Liberal outlets — and most notably President Obama — have long argued that manmade climate change caused or exacerbated the Syrian civil war. Scientific American even published a story about Syria’s “climate refugees.” But an American doctor and military veteran whose parents left Syria as refugees, and who has traveled the world advancing religious freedom, said that anyone who believes this narrative is “a fool.”
“Anyone who believes that climate change had anything to do with any of the conflict in Syria is a fool,” M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, told PJ Media. He said that boiling the war down to a drought ostensibly caused by carbon emissions would be “a disservice to every life lost in Syria.”
Jasser noted that the Syrian revolution started in Daraa, a small rural town in southern Syria a stone’s throw from the Sea of Galilee. “All of a sudden, parents started worrying why their kids were tortured and vanished,” Jasser explained. “Next thing you know, the marches grew into the thousands, and they started to post them on YouTube. The regime responded with an iron fist.”
“That didn’t have to do with agriculture or with crops, it had to do with a regime that was torturing their teens,” Jasser added. “My grandfather and my parents escaped Syria in the mid-Sixties — they basically threw their hands up and said the Syrian people will never be able to unite in a revolution against this regime. All of us knew that there was never and never will be a political solution to this civil war.”
Rather than the drought causing or exacerbating the civil war, this son of Syrian refugees argued that the civil war had “augmented the stressors that existed already with the drought.”
“In a civil war, families get their water cut off as the government tries to get them to cry uncle,” Jasser argued. “The use of food and water as a mechanism to control populations has augmented — by thousands of times — the agricultural reality” of drought.
As Syria has fractured into many different regions with competing interests (the Islamic State, the Kurdish Peshmerga, the Free Syrian Army, and the Assad regime), “each region is responding differently to the economic stressors in their environment,” Jasser explained.
The drought is a real phenomenon, but the link between drought and the war is extremely limited. Nevertheless, for “scientists who are focused on climates and agriculture and things, that’s their hammer and everything is a nail.”
Jasser admitted that there might be some link between the drought and the severity of the war, but argued that it is at best a small contributing factor. He compared it with the impact of poverty in converting Muslims into terrorists. While “80 to 90 percent of the issue is Islamism and Islamist supremacy” ideology, between 10 and 20 percent of their radicalism might be attributable to adverse circumstances.
Similarly, the Syrian civil war may be exacerbated by drought, but that is not a primary cause and indeed, the Assad regime’s actions have worsened the natural disaster. There is man-made climate change happening in Syria, it just isn’t caused by carbon emissions — Bashar Al-Assad is releasing chemical weapons into the atmosphere, seizing precious resources, and hampering agriculture across the nation.
“If the problem is drought, you can say there is a humanitarian solution,” Jasser concluded. But even if foreign nations were to send food to Syria, it would not reach the Syrian people, as the Assad regime would seize it.
Since it might be hard for many Westerners to understand the situation on the ground in Syria, Jasser provided some key notes in closing. He noted that the bombing and shelling in the cities of Aleppo and Damascus are not targeting the Islamic State (ISIS), but rather these attacks have been “decimating the more moderate forces while the radicals grow.”
Dictators like Assad actually benefit from the presence of a terror threat, as it justifies more oppression in the name of fighting terror. Jasser lamented “this constant Arab tyrant method to allow radicals to grow while you put the rebels in prison.” He argued that “Assad is cheering as people are being mowed over in London,” because it brings the West into the conflict.
At the same time, dictators like Assad are pushing Quranic interpretations that favor terrorism. “Every one of these dictators are both the arsonists and the firefighters,” the son of Syrians explained. He called the Assad regime “the North Korea of the Middle East.”
Jasser is far from the only voice attacking the idea that the Syrian civil war is caused by climate change. Professor Clionadh Raleigh from the University of Sussex gave a lecture at Oxford University last month explaining why climate alarmists point to carbon emissions and drought as factors behind violence like the Syrian civil war.
“The most likely explanations for the conflict are not recorded in the systematic nature that temperature and rainfall are often recorded in, and hence they’re often ignored,” Raleigh explained. She mentioned one particularly egregious study in which the authors admitted that “they couldn’t include regime type or political economy in a state because that would complicate the analysis” (emphasis added).
As Jasser said, climate scientists see every outbreak of violence as a nail. “They treat political and social information that we know as important for violence as background noise,” Raleigh said.
H. Sterling Burnett, research fellow on the environment at the Heartland Institute, noted that the Syrian revolution began around the time of the Arab Spring. “Syria’s uprising was part of a larger movement — surely there wasn’t drought in all of those countries at the same time,” Burnett told PJ Media.
When asked about the reasons behind the conflict, Syrians do not point to drought. “None of them are saying, ‘We’re dying from drought from climate change, so we’re going to war,'” Burnett quipped.
Perhaps more damning, however, the Heartland scholar noted that even the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits the problems of “eking out the role of carbon emissions in drought.” Burnett noted that “the drought thing is low confidence — 20 percent change — really unlikely. There’s an 80 percent chance it’s not caused by climate change.”
In other words, the link between climate change and drought is “not plausible even by the IPCC’s own standards.”
But there are worldly incentives for academics to make this tenuous argument. “Climate change is hot, pun intended,” Burnett noted. “If you push climate change, you get government funding.”
Perhaps even more dangerous, however, is the response to those who question such studies. “Anyone who attacks your version of the result is a denier, and other people are doing your work for you,” and this is true even if the person is not denying climate change, just this particular study, the Heartland scholar warned.
Even if researchers are proven wrong fifty years later, “you’ll be retired or dead. You had your moment in the sun, you got your tenure, you got your big grants,” Burnett explained.
Jasser, Raleigh, and Burnett all agree that it is wrongheaded and insulting to lay the Syrian civil war at the feet of climate change. A repressive dictator, radical Islamic terrorism, the Arab Spring, and the broken hearts of parents are the real causes of the Syrian conflict, and climate change may not even be responsible for drought, let alone this devastating conflict.