“Climate Change and Violent Conflict”



Professor James Lee


About This Class

After a long and heated debate, there is scientific consensus on the existence of significant climate change and that humans have played a major role in its rise.  The next major debate, and perhaps the one that really matters, is on the social implications of climate change.

The social consequences of climate change will not be uniform.  The results will be mixed, with some countries benefitting and others suffering.  Both the opportunity for gain and the avoidance of cost will lead to social dislocation and violence.

Any type of climate change causes social and economic dislocation, whether caused by humans or nature.  It is logical to also assume that the faster the rate of climate change, the greater the level of social dislocation.  Climate change is however only one of many factors at play in inciting conflict.  History, geography, demography, and many other factors are also important.

Climate change forecasts give a clue to where conflict is more likely to occur due to its influences.  Given this “head start”, can decision-makers create policies to reduce the role of climate change in causing conflict?

We will explore these issues using traditional as well as a couple of new technology tools I will show you.  Here are some of key theoretical questions we will cover in the course.



Goals, Outcomes, and Skills Development

Course Goals
1.         Understand A New and Old Relationship.  There has been a relationship between climate change and violent conflict for millennia. A major goal is to understand this relationship using historic trends and cases to illustrate the manifold ways that such phenomena unfold.
2.         Recognize a Multiplicity of Causes.  The many factors that lead to conflict need to be part of the knowledge of these cases. How, why, and where cases of climate change and conflict have occurred possess unique characteristics that need to be understood.  A related goal is to be able to visualize the context for conflict and the role of climate change in relation to other factors.
3.         Imagine Future Possibilities.  The general trajectory of climate over the next century is agreed.  From this, it is possible to forecast trends and future cases of related conflict. This future is not however a single projection or immune from our efforts to change it.  A third goal is to understand the range of forecasts, how they differ, and their impact on social behavior (especially conflict).
4.         Ability to Use Data Visualization Tools.  A fourth goal is to learn how to prepare visual images that can assist in understanding climate and other issues.  This skill will be an asset in reaching the prior three goals noted.

Course Outcomes
1.         Understand A New and Old Relationship.  You will build a web page as part of the Inventory of Conflict and Environment.  The web page will examine an issue of climate change and conflict and use a categorical case study format.  The case study will include graphics as well as data visualization tools.
2.         Recognize a Multiplicity of Causes.  You will learn the technique of causal diagramming and two free software programs that you can use to create them.
3.         Imagine Future Possibilities.  You will prepare a regional analysis of climate change and conflict.  The case study will include graphics including map visualization and causal diagramming.
4.         Ability to Use Data Visualization Tools.  You will learn to use Google Earth as a means for creating original graphics.

Summary of Goals and Outcomes for Climate Change and Armed Conflict

Goal Outcome
1. Show climate and conflict as both old or new phenomena Build a web page that is a categorical case study with history and forecasts in mind
2. Detail how many factors lead to conflict Build a causal model using a software program
3. Depict future possibilities through scenario building Prepare a report on a region in the future
4. Integrate data visualization into analysis Learn to create graphics with Google Earth


Key Questions We Will Address

  1. Climate change includes a wide variety of impacts that are environmental in nature. There are many types of environmental conflict, including climate change. Where does climate change stand within the larger field of environmental conflict?
    2.         Climate change alters resource availability.  How do changing resources, through their degradation or their abundance, lead to conflict?
    3.         Climate change will do more than raise the temperature.  There will clearly be social implications, including conflict.  Yet the cause and affect are indirect.  What are the pathways from climate change to conflict?
    4.         Are there examples of policy approaches, and their limits, to ameliorating environmental conflict?  What are the lessons learned?
    5.         What are some historical examples of how has climate change altered resource availability that eventually led to conflict?
    6.         What are trends in climate change and forecasts of future behavior?  How does this break down on a regional basis?
    7.         What are some plausible future scenarios of climate change and conflict?
    8.         What are the policy and perspectives that can mitigate or prevent climate-induced conflict?
    9.         What are the new and emerging topics in climate change and conflict research?

