Not Cool Ep 22: Cullen Hendrix on climate change and armed conflict

Right before civil war broke out in 2011, Syria experienced a historic five-year drought. This particular drought, which exacerbated economic and political insecurity within the country, may or may not have been caused by climate change. But as climate change increases the frequency of such extreme events, it’s almost certain to inflame pre-existing tensions in other countries — and in some cases, to trigger armed conflict. On Not Cool episode 22, Ariel is joined by Cullen Hendrix, co-author of “Climate as a risk factor for armed conflict.” Cullen, who serves as Director of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy and Senior Research Advisor at the Center for Climate & Security, explains the main drivers of conflict and the impact that climate change may have on them. He also discusses the role of climate change in current conflicts like those in Syria, Yemen, and northern Nigeria; the political implications of such conflicts for Europe and other developed regions; and the chance that climate change might ultimately foster cooperation.

Topics discussed include:

  • 4 major drivers of conflict
  • Yemeni & Syrian civil wars
  • Boko Haram conflict
  • Arab Spring
  • Decline in predictability of at-risk countries:
  • Instability in South/central America
  • Climate-driven migration
  • International conflict
  • Implications for developing vs. developed countries
  • Impact of Syrian civil war/migrant crisis on EU
  • Backlash in domestic European politics
  • Brexit
  • Dealing with uncertainty
  • Actionable steps for governments

References discussed include:

Climate change is in effect loading the dice. So it’s making certain rare outcomes like armed conflict a little bit more likely to occur in a variety of contexts, with the most significant impacts on societies at lower levels of economic development, higher levels of dependence on agricultural livelihoods, and characterized by weaker state institutions and high levels of intergroup inequality.

~ Cullen Hendrix

Ariel Conn: Welcome to episode 22 of Not Cool: a Climate Podcast. I’m your host, Ariel Conn. Today, we’ll be joined by Cullen Hendrix who will walk us through some of the major drivers behind armed conflict and how climate change could exacerbate a violent situation. 

We’ll look at some specific examples of recent armed conflict, including the conflict in Syria, which many experts argue was triggered by climate change. And we’ll consider whether factors like climate change and emerging technologies could be changing these drivers of armed conflict. 

Cullen is a Professor and the Director of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy at the Korbel School of International Studies, at the University of Denver. He directs the Environment, Food and Conflict Lab, which leverages collaborations between physical and social scientists and policymakers to produce scholarship and analysis on issues at the intersection of the environment, food security, and conflict. He co-created the Social Conflict Analysis Database, he is a regular contributor at Political Violence @ a Glance, and he’s a member of the Political Instability Task Force and Africa Board of Experts. He holds research appointments at the University of Texas at Austin and the Colorado School of Mines.

Cullen, thank you so much for joining us.

Cullen Hendrix: Happy to be with you.

Ariel Conn: Let’s just start by talking about what this paper is. It’s called Climate and the Risk of Armed Conflict, and it was expert elicitation. So can you talk about how people were picked to be involved in this paper and essentially what it is?

Cullen Hendrix: Sure, no problem. Let’s start with this question of what is expert elicitation. Expert elicitation is a process by which experts come to identify points of consensus and points of disagreement in a large and complex and sometimes contradictory body of literature that has emerged around the specific topic.

Beginning in the early part of the 21st century, there was a lot of policy interest coming from the national security communities, the intelligence communities, development communities, on links between climate change and security outcomes — in particular, US national security outcomes. And at that point there wasn’t a lot of evidence, so a lot of the thinking about it was dominated by science fiction, rather than scientific process or scientific discourse. In the intervening decade and a half or so, we’ve seen a rapid and massive proliferation in the amount of evidence that’s out there, so that there are now thousands of studies on links between climate change and armed conflict.

