Does Climate Change Cause Violent Conflict?


Bernie Sanders, Prince Charles and Charlotte Church may have little in common, but we recently discovered that they agree on at least one thing.

All three have recently stated that climate change has played a big part in causing the ongoing civil war in Syria, and if we want to end violence in the long-run, we should get more serious about tackling climate change.


Throughout history lots of companies have made money from wars. But would a government ever make the decision to go to war for economic gain?


What is War Profiteering?

Scene from Iron Man starring Robert Downey Junior as Tony Stark, accused of War Profiteering

Tony Stark; War Profiteer?

War Profiteers sell weapons, services or other goods to groups at war in order to make a profit. In other words: making money from war.

War Profiteers can be arms dealers, scientific research groups, and companies selling commodities like oil. Private Militaries (mercenaries) also make money from war. Why fight when you can pay someone else to do it?

States or countries can also benefit from war by winning territory and gathering resources, and also strengthening themselves politically, strategically and geo-politically.


Wars means Weapons

A missile is fired from a jet. Selling weapons to both sides could be considered war profiteering

Is selling weapons to both sides wrong?

Arms dealers are often accused of war profiteering, which is fair given that is basically their job. Think; Tony Stark in Iron Man. War means fighting. Arms companies produce weapons and make a profit from the selling them.

Sometimes arms companies will even sell weapons to both sides in a conflict. Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade describes how international missile systems company MBDA “sold weaponry to the Gaddafi regime in 2007, its missiles were extensively used by the UK and French military in the 2011 war as well as being supplied to rebel forces. In this case they had sold weapons to both sides.”

Double sales equal profits. Great for business but morally questionable?



SIRI, the iphone helper is an example of war profiteering. It was developed using military funding

“SIRI, tell me what war profiteering is?”

Companies profiting from conflict can sometimes create something useful.

Fun-fact of the day: SIRI, the iPhone “helper” was originally developed by SRI international. They took money from a military research group in the US department of defence in order to create SIRI. In fact according to military expert David Brown most of the tech in your iPhone comes from a military research background.

You can also thank military research for creating computers, GPS systems and the internet. Indirectly, the developers of this technology profited from war. Is this wrong, or is it OK because they made cool stuff that was eventually used by everyone?

Commodity, Oddity.

Oil fires up from a well in "There Will Be Blood". Oil companies have been accused of war profiteering

Oil; the number one commodity

Say commodity – think goods, or items that you need… or want.

Wars disrupt production of goods, and generally mean commodities are harder to come by. This usually means the price goes up.

Oil is one of the most important commodities in the world. So it’s no wonder that oil is linked to the most infamous military action in recent history;

Case Study: the Iraq War

Oil fields. Iraq's oil used to be nationally owned, the companies brought in have been accused of war profiteering

For Sale: Iraq’s oil fields

In an article for CNN, journalist Antonia Juhasz describes how the Iraq War in 2003 was “a war for oil, and it was a war with winners: Big Oil.”

Before the war, Iraq’s oil was controlled by the Iraqi government. Today, foreign companies control most of the oil. Juhasz describes how the invasion of Iraq got rid of the two things stopping Western oil companies from setting up shop there. First Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussain was removed. Then the USA pushed the new US-friendly Iraqi government to pass laws allowing foreign companies to get in on the oil.

So despite then-Prime Minister Tony Blair describing Iraq as “the central security threat of the 21st century,” some argue that it was all just about money. Several US military high-flyers have even admitted openly that the Iraq War was basically over oil.

Ex-Vice President of the United States Dick Cheney used to be CEO of contracting company Halliburton, which earned billions from the reconstruction work needed in Iraq after the war. Before the war, Cheney chaired a committee that published a report suggesting that the Middle East should “open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment.”

Translation: stop hoarding all the goods! Quite ironic, when you think that later his old company would pocket $278 million in a deal to dig oil wells in Iraq.

These examples don’t necessarily mean that political decisions on military matters are influenced by potential income, but it does raise the question of who calls the shots.


How much influence do private companies have over Politicians?

The Independent reports how the UK government made £12.3 billion granting export licences for weapons. The licences allow the export of weapons to countries listed as having human rights abuses. So the UK government considered these countries to have a dodgy record, but still allowed weapons companies to sell their goods there.

Perhaps this is due to pressure from the arms companies themselves. Andrew Smith explains that “politically, the arms industry/pro military lobby has always enjoyed a loud voice in the corridors of power. This is not least because of the revolving door between parliament and the arms trade.”

