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Earth to 2020 Democrats. The Syrian civil war was not caused by climate change.

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USA TODAY – BJORN LOMBORG

Is global warming to blame for the Syrian war? Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders seem to think so. At the CNN climate town hall this month, Buttigieg and O’Rourke referred to climate change as a national security threat that contributed to causing the Syrian civil war. “Wars that were precipitated by climate change, like Syria, will pale in comparison to the wars that we see in the future,” O’Rourke warned. Both candidates follow the lead of Sanders, who has long claimed that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism”. Recently, he told his followers, “Climate change is one of the greatest threats to global security. As we see more drought, as poor people are not able to grow the food they need, there will be migrations of millions of people all over the world.”

This is an example of the messy game of “Telephone” that passes for climate policy discussion today. Scientists write a nuanced research paper. These findings become distorted in the interests of sharing a clear narrative with the public. Then a politician seizes on the news and twists the story even further.

To make the case for the link between terrorism and global warming, Sanders linked to a news story with a provocative headline: “Climate change will increase risk of violent conflict, researchers warn”.

But that paper hardly offers compelling evidence that terrorism is bigger today thanks to global warming. The authors actually looked at 16 factors that drive conflict risk. When they ranked that list in terms of influence, climate came in 14th, behind more important factors like poor development, population pressure and corruption. As the researchers write, “Other drivers, such as low socioeconomic development and low capabilities of the state, are judged to be substantially more influential, and the mechanisms of climate–conflict linkages remain a key uncertainty.”

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