CLIMATE CHANGE AND POLITICAL CONTENTION – A MECHANISM BASED FRAMEWORK
Gallagher, Nancy W
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This dissertation proposes a framework to systematically analyze the potential of climate change to cause social and political unrest. Extant literature generated on the topic seems to have come to a standstill in establishing whether such a link exists, as there is no clear evidence that climate-related stresses directly contributed to civil war onset. The framework put forth in this research makes the case that climate change process, contrasted from climate change variables aggregated at the country-year level, unfolds in a varied manner within and across societies. It is the interaction of changes in the natural system with a society’s preexisting social, economic, and political processes, in addition to coping responses from vulnerable populations, that determine the nature and trajectory of social and political stresses. The dissertation contends, most notably, that the fundamental problem with the extant analytical approach has more to do with ontological assumptions than explanatory approaches (qualitative vs. quantitative). Given the complexity and emergence inherent in the phenomenon under consideration, the positivist ontology is unsuited and incapable to reveal causal pathways linking climate change with predictors of social and political instability and conflict. This research uses critical realism as an ontological basis for the mechanism-based framework proposed in this dissertation. The framework is applied on the case study of Pakistan where direct and indirect effects of climate change are interacting with the country’s political economy, and imposing social and political stresses to the extent of stoking a social movement organized and run by vulnerable farmers. Intra-annual changes in the Indus stream-flows, as well as temporal and spatial changes in the long-term trends of temperature and rainfall have destabilized Pakistan’s agricultural sector. Coping responses taken by vulnerable populations appear to be not just ineffective but are producing system effects with society-wide implications. The result is a farmers’ movement that is although in its early phases, has become a potent political force, and has resulted in more than 700 large increasingly violent protests in the last few years alone.