More on Weather and Civil Conflict

A study just out in Nature, coauthored by Soloman Hsaing, Kyle Meng and Mark Cane,  finds El Nino events are correlated civil conflict.  Sol is a recent Columbia PhD who has been working as a post doc on an NSF grant I have with Wolfram Schlenker and David Lobell.

What makes the study interesting is that it documents a link between conflict and weather fluctuations that are predictable and larger-scale--a bit closer to climate change.  That could be a lot different than documenting a links between conflict and localized acute weather events.

The study is featured on the cover of Nature and is getting a ton of press coverage.

Here's a nice summary at Time.

Here's another at the Washington Post.

I don't think anyone knows what to make of the correlation.  The only mechanism that obviously comes to mind is food prices.  But I've never played around with conflict data.  And it's amazing how playing around with the data can change one's perspective on things.  Someday... Right now I have too many old and ongoing projects to finish up and get out the door.

UpdateThe Economist is currently featuring this work on its front page, along with some past work by my colleagues and myself.


  1. At the Farm Progress show in Decatur, IL., I noticed that Farm Futures magazine released their first survey of 2012 planting intentions.

    Taking corn as an example:

    Farm Futures estimates corn acreage could hit 93.87 million in 2012, up 1.7% from this year’s total. If achieved, that would top the post-World War II record of 93.6 million set in 2007. They also say that it may top 94 million acres planted.

    Back in the 30s there were some years with more than 100 million acres planted. Of course, yields back then were what…average 25-30 bushels (?) compared with average 150-160 now.

    I wonder if with all U.S. farm land (soybeans, rice, wheat, other crops) we are hitting all time highs? How much arable land is left in the U.S.? Certainly, less than available in the 1930s. I will be curious to see if with some of the weather we have been having, drought in southwest, high heat during pollination in Midwest corn belt, what average yield will be this year?

    When we talk of conflicts and food supply, I believe it is talk we should seriously consider.

    I believe that U.S. should be increasing its funding of development of higher yielding crops, more efficient livestock, and improved farming practices, for farmers in the U.S. and abroad.


  2. Hi James,

    Thanks for all your thoughtful comments.

    I'll be interested to see the land use statistics at the end of the season. I know they are having a hard time keeping land in CRP. Besides CRP land, I don't think there is a whole lot of arable land available in the US. Although some land that has reverted to forests in East and South might be cleared for crops. I don't know how much of that may be going on, but I'm sure curious. It's important to keep in mind that these "extensive margin" lands are not of especially high quality, and some is in areas with drought.

    Over the past few years, most new land in corn has come at the expense of land dedicated to soybeans. Corn monoculture also tends to take yield hit in comparison to corn-soybean rotation, partly from nitrogen fixation and partly from pest problems. Modern seed varieties may deal better with monoculture than past varieties, however.


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