by Joe Magee
What is more dangerous, climate change or terrorism?
We are all too familiar with the consequences of terrorism and few deny the earth’s climate is changing. In today’s social discourse both ideas are loaded and politicized. Neither phenomenon is universally defined and the approach to each is emotional and controversial.
Consider the causalities of each to determine which is more dangerous. As expected there is a fair amount of difficulty in calculating how many people die from either terrorism or climate change. The data is far from perfect, but is important to compare the threats each pose. Unfortunately, both suffer from ambiguous definitions and each is riddled with disagreements of their effects. For instance, some figures include fatalities in the war zone of Iraq when considering terrorism. Others might consider deaths from hunger as circumstance of climate change. Conversely, terrorism might occur in a war zone while malnutrition can be a result of climate change.
Joe Magee is the co-founder of PineMark.com, a Southern California based environmental start-up. PineMark is the first green lifestyle certification, think LEED for people. They incentivize individuals to reduce their ecological impact while rewarding those who commit to sustainable living. Twitter @PineMark
The Body Count:
In the Anatomy of a Silent Crisis, released by the Global Humanitarian Forum, it is estimated that 300,000 people die per year due to climate change. This is a conservative estimate that mainly accounts for weather-related disasters such as drought, floods, heat waves, desertification, and rises in sea levels.
The Worldwide Incidents Tracking System, a counter terrorism database, recorded about 11,400 deaths as a result of terrorism in 2009 and 15,800 in 2008. The National Counterterrorism Center that operates the database defines terrorism when “groups or individuals acting on political motivation deliberately or recklessly attack civilians/non-combatants."
If climate change is predicted to kill almost 25 times more people than terrorism, why does the US spend upwards of 15 times more money on combating terrorism than researching climate change? ($55 billion projected in 2011 on counter-terrorism versus a yearly average of $3.4 billion spent on climate change research and technologies). The fact is 99% of causalities relating to climate change occur in developing nations. It is an absolute tragedy that 50 of the least developed nations emit less than 1% of the world’s carbon (Anatomy of a Silent Crisis). The media and our government share some responsibility for the perception of these problems. Regardless, as global citizens we have a duty to be informed about the consequences of our actions.
It is expected that the US would dedicate more money to counter-terrorism. The United States has an obligation to protect its citizens and the immediacy of terrorism is a grave threat. However, if the numbers tell us anything about climate change, it is that we need to dedicate more resources to its solution. Domestically we might not experience the adverse effects of climate change for a few decades. This is all the more reason to start addressing the problem immediately.
The unpredictable nature of climate change and terrorism make them difficult to prepare and anticipate. In addressing these issues one would hope for better data and analysis because both are linked much more closely than previously thought. The Pew Charitable Trust recently created a separate institute to discover the intersection of terrorism and climate change; I previously posted the video they released, Climate Patriots. This is at the crux of solving these global issues. No matter what your political views or how you previously felt about “global warming”, climate change has a direct link to terrorism. The fact is that climate change creates disasters; disasters create civil unrest, and civil unrest breeds terrorism.
Terrorism and climate change are not so far removed from our daily lives. It boils down to how we as a community view and address these issues. You do play a role in their solutions. We, as citizens of the greatest country in the world, have an obligation to demand the truth and be informed of the causes and consequences of both climate change and terrorism. Try to step back from your preconceived notions of each and search out different points of view, weight conflicting statistics, and always consider the source of your information. The more these issues are discussed, argued, and challenged the more transparent they become and progress is made.