Mr. Secretary General Ban:
Genocide in
Darfur is NOT Because of Global Warming

Michael H. Glantz
3 July

Mr. Secretary General Ban: Genocide in Darfur is NOT Because of Global Warming

Recently, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote in the Washington Post (USA) that “the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change”. Many media picked up on his editorial and reported his comments, using spectacular headlines such as the following:

Reality notwithstanding, the media went into a frenzy over the statements of the UN Secretary General. It would be PC (politically correct) to agree with the UN report as described by the Secretary General. But it would be wrong to do so. I think that the Secretary General was ill-advised to make such an assertion, for a host of reasons. We know that no single event can be blamed on global warming, such as a drought, a flood, or some other extreme weather or climate event. Debate, for example, continues in the United States as to whether Hurricane Katrina was the result of global warming.

For one, drought has been a constant problem across sub-Saharan Africa with recurrent, severe multiyear droughts throughout the 20th century. For another, conflict has also been a constant problem on the continent, from colonial competition to cold war conflicts and proxy wars, decolonization, and post-independence wars. Corruption too has plagued the continent's ability to achieve its economic development prospects. Desertification processes, ebbing and flowing from year to year because of climate variability, have also negatively affected Africans, their livelihoods and the environments on which they are so dependent.

In January 1984, Time Magazine had on the cover of an issue the picture of an African woman in the shape of the continent. The cover's headline was “Africa 's Woes: Coups, Conflict and Corruption”. What was most interesting about this special focus on Africa was that there were only two sentences in the magazine about drought as an African problem, even though Africa was in the midst of widespread drought and several famines. Drought at the time was apparently seen as neither a “woe” nor as a constraint to political, social, and economic development on the continent.

Today, drought is now conspicuously placed near the top of the list of development constraints but, one must ask, have observers gone beyond what scientific research can support when they claim that the genocidal and murderous activities by the Janjaweed (with apparent Sudanese government support) in Darfur is the result at least in part due to global warming.

Such a claim, which is difficult either to support or refute with existing scientific information, is in fact a disservice to the victims of Janjaweed attacks (who suffer from the threat of death, mutilation, rape) in the refugee camps and villages in western Darfur. I have used the word “disservice" intentionally because, instead of adding to political pressure on the Sudanese government from various quarters of the international community, it actually reduces it.

If this conflict is believed by many to be related so closely to global warming's regional and local impacts, then people in other regions will tend to refocus their attention on their own regional and local potential plight and will become less concerned about the plight of those targets of genocide in western Darfur.

It is true that scientists and policy makers can say anything they want, no matter how far-fetched. The media of course have the right if not responsibility to report on what they say. But whether what they say can be proven beyond a doubt remains an open question.

I read the Secretary General's comments as a desperate attempt to keep the public's eye (and especially the eyes of the policymakers) on the dangerous, potentially explosive situation in western Darfur, clearly an important thing to do. Yet, I once heard that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. I hope that the UN does not go down that road by continuing to hold up the dreadful situation in Darfur as the proverbial “poster child” for climate change impacts in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.



--Michael H. Glantz

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