Required Texts and Readings

There are four required books for the course.  They can be acquired through the AU bookstore or on-line vendors.  All ISBN numbers are for paperbacks that will be for sale in the bookstore.  Kindle versions are also available through other vendors.

(1) Brian Fagan, The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations, Bloomsbury. ($6.63, paperback).  ISBN-10: 9781596913929 (Paperback)

(2) James R. Lee, Climate Change and Armed Conflict: Hot and Cold Wars, Routledge, 2009. ($39.95, paperback).  ISBN-10: 9780415592512

(3) William F. Ruddiman, Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate, Princeton, 2010, ($12.67, paperback).  ISBN-10: 0691146349

(4) Laurence C. Smith, The World in 2050, Plume: New York, 2011($10.88, paperback).  ISBN-10: 0452297478

(5)  Curt Stager, Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth, Thomas Dunne Books: New York, 2011.  ($12.70 paperback) ISBN-10: 0312614624


  Assignment Value Description
1. Case Study Proposal 5 points Provide a brief case study proposal.
2. Causal Diagram 10 points Create a graphic and write-up of a causal loop diagram that represents the dynamics in your case study.
3.  History 10 points Provide a history of the case study, weaving in a variety of key threads.
4. Visual Map 10 points Create a map and write-up for your case study that has some data visualization elements in your case study.
5. Dreamweaver Quiz 0 points Take a practice hands-on Dreamweaver programming quiz. Open book.
6. ICE Case Study 35 points Provide a draft and post a case study for a virtual conference.  Complete the case study after comments.
7. Regional Future Assessment 25 points Give a future assessment for a region of on climate and conflict influences.
8. Being There 5 points Participating in class activities, adding to discourse, providing a classroom presence.

Skills Development

  1. Ability to Create Categorical Case Studies Using a Coding Construct
    2. Capacity for Building Causal Loop Diagrams
    3.         Training in Making maps with Google Earth
    4.         How to build a web site using Dreamweaver


Blackboard Course Layout

BB Site Materials Descriptions
Course, Name, semester and number
Course information contains the syllabus and course week-to-week planner.  All assignments submitted here and discussions undertaken.
I will post Lecture NotesCausal Loops and Data Visualization folders contain a lot of relevant material for each assignment.
Web Pages contain information of Dreamweaver and posting cases online.  The Virtual Conference is used later, and the other features could be used.



Grade/Numerical Score Table:

A 93-100 A- 90-92 B+ 87-89 B 83-86 B- 80-82 C+ 77-79
C 73-76 C- 70-72 D+ 67-69 D 64-66 D- 60-63 F 0-59

Grade: A-F (0-100) The assignments will be graded on four dimensions, save for the “Dreamweaver quiz” and “Being There”.

___25___ Analysis: Coverage of critical theoretical issues, use of course tools in coverage.
___25___ Concepts and Writing: Structure, clarity of expression, coverage of issues.
___25___ Sufficiency: Completeness of assignment (formats, gaps, research, presentation). ___25___ Brilliance: Creativity in methods and theories, and data visualization.
___100___ Total

New Topics:
Climate Change and Violent Conflict

These cases are culled from many sources, including old students. The case list is revised each semester.  Please feel free to suggest new cases.  New cases are developed as part of a virtual conference where all are made available to the participants for comment.  Here are some prior virtual conferences of class projects.  Note that this is the page format for cases.  The links may not work because students have graduated.  To see the actual cases go to the ICE web site.
Virtual Conference #27
Virtual Conference #26
Virtual Conference #25
Virtual Conference #24

I want to focus ICE cases on conflict and environment and specifically on its relation to climate change and violent conflict.  These topics can be considered in terms of the case study, region forecast, or policy application assignments.  The case studies can be historical, current or future.

Past and Occurring Cases

Here are some ideas of possible topics related to your case study. Be sure to check that your choice is original and not already completed in the ICE set.

