Kenya was relatively peaceful but Ethiopia was going through a “war of independence” in which Eritrean separatists, fought to regain Eritrea’s autonomy from Ethiopia. More importantly, while working in East Africa, I had an up-front view of the tragic events related to the famine that were taking place in Sudan and Somalia.

That Famine was the subject of the Pulitzer Prize-winning photography “The vulture and the little girl” taken by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter. Carter committed suicide shortly after being awarded the prize, many believe because of the trauma from witnessing the effects of the famine first-hand. Forty percent of the area’s children under 5 years old were malnourished as of January 1993, and an estimated 10 to 13 adults died of starvation daily in Sudan’s, now South Sudan’s, Ayod province.

Because of all of these experiences I was not surprised when I read of Somali farmers becoming pirates because their farm lands had been destroyed by draught. To survive they turned to hijacking commercial ships in the Arabian sea and the Indian Ocean. All of this was made famous by the Tom Hanks movie, Captain Phillips.

Now award-winning journalist and author Christian Parenti has written a book about the worldwide spread of the events I saw beginning in East Africa twenty years ago. Mr. Parenti’s book is titled “Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence Within “Tropic of Chaos” Parenti describes a belt of economically and politically battered postcolonial states between Latitudes 23.5’ N and 23.5’ S. ( see the following map). As Parenti says, “societies within the belt are heavily dependent on agriculture and fishing, so very vulnerable to shifts in weather patterns and consequently “hit hard by climate change”.

Much like the Somalia and Sudan I observed from Ethiopia, Parenti writes “The Tropic of Chaos” includes most of the failed states of developing world because they were on front lines of the Cold War and Neoliberal economic restructuring lead by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.”

Parenti’s words ring true for me because I distinctly remember traveling the streets of Addis Ababa, in horror of the droves of malnourished children and asking myself how could the World Bank expect to finance the development of a western, capitalistic economy in the heart of pastoral Eastern Africa. The World Bank encouraged the people of East Africa to move away from their rural, self-sufficient, villages and into cities like Addis, to provide labor for “capitalistic” businesses.

African village life worked! It may have been “underdeveloped” as the World Bank almost always characterized it but in a very localized, decentralized way it worked in terms of taking care of the needs of small groups (i.e. tribes) of residents of East Africa, village by village and family by family.

Mr. Parenti says “the watchwords of the climate discussion are”

These may have been the watch words of climate change but in the early 1990’s there was little the poor countries of East Africa could do to mitigate climate change. Their only choice was adaptation and even that choice was extremely limited, other than transforming their relationship to nature by defending themselves against it’s ravages and transforming their relationships to each other. Most often, however, those choices did not include “ deescalating violence. Rather they involved escalating violence like turning to piracy and hijacking Captain Phillips’ Maersk Alabama. Sadly our grand children are likely to live in a world that is not only significantly warmer but also significantly more violent, at least within the Tropic of Chaos.

In research for the National Bureau of Economic Research entitled “Climate and Conflict” Marshall Burke, Solomon M. Hsiang, and Edward Miguel find “that deviations from moderate temperatures and precipitation patterns systematically increase the risk of conflict, often substantially, with average effects that are highly, statistically significant.”

The researchers go on to report that high temperatures elevate the risk of many forms of intergroup conflict, both political violence and other forms of collective violence. In addition, econometric literature suggests that different classes of conflict, in different contexts and at different scales of analysis, share the general feature that their likelihood of occurring is influenced by climatic events.

No grandparent in any society wants to leave his/her Grandchildren with a “Tropic Of Chaos” spreading death and destruction throughout their world. As I watch and and give thanks for the growth of our healthy grandchildren I often think of those boys I met in Addis so long ago. I pray they are able to endure the hardships the developed world has placed upon them. At a bare minimum we must all work to deescalate the violence being caused by climate change and the destructive burning of fossil fuels in western socities far from East Africa. That is the least we can leave the young who hwve just begun to pay the price for the lives we lived.



Originally published at on August 28, 2018.



Husband for 49 years. Dad forever! Very lucky man.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store