Ex-Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon was suspended from the Labour Party after offering influence in Parliament in return for cash. Owen Jones describes that when Hoon was an MP, military helicopter company AgustaWestland were given an order worth £1 billion for 16 helicopters. He writes that “they were obviously grateful: now out of Parliament, Hoon earns his way as the company’s Vice-President of international business.”


So would the UK ever go to war to make money?

War Profiteering - soldiers marching to war

Before we go to war we should really know why we’re fighting

Dr. Jonathan Gumz, a senior lecturer in Modern History at the University of Birmingham thinks that “getting a government to go to war purely for economic profit is not something that takes place in reality.”

He expands; “certainly, all wars start for a reason with a political gain in mind. But…with rare exception, few statesmen actually want wars but they miscalculate and then feel forced into a point where war becomes a more reasonable option.”

So, it’s unlikely the UK would ever go to war just in the interests of money. But even if countries are neutral (not involved in conflict) that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from other conflicts around the world. A paper published by Dartmouth University argues that “the costs that wars impose on neutral countries are usually greatly exaggerated; in fact many neutrals profit slightly from the economic changes caused by war.”

“Neutrals fare well during wars because the economy—especially in this era of increased globalization—is inherently flexible and resilient.”

The paper argues that though wars are likely to disrupt trading patterns between neutral countries and countries at war, new agreements are quickly established. This is because during conflict, the country at war “cannot efficiently produce everything they need…and countries at war can least afford to ignore more efficient international sources of supply.”


Is War Profiteering wrong?

Is War profiteering immoral or not?

Is war profiteering immoral?

We’ve seen how military research has led to technological advancements such as SIRI. So far there is no proof that a decision to go to war was made solely to make money for the country, not that anyone would admit that. So does it matter if a few companies make money from oil or selling weapons?

War means people will be killed, and seriously injured. The argument against war profiteering is that nobody should benefit from the suffering of others.

Andrew Dey from War Resisters International believes that “if you build something and sell it to someone, you have a moral responsibility for what happens with that weapon.” So if you sell a gun, you are partly responsible for what is done with it.

The largest buyer of UK arms is Saudi Arabia, which has been described as one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. UK arms have also been linked to attacks against innocent people in Egypt, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Kuwait and other countries in recent years.

Andrew Smith says “government ministers and arms companies can’t simply abdicate themselves of responsibility for this.”

Even if you profit indirectly, like the scientists whose research into SIRI was funded by the US defence department, you are still taking money and benefiting because somewhere in the world people are dying.

It’s easy to suggest that perhaps arms companies should take a close look at who they do business with. We asked UK arms manufacturers BAE Systems whether they have a specific policy about who they deal with. They replied stating that they operate to “high standards of ethical business conduct as a responsible and trusted partner” and “trade only with legitimate governments and comply fully with UK and international export regulations.” Don’t know what other answer we would have expected though to be honest.

War Profiteering Explained; companies making weapons are likely to make a killing.

Is war profiteering ethically wrong? Or is it fair game? Let us know in the comments below.


Subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason

Everything you need to know about Syria from the news

Update: On Wednesday 2nd December 2015 British MPs voted in favour of using airstrikes on the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria.  This article was written before the vote and explored the situation in Syria.


What’s going on in Syria?

graffiti image of President Assad in Syria

Graffiti image of President Assad in Syria

Syria has been in the midst of a civil war since 2011. Since 2000, the country has been under the rule of a supposed dictator, President Bashar Al-Assad.

Protests over the imprisonment of a group of children in 2011 led to a rebel uprising. Now the Syrian government is fighting against thousands of rebel groups. Throw in an extremist Islamic group called Islamic State, and it’s easy to see why the UK government is advising people NOT to go to Syria.The rebel groups are fighting to change the way the country is governed for political reasons. The Islamic extremists want the country to be ruled under Islamic law.

The UK government voted against getting involved in Syria in 2013. Later it was revealed that UK pilots have been helping with American airstrikes. Recent attacks have unearthed the debate on whether the UK should enter Syria today.


OK, I think I want a little more detail – What’s Syria’s history?

Map of Syria in the Middle East

Where we talking?

Syria is a country in the Middle East in between Iraq and Turkey. Over the last century power struggles have rocketed.

Syria considers itself a republic. It has an elected President and a government. But in reality the country has been ruled as a dictatorship; where one individual has absolute power.

The current President Bashar Al-Assad took office in 2000 after the death of his father, who had ruled since the 1970s. Assad has been described as a dictator; removing anyone who stands up to him, and the evidence we have supports this. Human rights activists claim that his opponents are often tortured and killed. Social media websites and online chat rooms are also routinely blocked. 

