Right-wing media mocked Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for linking climate change to terrorism during the November 14 CBS Democratic presidential debate. Sanders explained that if climate change continues to go largely unaddressed, “you're going to see all kinds of international conflict.” Right-wing media called Sanders “insane” and “someone who doesn't understand what the real subject is.” However, major studies and reports from foreign policy and defense experts support Sanders' assessment that climate change was a significant factor contributing to the rise of ISIL (or ISIS).
During Debate, Bernie Sanders States That Climate Change Is Linked To Terrorism.
Bernie Sanders: Climate Change “Related To The Growth Of Terrorism,” And Not Acting Will Lead To “All Kinds Of International Conflict.” During the November 14 CBS Democratic presidential debate, moderator John Dickerson asked Sanders about a previous statement that “the greatest threat to national security was climate change.” Sanders reaffirmed his position, stating: “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. [CBS, CBS Democratic Presidential Debate, 11/14/15]
Sanders Expanded On The Link Between Climate Change And Instability: “People All Over The World Are Going To Be Fighting Over Limited Natural Resources.” On the November 15 edition of CBS' Face The Nation, Sanders expanded on the link between climate change and terrorism, as The Washington Post reported:
On Sunday, Dickerson followed up with Sanders as the senator made an appearance on CBS's “Face the Nation,” which Dickerson hosts. Sanders said the CIA and the Defense Department back up the notion that climate change can lead to terrorism.
“If we are going to see an increase in drought, flood and extreme weather disturbances as a result of climate change, what that means is that people all over the world are going to be fighting over limited natural resources,” Sanders said. “If there is not enough water, if there is not enough land to grow your crops, then you're going to see migrations of people fighting over land that will sustain them, and that will lead to international conflicts.”
“But how does drought connect with attacks by [the Islamic State] in the middle of Paris?” Dickerson asked.
“When you have drought, when people can't grow their crops, they're going to migrate into cities, and when people migrate into cities and they don't have jobs, there's going to be a lot more instability, a lot more unemployment and people will be subject to the types of propaganda that al-Qaeda and ISIS are using right now,” Sanders said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State. “So where you have discontent, where you have instability, that's where problems arise, and certainly, without a doubt, climate change will lead to that.” [The Washington Post, 11/15/15]
Right-Wing Media Mock Sanders And Call His Assessment “Crazy”
Mark Steyn: Sanders' Comments About Climate Change Are “Insane” And Show A Level Of “Delusion And Denial.” During the November 16 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Company Mark Steyn mocked Sanders' statements on climate change stating, “al-Baghdadi would be sawing Bernie Sanders' head off, and he'll be saying as his neck is being sliced, ”If only we'd had an emissions trading scheme.'" Stein continued by calling Sanders' position “insane” and claiming it shows a level of “delusion and denial”:
STUART VARNEY: Here's one for you. Bernie Sanders, well he's doubling down on his claim that there is a link between climate change and terrorism.
VARNEY: Alright Mark, climate change?
MARK STEYN: Yeah, he's brilliant that guy. I mean, al-Baghdadi will be sawing Bernie Sanders' head off, and he'll be saying as his neck is being sliced, 'If only we'd had an emissions trading scheme.' This is insane and it shows the level of delusion and denial among the Western political leadership.
