The Gordian Knot of Climate Change and Terrorism

Following the recent terror attacks in Manchester and on the London Bridge, both the Left and the Right have been quick to give their own narratives of what happened and why. The Right, predictably, blames the attack on open-borders, multiculturalism, and Islamic extremism, whereas the Left is placing blame either upon “hate-mongers,” climate change, and interventionist foreign policies. As with all things, I think that the truth lies in the middle…but that is not the point of this post. The point of this post is to reply to dear, old Tomi Lahren and the following asinine tweet of hers:

Tomi’s tweet, along with countless others like it, are imbued with a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gordian Knot that is the relationship between climate change and terrorism. This post will be a modest attempt to explain what people mean when they say “climate change is linked to terrorism.”

I’ll admit, Tomi’s tweet is not what inspired me to write this post (I don’t follow her); rather it was a tweet by an acquaintance of mine. My acquaintance, Joshua Seidel, tweeted the following in defense of Tomi:

This tweet, and the other comments like it that inevitably bubble up after a Leftist points out that climate change exacerbates terrorism, displays such a profound misunderstanding of climate change that I can no longer leave it unaddressed. Before attempting to slice the Knot, however, it is important that a few things are clarified. First, as noted above, I do not think a monocausal explanation for terrorism is sufficient. Rather, I think that there are many “causes” of terrorism and any one can be the spark that ignites the powder keg. For example, I agree with Ron Paul’s view that terror attacks are a consequence of our foreign policy; I also agree that terror attacks are a result of unchecked multiculturalism; and what’s more, I do not minimize the importance of ideology in terrorism. Just as Right-wing Christian terrorist attacks are fueled by Christian dogmas, Islamic terrorist attacks are fueled by Islamic dogmas. Is any one of these to blame, however? No. Anything can cause terrorism, and all the other factors surrounding it become multipliers.

Second, when people like Bill Nye explain the link between terrorism and climate change, or when Leftists argue that “[c]limate change is creating the conditions for terrorism to thrive,” these people are not saying that climate change as a hyper-object is strapping on a vest and blowing itself up in a shopping mall. Further, Bill Nye is not saying that nice, radical Muslims are ‘getting too hot and are deciding drive over people.’ What is being claimed is something that is widely recognized by the Pentagon and U.S. military officials: climate change is a “threat multiplier.”

The logical question one might be asking at this point is “what does that mean?” The point is that climate change exacerbates conditions under which terrorism can thrive. Before we get to that, however, briefly unpacking the geopolitics of climate change is a must.

Why is terrorism so commonly linked to the so-called “third world?” Is it because people in the third world are more violent? I do not think so. Indeed, it seems that the increase in terrorism around the world can be viewed in an inverse relationship with the stability of regimes around the world — that is to say, as regimes collapse and areas are destabilized, terrorism seems to become more frequent. There are, of course, many causes for regime collapse (intervention, civil war, etc.), but more often than not, regimes fail because they cannot support their people. Absent foreign intervention, a regime tends to change when citizens are economically devastated, food runs short, or disease spreads and citizens revolt. Again, there are numerous causes for the aforementioned, but in recent years, climate change has been playing a larger and larger role in economic and food security of poorer nations. In other words, climate change directly affects the stability of countries that are already balanced on a knife’s edge.

Climate Change and Economics: As the climate changes, whether it gets warmer or cooler, stresses are placed on a country’s infrastructure and the costs to rebuild and maintain infrastructure in a changing world go up. Indeed, a few years ago it was found that the stresses placed by climate change on developing nations had cost $1.2 trillion and an annual loss of 1.6% GDP. In 2012, the Bangladeshi Prime Minster noted that climate change threatens to cost Bangladesh a 10% productivity loss in the farming sector, which translates to a direct loss of $2.5 billion.1)Further reading. And while the economic affects of climate change are far from isolated to developing nations — indeed, by 2100 the southern tip of Florida will be underwater –, we shall, in this post, focus solely on developing nations and leave the economic costs to wealthy nations aside. As infrastructure crumbles and the climate becomes less and less hospitable, already unstable states have to work harder and harder to maintain stability, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from history, it’s that instability is violence’s best friend.

