Why Terrorists Love Climate Change (Even If They Don’t Know It)

Climate change contributed to the creation of ISIS. If we do nothing about it, we may end up with even more terror-harboring states…
Children play next to a burning oil field in Qayyarah, Mosul— Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Children play next to a burning oil field in Qayyarah, Mosul— Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)


Climate change seems like a very abstract concept to many, especially on the right, yet it’s anything but. It’s beginning to poison our seafood and leads to more extreme weather by providing hurricanes and tornadoes with more energy when they form. And while deniers following cargo cult science muse that having extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means that plants will grow bigger and in more places, the reality is that more droughts will change where the most productive agricultural areas can be supported and severely impact yields. And if that happens in a failing, politically unstable country, the end result could be, believe it or not, more terrorism.

Not only is this a very real possibility but it may have already happened and the end result was the rise of ISIS. From 2006 to 2009, Syria experienced its worst droughts in 900 years, sending food prices soaring, decimating farms, and forcing as many as 1.5 million rural residents into cities. The resulting tensions exploded into a civil war and opened the door for an offshoot of al-Qaeda to live out its wildest fantasies of raping and pillaging its way across the Middle East. It’s estimated that the kind of drought that helped catalyze these events in motion was now two to three times more likely in the region thanks to increased global temperatures.

The granola-munching hippies at the Pentagon agree with this study, citing climate change as a major national security risk for the West since 2004 in reports trying to guess where the next big conflict will erupt. The concept isn’t too esoteric or complicated, to put it mildly; more droughts combined with a warmer climate mean more disruptions in food supplies and disease outbreaks in the developing world. Because these nations often have major trouble providing reliable public services in the best of times, the worst can lead to insurrections and tribal warfare inside these states, creating lawless, free-for-all environments where terrorist groups thrive.

But don’t take my word for it, look at al-Qaeda’s manual, Management of Savagery, which talks about providing basic services to people who live in failed states, ideally bombed by superpowers who were goaded into attacks and wars of attrition by terrorist provocations. Jihadis want nonstop war so they can recruit fighters with the promise of money, sex slaves, and a sense of purpose, seemingly pulling them out of savage chaos, chaos they helped create or fueled soon after it began. ISIS, being an offshoot of al-Qaeda, was actually following this manual point by point.

You can see similar dynamics in play in Afghanistan where the Taliban pays farmers to take up arms and fight for them, and runs a worldwide criminal empire which is responsible for flooding the West with cheap heroin. They haven’t gone down the same road as North Korea, which makes and sells a lot of high quality meth to help prop itself, but their control of a smuggling network and kidnapping schemes helps bring in up to $2 billion a year, by a number of estimates, which is then used to train, arm, and pay its fighters more than the Afghan army and police forces can afford.

While in our definition, anyone fighting for the Taliban, setting off bombs, and kidnapping tourists and important officials would be a terrorist, they’re not exactly in love with radical Islamic theology and ready to move to the West to join a sleeper cell. In their minds, they’re just hired guns fighting in a local conflict and trying to put some food on the table and get access to basic medical care, maybe learn how to read as well, if they’re lucky. They may buy into the ideology over time, but they wouldn’t have come as rabid radicals ready to fight the world in the name of Allah.

While Americans have a very good idea how to stop typical terror threats in the West, which hopefully won’t regress into the tactics which are doomed to backfire for the European far right, few of those apply to failed states in which becoming a terrorist suddenly becomes a viable way out of poverty. And keep in mind that not all terrorist groups are even religious in nature, much less Islamic. Some are almost purely political extremists looking for a young, opportunistic infantry in search of some stability and escaping a life filled with misery and woe. Unless we can offer that stability, they will buy into the terrorist group’s message enough to work for them.

This is why slashing foreign aid to failing states under the condition that we help get their institutions on track, and exiting the Paris Agreement can end up in more terrorism and more attacks in developed nations. When perfect candidates to carry out attacks at home and abroad see that fighting for the local terrorist group is their only way to survive, rise through the ranks, and start really believing in radical ideologies, the West becomes just one more frontline and their attacks on Europeans and Americans, just a mission they will carry out at the commanders’ request.

Rarely are cause and effect as simple as this: giving up global leadership when it comes to controlling climate change and delivering aid means that unless someone else steps up, you’re taking the risk of creating a political and social vacuum ready to be filled with bloodthirsty groups that flourish when rule of law is weak to nonexistent. As they go on bloody rampages in their new territory, they will create more refugees, repeating the situation we have with ISIS again and again.

When they fall, just like ISIS eventually will to multinational forces which begun closing in on their last strongholds, yet another failed crop from a drought in another frail state will create its next iteration. Same goes for developing nations unable to clean up after massive natural disasters, or deal with rising oceans. This is not to mention that bases for providing aid during a humanitarian crisis or military support to nations fighting off an extremely large and well armed terrorist groups may become unusable for parts of the year, or be more vulnerable to storms.

In short, if you don’t care about climate change because you really like warm weather and live where you wish winters were warmer, don’t care much for seafood, and see no point in worrying about food costs because your nation has plenty of room to cope with agricultural changes, perhaps you should take a minute and consider if you’re also fine with more refugee crises and more terrorists, and if saving a few dollars now is worth stunting green jobs for your economy, and giving the next ISIS recruiting opportunities around the world’s warmer climate zones.

Politech // Climate Change / ISIS / Science / Terrorism