There’s a hoary Jewish joke about the school boy who wrote every essay, no matter what the assigned subject, about the Jewish question. In exasperation, the teacher assigns an essay about pachyderms. Next morning, little Jake comes back with an essay: “The elephant and the Jewish problem”.
Substitute “global warming” for “the Jewish problem” in the above sentence and it’s not even funny anymore. Case in point is this article (h/t Zombie) about a UC Berkeley study in which the authors argue that:
Global Warming Also Triggers Military Conflict
UC Berkeley study shows link between heat and war in sub-Saharan Africa.
By Madeleine Bair
We’ve heard that climate change will kill the polar bears, eradicate the salmon, and sink specks of land in the Pacific Ocean. Pinning down the effect of global warming on humans has been more difficult. But a team of researchers led by two UC Berkeley economists has done just that.
A study by Cal doctoral student Marshall Burke and professor Edward Miguel, published in last week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [F2: link to the actual (open access) paper added], is the first to link global warming to human warfare. Its conclusion is that over the next twenty years, if nothing is done, projected temperature increases in sub-Saharan Africa could lead to more bloodshed and the slaughter of an additional 400,000 Africans in civil conflict. If the legislators stalling a climate agreement in Copenhagen next month aren’t sympathetic to Hallmark photos of ice caps and polar bears , perhaps the prospect of more Darfurs will catch their attention.
It seems that these politically addled academics have descended into historical Lysenkoism, doing “studies” in order to prove specific political points. And they also seem to have confused coincidence with cause-and-effect, and the past with the future!
Apparently, in academia these days, if a false correlation in the past serves the correct political ideology, then it can be used to make a 100% positive prediction of the future!
For example, in 1972, the US elected a President whose last name had five letters: N-I-X-O-N.
Two years later, he ended our participation in the war in Vietnam!
So, in 2008, we again elected a president with a five-letter last name:
So, I predict that in 2010, he will end the war in Afghanistan!
How about a paper on the causal link between stork migration and increased childbirth in Western Europe? [Both migration and increased childbirth happen in spring, i.e., approximately 9 months after summer vacation ;-)]
My own $0.02: to me, the idea that climate would affect precipitation, and hence food production — and that scarcity of foodstuffs might spark civil wars — doesn’t sound all that outlandish. However, if you want to create a link with GW, this has the inconvenience (the authors themselves basically admit as much in the introduction to their paper) that it’s not clear whether in that part of the world, GW might lead to desertification or just the opposite — high rainfall similar to equatorial Africa. Basically, you only get the nice story you want if you focus on historical temperatures.
As for the correlations that the authors trumpet in their tables: sociologists and economists will of course consider an R²=0.657 (i.e., R=0.81) to be quite respectable, but it’s not something that natural scientists would get their drawers in a knot about, let alone be able to publish a paper in PNAS about it.