The issue being that those thousands of studies do not all point in the same direction or reach the same kind of conclusions. What do you do in an environment like this? Expert elicitation occurs when somebody — in this case, Katharine Mach and Caroline Kraan at Stanford — come along and say, “We would like to essentially be the arbiters in this literature, and we would like to interview a variety of experts coming from a variety of different educational backgrounds at different points in their careers who use different types of methodologies and see what they think about the links between climate change and armed conflict and, importantly, think about the risks associated with climate change in the context of other kinds of risk for armed conflict.”

And so what comes out of that process is a summary statement, like this article, that identifies those points where the experts agree, and identifies points where the experts disagree. For my own part, I was contacted by the main authors of the study, I think on the basis of my work in the past on climate change and social conflict, but also thinking about the role that climate change might be playing in affecting global phenomena like food prices and energy prices, which we also think have manifest effects for political stability in especially developing and middle income countries.

Ariel Conn: I want to ask about some of the drivers that influence conflict, but before I do that, just sort of quickly: did you find that the experts that were brought together for this mostly agreed or mostly disagreed?

Cullen Hendrix: That was one of the more gratifying parts of the whole experience. In order to kind of understand why it’s such a refreshing way of trying to make an assessment about links between climate change and armed conflict in this context, it’s important to put it in the context of how this kind of scholarly discourse normally goes — which is you get a couple of really smart authors or teams of authors duking it out in an academic journal. When they do that, they have an incentive to accentuate the differences in the way that they see the world. A couple of these groups of scholars might agree on 97% of the evidentiary basis, but they’ll end up harping on the 3% about which they disagree.

This process was really refreshing because it asked us first independently, in structured interviews, to reflect on the state of the literature, and then talk about the relative risks of these different factors that we think might contribute to armed conflict, and then place climate change in that context.

One of the interesting things to emerge out of that is that even though many of the authors on this paper had disagreed with one another — in some cases, pretty vociferously — in print, when they were asked to go through this kind of structured interview process, we wound up identifying a lot more points of consensus than we did disagreement, which I think is refreshing. And it’s also useful because if we’re going to try and communicate this to a policy audience, who are not specialists on these kinds of issues, being able to say that we have a fairly high degree of certainty, or at least a high degree of agreement about the relative risks associated with climate change both now and looking forward, is a nice position to be in in terms of trying to add some clarity to those kinds of discussions.

Ariel Conn: Let’s come back to some of the specifics then. You guys identified four drivers as particularly influential to conflict. And those are low socioeconomic development, low capabilities of state, intergroup inequality and a recent history of violence.

There’s other drivers that you mentioned as well, but those were the ones that were the ones most likely to lead to conflict. Could you talk briefly about what each of those are, and maybe even give an example?

Cullen Hendrix: Sure. Those four factors — low socioeconomic development, low state capacity or state capability, intergroup inequality and a recent history of violent conflict — are well understood that as drivers of armed conflict within states.

So here we’re talking primarily about things that look like the civil wars in Syria or Yemen, or the Boko Haram-related conflict in Northeast Nigeria. When we think about the relative contribution of these different factors to armed conflict outcomes, this is evidence that emerges primarily from these big data-driven quantitative kind of exercises. So it’s in many respects left up to the researchers to interpret what these correlations — say between low socioeconomic development, typically measured to something like GDP per Capita, and conflict outcomes — mean.

The standard interpretation is that low levels of socioeconomic development are a source of pretty significant grievances amongst the population, right? These are populations who have not been able to benefit from economic development and all of the really kind of life-changing sorts of technologies — and by life-changing technologies, I mean things as simple as say electrification or refrigeration or access to a clinic in which to give birth — that many people in comparatively well-off societies take for granted at this point.

When we think about the issue of low state capabilities, what this really refers to is the inability of the state to address dissidents, via either repression or accommodation: so identifying nonviolent mechanisms by which you can address the grievances that arise in society. Intergroup inequality is just simply talking about what social scientists refer to as horizontal inequalities: so inequalities in access to political power, economic resources and/or social privilege that break down across either racial or ethnic or religious lines. And then the recent history of violent conflict is simply based on the observation that there does appear to be a conflict trap: so once a society experiences an armed conflict, it is increasingly likely to experience one moving forward.

