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El Niños may inflame civil unrest

Climate pattern correlates with increased risk of conflict

5:31pm, August 24, 2011

One in five major civil conflicts since 1950 may be linked to climate extremes associated with El Ni±os — periods of warming lasting a year or longer in surface waters of the central equatorial Pacific, a new study finds.

Solomon Hsiang of Princeton University and his coauthors at Columbia University emphasize that they don’t know what mechanism might link El Niños to eruptions of major civil unrest, which they define as disputes between governments and other organized parties that claim at least 25 lives. But the researchers point out that droughts, torrential rains and other weather extremes that tend to develop during El Niño years can devastate crop yields, leading to higher food prices and unemployment in affected nations — home to half of the world’s population.

“I’m one of those people who would be generally skeptical about correlating things to climate,” says statistician Andrew Solow of the Woods Hole

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