Connecting the dots: Extreme climate change, conflict

What does melting sea ice in the Arctic have to do with the barbarism of the Islamic State?

Dick Hughes, Statesman Journal 7:22 a.m. PST November 24, 2014

The answer is scary: Rising sea levels eventually will overrun some Pacific island nations and will turn many low-lying villages around the globe into ghost towns. Where will the uprooted inhabitants go?

At the least, they will endure the anxiety and grief of leaving their traditional homes. At the worst, the displaced residents will become a generational underclass — lacking adequate food, shelter and hope and breeding the institutionalized resentments and conflicts that could last for decades.

In short, global climate changes are a national security issue for the United States because those changes hold the potential to catalyze and accelerate conflict.

This is not to say there's a direct line between melting ice floes and expanding violent extremism, including the Islamic State. But climate change will exacerbate some of the factors that sow discontent and create fertile recruiting grounds for extremists, including drought and food shortages, economic upheaval, changes in disease patterns, and population migration.

Illegal migration already is a global crisis, and rising sea levels will uproot more people.

"If we don't handle this right, it's a security risk," Dr. David Titley said.

A retired rear admiral who founded Pennsylvania State University's Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, Titley was in Salem this past week to discuss climate change. As my colleague Jason Silverstein wrote in Saturday's Statesman Journal, Titley's focus is people, not polar bears.

For example, ocean warming and acidification will affect fish and other sea life in ways beyond the melting of polar bears' home ice.

Two billion people around the planet get their primary source of protein from oceans. "If they don't get fed, they become unhappy. If they're unhappy and their governments don't take care of them, then we know what happens," Titley said.

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