And so if we think about these four drivers in particular case contexts, I think it’s interesting to talk about it in the context of Syria because all of these different kinds of factors are present in the Syrian case. You have low levels of socioeconomic development, and indeed very highly uneven patterns of socioeconomic development, where you have very lagging behind rural areas that were particularly hard hit by droughts about 10 years ago, which play a pretty big role in the narrative about the links between climate change and conflict in the Syrian context.

In that context, you get kind of rapid urbanization, which really highlights the degree of intergroup inequality in that society — both in terms of who has access to government power, but also who benefits from government policies that are designed to step in and address issues like persistent drought. Then once you have the mobilization of a popular movement that is in the streets and protesting because of low state capacity, you had a tendency on the part of the Assad regime to respond to that with overwhelming shows of force that were completely disproportionate to the types of grievances and the modalities of protest that were being used.

And so you can use that as a case for thinking about the preeminence of these three kinds of factors. Syria is a little bit of an outlier because it did not have a recent history of violent conflict, but obviously moving forward, whatever the resolution of the Syrian civil war will be, that country will definitely be on the watch list for years, if not decades to come because of its recent traumatic experience with large-scale armed conflict.

Ariel Conn: When you identify these four drivers, is it most common that you do see the four together, or does one seem to be more problematic than others?

Cullen Hendrix: Without getting too wonky on this, I mean, one of the unfortunate things that kind of complicates our ability to talk about causality in this context is that multiple motivations or causes are you usually present in any given conflict. And it turns out that many of these “bad things” tend to go together.

So where you see low levels of socioeconomic development, you also tend to see low levels of state capacity or state capability. And in these same kinds of contexts, you’re much more likely to see high levels of ethnic and religious heterogeneity — that is, dissimilarity and diversity within the society — which isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but when that diversity overlaps with inequalities of access to opportunity and standing before the government and citizenship rights, then yes, it can become extremely combustible.

And so it is the case that oftentimes many of these various important causes are present in the same conflicts. So we could apply each one of those three, and actually the fourth in this case — the recent history of violent conflict — to the conflict between the Nigerian state and Boko Haram, for instance.

Ariel Conn: In Syria, is there generally agreement that the drought was climate change-related and thus that climate change did play a role? Or is that still slightly contentious?

Cullen Hendrix: It is well-established that there was a historic drought that occurred in Syria that more or less immediately preceded the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Now, whether or not that particular drought was caused by climate change is of course a very fraught kind of distinction to try to make. And as I’m not a climate scientist, I’m not particularly well-positioned to weigh in on that, but my sense is our best understanding of the impacts of, say, climate change on things like drought is that it makes it relatively more likely to occur, so it increases the frequency, but may also increase the severity of droughts when they do occur. 

If you get a once-in-a-500-year drought or once-in-a-thousand-year drought, those are increasingly likely to occur more frequently. And that’s consistent with the evidence that we see in the case of Syria, but it still is complicated to say whether or not the drought was caused by climate change.

Now, setting aside that kind of question, which is better interrogated by climatologists and the like, the question of whether or not the Syrian civil war would have occurred if that drought had not occurred is of course an unknowable kind of question. But it seems clear to me, and having waded into the really rancorous scholarly debate about the role of climate change in the Syrian civil war, it seems clear to me that the drought increased stress on social, economic and political systems that were particularly poorly designed and poorly structured to address a large-scale climate-related disaster like this.

Whether or not we think that the Syrian drought was caused by climate change, I do think it’s safe to say that the drought exposed problems with the Syrian state and problems with Syrian society that were precisely the kind of weaknesses that would predispose that society to experiencing a civil conflict.

Ariel Conn: Can we look at societies and recognize those traits even if the society might appear relatively stable? I don’t have a strong grasp of recent Syrian history, but my understanding was that the country seemed to be mostly doing okay until this broke out. So I don’t know if my own understanding is wrong or if the problems had been well-masked.

