Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Role of Climate Change In The Syrian Revolution

[The Syria connection is toward the end.  But I urge you to read my synopsis of the talk because Paul Beckwith really helped me better understand  the dynamics of how the warming works and how it causes massive flooding in some places and droughts in other places. And that background helps add credibility to his comments on Syria]

At today's Citizens Climate Lobby meeting, the national speaker we heard via phone, was University of Ottawa climatologist Paul Beckwith who spoke about how the melting in the Arctic affects the rest of the planet.  [You can hear the whole talk here - it begins a few minutes into the meeting.]   The gist was:
The temperature difference between the poles and the equator results in global wind patterns that greatly affect weather. 

Hot air rises, creating a low pressure area.   The temperature difference creates a pressure difference between the poles and the equator and that pressure difference causes air to move from high pressure areas to low pressure areas near the surface of the earth. 

Because the earth is rotating, the air doesn't move in a straight line. Curves to the right in the northern hemisphere and the opposite in the southern hemisphere.  This curvature to the right generates the jet streams, which are high altitude winds which circle the earth - sort of a boundary between the upper and lower atmospheres - so these winds typically move from west to east and there will be some waviness, but what is happening now. 

Warming Faster at the Poles Lowering Temperature Differences World Wide
With the elevated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere there is more absorption of the heat that is leaving the earth so it's trapping that heat and causing an overall warming.  In the Arctic the white of the sea ice and snow on land reflect the heat.  But as the ice and snow melt, the poles absorbs more heat causing the Arctic to warm.  North of 66˚ the rate of warming is 2-3X the rest of the planet.  As you move north, the increase is magnified more - 4, 5, even 6 times.

Because the Arctic system is warming faster than the rest of the planet, it's lowering that temperature difference.  So there is less of a pressure difference and less need for the air to move northward.  This slows down the jet streams. 

As they slow down the land ocean temperature difference increases and the jet streams get much wavier as they slow down and they tend to get locked into position relative to where the oceans and continents are.

Important because jet streams guide weather and storms.  And because overall temperatures are warmer, there's more evaporation from the oceans and more water vapor in the atmosphere. 

More Moisture and More Energy and Slower Air Movement = Bigger Storms Here and Drought There
For every degree Celsius increase in temperature there's 7% more water in the atmosphere.  It rises, cools, condenses, and forms clouds.  When it forms clouds, it releases energy.  So more water vapor and more energy in the atmosphere means more intense storms.  And the storms are moving slower, so if you have a massive storm system carrying  huge amounts of water, it's not moving as quickly as it used to move.  That's why certain areas get massive torrential downpours.  In Canada this summer this led to flooding in Banff and Calgary - a $3 billion event -  and a month later the same thing happened in Toronto.   They had 3 inches in an hour, 5 inches in an evening.  Those cities don't have infrastructure that can handle that.  Manila recently had 2 feet in a day or two.  While they are used to monsoons, normally it would be 1 foot in a week or two.

At the same time, these storm systems depositing large amounts of water on specific regions means that water is not traveling to other regions where it used to go.  They are getting less than normal rainfall because storms are sticking and not traveling as far and as fast.

The Syria Connection

Then he added the kicker.   In answering a question about how to respond to those who claim climate change is natural, he talked about how the strange weather patterns today are far more frequent and intense than in the past. 

He was talking about how these climate changes are causing social disruptions.  And he used Syria as an example.  What hasn't been mentioned much is that Syria's been having a five year drought that has devastated farming.  He said that of 8 million farmers, 3 million fell into poverty.  A large number of these farmers moved to the cities and were unemployed.  While he didn't claim this was the cause of Syrians joining the Arab spring, it certainly may well have been the tipping point. 

Since I had missed this point about Syria, I looked it up.  Here are things others are saying about this.  I've just taken a bit.  You can see much more at each link.

 From The Bulletin (Aug 2012):
"Among the many historical, political, and economic factors contributing to the Syrian uprising, one has been devastating to Syria, yet remains largely unnoticed by the outside world. That factor is the complex and subtle, yet powerful role that climate change has played in affecting the stability and longevity of the state.  .   .