  1. 2. Rainfall and Conflict in Nepal
    3. Argentina-Chile Border dispute and climate change
    4.   Year Without Summer (1816) and Migration from New York west.  Food riots in Europe.
    5.   Droughts and Africa and Asia in History.  Millions died during droughts in the 1800s.
    6.   Desertification in the Middle East over time (from the Fertile Crescent until now).
    7.   Conflict along the Sahel line in Africa. Farmers versus ranchers, Muslims and Christians, black and white.  There are many conflicts like Darfur.
    8.   Arctic and Antarctic resources related to resources and sovereignty.  Specific country claims.
    9.   Native Americans and Climate Change
    10.   Native peoples and Arctic warming, where impact is already felt.
    11.   Use of cloud seeding to make rain.  Saudi Arabia, China, US, etc.
    12.   Russia and Norway Arctic Sea Agreement
    13.   Migration plans for island countries.
    14.   Melting Andes Glaciers and Climate Change
    15.   Current Somalia drought, conflict and climate change

Future Cases

Here are some ideas of possible future topics related to countries or regions. Be sure to check that your choice is original and not already completed.

1.  Future impact of higher temperatures in northern parts of the parts of the planet, especially far north. Countries include: US (Alaska), Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia. (See Northwest Territory ICE case.) Impacts could include receding ice shelves, rising ocean waters, and new access to mineral and energy resources. Some limited changes are possible in Antarctica and southern parts of South America. There is some boundary dispute in this area between Argentina and Chile.
2.  Future impact of less precipitation in already water-stressed areas in the Middle East, Central Asia, and parts of Iran, Pakistan, India, and China. Also, possible drier conditions in Southern Africa, the extension south of the Sahara, and Central America.
3.  Future impact of deforestation in the Amazon region, the forests of Central Africa and in Southeast Asia.
4.  Water trading and dependence: Pipelines like oil can be political.
5.  Weather Wars: Climate change, drought, will lead countries to massively divert water and use weather modification. A widely used form of environmental modification is cloud seeding. More than 30 countries use this technique to produce rain or suppress hailstorms.
6.  Glacier Wars: Control of glacial areas of the world will be more sought if climate change makes them more habitable. Kashmir as an existing theater and the poles as a new theater would be two types.
7.  Impacts of rising oceans on island or seashores (i.e., Pacific Islands).
8.  Consequences of warming conditions on resource access (i.e., Siberia and oil and gas).
9.  EEZ disputes.  Especially in Arctic and territorial offshore claims. UK claimed Antarctica EEZ.
10.  Drying conditions and affects on food availability and production.  Shifting crop zones.
11.  More intense monsoons and hurricanes, i.e., Katrina and Pakistan in 2010.
12.  Climate adaptations (i.e., building dams to save more water or dikes to protect shorelines, causing refugees) as a cause for conflict.

Border Cases with Climate Change Aspects

See this page for some example of how borders separate peoples and how climate change might exacerbate.  These images were made with Google Earth.  http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/border-maps.htm

  1. Haiti-Dominican Republic Border
    2. India –Bangladesh Border
    3.  China-Vietnam
    4.  Thailand and Cambodia (violent dispute over ancient Khmer religious shrine).
    5.  Enclaves in South and Central Asia.
    6.  Rivers that are boarders and possible climate change impacts on flows or cousre: Aras, Niger, Amu and Sri Darya, Rio Grande, Tigris-Euphrates River
    7.  Amu or Syr Darya and Climate Change
    8.  Niger River and Climate Change
    9.  Recent upper stream Nile River compact and Climate Change

Key University Contacts and Information

AU Academic Integrity Code

All students are governed by American University’s Academic Integrity Code. The Academic Integrity Code details specific violations of ethical conduct that relate to academic integrity. By registering, you have acknowledged your awareness of the Academic Integrity Code, and you are obliged to become familiar with your rights and responsibilities as defined by the code. All of your work (whether oral or written) in this class is governed by the provisions of the Academic Integrity Code. Academic violations include but are not limited to: plagiarism, inappropriate collaboration, dishonesty in examinations whether in class or take-home, dishonesty in papers, work done for one course and submitted to another, deliberate falsification of data, interference with other students’ work, and copyright violations. The adjudication process and possible penalties are listed in American University’s Academic Integrity Code booklet, which is also available on the American University web site. Being a member of this academic community entitles each of us to a wide degree of freedom and the pursuit of scholarly interests; with that freedom, however, comes a responsibility to uphold the high ethical standards of scholarly conduct.