Cullen Hendrix: Well, I mean, so this speaks to another kind of issue which is the general decline in the predictability of the at-risk countries for these large-scale episodes of political instability. In the immediate aftermath of the cold war, we had a pretty good idea of what the risk profile looked like for a country to experience something like a large-scale civil war.

So it was a relatively poor fledgling democracy with weak state capacity, with high levels of infant mortality and in a bad neighborhood — so, neighbored by countries that also experienced these kinds of conflicts. And that at-risk profile was the standard risk assessment that the intelligence community and groups like the Political Instability Task Force were using in order to guide their mental models and their thinking about what types of places to look for outbreaks of large-scale political instability.

The uprisings associated with the Arab uprising, or the Arab Spring, completely threw a lot of that received wisdom out of the window. For the first time in a while, we started seeing these large-scale instability episodes occurring in relatively highly consolidated, long-lived authoritarian regimes of the Middle East and North Africa. I think that you can talk about the relative weight that the drought in Syria had on exposing some of the frailties of these systems, but the frailties of these systems were exposed in other places by, say, their inability to address surging food and fuel prices in international markets and shield their consumers from those negative effects.

It seems that there is something that occurred around 2010 that amounts to a structural kind of break, if you will, in the types of countries that are part of this risk profile. Unfortunately, we’re at a point now where even seasoned risk analysts don’t necessarily have a great mental model or empirical model for trying to anticipate these episodes. We went from having a very defined risk profile for countries that would experience instability, to now we’re seeing really kind of convulsive episodes of instability in consolidated democracies like Chile, right? That’s going on right now, and so the world has become significantly more complicated. Whether or not that’s due to climate change, or whether or not that is a long tail response to the seismic events associated with the global financial crisis and the great recession, is anyone’s guess. But we are dealing with a very different reality in terms of the nature of geopolitical risk and political risk in the current context.

Ariel Conn: There’s a couple of areas I want to go right now, but you mentioned Chile. I don’t know the extent to which you’ve looked into the situation in both South America and Central America. Have you been looking into those much? Are there takeaways from that?

Cullen Hendrix: Yeah. There’s little doubt that climate change is having really adverse effects for small-scale farmers throughout the world. This is something that we’re seeing in the United States as well. It’s certainly something that is more potentially destabilizing in places like central America where incomes are so much lower, insurance mechanisms may or may not be present, and you overlay those kinds of forcings associated with climate change and the decline of agricultural livelihoods with gang-related and drug trade-related violence. It creates kind of a perfect storm, if you will, to drive this desire to migrate in search of better prospects for the migrants, but also for their families and for future generations.

Ariel Conn: You’ve brought up Boko Haram in Nigeria a couple of times. I want to come back to that quickly. To what extent does the conflict there fall into the drivers that we have been talking about? Could we have seen this coming — should we have seen this coming? And does that seem to have any connection to climate change, or is that just an example of conflict that we’re experiencing now?

Cullen Hendrix: I wouldn’t say that climate change is a main driver of the Boko Haram conflict in the sense that it’s motivating Boko Haram leadership, but I would say that climate change, and in particular the declining viability of agricultural livelihoods in Northeast Nigeria, is really contributing to a large pool of potential recruits into these kinds of armed activities.

So we know one of the best explanations for why people join violent organizations of a variety of kinds — everything ranging from rebel movements to street gangs — is a lack of other employment opportunities and a lack of secure access to livelihoods, food, and shelter. These organizations, whether or not they actually can deliver on their promises to offer these things, often make that part of their sales pitch. So if you go to Northeast Nigeria in the context of climate change, desertification, surging populations and the decline in the viability of traditional agricultural livelihoods, you have a large-scale unemployment problem.