The majority of Syrian Muslims belong to a branch of the Islam faith called Sunni Islam. President Assad is part of a separate group; the Alawites. This is part of a smaller branch of Islam; called Shia Islam. Most of Syria’s ruling class are Alawites. Why are we stating this? History has taught us that Middle Eastern religious differences often translate into political tensions.

Sunni and Shia Islam; what’s the difference?


Why was there a civil war?

In 2011 a group of children were arrested for writing anti-government messages on a wall. It was reported that they were also tortured. Peaceful protests called for the release of the children and for changes in the way the country was run.

Protesters called for democracy and an end to the oppressive regime led by Assad. Instead the Syrian authorities sent in the riot police, who opened fire and killed four people. Violent protests began throughout the country and rebel groups began organising and fighting back. To date more than 200,000 people have been killed as a result of the conflict. 


When did the USA and the UK get involved?

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Two F-15E Strike Eagles perform a low-level training mission  over the Sawtooth Mountain Range. The Strike Eagles give the 366th Fighter Wing here sophisticated air-to-ground attack capabilities and air-to-air superiority. They can be equipped with both laser-guided weapons and air-to-air missiles, and use the low-altitude navigation and targeting infrared for night, or LANTIRN system, to find and destroy targets at night in all kinds of weather with  precision. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Debbie Hernandez) Syria

UK pilots have been assisting US airstrikes over Syria

In recent years Syria’s relationship with the West has gone sour. This is partly due to Syria’s military actions in parts of the Middle East and its poor human rights record. It didn’t help when in 2009 man-made Nuclear materials were discovered in Syria. The Islamic State are of course not the biggest fans of the West either. 

The international community considered stepping in when it was reported that both the Syrian government and rebel groups were committing war crimes.

In 2013 bombs were dropped just outside of Damascus releasing deadly Sarin gas. Western countries blamed the Syrian government; and the government blamed the rebels. President Assad eventually agreed to the destruction of all chemical weapons belonging to the Syrian authorities, when the USA said “any more of that and we’ll come to sort this mess”.

Since then the United Nations security council has heard further reports of chemical attacks on rebel territories in the north. Given the West has their own battle with the so-called Islamic State or ISIS, the USA and other countries found enough reason to eventually get involved, and collectively have carried out over 1,600 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria. The UK government voted against military action in Syria in 2013, however the UK government has some explaining to do; it’s been reported that UK pilots took part in airstrikes despite the vote against military action.

What we should question at this point: Is the West’s involvement to help the people of Syria or as a vendetta against ISIS?


And what has ISIS got to do with all this?

The self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) took advantage of the chaos created by the civil war in order to work towards their goals. Fighters for IS want to create an Islamic state. They call it a caliphate. This is a universal state-run under Muslim Sharia Law; derived from teachings in the Qur’an – Islam’s holy book. Islamic State is led by Sunni Muslims.

Broadcasters refer to ISIS as the “so-called” or “self-styled” Islamic State to show that they do not recognise the Islamist group as a state. Politicians have also started calling them Daesh which the group finds offensive.

READ MORE: our five-part series “ISIS explained”

Islamic State declared the Caliphate in 2014. Since then they’ve been attacking high-profile targets and taking hostages. The US has just changed its policy on ransoms for hostages; allowing family members to pay to get their loved ones back. IS have also made Christianity punishable by death. Islamic State fighters control areas in northern Iraq and northern Syria. Having taken over oil and gas fields, their daily revenue is estimated at $3,000,000.


Who controls Syria now?

Current situation in Syria. Red: Syrian government. Grey: ISIS Green: Opposition groups. Yellow: Kurds  Source: Wikipedia (this image dated  30 November 2015)

Current situation in Syria. Red: Syrian government. Grey: ISIS Green: Opposition groups. Yellow: Kurds
Source: Wikipedia (this image dated 30 November 2015)

Bashar Al-Assad is still President, but Syrian authorities have lost control of large parts of the country. Territory boundaries change every day; intelligence from even a few weeks ago is largely useless.

Government forces control the West of the country. Rebel groups control the North. In the East a group of Kurdish fighters are also fighting against ISIS.

Islamic State is said to control 50% of Syria’s land, according to The Guardian. The group controls land through the middle of Syria with support networks throughout other areas. The rise of the Islamic group has also brought a religious aspect to what began as a political struggle.

The opposition against the Syrian authorities and President Assad is… a bit of a mess. It’s estimated that there are over 1,000 rebels groups in the country. Many different alliances have been formed. The four main coalitions are; the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the Syrian National Council (SNC), the National Coordination Committee (NCC) and the Kurdish Supreme Committee. So far they’ve been unable to agree on a strategy to combat Assad. Ever thought of working together, guys?

