Spiegel science journalist Axel Bojanowski here looks at the new paper “Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought,” PNAS, March 2, 2015 by Kelley et al, which claims the 2007−2010 drought contributed to the war in the region.
A number of major news outlets, such as the New York Times and the AP were quick to uncritically dispense it as gospel truth.
Anthony Watts provides good background here.
Spiegel’s view is much more critical and skeptical of the paper’s findings and overall methodology when compared to the New York Times or AP. The online German magazine writes:
An alarming study has created a commotion worldwide. The authors claim that climate change contributed to the drought and civil war in Syria. However this claim is hardly tenable.”
Models in wide disagreement
Bojanowski writes that the decisive evidence in the paper is based on climate models, which show drier conditions for Syria as the greenhouse effect intensifies. However Bojanowski later points out that the climate system in Syria is highly complex and that even the IPCC questions the capability of models reliably simulating the climate system of Syria and that the models are in wide disagreement:
The region lies on the boundary of three climate regions where the weather patterns are hardly understood, the IPCC report says. Foremost the climate simulation models diverge widely from each other when it comes to precipitation. It thus appears unwarranted to use the results of models as a way of confirming the effect of greenhouse gases, believes [William]Briggs.”
Another problem with the study, Spiegel reports, is that the data used were way too sparse, and quoted climate scientist Tim Brücher of the Max Planck Institute for Meterology: “The data should have been handled more critically.”
“Renders a poor service on behalf of climate science”
Probably seeing the paper more as an embarrassment rather than a contribution to science, even warmist institutes were unable to refrain from critique. Bojanowski quotes Thomas Bernauer, a conflict researcher at ETH in Zürich: “The entire paper is problematic as it renders a poor service on behalf of climate science.”
“Study is problematic at a number of levels”
In total Bojanowski says scientists criticize the paper on five aspects, saying that after the criticism, nothing is really left of the paper. According to Spiegel, University of Hamburg expert Tobias Ide says, “The study is problematic at a number of levels.” Peace scientist Christiane Fröhlich of the same university says the civil war “had more to do with wealthy citizens provoking it“.
“A distraction” from the real causes
Francesca De Châtel, Syria expert at Radboud University in Nijmegen, called the paper “a distraction” from the real causes of the war, and pointed out that drought periods are more the norm for the region. The problems stem foremost from land mismanagement and shoddy agricultural practices. Bojanowski quotes De Châtel: “The role of climate change is not only irrelevant, emphasizing it is even damaging.”
No evidence linking drought to civil war
Also Norwegian doctoral candidate Ole Magnus Theisen states that there is no evidence of a relationship between drought and conflict, Spiegel writes.
Bojanowski adds that “the climate argument allows politicians to blame others outside of the country for the hunger.” The Spiegel journalist sums up the science of tying climate change to war in general:
The main causes of civil wars are political. The future security of Africa does not depend on climate, rather on political and economic development.”
In summary one would not be wrong in concluding that the PNAS was definitely asleep during the review of the paper. Hard to get any shoddier.