From 1900 until 2005, there were six droughts of significance in Syria; the average monthly level of winter precipitation during these dry periods was approximately one-third of normal. All but one of these droughts lasted only one season; the exception lasted two. Farming communities were thus able to withstand dry periods by falling back on government subsidies and secondary water resources. This most recent, the seventh drought, however, lasted from 2006 to 2010, an astounding four seasons -- a true anomaly in the past century. Furthermore, the average level of precipitation in these four years was the lowest of any drought-ridden period in the last century. .  .
It is estimated that the Syrian drought has displaced more than 1.5 million people; entire families of agricultural workers and small-scale farmers moved from the country's breadbasket region in the northeast to urban peripheries of the south. The drought tipped the scale of an unbalanced agricultural system that was already feeling the weight of policy mismanagement and unsustainable environmental practices. Further, lack of contingency planning contributed to the inability of the system to cope with the aftermath of the drought. Decades of poorly planned agricultural policies now haunt Syria's al-Assad regime."

From The Climate Desk  (March 2013):
"In Syria, prior to the unrest that eventually exploded into revolution and armed conflict, Syria had experienced an unprecedented drought, lasting about five years. In 2011, NOAA produced a report showing that the Mediterranean littoral and the Middle East had significant drought conditions that were directly related to climate change. And then we found some reporting that had been done over the course of the drought which were showing that in Syria the drought, connected with natural resource mismanagement by the Assad regime, had led to a mass exodus, rural-to-urban migration, as farmers lost their livelihood. The UN estimated that about 800,000 people in Syria during the course of the drought had their livelihoods entirely destroyed. In the run-up to the unrest in Syria, a lot of international security analysts, even on the eve of the exploding unrest, had determined that Syria was generally a stable country, and that it was immune to social unrest and immune to the Arab Spring. It was clear that there were some stresses underneath the surface, and those migrations that we’re talking about, internal migrations, also put pressure on urban areas that were already economically stressed, and that was added on top of refugees that had been coming in from Iraq since the US invasion.

The Atlantic (Sept. 2013):
 Syria has been convulsed by civil war since climate change came to Syria with a vengeance. Drought devastated the country from 2006 to 2011.  Rainfall in most of the country fell below eight inches (20 cm) a year, the absolute minimum needed to sustain un-irrigated farming. Desperate for water, farmers began to tap aquifers with tens of thousands of new well.  But, as they did, the water table quickly dropped to a level below which their pumps could lift it.

Syria has been convulsed by civil war since climate change came to Syria with a vengeance. Drought devastated the country from 2006 to 2011.  Rainfall in most of the country fell below eight inches (20 cm) a year, the absolute minimum needed to sustain un-irrigated farming. Desperate for water, farmers began to tap aquifers with tens of thousands of new well.  But, as they did, the water table quickly dropped to a level below which their pumps could lift it.

The domestic Syrian refugees immediately found that they had to compete not only with one another for scarce food, water and jobs, but also with the already existing foreign refugee population.  Syria already was a refuge for quarter of a million Palestinians and about a hundred thousand people who had fled the war and occupation of Iraq.  Formerly prosperous farmers were lucky to get jobs as hawkers or street sweepers.  And in the desperation of the times, hostilities erupted among groups that were competing just to survive.   .    .


  1. Those articles you quoted from and linked to are important. There will be more Syrias, many more, as climate change exacerbates erratic moisture cycles, and ocean levels rise.

    The USA should be the global leader in dealing rationally with this. Instead, we are witnessing incredible myths being fabricated by the Obama administration, to force congress and the American people into believing something that simply is a very, very false narrative. This coming week, we will witness - if we pay attention to alternative media - the most intense public relations campaign falsely promoting a need for violence, since the winter of 2002-2003.

  2. After a week of hearing about different reasons/arguments to bomb Syria, the coming crash of the US monetary system, all leading to "Armageddon", I was looking forward to Sunday, my day to reflect, re-align my karma/find the balance, and get prepared to start a new week with positive thoughts, positive actions. And then, I read this (along with Philip's reply). UGH. Thanks guys.


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