Now, most of the people who are facing those kind of circumstances would never in a million years join up with such an odious group and their ideology. But it’s a small numbers game and you only need a fraction of that population to be interested in taking up arms and to respond to those types of mobilizations and those types of appeals. So I do think that there is a role for environmental change more broadly and climate change more specifically in affecting whether or not there is enough tinder that can be sparked or mobilized in the case of these kinds of armed actors. Climate change did not cause Boko Haram or the Boko Haram conflict, but it is probably complicating efforts to end that conflict.

Ariel Conn: Do you and perhaps the other experts on the paper worry that climate change could directly impact these drivers we’ve been talking about and thus lead to conflict? Or do you think it could be more sort of a straw that broke the camel’s back, where these tensions are existing and if only that drought hadn’t happened, maybe conflict wouldn’t occur — but because temperatures are rising and people aren’t able to grow the food that they need, that’s what pushed everything over the edge?

Cullen Hendrix: So I guess the basic question is whether or not this is sort of the threat multiplier that you’ve probably heard a lot about, or whether or not climate change and environmental change and degradation are themselves actual causes of conflicts. My answer to that question is that it can be both — and that in reality, it actually is both. I think that the threat multiplier argument makes a lot of sense and climate change is in effect loading the dice. It’s making certain rare outcomes like armed conflict a little bit more likely to occur in a variety of contexts, with the most significant impacts on societies at lower levels of economic development, higher levels of dependence on agricultural livelihoods, and characterized by weaker state institutions and high levels of intergroup inequality. So that’s how it relates to the findings of the paper. 

But we are also seeing, in the context of climate-related events like droughts, an increase in actual conflict over the underlying resources: for instance, an increase in cattle raiding or fighting over cattle in the Sahel, in particular in places like Kenya but also in Nigeria as well. And we’re also seeing these kinds of very direct conflicts over the actual resources at the local level.

It’s conceivable that we will also see these kinds of direct large-scale conflicts over transboundary resources like water or rivers moving forward; though even under climate stress, most conflicts or at least competing claims over access to shared resources like water are handled cooperatively as opposed to violently. But there is some research to suggest that increasing climate variability and increasing aridity in river basins is making conflict between countries in those basins more likely.

Ariel Conn: So far we’ve been looking more at countries that are in developing stages as opposed to developed countries, especially as you’re talking about the increased risk of conflict between countries. Do you still see that happening between developing countries, or do you worry at all that we could also see an increased risk between developed countries?

Cullen Hendrix: The most obvious sort of risk vector for conflict between more developed countries probably has to do with multilateral or global collective efforts to combat climate change in the first place, and then also to deal with some of the negative consequences associated with climate change, and relatedly, political instability. The most obvious example of that is the stress that the Syrian civil war, and the migrant crisis that that created in Europe, has had for patterns of cooperation and conflict between and within European Union countries.

It’s less that I’m concerned that you’re going to see this kind of armed conflict over these transboundary resources like rivers and things; I don’t think there’s going to be militarization of the Rhine, for instance, under climate change. But I do think that we’re already seeing really significant backlash in the domestic politics of many European countries moving in a much more rightward direction, and one of the plausible reasons for that is that they are responding to social changes that are occurring as a function of global migration. And in a world beset by climate change, those patterns of migration are likely to accelerate and increase in overall volumes moving forward.

Now, I don’t want to overly problematize migration because in the vast majority of instances, migration is a peaceful, adaptive, and beneficial strategy for addressing climate risk. But there are certain contexts in which it is proving to be politically destabilizing, and maybe undermining more general cooperation between countries, for instance, in the European Union.

Ariel Conn: I don’t remember my timing on this. Was Brexit influenced by the migrations that we were seeing as a result of Syria?

Cullen Hendrix: Brexit I think is a little bit of a different case because while it was driven by issues related to immigration, I think it had much more to do with immigration within the European Union. A lot of the discourse in the UK is about this kind of fictional Polish plumber who comes in and drives down the amount of money that native born plumbers can charge. From my perspective, I think that overly attributing something like Brexit to something like climate change is a bridge too far and it really runs the risk of overly, and in sort of a cartoonish kind of manner, securitizing the real links between climate and security outcomes, which are substantial enough that they don’t need to explicitly be tied into these really unrelated or tangential problems for them still to be consequential security outcomes and issues.