Plagiarism: Academic Regulations (80.00.00 Academic Integrity Code)

Plagiarism is the representation of someone else’s words, ideas, or work as one’s own without attribution. Plagiarism may involve using someone else’s wording without using quotation marks—a distinctive name, a phrase, a sentence, or an entire passage or essay. Misrepresenting sources is another form of plagiarism. The issue of plagiarism applies to any type of work, including exams, papers, or other writing, computer programs, art, music, photography, video, and other media. More information can be found at: http://www.american.edu/provost/registrar/regulations/reg80.cfm

My Note on Use of Graphics

You own the ideas and their representations in the Web pages you create. Make sure that you have the right to use the graphic files you send me to post on the Web (and of course, any words you copy). I have to act as a legal Internet Service Provider in this regard and follow the law on copyright protection. You are liable for any infringement claims.

You cannot take any materials that are copyrighted or otherwise protected without permission. There are many places to obtain free graphics and you can make your own (or your friends in faraway places can take pictures and send them to you). Usually you can ask permission to use graphics and often all that is required is to express thanks to the author and acknowledge ownership. Be sure that you have complete ownership of the product, because you are liable in cases of copyright infringement. I want you to provide me a bibliography of all the graphics files used attesting to the rights of usage, just as you do for published works you cite.

Emergency Preparedness

In the event of a declared pandemic (influenza or other communicable disease), American University will implement a plan for meeting the needs of all members of the university community.  Should the university be required to close for a period of time, we are committed to ensuring that all aspects of our educational programs will be delivered to our students.  These may include altering and extending the duration of the traditional term schedule to complete essential instruction in the traditional format and/or use of distance instructional methods.  Specific strategies will vary from class to class, depending on the format of the course and the timing of the emergency.  Faculty will communicate class-specific information to students via AU e-mail and Blackboard, while students must inform their faculty immediately of any absence due to illness.  Students are responsible for checking their AU e-mail regularly and keeping themselves informed of emergencies.   In the event of a declared pandemic or other emergency, students should refer to the AU Web site (www. prepared. american.edu) and the AU information line at (202) 885-1100 for general university-wide information, as well as contact their faculty and/or respective dean’s office for course and school/ college-specific information.


If you have difficulty in this course for any reason, please don’t hesitate to consult with me. In addition to the resources of the department, a wide range of services is available to support you in your efforts to meet the course requirements.

Academic Support Center (x3360, MGC 243) offers study skills workshops, individual instruction, tutor referrals, and services for students with learning disabilities. Writing support is available in the ASC Writing Lab or in the Writing Center, Battelle 228.

Counseling Center (x3500, MGC 214) offers counseling and consultations regarding personal concerns, self-help information, and connections to off-campus mental health resources.

Disability Support Services (x3315, MGC 206) offers technical and practical support and assistance with accommodations for students with physical, medical, or psychological disabilities.  If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please notify me in a timely manner with a letter from the Academic Support Center or Disability Support Services so that we can make arrangements to address your needs.

Blackboard and Wimba Help: blackboard@american.edu or 202.885.3904.  Contact them for issues of BB or Wimba.  If you are on campus, they are located in Hurst 11.

OIT Help Desk
help@american.edu General information technology and computer account questions.

Student Evaluation of Teaching:  Near the end of the course, you will have the opportunity to evaluate this online class and your learning experience by completing an online Student Evaluation of Teaching. The evaluation contains the same set of questions used in assessing classroom-based courses, with the addition of four questions specifically applicable to online learning. As with any other face-to-face course, you are strongly encouraged to participate in this evaluation of your educational experience. A high participation rate is critical to AU’s ability to continually improve and strengthen the quality of the University’s learning opportunities.