From Paul Krugman:
So what was Friday’s attack about? Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators’ fundamental weakness. It isn’t going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear — which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn’t dignify it with the name of war.
The point is not to minimize the horror. It is, instead, to emphasize that the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire. And it’s crucial to realize that there are multiple ways the response can go wrong. …
A much bigger risk, in practice, is that the targets of terrorism will try to achieve perfect security by eliminating every conceivable threat — a response that inevitably makes things worse, because it’s a big, complicated world, and even superpowers can’t set everything right.
Finally, terrorism is just one of many dangers in the world, and shouldn’t be allowed to divert our attention from other issues. Sorry, conservatives: when President Obama describes climate change as the greatest threat we face, he’s exactly right. Terrorism can’t and won’t destroy our civilization, but global warming could and might.
Via Jarrett Walker:
During the Democratic presidential debate on Saturday night, CBS moderator John Dickerson brought up the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and then asked Bernie Sanders if he still believes climate change is our greatest national security threat. (Sanders had said as much in a previous debate.)
Sanders didn‘t back down:
Absolutely. In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism. And if we do not get our act together and listen to what the scientists say, you’re going to see countries all over the world — this is what the CIA says — they’re going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops, and you’re going to see all kinds of international conflict.
Much snickering ensued on Twitter, especially over that bolded sentence, with the prevailing sentiment that Sanders’s argument was self-evidently silly. …
I’d say his reply was a little oversimplified — but the outraged reaction was absurd. The truth about climate change and conflict is more complex and nuanced than a short sound bite can allow, but it’s foolish to dismiss the entire topic out of hand. …
One place to see this dynamic at work is in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Few experts would argue that climate change “caused” the horrific violence in Syria (much less the rise of ISIS). That’s way too simplistic. But environmental factors arguably do figure into the story here. …
Climate change likely raised the odds of a severe drought occurring in Syria. But even without global warming, a drought might still have occurred — if perhaps less severe. So climate change wasn’t strictly necessary for disruptions to occur. At best we might say it made the situation worse.
It also wasn’t sufficient for conflict. A severe drought, by itself, simply isn’t enough to trigger a bloody civil war. (Note that California hasn’t descended into armed frenzy.) You also have to mix in poverty, the Syrian government’s squandering of water resources, the influx of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, and a whole web of political and social factors. Syria is an autocratic regime with a long history of human rights abuses. Then you have the fact that Assad responded to the unrest in Daraa and elsewhere with extreme violence. There was a lot of tinder in this tinderbox. …
They typically acknowledge that the linkages are complex, multifaceted, and often difficult to tease out precisely. Here, for instance, is how the White House describes the relationship between climate change and conflict/terrorism:
Many governments will face challenges to meet even the basic needs of their people as they confront demographic change, resource constraints, effects of climate change, and risks of global infectious disease outbreaks. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions — conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence. The risk of conflict may increase.
On this account, climate change is a “threat multiplier,” and one of many things that can lay the groundwork for conflict. …
That helps explain why more and more military officials are coming out and saying it’d be a good idea to figure out how we’re going to deal with global warming, how we can make sure that the inevitable stresses and dislocations caused by climate change foster cooperation rather than conflict and violence.