Climate Change and Food Security: As the climate changes, food, obviously, becomes more fickle and the growth of some supplies will be halted thus driving up the price of food. Indeed, we’ve already seen this happen:

Between 2006 and 2008, world average prices rose by 217 percent for rice, 136 percent for wheat, 125 percent for corn, and 107 percent for soybeans. Droughts in grain-producing regions were a leading cause for this world food price crisis, which led to food riots and political change. In 2010, the floods in Pakistan inundated cropland and the severe heat wave and drought in Russia caused a grain embargo.2)Anna Mazhirov, “Climate Change to Exacerbate Rising Food Prices,” on State of the Planet, published by Columbia University on 3/22/11, accessed 6/7/17, <>

And not only are these patterns continuing, but the UN expects them to get worse with the potential for an 84% spike in food prices by 2050. Further, as droughts become more common, water runs out as rainfall and evaporation patterns change. This change leaves 40% more people at risk for water insecurity and increases the ratio of those without water to those with water. 3)And this is ignoring the other existential threat from climate change, ocean acidification. As food and water run out, states that already facing financial burdens, external threats, or other existential risks are pushed closer to failing.

In a word, the crumbling of infrastructure under climate change, the increased poverty caused by extra stresses on developing nations, food and water scarcity, and resource disputes due to changing climates are what military officials mean when they say that climate change is a threat multiplier.

What do the researchers say about climate change and terrorism? The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a study conducted every four years by the United States Department of Defense, has, since 2008’s national defense strategy which noted that climate change “may generate new security challenges” and “will affect existing security concerns such as international terrorism and weapons proliferation,”4)Robert Gates, “National Defense Security,” published by the Department of Defense in June 2008, accessed 6/7/17 <>, p. 5. devoted a section to climate change and international security and terrorism. In 2010, the QDR noted the following:

Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment. Although they produce distinct types of challenges, climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked. The actions that the Department takes now can prepare us to respond effectively to these challenges in the near term and in the future.

Climate change will affect DoD in two broad ways. First, climate change will shape the operating environment, roles, and missions that we undertake. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, composed of 13 federal agencies, reported in 2009 that climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters. Among these physical changes are increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the oceans and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows.

Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.

While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. In addition, extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response both within the United States and overseas. In some nations, the military is the only institution with the capacity to respond to a large-scale natural disaster. Proactive engagement with these countries can help build their capability to respond to such events. Working closely with relevant U.S. departments and agencies, DoD has undertaken environmental security cooperative initiatives with foreign militaries that represent a nonthreatening way of building trust, sharing best practices on installations management and operations, and developing response capacity. [Emphasis added]5)Quadrennial Defense Review Report, published by the Department of Defense in February 2010, accessed 6/7/17 <>, p.84-85.

The 2014 QDR, among other things, noted the following:

Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, sea levels are rising, average global temperatures are increasing, and severe weather patterns are accelerating. These changes, coupled with other global dynamics, including growing, urbanizing, more affluent populations, and substantial economic growth in India, China, Brazil, and other nations, will devastate homes, land, and infrastructure. Climate change may exacerbate water scarcity and lead to sharp increases in food costs. The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence. [Emphasis added]6)Quadrennial Defense Review Report, published by the Department of Defense in March 2014, accessed 6/7/17 <>, p. 8.

At the end of the day, there is no question about the effects of climate change, rather the question is of how we react. There will, no doubt, be a more thorough post on this in the future, but for now all I can say that is we need to stop putting band-aids on bullet wounds and get serious about mitigating climate change. As for the Gordian Knot; I’m sure that you, dear reader, can now slice it.


References   [ + ]

1. Further reading.
2. Anna Mazhirov, “Climate Change to Exacerbate Rising Food Prices,” on State of the Planet, published by Columbia University on 3/22/11, accessed 6/7/17, <>
3. And this is ignoring the other existential threat from climate change, ocean acidification.
4. Robert Gates, “National Defense Security,” published by the Department of Defense in June 2008, accessed 6/7/17 <>, p. 5.
5. Quadrennial Defense Review Report, published by the Department of Defense in February 2010, accessed 6/7/17 <>, p.84-85.
6. Quadrennial Defense Review Report, published by the Department of Defense in March 2014, accessed 6/7/17 <>, p. 8.


  1. The terrorism is the climate change alarmists and their own methodology of taxation, bureaucrats and controls
    At least a Muslim seeking Paradise thru killing us kafir is up front & honest about his violence, unlike the fascists frightened of long range weather patterns
    There is no “challenge”, other than opposing the oppression, guilt tripping and greed of the deniers seeking yet more rules, regs, and stifling dissent for their warming cult.

    1. I assume that no amount of evidence I provide will convince you that climate change is anthropogenic, correct? We could have a civilized discussion about this, but given your prior comments, I’m not entirely sure it would be a prudent use of time. If, however, you’ll concede that there is some form of climate change occurring, be it anthropogenic or not, then boy do I have the post lined up for you in a few weeks.

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