Ariel Conn: Okay. So far, everything is sort of based on — at least to a certain extent — what we’ve learned from the past. But how do we deal with these unknowns? We don’t know if global temperatures will only rise two degrees or if they will rise four degrees. How do you deal with that uncertainty?

Cullen Hendrix: Yeah. So obviously when thinking about the future in general, uncertainty really rules the day. And it turns out that climate scientists can say with a lot more certainty what the likely future physical impacts of climate change will be, than they can say what are the likely social impacts or human impacts of climate change moving forward. That’s simply due to the fact that human beings and human societies are incredibly innovative, and we’re also notoriously inept at foreseeing our future technological or social solutions to present problems. And what that means is that it’s very complicated and very difficult to know whether or not political, social, economic systems 50 years from now will respond to, say, a drought or an increase in mean overnight temperature of two degrees Celsius the same way that we respond to them currently, which is what we’re basing a lot of our projections on.

We’re just essentially saying, “How does the world react to the environment right now?” and assuming it will continue to react that way moving forward. If you think about this in a long enough timeline, it’s kind of a ridiculous assertion, right? Our livelihoods and our lives look nothing like they did in the 18th century, but nevertheless we are still trying to foresee what a world 100 to 150 years from now is going to look like. And if we reflect on the level of technological change that’s just occurred in the last two to three decades, probably the safest bet is to say that we have literally no useful idea of what the future will look like.

Now, having said that, we have to start somewhere. And so really smart people have put together this set of shared socioeconomic pathways as a way of thinking broad aperture about what the future is going to look like. And under a scenario in which we have four degrees of warming, it will mean that not only are we going to be facing a changed physical environment, but that we will, to have gotten there, had to continue with business as usual — meaning that we are likely to be experiencing those problems in a social context and global political context that is much more fragmented and even more fraught than the one we currently inhabit. And that’s enough to keep somebody up at night.

Ariel Conn: What did you and the other authors come away with, in terms of actionable steps that you would like to see presumably governments, but maybe other organizations as well, taking?

Cullen Hendrix: For a broad aperture kind of exercise like this, I think that most of the recommendations — to the extent that there are policy recommendations that come out of it — are pretty anodyne and pretty consistent with the more general admonition that we as a global community need to shoot for two degrees Celsius at the absolute upper bound and would be better off if we could get to a degree and a half.

That was true, however, before this expert elicitation provided evidence linking climate change to armed conflict; that’s something that we knew already. In terms of the practical effects for the policy communities, I think that this will actually have a pretty big impact, especially in developed and advanced economies, the way that their national security apparatuses and their intelligence communities think about longer term systemic risks and start to understand addressing climate change as an issue that affects not just their threat assessments, but also will affect their ability to meet their more general missions and needs moving forward in a sustainable way.

Amongst the practitioner community that’s most directly affected by the links between climate change and armed conflict, I think that this is just another additional piece of evidence moving them in the direction of thinking in a much more holistic way about sustainability — not just as good environmental practice, but as fundamental to securing national and human security moving forward.

Ariel Conn: So, I want to step back to the uncertainty question once more. As I’ve been interviewing various people, one of the things that I think has been most interesting and surprising are some of the little unknowns or unexpected side effects of climate change that we just aren’t really necessarily planning for yet: things like, as the weather gets hotter, you may not sleep as well and thus people are crankier. To what extent are you considering those types of unknowns when you’re considering the uncertainty with which climate might impact future conflict?

Cullen Hendrix: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question because for those of us social science nerds who are interested in mechanisms, it speaks to whether or not the relationship between climate change or warming and conflict is biophysical or biological — like literally, this is how our organisms respond to these changes in the environment — or whether or not it operates through more general effects on things like the economy or the structure of society, et cetera.

