We call it the "southern oscillation," the Pacific Ocean current variation that gives us El Nino and his ugly stepsister, La Nina. People living on the Pacific Rim tend to be slightly more aware of it but the impacts are global - and they're deadly.
Researchers at Columbia University have linked El Nino as the proximate cause, or trigger, of 50 of 250 conflicts between 1950 and 2004.
Researchers connected the climate phenomenon known as El Niño, which brings hot and dry conditions to tropical nations and cuts food production, to outbreaks of violence in countries from southern Sudan to Indonesia and Peru.
Solomon Hsiang, who led the research at Columbia University, New York, said: "We can speculate that a long-ago Egyptian dynasty was overthrown during a drought. This study shows a systematic pattern of global climate affecting conflict right now. We are still dependent on climate to a very large extent."
Hsiang said that pre-emptive action could prevent bloodshed because El Niño events could be predicted up to two years ahead. "We hope our study may help reduce humanitarian suffering."
Global warming caused by humans, with the continual ramping up of temperature and extreme weather, differs from the natural El Niño cycle, the scientists are careful to note.
Mark Cane, a member of the team, said global warming would have greater climatic impacts than El Niño, making it "hard to imagine" it would not provoke conflicts.
The scientists are beginning work to discover the factors involved in the climate-conflict link. Food is likely to be key as crop yields and incomes from agriculture are known to fall heavily in El Niño years.
"When crops fail, people may take up a gun to make a living," said Hsiang.
"Take up a gun to make a living." Hmm, isn't that what Texas governor Rick Perry has in mind?
Another team of researchers, this time from Cornell, have released a paper. Here is the chilling abstract:
Despite the many possible contributing factors, the timing of violent protests in North Africa and
the Middle East in 2011 as well as earlier riots in 2008 coincides with large peaks in global food
prices. We identify a specific food price threshold above which protests become likely. These obser-
vations suggest that protests may reflect not only long-standing political failings of governments,
but also the sudden desperate straits of vulnerable populations. If food prices remain high, there is
likely to be persistent and increasing global social disruption. Underlying the food price peaks we
also and an ongoing trend of increasing prices. We extrapolate these trends and identify a crossing
point to the domain of high impacts, even without price peaks, in 2012-2013. This implies that
avoiding global food crises and associated social unrest requires rapid and concerted action.
Did you get that? There is a specific food price index above which instability is triggered. The UN FAO fixes that at 210. Right now we're at 234 and the Cornell team believes the world will become permanently above 210 within just a year or two. And that's with the onset of climate change impacts just beginning. I'm sorry, I know this is a huge downer but that's only because we live in such a totally advantaged country. Imagine, just try to imagine, what this revelation means to most of the people living in most of the world and then explain to me, one more time, about that Tar Sands thing.