VARNEY: Okay. [Fox Business, Varney & Company, 11/16/15]
Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan: Sanders Sounded “Slightly Daffy, Like Someone Who Doesn't Understand What The Real Subject Is.” On the November 15 edition of CBS' Face The Nation, Noonansaid that Sanders linking climate change to terrorism sounded “slightly daffy,” as if he “doesn't understand what the real subject is”:
PEGGY NOONAN: Working against him was, I believe, the fact that last night -- and more strikingly today on your show -- Bernie Sanders essentially said a major problem with all of this ISIS stuff and terrorism and what's going in the West is climate change and global warming. Which makes him -- to many people -- look slightly daffy, like someone who doesn't understand what the real subject is, and is leaning outside to sort of leftist or progressive nostrums that he can talk about. This is about terrorism. It isn't about climate change and deserts and people migrating 'cause it's hot. [CBS, Face The Nation, 11/15/15]
Fox's Allen West: Sanders “Should Be Completely Discounted” Because Of His Climate Change Comments. On the November 16 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, contributor Allen West derided Sanders for saying “that he still believes that climate change is the greatest threat that we have out there,” citing it as a reason why he and the other two Democratic presidential candidates “should be completely discounted. They're not ready for leadership of this country at this time.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/16/15]
Fox's Todd Starnes: “Icebergs Aren't Blowing People Up, Sir.” Fox News radio host Todd Starnes swiftly dismissed Sanders' argument, writing in a tweet that "[i]cebergs aren't blowing people up, sir":
Sanders says climate change poses a greater threat than terrorism. Icebergs aren't blowing people up, sir. #DemDebate
-- toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) November 15, 2015
Ben Shapiro Calls Sanders “Insane.” In a series of tweets during the CBS debate, Breitbart News editor Ben Shapiro called Sanders “insane,” dismissing his position by joking, “it's not like the f***ing desert has been hot for hundreds of thousands of years”:
Bernie Sanders just said, one day after Paris, that climate change causes terror. But Islam has nothing to do with it. He's insane.
-- Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) November 15, 2015
Yes, I'm sure climate change causes ISIS. Because it's not like the f***ing desert has been hot for hundreds of thousands of years.
-- Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) November 15, 2015
PJ Media Equates The Link Between Climate Change AndTerrorism To A “Piece Of Magic.” After the CBS Democratic debate, PJ Media mocked Sanders in a November 15 blog post equating the link between climate change and terrorism to a “piece of magic”:
1. Bernie Sanders thinks climate change causes terrorism.
How this piece of magic works, he didn't get to explain, so we can only imagine. Maybe it 's a hot desert wind making normal people go to extremes, as in the famous opening of Raymond Chandler's “Red Wind”:
There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana's that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.
That global warming -- it will get you every time. ISIS-shmicis. Forget Islam having anything to do with it. Bernie doesn't even want to pronounce the word. But neither, it seems, do any Democrats. I have a suggestion for them. When talking about World War II, don't, under any circumstances, refer to our enemies as Nazis. It's terribly un-PC. Call them National Socialists... oh, wait. [PJ Media, 11/15/15]
The Weekly Standard's Michael Golfarb: No GOP Candidate “Said Anything As Crazy As 'Climate Change To Blame For Terrorism.'” In response to Sanders' answer about ISIL and climate change, The Weekly Standard's Michael Golfarb wrote on twitter that Sanders' argument was “crazy” beyond anything said during the GOP debate:
Nobody said anything as crazy as “climate change to blame for terrorism” in the GOP debate. Nobody.
-- Michael Goldfarb (@thegoldfarb) November 15, 2015
The Federalist's Brandon Morse: “Who Is Voting For These Nut Jobs” Who Believe Climate Change Causes Terrorism. The Federalist's Brandon Morse mocked Sanders in a tweet, asking, “Who is voting for these nut jobs?”:
OH COME ON! These people think climate change is number one threat and it CAUSES terrorism! Who is voting for these nut jobs? #DemDebate
-- Brandon Morse (@TheBrandonMorse) November 15, 2015
TIME Reports That “Many Academics And National Security Experts Agree” With Sanders
TIME: “Experts Agree That Climate Change Contributes To An Uncertain World Where Terrorism Can Thrive.” Following the CBS debate, TIME reported that although Sanders' comments “attracted ridicule across the political spectrum, many academics and national security experts agree that climate change contributes to an uncertain world where terrorism can thrive”:
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders used the terrorist attacks in Paris to call for action to address climate change at a primary debate Saturday. But, while the plea attracted ridicule across the political spectrum, many academics and national security experts agree that climate change contributes to an uncertain world where terrorism can thrive.
