Do you want to know the real reason for the advances by Isis in Iraq and Syria? Changing lightbulbs in America. This is the explanation given by John McCain, Republican chair of the Senate armed services committee. At the weekend he blamed Barack Obama’s inability to magic away Islamic State on the president’s belief that climate change is “the biggest enemy we have”. Never mind the role of the Iraq war – which Mr McCain supported – in destabilising the region, destroying the Iraqi army and creating the opportunities Isis has exploited. Never mind the propagation of Salafi doctrines by Saudi Arabia, which McCain bravely confronts by grovelling before its tyrants. It’s the Better Buildings Challenge and the Solar Instructor Training Network that allowed Isis to capture Ramadi and Palmyra.
In fact there is a connection, but it strengthens Obama’s contention that “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security”. One of the likely catalysts for the 2011 uprising in Syria was a massive drought – the worst in the region in the instrumental record – that lasted from 2006 to 2010. It caused the emigration of one and a half million rural workers into Syrian cities, and generated furious resentment when Bashar al-Assad’s government failed to respond effectively. Climate models suggest that man-made global warming more than doubled the likelihood of a drought of this magnitude.
But this is nothing by comparison to the real threats to global security; in fact, to threats that make global security, as understood by McCain and Obama, look almost frivolous. As the evidence accumulates, it now seems that climate change was the commonest cause of mass extinction in the Earth’s prehistory.