With over 240,000 deaths, 4,000,000 refugees, and millions more displaced, the Syrian Civil War is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.
Human rights groups have documented gross violations of human rights on a massive scale. People being burned alive. Child soldiers. Sexual violence against men, women, and children. Attacks on journalists. Torture methods of electrocution and broken teeth. Refugee children washing ashore.
And animal agriculture is largely responsible.
How could the horrors of factory farming possibly create a civil war in the Middle East? This is not a far reaching hypothesis. Animal agriculture drives climate change and climate change drives social unrest.
Animal agriculture and climate change.
The United Nations has stated that factory farming is one of the top contributors to climate change. The UN has also recommended that the world transition to a vegan diet to combat the extreme environmental effects of animal agriculture, corroborating what animal rights groups have been saying for years.
Animals bred to be raised for “food” produce over half of all greenhouse gas emissions. That’s approximately four times the pollution from all cars, according to the EPA. Droughts are one of the major environmental symptoms driven by climate change.
Climate change and Syria
So, how does climate change relate to Syria? From 2006 to 2011, Syria suffered its worst droughts ever. This water shortage was worse than could be scientifically explained by natural alterations in weather patterns or seasons. Climate change caused the Syrian drought.
But did climate change start the Syrian Civil War? Yes. Multiple media publications have recently identified climate change as a leading and perhaps overlooked factor in the massive civil unrest which first shook Syria in spring of 2011—The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Geographic, The Independent, Time, Upworthy, D
More than one million Syrian peasants lost their farms because of the drought. It was one of the largest crop failures in history.
The Syrian drought led to the deaths of most of Syria’s animals used as “livestock.” The country’s famous Aleppo pepper fields began to die. When farmers began to struggle in the midst of losing their livelihoods, the state did not provide assistance. In fact, the state continued to mismanage resources by subsidizing water-intensive industries such as cotton and wheat. The state even imprisoned or executed farmers for having illegal water sources.
Water shortages, massive crop failure, and displacement drove peasants into the cities. In search of a better life, Syria’s peasants began to migrate away from the agrarian countryside and towards the urban centers. Yet in the cities, they found similar water shortages. Competing for resources with refugees of the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, once wealthy Syrian farmers could now seldom find employment in the cities. Popular grievances became popular resistance.
The effects of climate change had exploded into social unrest. Inspired by the first revolutionary outbreaks in Tunisia and Egypt, which ignited the Arab Spring, a group of youth spray painted graffiti on a wall in the city of Daraa. It read: “The people want to abolish the government.”
These youth were arrested by Syrian police and tortured— but not without widespread public outcry. Their families, along with dispossessed peasants and eventually people from all over Syria, flooded the streets. From Daraa, popular protests spread to Damascus and Aleppo where they were met with violent crackdowns from the state’s authoritarian police forces. The civil war had begun.
As unpredictable as it seemed to the world, revolution had arrived in Syria. And in its wake the blood soaked human cost has broken the world’s heart. Factory farming is murdering the Earth right before our eyes. As the planet burns, the very poorest people will suffer. One hundred million people could die from global warming by 2030.
We have the power to change the course of history—by going vegan and joining organizations fighting for justice. By moving away from capitalism towards a cooperative economy. If we allow the system of violence against animals to continue, it will continue driving climate change. And we could soon see human grief and suffering on an unimaginable scale.
1. “Deadly reprisals: deliberate killings and other abuses by Syria’s armed forces.” Amnesty International. 2012.
2. “International women’s group begins mapping sexual violence in Syria.” Al Arabiya. 2012.
3. Romm, Joe. “NOAA Bombshell: Human-Caused Climate Change Already A Major Factor In More Frequent Mediterranean Droughts.” Think Progress. 2011.
4. Worth, Robert. “Earth is parched where Syrian farms thrived.” The New York Times. 2010.
5. “SYRIA: Why the water shortages?” IRIN News. 2010.
6. “Iraqi refugees in Syria reluctant to return to home permanently.” UNHCR. 2010.
7. Nabhan, Gary. “Drought drives Middle Eastern pepper farmers out of business.” Grist. 2010.
8. U.S. Department of State: U.S. Relations With Syria. 2014.
9. Khan, Azmat. “Interactive Map: Syria’s Uprising.” PBS. 2011.
10. “Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN report warns.” UN. 2006.
11. “Reuters: Climate change deaths could total 100 million by 2030.” The Huffington Post. 2012.
12. Abrams, Lindsay. “Factory farming is killing the planet.” Salon. 2015.
13. Goodland, Robert. “Livestock and Climate Change.” WorldWatch Institute. 2009.
14. Environmental Protection Agency. “Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.”
15. “Syria: Climate Change, Drought, and Social Unrest.” Think Progress.2012.
16. Plumer, Brad. “Drought helped cause Syria’s War.” The Washington Post. 2013.
17. O’Malley, Martin. “Video: Climate change helped spark destabilization of Syria, rise of Islamic State.” Democracy Now!. 2015.
18. Bawden, Tom. “Climate change key in Syrian conflict.” The Independent. 2015.
19. Fountain, Henry. “Researchers link Syrian conflict to a drought made worse by climate change.” The New York Times. 2015.
20. Holthaus, Eric. “New study says climate change helped spark Syrian Civil War.” Slate. 2015.
21. Huber, Alisha. “Trying to follow what is going on in Syria and why?” Upworthy. 2015.
22. Welch, Craig. “Climate changer helped spark Syrian war, study says.” National Geographic. 2015.
23. Baker, Aryn. “How climate change is behind the surge of migrants to Europe.” Time. 2015.
24. Fischetti, Mark. “Climate change hastened Syria’s civil war.” Scientific American. 2015.
Author: Ana Hurwitz
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Garry Knight