“The violence in Darfur is usually attributed to ethnic hatred. But global warming may be primarily to blame,” concludes the Atlantic Monthly (subs. req’d).
The article is worth quoting at length for two reasons. First, the world needs to understand its moral obligation in Darfur if human emissions of greenhouse gases were a major contributing cause to the crisis. Second, the article almost single-handedly contradicts an absurd article that appears in the same issue by Gregg Easterbrook suggesting that global warming might have as many winners as losers (which I will discuss in a later post). Here are the key parts of the Darfur article:
Why did Darfur’s lands fail? For much of the 1980s and ’90s, environmental degradation in Darfur and other parts of the Sahel (the semi-arid region just south of the Sahara) was blamed on the inhabitants. Dramatic declines in rainfall were attributed to mistreatment of the region’s vegetation. Imprudent land use, it was argued, exposed more rock and sand, which absorb less sunlight than plants, instead reflecting it back toward space. This cooled the air near the surface, drawing clouds downward and reducing the chance of rain. “Africans were said to be doing it to themselves,” says Isaac Held, a senior scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But by the time of the Darfur conflict four years ago, scientists had identified another cause. Climate scientists fed historical sea-surface temperatures into a variety of computer models of atmospheric change. Given the particular pattern of ocean-temperature changes worldwide, the models strongly predicted a disruption in African monsoons. “This was not caused by people cutting trees or overgrazing,” says Columbia University’s Alessandra Giannini, who led one of the analyses. The roots of the drying of Darfur, she and her colleagues had found, lay in changes to the global climate.