Right-Wing Media Deny Link Between Climate Change And Rise Of ISIL

Attacks On Martin O'Malley Undermined By Research On Drought And Syrian Civil War

››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

Right-wing media are mocking Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley for stating that a severe drought linked to climate change created a "humanitarian crisis" in Syria leading to the rise of the jihadist organization known as ISIL (or ISIS). But O'Malley's remarks are backed up by studies and reports affirming the link between human-caused global warming, the Syrian civil war, and the emergence of ISIL.

Democratic Presidential Candidate Links Climate Change To Rise Of ISIL

O'Malley: "Climate Change And The Mega-Drought...Created A Humanitarian Crisis" In Syria That "Led Now To The Rise Of ISIL." During a July 20 interview on Bloomberg Television's With All Due Respect, co-host Mark Halperin asked O'Malley how America should respond to global security threats. O'Malley replied:

I believe that America's role in the world is to lead by example with the rise of a global middle class. And I believe that the way we do that in these times is to create a foreign policy that is more about engagement and collaboration, a national security strategy that seeks new alliances to identify threats and to work with other nations to reduce them before we're kind of backed into a corner where it seems the only response is a military response, American boots on the ground or not.

For example, one of the things that preceded the failure of the nation state of Syria and the rise of ISIS, was the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that affected that region, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis that created the symptoms -- or rather, the conditions -- of extreme poverty that has led now to the rise of ISIL and this extreme violence. [Bloomberg, With All Due Respect, 7/20/15]

Right-Wing Media Mock And Dismiss O'Malley's Point

Fox & Friends First Host Mocks O'Malley: "Of Course It's Drought, Right? Not Crazy Guys Who Want To Take Over The World And Create A Caliphate." On the July 21 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends First, co-host Ainsley Earhardt asked incredulously: "Climate change is to blame for ISIS?" After playing part of O'Malley's comments, Earhardt declared: "Of course, it's drought, right? Not crazy guys who want to take over the world and create a caliphate. Never mind that." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 7/21/15]

Fox's Varney On O'Malley Remarks: "Is This Nonsense Or What?" On the July 21 edition of Fox Business' Varney & Co., host Stuart Varney said of O'Malley's comments: "Is this nonsense or what?" Fox Business contributor Ashley Webster responded, "To say it's a stretch is a huge understatement." And Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky agreed, stating that although she believes climate change will eventually "lead to horrible global situations," O'Malley's remarks are a "huge stretch." [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 7/21/15]

Washington Free Beacon: O'Malley Is "Saying Truly Brazenly Silly Things To Get Attention." The Washington Free Beacon, in an article on O'Malley's comments, wrote: "O'Malley, so far behind in the polls as to be a practical non-factor in the Democratic race, may have thought that saying truly brazenly silly things to get attention is his only recourse at this point." [Washington Free Beacon, 7/21/15]

Powerline Headline: "Climate Change: What Can't It Do?" The conservative blog Powerline published a post mocking O'Malley's comments headlined: "Climate Change: What Can't It Do?" that criticized O'Malley for "attribut[ing] the rise of ISIS to the alleged phenomenon formerly known as global warming." [Powerline, 7/21/15]

American Thinker: O'Malley's Comments "Just The Latest Epic Fail Of The Climate Change Hucksters." In an article about O'Malley's remarks, the conservative online magazine American Thinker wrote, "CO2 must be the most powerful substance known to man. It starts wars, creates terrorism, radicalizes Muslims, and apparently puts people in a real bad mood." It concluded by saying O'Malley's statement was "just the latest epic fail of the climate change hucksters." [American Thinker, 7/21/15]

But Major Research Studies Support O'Malley's 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.

 map

[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]

Like O'Malley, Experts And Authorities Also Agree 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 AffairsMarch/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]

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