Over the last two and a half years of the conflict in Syria, the outside world has been focused primarily on the conflict’s political causes and its consequences for civilians. What has gotten much less attention so far is the conflict's roots in climate change.
From 2006 to 2010, Syria experienced its longest period of drought in modern history. Not only was the drought longer than any other, it was deeper: Those four growing seasons had the lowest average level of precipitation of any drought Syria has experienced in the last century. A 2011 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attributes half of the increase in dryness to climate change.
The immediate result of this epic drought was severe crop failure, which in turn drove enormous numbers of people from the rural countryside into the cities. Some estimate that the internally displaced ultimately topped 1.5 million people.
The urban areas where they sought refuge were already suffering from years of mismanagement; crumbling infrastructure led to water and food shortages; shortages led to unrest. Dara’a – a rural farming town hit especially hard by five years of drought and water scarcity – was a focal point for protests in the early stages of the opposition movement.
These rural Syrians are not the first climate refugees. The fingerprints of climate change can be found in many of the disasters that cause people to flee their homes: wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and coastal erosion are just a few examples. As one would expect from such a list, climate refugees can (and will) be found the world over – from Alaska to Australia, from New Jersey to New Guinea.
Since our window for completely avoiding climate change has all but closed, the role of organizations like COHI – working directly to alleviate the suffering caused by climate-fueled conflict and displacement – will only become more crucial over time.
Equally crucial is working to address the root cause itself. The scale of the climate crisis and its increasingly compressed timeline render our usual methods of social change less effective. Diplomacy, community organizing, electoral politics – these are still potent tools; but we must simultaneously make an appeal to the most powerful among us, individuals whose actions could remake economies in the course of a year rather than a decade.
To that end, I wrote an open letter to these individuals, urging them to use their influence to chart a different course for humanity. My collaborator & I, Mike Gintz, are running a crowdfunding campaign for the month of September to raise the money to print the letter as a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal, a news outlet frequented by the world’s VIPs. Contribute to the campaign and help us prevent climate-fueled crises from becoming even more commonplace. What’s happening right now in Syria is tragic; let’s not let it become normal.
Jordyn Bonds lives in Boston, MA where she works as a freelance web designer. COHI Founder Sera Bonds is Jordyn’s older sister.