The TV network Showtime has just released the first episode of its newest production, Years of Living Dangerously, which is investigating how climate change is already impacting our lives and security. A major thread of the first episode of the series is the drought in Syria in the years prior to the uprising (from 2006-2010/11). New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who has been bringing attention to the issue since 2012, when he wrote about our report in “The Other Arab Spring,” visits the Syria/ Turkey border and hosts a series of interviews there and in Washington, DC. One such interview was with Susan Rice, U.S. National Security Advisor. In the interview, transcribed below, Rice does not mince words on climate change being a national security issue, and echoes our assessment from 2012:
Tom Friedman: Can there really be a connection between a drought and a civil war?
Susan Rice: Climate change is now well understood to be a major national security issue and a source of stress on a number of the underlying causes of conflict. Drought, floods, food shortages, water scarcity, all of these drive increased human insecurity, poverty and can contribute to conflict.
Tom Friedman: How much do you feel that stress in Northern Syria where you had this region afflicted by drought from 2006-2010 right on the eve of the revolution there contributed to it?
Susan Rice: That’s very hard to quantify. However, we all know that where there is drought, where there is insecurity, when there is poverty, hunger, poor governance, repressive policies, it may make the tinder in the box more readily ignitable.
Tom Friedman: In other words, if a drought is bad enough it can help push an already stressed society to the breaking point.
This conversation is especially pertinent given the drought in Syria underway right now, which according to the World Food Program, is hitting the country’s cereal harvest hard, and exacerbating harsh conditions in a country that is already torn by the world’s most devastating conflict.
-For more on Syria, climate change and social unrest see this list of resources on the issue.
-For other examples of U.S. Administration officials discussing climate change as a national security issue see here.