Comment/Reply On the PNAS Paper On “Warming Increases The Risk Of Civil War In Africa” By Burke Et Al 2010

In my post

Another Example Of Overstepping The Scientific Method

I communicated regarding the publication of the paper

Marshall B. Burke, Edward Miguel, Shanker Satyanath, John A. Dykeme, and David B. Lobell, 2009 Warming increases the risk of civil war in Africa. PNAS. December 8, 2009 vol. 106 no. 49. cgi doi 0.1073 nas.0907998106

The Comment and Reply to this paper are presented at

Alexandra E. Sutton, Justin Dohn, Kara Loyd, Andrew Tredennick, Gabriela Bucini, Alexandro Solórzano, Lara Prihodko, and Niall P. Hanan, 2010
Does warming increase the risk of civil war in Africa? PNAS 2010 107 (25) E102; published ahead of print June 10, 2010, doi:10.1073/pnas.1005278107

Marshall B. Burke, Edward Miguel, Shanker Satyanath, John A. Dykema, and David B. Lobell, 2010 Reply to Sutton et al.: Relationship between temperature and conflict is robust PNAS 2010 107 (25) E103; published ahead of print June 10, 2010, doi:10.1073/pnas.1005748107

The Sutton et al 2010 paper has the insightful comments

“The conclusions of this study represent a simplification of conflict history in Africa and potential impacts of warming. Studies exploring how climate change will affect human wellbeing and sociopolitical trends in Africa are important. However, the analysis of Burke et al. (1) invites the incautious reader to conclude that civil war in Africa will necessarily increase with future climate change. Such a conclusion could have perverse consequences: if international political and commercial communities conclude, based on the results of Burke et al. (1), that Africa is predestined to additional strife related to global warming, it might discourage the kind of meaningful engagement that is so important for political and economic stability, economic development, and peace in Africa.”

The Burke et al 2010 Reply to Sutton et al titled “Relationship between temperature and conflict is robust” further defines how they view their results. Extracts from their paper read 

“In a recent paper, we documented strong historical linkages between temperature and civil conflict in Africa… Sutton et al… raise two concerns with our findings: that the relationship between temperature and war is based on common trends and is therefore spurious, and that our model appears overly sensitive to small specification changes. Both concerns reflect a basic misunderstanding of the analysis.”

“Furthermore, our econometric approach deals directly with the concern that temperature might be correlated over time with other explanatory variables: we identify the effects of temperature on conflict through year-to-year deviations from country level average temperature, which are unlikely to be spuriously correlated to unrelated social phenomena. We control for the influence of unrelated trending variables using country-specific time trends that account for trends in conflict finance, decolonization, or any other time-varying unobservable of concern. That our temperature coefficient is robust to inclusion of these time trends suggests that temperature is indeed causal.

“Our paper does not argue that temperature is the only—or even the primary—determinant of civil war.”

The Burke et al paper emphasizes why we need to change from the top-down global climate model driven focus on social and environmental risks, to the bottom-up, resource based focus on food, water, energy, human health and ecosystem function as we present in our paper

Pielke Sr., R., K. Beven, G. Brasseur, J. Calvert, M. Chahine, R. Dickerson, D. Entekhabi, E. Foufoula-Georgiou, H. Gupta, V. Gupta, W. Krajewski, E. Philip Krider, W. K.M. Lau, J. McDonnell,  W. Rossow,  J. Schaake, J. Smith, S. Sorooshian,  and E. Wood, 2009: Climate change: The need to consider human forcings besides greenhouse gases. Eos, Vol. 90, No. 45, 10 November 2009, 413. Copyright (2009) American Geophysical Union.

The Sutton et al 2010 Comment is much more in line with this multi-faceted assessment of risk than the more narrowly focused Burke et al 2009 study.

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