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On Syrian Refugees and Climate Change: The Risks of Oversimplifying and Underestimating the Connection

Syrian refugee camp on theTurkish border for displaced people of the Syrian civil war. Photo by Henry Ridgwell.

Syrian refugee camp on the Turkish border, 2012. Photo by Henry Ridgwell.

It unfortunately took the heart-wrenching image of a dead Syrian child on a Turkish seashore to fully alert the international community to an unfolding disaster: the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. As the crisis ensues, many in the public eye have been asking the question: What is behind this extraordinary exodus? Essentially, what is the proximate cause? The answer to that question is straightforward. A brutal civil war in Syria has left many people with little choice but to flee. Some commentators are asking another question, however, that seeks to illuminate “ultimate” causes of an unstable Syria, and the current crisis. Namely: What were the conditions that led Syria to collapse, and how can we prevent these crises in the future? And in that context, does climate change have anything to do with it? The answer to that is complex, of course. (more…)