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Op Ed: Climate, conflict and compassion


By Yaira Robinson and Imaad Khan - Special to the Austin American-Statesman December 19, 2015

The conflict in Syria demonstrates how climate-related disaster can exacerbate social and political tensions and increase the likelihood of conflict. The Pentagon has called climate change a “threat multiplier,” and a recent Department of Defense report says that climate change contributes to government instability and social unrest. The report notes, “These gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.”

Climate change is a global phenomenon that will affect people from every walk of life. Climate impact, however, will not be uniformly distributed among populations. People living in areas that are already subject to extreme weather conditions — as well as those in communities and regions that have fewer resources — will be most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The conflict in Syria demonstrates how climate-related disaster can exacerbate social and political tensions and increase the likelihood of conflict. According to the State Department, between 2006 and 2011, Syria experienced a severe and crippling drought, causing as many as 1.5 million people to move from rural to urban areas. Food insecurity and a soaring unemployment rate contributed to political unrest. As of 2015, 4.3 million Syrians — roughly the population of Greater Dallas — have fled Syria in the wake of the civil war and are now officially registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The governor’s attempts to bar Syrian refugees from settling in Texas are completely incompatible with our state’s moral character. The Paris Agreement represents a new framework for the nations of the world to address the threats of climate change, but it won’t prevent humanitarian crises that already are in motion. Texas should to continue to use our considerable human, financial and natural resources to meet the immediate needs of people in distress — no matter where they come from.

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