Four million people have left the country since the start of the conflict. These migrants have been travelling through countries like Libya, attempting to reach safety in Europe. That hasn’t stopped UK citizens travelling to the country and joining forces with Islamic State.


Syria learnings: It’s not all about the Islamic State

UK involvement should not be deliberated lightly. If we’re fighting ISIS in Syria should we be thinking more carefully about the consequences?


Subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason

Do you have what it takes to become an Activist?

What is an Activist?

Activist; someone who campaigns for social change. Activists use online campaigns, predominantly peaceful marches and petitions to lobby governments and leaders to make changes.


Why are we talking about this?

Monday July 13th, eco-warriors from the group “Plane Stupid” chained themselves together in the middle of a Heathrow runway. They were protesting plans to create a third runway at Heathrow; claiming it will damage the environment. Many flights have been delayed and cancelled as the protesters were cut free and taken into custody.


Do you have what it takes to become an Activist?


Tough cookies

Climate Activist are strong; a cartoon of Spongebob Squarepants

Don’t make me angry

Can you withstand freezing temperatures? Can you cope with heights? Then you might be tough enough to join Greenpeace activists hijacking oil rigs drilling in the arctic. Greenpeace use the publicity from occupying the rig to get their point across.

Don’t expect a warm welcome. Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo once got blasted by water cannons for hours while trying to board a rig in Greenland. Potential bodily harm? No biggie.

Greenpeace said that their climate activists all have climbing experience in their day-to-day lives. So don’t try this at home, kids.


Patience is a virtue

So you’ve occupied a rig, a public space or an area you wish to protect. What do you do next?

Climate activists from the Earth First group spent four years defending a forest by “tree sitting”. Activists created “nests” high up in the trees and then used ropes to travel between them. Activists took turns just sitting in the trees; preventing the company which owned the land from cutting them down.

After four years of tree sitting the activists were successful. The company ended its plans to cut down the trees and sold the land to the Trust for Public Land, which plans to use it as a community forest.

Perhaps pack that book you’ve been meaning to read.


Media savvy?

Climate Activists have to be media savvy, get those hashtags going


While you’re out protesting don’t forget to let people know what you’re up to.

Public perception is a big deal for activists. Loose the support of the public and funding from donations dries up. It also doesn’t hurt to have the public on your side when in court facing a punishment for breaking the law.

When Greenpeace activists hijacked an oil rig they posted regular updates online. As the saying goes; there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Social media is a great way of organising support for rallies and marches. So, do you know your hashtags from your likes? Very good; but it’s about to get real.


Is violence ever an option?

Activists sometimes have to use violence. Anime shows two girls shooting at eachother

Playtime is over

Living in 1960s South Africa was not easy for black people. Racial segregation called Apartheid meant that black people were treated as second class citizens. An all-white government had been in power since 1948. Black people were forced to live in separate areas. They also had to carry documents so that their movement could be monitored and controlled.

Activist Nelson Mandela headed up the military wing of the African National Congress; an organisation fighting for the rights of black people. For years his military group (called the Spear of the Nation) attacked railways, official buildings and power stations. Over 200 targets were attacked from 1961 to 1964. Though the Spear of the Nation never deliberately targeted people, many died as a result of the attacks.

Today Mandela is seen as a brave freedom fighter; at the time the government viewed him as a dangerous terrorist.


Do you mind being locked up?

Activists will face jail time if they break the law. A gif of a cat trying to escape from behind bars


Break the law and you have to be prepared to face the consequences.

Nelson Mandela was eventually captured and sent to prison for life. He served 27 years in jail before being released. He later became South Africa’s first black President. He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 2013 Russia arrested Greenpeace activists for protesting on an oil rig. At first they faced charges of piracy; after months these charges were dropped. Russia was about to host the Winter Olympics; many believe the charges got dropped to improve public perceptions of Russia’s human rights record.


Would you put your life on the line?

Emily Davison hit by horse; Not a Climate Activist, but one who gave her life

Activist Emily Davison put her life on the line

The life of an activist is not an easy one. Annoy the wrong people and you could wake up dead.

Sometimes activists get killed by accident. The Suffragette Movement is a good example of how standing up for a cause can be deadly.

The Suffragettes protested for women’s rights. Ladies; they’re the reason you get to vote in elections today. But it didn’t come easy.

1913; a suffragette called Emily Davison, died after she threw herself in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby.

For years most people thought this was suicide. New analysis of film footage suggests Davison was attempting to attach a suffragette banner to the horse belonging to King George V. Women finally got the vote in 1928.


Do Activists go too far? Do we need tougher punishments for lawbreakers? For which cause would you put your own life on the line for a cause?


Subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason