Climate Change And Conflict


In this day and age, the biggest illusion is to believe that climate change is unreal. Well, we do not necessarily have to believe in science, but the frequent scorching temperatures, and erratic rains are close visible signs to prove to us that our climate has changed and continues to change. Even though there are deniers of the phenomenon, it is clear that such denials are either deliberate attempts hinged on vested interests or a lack of sufficient knowledge of the phenomenon. Generally, the former appears to be truer. Either ways, the irrefutable fact remains that climate change is really the most dreadful global phenomenon. Its impacts, although reversible with timely action, continue to push our world from being a soothingly accommodative place to one that is hostile.

Although the world is so far experiencing the most severe moments of climate change, the irrefutable fact remains that complacency, hesitancy, greed, and denial form the bedrock of our suffering today. As early as the 1800s, Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish scientist did the first quantitative estimate of carbon-induced climate change. Svante calculated that the temperature in the Artic regions would rise 8 or 9 degrees Celsius if carbon dioxide increased to 2.5 or 3 times its level at the time. His estimation eluded to the fact that human activities were the major factors causing such rise in temperatures. Svante’s estimation, although done at a time when science was less advanced, was definitely accurate and consistent. About two centuries after his calculation, modern scientists have proven him right. Svante’s projections may not have necessarily been backed by advance science and technology, but it has been sustained and made possible to prove right by the same factor he feared: human activities. As recent as August 2021, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2021 Climate Report burned out Svante’s projections. The Report describes the current global climate as “changing at an unprecedented rate” due to human activities.

The main human activities causing climate change are the burning of fossil fuels, and coal which release large volumes of Green House Gases in the atmosphere; thus, increasing the global temperatures. This process may appear too linear and simple to dread about, but it is definitely more complex and devastating than that. Naturally, our atmosphere is an envelope that contains gases referred to as Green House Gases (GHGs). These gases are very effective in trapping and radiating heat. When they are available in their normal volume in the atmosphere, they effectively trap heat from the sun and radiate it back to the earth surface at a normal rate. But when we release a lot of them (GHGs) from the earth through the burning of fossil fuels, their volume in the atmosphere increases, which automatically means more sun-heat trapping and radiation to the earth surface; thus, increasing global temperatures (global warming). This is a clear indication of change in the climate system. Probably, the most direct effect of global warming is increased temperatures. One important thing to note is that the more the globe warms (rise in global temperatures), the more the glaciers (family of giant ice caps in the Antarctica) melt. The melting of these glaciers into the high seas eventually has two main direct effects: increase the volume of water in the high seas; and the eventual thrusting of salty water from the high seas into fresh water bodies which consequently converts once fresh-water bodies into saline regions. This is known as salt intrusion. Safe to call it “climate-induced salt intrusion”. Ultimately, this makes the cultivation of certain crops and varieties of rice impossible in most regions and countries like The Gambia.

Over the years in The Gambia, salt intrusion has been the most threatening impact of climate change. Rice fields (lowland swampy regions) that used to be arable for rice cultivation have now become untouchable. This has affected the lives and livelihoods of many people in The Gambia especially women, who are the predominant group in rice cultivation in the country. The tons of rice that women produce from the arable fields  would not only be used to feed Gambian families with nutritiously palatable “mbahals” and “Domodas”, but their returns in sales would keep children in school, societies stable, and lessen import burden on the government.  Because salt intrusion has led to the disappearance of most arable rice fields in The Gambia, it has triggered a situation of frustration and desperation by forcing rice growers to compete for less arable fields with more mouths to feed and families to maintain. Communities that used to share vast areas of arable rice fields and would produce in abundance are now forced to share constricted arable spaces.  Because rice growers in communities have mouths to feed and families to maintain, their quest and competition over limited arable fields results to confrontations, which have proven to be violent in numerous instances. This is perfectly referred to as climate-induced conflict.  Although the nexus between climate change and conflict has not been widely studied or written about, it is discernible when we carefully explore the process of burning of fossil fuels to the overheating (warming) of the globe to the melting of the glaciers to the thrusting of salty water into arable rice fields.  Therefore, it is clear that climate change impacts create room for social tensions. In fact, studies have shown that despite limited explorative studies on climate-induced conflict, there is substantive evidence on the relationship between climate change and conflict; and that social tensions could escalate in countries without any systematic climate change mitigation measures. This eventually undermines nation building goals, and even failure to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

The impacts of climate change, like its causes, are varied and felt differently by people in different parts of the world. They are disproportionately higher among those sections of the population who are mostly reliant on natural resources and lack the capacity to cope and adapt. Women, especially those in provincial Gambia, commonly lack access to financial resources, face higher risks and greater burden from the impacts of climate change, as land is the fundamental resource that ensures their livelihoods. In times of conflict over climate-destroyed natural resources, women bear the heaviest brunt of gender-based violence, and poverty as their access to main resources for survival is limited. These desperate situations mostly force them to resort to such coping strategies as stripping of household assets, which eventually keeps them the vicious poverty circle. In fact, such coping strategies are at best unreliable and at worst unsustainable.   Studies have suggested that with the current trends, nearly all of sub-Saharan Africa will undergo water scarcity by 2025. To make matters worse, the region is experiencing a rapid surge in population growth. This will actually prompt an increased demand for and dependence on natural resources particularly land under conditions of drought and/or water reserves unfit for crop production because a good number of societies in this part of the world depend on subsistence or smallholder framing (crop production) for majority of their livelihoods. By these appalling indications, one would be right to guess that food insecurity and more conflicts, driven by competition for natural resources is looming.

Agreeably, we do know that economic growth does not spare social fabrics in the land of the poor. With more fossil fuels and coal being burnt by “giant” global economies like the United States, China and India causing global warming, we can clearly see the nexus between the unparalleled pursuit for economic super power and social tensions as explained above. Unfortunately, even though the appetite for economic growth by “giant” economies has done enormous damage on the social lives of the vulnerable populations, scientific warnings are still being treated as gentle suggestions. This beckons the questions: “if scientists had warned us against the dangers of carbon emission as early as the 1800s, then why did the Western economies continue on the path of wealth creation through industrialisation? Why acknowledging today a warning that was made over two hundred years ago? This is the highest form of immorality and disregard for humanity. To the “new industrialisers”, why would any responsible state insist on repeating the lethal mistakes that keep endangering innocent lives? What then is the way to end the disproportionate burden of climate change on the innocent woman rice grower? The world needs the combination of both political will, and strict adherence and application of international pronouncements backed by the moral obligation of sustained fairness and empathy by the biggest emitters of GHGs. 

To end, I want to believe that the world is no more in a situation where the science and signs of climate change are blurry. Instead, we are in a situation caused and deliberately sustained by a heartless minority because of fear of losing so-called hegemony. So the emitters will keep emitting while preparing the “economic dead warrant” of the innocent souls.