As the world continues to experience global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions from human activity, there is legitimate concern as to how climate change is impacting and will further impact the availability of fresh water resources in the Middle East, which may be impacted by higher temperatures, reduced rainfall and reduced snowpack in mountainous areas. Besides this impact of climate change, there is also legitimate concern about continued population growth in the region and mismanagement of water resources. In turn, these issues generate speculation about the possibility that climate change and/or water scarcity may be a contributing factor to existing and future conflict in the Middle East.
While it is entirely legitimate to raise these matters, scientists and observers should also avoid exaggeration and overstatement. It is unsound to suppose that climate change and water scarcity are somehow the fundamental/underlying cause of conflict in the Middle East in general. Yet it is analysis somewhat along these lines that was offered recently in an op-ed at The Hill by Michael E. Mann, one of the world's most prominent and high-profile climate scientists. In particular, two assertions stand out from Mann's op-ed. On a more general level, he approvingly cites the deceased Israeli-American agronomist Daniel Hillel as arguing that "conflict in the Middle East, while nominally over land disputes, has always fundamentally been about the battle for water." On a more specific level, he argues that "the underlying cause" of the unrest and subsequent civil war in Syria was a "decade-long drought."
To be clear, I think Mann's work on climate change in general is important, particularly with regards to his pushback against a growing trend of 'doomerism' that engages in exaggeration and suggests it is somehow too late to do anything to mitigate climate change and its effects. In fact, all mitigation that goes towards adaptation and reduces carbon emissions towards net zero is better than inaction, and this is so even if the world exceeds the thresholds of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius of global warming.
Regardless of my broader agreement with Mann, I take issue with both of the assertions highlighted above from his op-ed. When I pointed out my disagreement on the application X, Mann's response, unfortunately, was rather gratuitous, as can be seen below.
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