U.S. military officials refer to climate change as a “threat multiplier” that takes issues like terrorism that would pose a threat to national security and exacerbates the damage they can cause. A 2014 Department of Defense report identifies climate change as the root of government instability that leads to widespread migration, damages infrastructure and leads to the spread of disease. “These gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism,” the report says.
The parallels between the situation described in the government report and the situation on the ground in Syria are striking. The worst drought on record in the Middle Eastern country has created instability for farmers and threatened the food supply. At the same time, the government has struggled to hold on to power across the country in the face of militant groups and millions of Syrians have fled their homeland. [TIME, 11/15/15]
Major Research Studies And Experts Back Up Sanders' Assessment That Climate Change Played Direct Role In Syrian Crisis
Study In National Academy Of Sciences Journal: Climate Change Likely Worsened Syrian Drought, Which Helped Cause Civil War. A study from scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara and Columbia University published in the scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), detailed the likely role climate change played in catalyzing civil unrest in Syria. The authors determined that climate change significantly increased the likelihood of a severe drought like the one that afflicted the region from 2007 to 2010, which was “the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers.” The study found that human-induced climate change made a drought of such severity and persistence “2 to 3 times more likely than by natural variability alone,” and concluded that “human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict.” From the study's abstract:
There is evidence that the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the conflict in Syria. It was the worst drought in the instrumental record, causing widespread crop failure and a mass migration of farming families to urban centers. Century-long observed trends in precipitation, temperature, and sea-level pressure, supported by climate model results, strongly suggest that anthropogenic forcing has increased the probability of severe and persistent droughts in this region, and made the occurrence of a 3-year drought as severe as that of 2007−2010 2 to 3 times more likely than by natural variability alone. We conclude that human influences on the climate system are implicated in the current Syrian conflict. [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 1/30/15]
Pacific Institute Study: “Climate Variability And Change” Played A Role In Causing Syria's Civil War. A 2014 study published in the American Meteorological Society journal Weather, Climate and Society by Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick found that climate change played a role -- among other interrelated factors -- in sparking Syria's civil war. From the study's abstract:
The devastating civil war that began in Syria in March 2011 is the result of complex interrelated factors. The focus of the conflict is regime change, but the triggers include a broad set of religious and sociopolitical factors, the erosion of the economic health of the country, a wave of political reform sweeping over the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and Levant region, and challenges associated with climate variability and change and the availability and use of freshwater. As described here, water and climatic conditions have played a direct role in the deterioration of Syria's economic conditions. [Weather, Climate and Society, July 2014]
Foreign Policy Expert William Polk: Climate Impacts Led To “Extreme Poverty” That Sparked Syrian Civil War. William Polk, a veteran foreign policy consultant, wrote in The Atlantic:
Syria has been convulsed by civil war since climate change came to Syria with a vengeance. Drought devastated the country from 2006 to 2011. Rainfall in most of the country fell below eight inches (20 cm) a year, the absolute minimum needed to sustain un-irrigated farming. Desperate for water, farmers began to tap aquifers with tens of thousands of new well. But, as
they did, the water table quickly dropped to a level below which their pumps could lift it.
[USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, Commodity Intelligence Report, May 9, 2008]
In some areas, all agriculture ceased. In others crop failures reached 75%. And generally as much as 85% of livestock died of thirst or hunger. Hundreds of thousands of Syria's farmers gave up, abandoned their farms and fled to the cities and towns in search of almost non-existent jobs and severely short food supplies. Outside observers including UN experts estimated that between 2 and 3 million of Syria's 10 million rural inhabitants were reduced to “extreme poverty.”
