The COP21 logo is pictured in front of a planisphere during the United Nations conference on climate change COP21, on Tuesday at Le Bourget, on the outskirts of Paris.
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Imagine rising temperatures across the globe exacerbating armed conflicts in countries with limited resources. According to researchers and experts, including scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder and Stanford University, this scenario could easily become reality, rather than a plot for the next “Mad Max” film.

The study, published in the journal Nature and a collaboration of 11 researchers and scientists, concludes that should global temperatures continue to rise at an unprecedented rate, countries already strapped for resources will be pushed further.

Specifically, it claims that if global temperatures rise by over 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, then one in four armed conflicts will be related to climate change. For countries like the United States, with resources to adapt to climate change effects, this may not mean much. Katharine Mach, a senior research scientist at Stanford and director of the Stanford Environment Assessment Research Facility, argues that this apathy could harm other nations.

“Skepticism like the U.S.’s is not a global issue, it’s mainly in Anglo countries where it thrives,” Mach said. “China and the U.S. emit the most greenhouse gasses, but smaller island countries who don’t emit much are going to be the most affected.”

The crew’s work was extensive. It involved interviews with experts for six-to-eight hours and resulted in over 900 pages of transcripts. The study is a meta-analysis, meaning that it took into account other published studies relating to the causes of armed conflict and climate change with the intention of finding the common variable in all of them.

The study, which can be rented on Nature’s website for $8.99, showcases graphs that can summarize the findings. The 11 experts interviewed as part of the study specialize in areas ranging from political science, peace studies and environmental science, among other fields. They were asked what they viewed to be causing current conflicts and how large of a role climate change plays.

“In my work on Africa, those conflicts have an emphasis on social and economic factors,” said John O’Loughlin, one of those interviewed and a professor at the Institute of Behavioral Science at CU Boulder. “It’s very clear that socioeconomics and bad government play a larger role right now, but that could change down the road.”

What O’Loughlin was alluding to, and what the study’s data shows, is that most of the experts agree that climate change in its current state isn’t a large player in armed conflicts. But should the projected rise of 7 degrees come to fruition, that could change. The experts agreed that climate change, while static now, is the most volatile of 16 causes of armed conflict.

The extent of the effects stretch well beyond weather and rising sea levels. Cullen Hendrix, director at the Sié Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the University of Denver and one of the experts interviewed, noted the ripples created from a gradually warming climate.

“We know that armed conflicts can hurt human development. And down the road, severe climate change can worsen armed conflicts,” Hendrix said. “And what that looks like is children not having enough food, water or education, the horror of children not seeing their first birthday and what their prospects for living a healthy, long life of meaning.”

Hendrix is optimistic that a consensus from experts published in Nature — a sort of crown jewel of scientific journals — will not only shape productive discussion within the scientific community but also enact change within governments.

O’Loughlin, however, is pessimistic. He believes that given the current general action on climate change that little will change, since greenhouse gas emissions have seen little sway. Because of that, he believes it’s a dire situation that requires the attention of everyone, even those not involved with science.

“It’s not just an academic discussion,” O’Loughlin said. “Can the rich countries continue to live the way they have in the last 100 years in terms of emissions and ignore the poor countries that are being the most affected? The answer is no. It’s a sad and frankly discriminatory practice.”

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