Claim: Syrian Civil War ‘Caused by Man-Made Global Warming

syriaIt’s already been blamed for a beer shortage, shrinking goats and the death of the Loch Ness Monster; now global warming has a new charge against it: that of causing the civil war in Syria. A new study has drawn a link between a multi-year drought in Syria and the de facto collapse of the Assad regime.

The researchers from Columbia University and the University of California Santa Barbara are quick to insist that they are not saying that climate change caused Syria’s civil war. But they also state that this is the “single clearest case” of climate change playing a significant role in a conflict because “you can really draw a blow-by-blow account with the numbers,” the Telegraph has reported.

At the heart of their case, inevitably, lies a computer model. Syria suffered a drought between 2007 and at least 2010, although the war beginning in 2011 made it difficult to record definitive data beyond that date. By using statistical and computer simulation analysis, the researchers concluded that the dry spells were two to three times more likely thanks to human carbon emissions than under normal circumstances.

To iron-clad their case, they also show that Syria’s temperature has risen by nearly one degree centigrade since 1900, adding to drying through evaporation. Winter rainfall has also dropped too. Three of Syria’s worst four multi-year droughts have occurred within the last 30 years, they point out.

Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia, who worked on the paper, said that the connection between man-made climate change and drought in the Mediterranean region is one of the most robust in science.

Having therefore proved that climate change caused the Syrian drought, it was short work to link the resultant migration of over a million farmers into the cities to civil unrest, and eventually to the violence suffered in Syria over the last four years.

“There are various things going on, but you’re talking about 1.5 million people migrating from the rural north to the cities,” Seager said. “It was a contributing factor to the social unravelling that occurred that eventually led to the civil war.”

He and his co-author Colin Kelley do admit that a number of other factors played their parts, including the influx of over one million Iraqi refugees and the Arab Spring uprisings. But they say they couldn’t rule as to which, including the drought, was the most important.

Martin Hoerling, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist has described Kelley and Seager’s argument as “quite compelling,” praising the paper for making a strong case that human emissions caused the drought and therefore the violent civil war.

David Titley, a Pennsylvania State University scientist and retired Navy admiral, said in an email: “Reading this paper is like reading the analysis of an airline crash. There is a chain of events stretching back over 40 years that has led to the present calamitous conditions. The change in climate, forced by greenhouse gases, was one of the key events in this tragic story.”


Comments (2)

  • Avatar

    Frederick Colbourne


    I was working in Syria in 2010-2011 on a project for urban services development under an EU grant.

    The proximate cause was the rape of some schoolboys arrested by security forces for anti-regime graffiti.

    The more fundamental cause was the failure of the government to solve the unemployment problem which was felt more in urban than in rural areas.

    That drought might have been a cause is certainly possible, because any adverse impact on agriculture would slow the growth in GDP and have an adverse effect on employment.

    But what has drought in Syria got to do with climate change?

    All of the semi-arid (steppe) regions of the world suffer periodic drought. Such periods of drought are characteristic of the climate of the Levant. The most we can say about climate change in the Levant is that it is periodic.

    What seems to have been forgotten, but was once known is that drought has caused great social disruption in the Levant for thousands of years with no assistance from AGW.


    Jalut et al, Holocene circum-Mediterranean vegetation changes: Climate forcing and human impact. Quaternary International
    Volume 200, Issues 1–2, 1 May 2009, Pages 4–18

    The Mediterranean climate and its variability depend on global-scale climate patterns. Close correlations appear when comparing Holocene palaeoenvironmental data (lake levels, fluvial activity, Mediterranean surface temperature and salinity, marine sedimentation) with the main stages of the history of the circum-Mediterranean vegetation. They indicate an evolution of the Mediterranean biome controlled by the climate and emphasize the teleconnections between the climate of the Mediterranean area and the global climatic system. In the circum-Mediterranean area, the Holocene can be divided into three periods: a lower humid Holocene (11 500–7000 cal BP) interrupted by dry episodes; a transition phase (7000–5500 cal BP) during which occurred a decrease in insolation as well as the installation of the present atmosphere circulation in the northern hemisphere; and an upper Holocene (5500 cal BP—present) characterized by an aridification process. Throughout the Holocene, humans used and modified more or less strongly the environment but the climatic changes were the determining factors of the evolution of the Mediterranean biome. Societies had to adapt to natural environmental variations, their impact on the environment increasing the ecological consequences of the global changes.

    Carpenter, Rhys. Discontinuity in Greek civilization. Cambridge UP, 1966.

    Lamb, H. H. “Review of Rhys Carpenter, Discontinuity in the Greek Civilization.” Antiquity 41 (1967): 233-234.

    Bryson, Reid A., H. H. Lamb, and David L. Donley. “Drought and the decline of Mycenae.” Antiquity 48, no. 189 (1974): 46-50.

    Bryson, Reid A. “Proxy indications of Holocene winter rains in southwest Asia compared with simulated rainfall.” In Third Millennium BC Climate Change and Old World Collapse, pp. 465-473. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 1997.

    Bryson, R. A., and R. U. Bryson. “Macrophysical climatic modeling of Africa’s late quaternary climate: Site-specific, high-resolution applications for archaeology.” African Archaeological Review 14, no. 3 (1997): 143-160.

    Bryson, Reid A., and Christine Padoch. “On the climates of history.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1980): 583-597.

  • Avatar



    Yes, because that part of the world was completely stable before the industrial age. 😮


    I call BS.

Comments are closed