'Climate stress' and the next global conflict

Columbia University Professor Mark Levy talks with ABC News' Amna Nawaz about the link between "climate stress" and conflict.
12:09 | 05/26/17

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Transcript for 'Climate stress' and the next global conflict
Hey guys I'm in about here live in New York listen before you opt to start your holiday weekend. Let me help you make some plants mark your calendars. For Memorial Day Monday night Nightline on ABC they have an incredible report showing some stunning pictures. Help illustrate the very real connection between climate change. And conflict in case you didn't know about this for gonna break this down in a little bit more detail. Right now it joining me live from our Washington DC bureau. It's professor Marc Levy he's with the Earth Institute at Columbia University he was interviewed at the park this project. And he joins us slap live now thanks so much your being a professor Levy. Glad to be here. So Tommy with a bit more about that now we should mention this is a project done in conjunction. We hit the ground truth project the two filmmakers you've gone out to study climate change in the back. On conflict in communities across the world and Nightline if featuring. Some of that work on Monday night the connection between climate and conflict Tommie Liddell that more cut back as we don't hear about it often. We don't hear about it often and we should hear about it more. The connection between climate and conflict. Came into focus for the first time really only in the last. Eight years or so. And before that. When we worried about the impacts of climate change we tended to worry about things like. Loss. Food production and increase. Storm frequency. Heat waves and things like this. And so when we added up the impacts. We often got into hard debates about whether we could justify the cost to prevent climate change. What we've been finding recently is that the impacts are much more severe than we used to think. And they're happening much more much earlier than we thought they would and among the most. Significant. New discoveries there's this connection between climate stress and conflict. Let's talk about some of the DL now because they think that will help explain that connection the report in particular breaks off a piece of the ground truth project focusing on Somalia. As an example and that example there's almost a straight line being drawn. From the drought that much of the country has experienced two with the civil conflict can you help me draw that line. Sure. One thing to point out is that that. The the discovery of a connection between climate and conflict. Is that. Climate stress elevates. The risk of conflict in a place. That already has some risk so. None of us would try to argue that. The conflict in Somali. In his 100%. Attributable to. Climate change and that drought that would be. Beyond reasonable and it would be letting people off the hook who are guilty of purposefully. Making the conflict worse so the the finding in general in the argument about Somalia. Is that you have a place that's got a lot of conditions of fragility. It's hard to maintain order and deeply fragmented. Society with a very very weak at times non existent. State and so. In that context if you throw on top of an unprecedented Lee severe drought across a large segment of the society. In a context in which the international community is not ready to deal with it effectively. Then it's that combination. That triggers. The the straight line towards the conflict. And as we've seen the experience in Somalia has been at those lifeline the community's right water and livestock which are then threatened. By climate change and endangered by climate change can and Lee. To the fight for those limited resource is leading out to what the UN has called one of the greatest humanitarian crises six point two. Million the Molly. In need of urgent humanitarian. Assistance. There. But talked a little bit about thirteen think you're seeing is not a cause and effect here what it it what climate stress can do it sort of exacerbate. Existing conditions existing problems where else are we seeing that what are the other hot spots in the world where you focus that's work. Well. First of all I don't want to let claim it off the hook there is a cause and effect relationship it just that it. It goes through. The pathway of these other factors so claim it is definitely causing. Conflict. It does so in combination with these other things. So but we're seeing this unfortunately in many places around the world. You know right now we're witnessing. Unexpected famine in Yemen and self sedan. In northern man jury. Four why don't we thought that we had what the problem famine of this magnitude and severity. And to have it come back with a vengeance you know not just in one place which is bad enough but in four. At the same time as a sign that there's something really wrong with the way. Political. And climate and economic systems are inner thing. You talk a little bit in previous interviews. And a little preview. Stuff you've done before it calling this sort of the new normal. That the that we're talking about some of these conflicts and and the threats that they pose in the same way that we used to talk about proxy warfare. For example Tommie Liddell that more about that what you meant by that phrase the new normal. Well. At times they I prefer to call it the new abnormal because I don't want to. Make it sound as if this is a tolerable state of affairs. It's. But it's also not a state of affairs that we can just. You know bide our time and that will pass because it's transient. All signs are that this interacting instability. That creates surprising. Catastrophic problems. Is with us for a while until we figure out how to deal with it. And the comparison to proxy wars and Communist insurgencies. Is to make the point. And generations past. We mobilized a lot of resources. When we thought. Focus had become clear about what the threat was. And because. We're in this period of a new abnormal and which. Food prices are high aid food security becomes quite low. We're setting a record. Temperatures record. Trial levels. Surprising population movements the countries we thought we stable breaking out in civil war. All of this instability. At a systemic level. As a sign that we have to get used to it and and this is the new threat that we face and so we need to we want to. Promote human security and well being. We have to focus their sights on this new threat. Professor they become available in about here in the US. I'm because he testified before congress on exactly. This issue. The way we talk about climate change has changed over the years here certainly with this last administration is well if the US prepared. For what ever threats could exist on the horizon for us at the country. Well I think we are more prepared than we were attacked Politico. And there is much to be proud of there's a lot of progress being made. Much of the progress. Thankfully as. Is relatively resilient against reversal. A national level. Politics a lot of the most impressive progress has been made. City and regional level. That said there are some things that. The federal government really is important for. And the recent political developments are definite serious setback. And we certainly we see this very concretely on the linkage between climate. And security. The Obama administration had. Obama President Obama had signed an executive order mandating that all be defense agencies undertake. A serious assessment of the impact of climate change on their mission and to prepare plans for responding to that. And that was one of the executive orders. President trump recent. Thankfully. You know going in the other direction it's quite interesting that. In spite of the fact that this administration is solidly and enthusiastically. A proponent of climate them idealism. They were unable to find someone to lead. The Defense Department that shared that denial climate change all the other cabinet positions were filled by climate to Myers as far as I know. But general Mattis is say he's not only a believer in climate change but a believer that. Climate change is a potent threat to the national security of the country. So let me just get that straight you're saying that because general Mattis believed in the overwhelming body of science that supports the existence. A climate change that you feel better about the US continuing to prepare for whatever eventual threat he think he could face as a result of that change. I feel a little bit better it's it's it's better than if the Pentagon were also led by a claimant and higher. That one position by itself is. Not going to be enough to really steer the whole ship of state in the right direction. But it's it's assigned to me that the permission oriented focus. The Defense Department. As likely to be accompanied by acceptance of the reality of climate change. And the responsibility of agency for protecting. The nation's security. Means that they're going to pay attention to the facts not ideology. The pilot to go professor Levy let me ask you where some of these answers you think will then come from as you mentioned Defense Department is one. Peace at the puzzle but when you have the overwhelming leadership. Believing or not believing in the overwhelming body of science behind climate change. Where do the answers come front where can the work go forward. Well there is Som. A lot of vibrant innovation. Search for answers going on throughout the country in collaboration with partners. Throughout the world. Many of our. You know an influential. Nongovernmental organizations are very active and finding creative effective ways to help. Societies. You know including societies in Somalia. And in that broader region cope effectively with climate threats in ways that minimize. These security about questions so. Thankfully the government doesn't have a monopoly on solutions and the rest of the country is actively. Working to find them. Professor Marc Levy from the Earth Institute at Columbia University thank you so much for being with us thanks on. And thanks to all of you for watching as well remember that actual Nightline report airs this Monday night Memorial Day. On Nightline on ABC news thanks for being with us had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. Stay here related fly jeans and go to abcnews.com. To stay at the date on all the latest news I got.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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