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Climate-Based Eco-scarcity

If eco-scarcity theory is a logical extension of classical Malthusianism, then climatebased eco-scarcity is in turn a logical extension of eco-scarcity theory. In essence, it explores the multiple ways by which climate change may lead to environmental scarcity and, thereby, affect the likelihood of violent conflict and other social problems through a variety of social mechanisms such as migration.

The academic debate about climate-based eco-scarcity is a kind of déjà vu in that it tracks the same trajectory as the previous debate about eco-scarcity theory. It started with some authors postulating a causal link between climate change and violent conflict. As is typical for eco-scarcity theory, environmental migration was considered as an important intervening factor (Barnett and Adger 2007; Reuveny 2007). The specific causal mechanisms under scrutiny are also similar to those previously considered by eco-scarcity theorists. Let us take as an example the model outlined in Fig. 4.8 (source: Buhaug et al. 2010, 82).

Like eco-scarcity more generally, climate-based eco-scarcity was countered by arguments based on the statistical analysis of recent events and highlighting the absence of a strong and significant causal link connecting climate change with violent conflict (Raleigh and Urdal 2007; Theisen et al. 2012). Also like in the case of eco-scarcity, even authors representing the variable-based approach sometimes acknowledge that statistical models based on recent historical events are unable to

Fig. 4.8 Causal pathways from climate change to violent conflict

predict the conflict dynamics to be expected under abrupt climate change: “We are only beginning to experience the physical changes imposed by global warming […], so a lack of systematic association between the environment and armed conflict today need not imply that such a connection cannot materialize tomorrow” (Buhaug et al. 2010, 93–94).

In fact, climate change of a magnitude similar to what is currently underway has not happened for at least a couple of centuries. Therefore, the statistical analysis of recent events is not empirically adequate to understand the effects of future climate change. Instead, we need to hark back to earlier historical episodes when societies were actually confronted with comparable climatic stresses.

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