So, yeah, there’s now a large body of literature that links warmer temperatures to a variety of outcomes. Some of them are poor sleep; a really interesting one is that in baseball games, you have more hit batsman — you have more bean balls thrown on warm days than you do on comparatively cooler days. You have more opportunistic crime and violent crime that occurs at warmer temperatures than you do at compared to the cooler temperatures. And so all of this suggests that at least part of our response to a warming environment is biological or biophysical.

That implies that we need to think about some technological solutions to make our environments more livable, or at least less crazy, from the perspective of our biological responses to temperature stimuli. As an explanation for a large, complex conflict outcome like the Syrian civil war or the Nigerian civil war with Boko Haram, however, these kinds of biological explanations fall flat, because these biological explanations are looking at variation over really kind of narrow time bands and saying, “Okay, on a given hot day, this pitcher is more likely to be upset with the batter showing them up and therefore they might throw at them.”

Well, that’s a good explanation for why something might occur on a given afternoon, but it’s not a great explanation for why a young person would risk life and death to join a violent armed insurgency and then stay in that armed insurgency for a decade, in some cases. So there is an unknown: the extent to which this is biophysical or biological response versus operating primarily through the structure of the economy, economic opportunities, grievances related to government, responses to environmental change and drought, things of that nature. But that uncertainty, I think, is more fundamental when thinking about how climate change affects peoples or may affect people’s willingness to become members of these more kind of armed, durable groups.

Ariel Conn: So these are all the ways in which people could have more disagreement, more conflict, but one of the things that I thought was really interesting in your paper is that in a lot of these circumstances, history also sees communities actually cooperating more and working together more as opposed to turning to conflict. Is there a chance that we could actually see more cooperation?

Cullen Hendrix: I think yes, there is a chance that we could see more cooperation. I mean, one of the really striking things to come out of all this scholarship on the links between climate change and natural disasters and conflict is this idea of post-disaster resiliency. And you see very dramatic, very relatable, very human examples of this any time you see the way that communities come together in the aftermath of a flood or a tornado, even here at home in the United States, where you see this outpouring of civic mindedness and the recognition that we are all fundamentally experiencing this traumatic event together. And this can be a really powerful mechanism for bonding communities together and producing kind of a social dividend or social benefits that extend far beyond the scope of disaster relief.

It’s my hope that humanity is going to respond to climate change eventually — and in fits and starts, but eventually, we’ll recognize that this is an existential threat that we face in common and therefore will strip away a lot of the identities that drive us apart, and we’ll refocus our attention on our fundamental humanity in a way that can provide a basis for moving forward and overcoming this incredible challenge that we face. I’m betting long on humanity because I don’t yet think we’ve had our finest hour. I’m hoping that our finest hour comes in the context of addressing climate change.

Ariel Conn: I love that. I’ve got my fingers crossed for that as well. Is there anything else you want to add?

Cullen Hendrix: I think this is a really cool podcast. I look forward to listening in some detail to some of the episodes, but I really like this kind of — it’s not diet science, right? Like this is really trying to get into what it is that scientists know about these various phenomena and really exploring it in detail. So I just wanted to thank you for doing the homework and really digging into this kind of published peer reviewed research. It’s a lot easier to have one of your buddies on and just kind of bat stuff back and forth and have some laughs. So kudos to you for doing the real work.

Ariel Conn: Well, thank you so much. This has been much easier for me than the people writing the papers, I think.

Cullen Hendrix: Okay.

Ariel Conn: Thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Cullen Hendrix: My pleasure.

Ariel Conn: I hope you enjoyed this episode of Not Cool, a Climate Podcast. On episode 23, we’ll be joined by Brian Toon who will talk about the other climate change threat: nuclear winter.

Brian Toon: To have a real nuclear winter, which means that the temperatures at mid latitudes in green growing regions like Iowa or the Ukraine are below freezing every day for several years. That would be a real nuclear winter.

Ariel Conn: If you’ve been enjoying these podcasts, and if you think other people might as well, then please take a moment to like them, share them, and leave a good review.