So tens of thousands of frightened, angry, hungry and impoverished former farmers ... constituted a “tinder” that was ready to catch fire. The spark was struck on March 15, 2011 when a relatively small group gathered in the town of Daraa to protest against government failure to help them. Instead of meeting with the protestors and at least hearing their complaints, the government cracked down on them as subversives. The Assads, who had ruled the country since 1971, were not known for political openness or popular sensitivity. And their action backfired. Riots broke out all over the country, As they did, the Assads attempted to quell them with military force. They failed to do so and, as outside help -- money from the Gulf states and Muslim “freedom fighters” from the rest of the world -- poured into the country, the government lost control over 30% of the country's rural areas and perhaps half of its population. By the spring of 2013, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), upwards of 100,000 people had been killed in the fighting, perhaps 2 million have lost their homes and upwards of 2 million have fled abroad. Additionally, vast amounts of infrastructure, virtually whole cities like Aleppo, have been destroyed. [The Atlantic, 9/2/13]
Experts And Authorities State That Syrian Civil War Led To Rise Of ISIL
President Obama: ISIL Gained Prominence In Syria By Taking Advantage Of Civil War. In a statement about the United States' response to ISIL, President Obama said that ISIL, which was “formerly al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq,” has “taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria's civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border.” [Whitehouse.gov, 9/10/14]
Council on Foreign Relations: “Syria's 2011 Uprising Helped In The Islamic State's Expansion.” In a backgrounder on the Islamic State, yet another name for ISIL/ISIS, the Council on Foreign Relations stated:
Sunni disenfranchisement in both Iraq and Syria created a vacuum that the Islamic State has exploited ... In Syria, a civil war erupted in 2011 pitting the ruling minority Alawis, a Shia offshoot, against the primarily Sunni opposition, spawning sectarian violence.
Syria's 2011 uprising helped in the Islamic State's expansion. [Council on Foreign Relations, updated 5/18/15]
Foreign Affairs: ISIS “Took Advantage” Of Chaos In Syria To Seize Territory, Establish Base Of Operations, And Rebrand Itself As ISIS. An article published in international relations journal Foreign Affairs explained how ISIS “took advantage” of the chaos as Syria devolved into a civil war:
In 2011, as a revolt against the Assad regime in Syria expanded into a full-blown civil war, the group took advantage of the chaos, seizing territory in Syria's northeast, establishing a base of operations, and rebranding itself as ISIS. [Foreign Affairs, March/April 2015]
Vox: Syrian Civil War “Benefited ISIS Tremendously.” A Vox explainer noted that “ISIS predated the Syrian Civil War,” but that while “ISIS did not grow out of the Syrian rebellion: it took advantage of it.” The explainer continued:
Now, it's true the war in Syria benefited ISIS tremendously. It allowed ISIS to get battlefield experience, attracted a ton of financial support from Gulf states and private donors looking to oust Assad, and gave it a crucial safe haven in eastern Syria. ISIS also absorbed a lot of recruits from Syrian rebel groups -- illustrating, incidentally, why arming the “good” Syrian rebels probably wouldn't have destroyed ISIS. [Vox, accessed 7/21/15]
Major Military Reports Broadly Connect Climate Change To National Security
DOD Quadrennial Defense Review Considers Climate Change A “Threat Multiplier.” The Department of Defense's 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, which analyzes military threats, highlighted how extreme weather, increased food prices, and water scarcity -- all impacts of climate change -- aggravate existing social stressors that can “enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence”:
Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. 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. [Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review, March 2014]
Center for Naval Analyses: Climate Change Serves As “Catalyst For Conflict.” The Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) -- a government-funded military research organization -- published a report in May 2014 on how the accelerating risks of climate change will impact national security. The New York Times summarized the report's findings:
The CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board found that climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflicts over food and water and escalating longstanding regional and ethnic tensions into violent clashes. The report also found that rising sea levels are putting people and food supplies in vulnerable coastal regions like eastern India, Bangladesh and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam at risk and could lead to a new wave of refugees. In addition, the report predicted that an increase in catastrophic weather events around the world will create more demand for American troops, even as flooding and extreme weather events at home could damage naval ports and military bases. [Center for Naval Analyses: National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change, May 2014; The New York Times, 5/13/14]