Climate Change's Impact on the Afghanistan Crisis

Climate change and the Afghanistan crisis

On August 20th, CBS News published a story entitled "How Climate Change Strengthened the Taliban" in which reporter Cara Korte posited:

Rural Afghanistan has been rocked by climate change. The past three decades have brought floods and drought that have destroyed crops and left people hungry. And the Taliban -- likely without knowing climate change was the cause -- has taken advantage of that pain.

Afghanistan was ranked the 6th most climate insecure country in the world, according to the Germanwatch "Global Climate Risk Index 2021," and many news stories have been written in recent years about the country's struggles with extreme drought, devastating floods, and melting glaciers that have contributed to food insecurity and devastating losses by the nation's farmers. Agriculture is the main source of income for 60% of the country's people -- and is described as the backbone of its economy.

CBS: How climate change helped strengthen the Taliban, August 21, 2021.

Why This Matters

Fox News and Stephen Miller quickly responded by mocking the story. Former Secretary of State Pompeo accused the Biden Administration of taking its eye off the ball in Afghanistan because it was focused too much on climate change. While the tragedy in Afghanistan is complex, the fact that climate change causes instability there and in many other parts of the world is undeniable according to security experts.

WW0: General Stan McCrystal and John Kerry Instagram Live conversation on national security and the climate crisis, October 27, 2020.

WW0: Facebook Live conversation on national security, climate migration and the climate crisis, September 9, 2020.

Connecting the Taliban to Climate Impacts

Korte connected the Taliban's strength to climate change through interviews with experts. For example, she stated that Afghan farmers were forced to borrow money when they couldn’t turn a profit due to extreme weather and other climate stressors, and that the Taliban stepped in and sowed seeds of resentment against the former Afghan government. She quoted Kamal Alam of the Atlantic Council's South Asia Center who said, "If you've lost your crop and land or the Afghan government hasn't paid enough attention [to you] then, of course, the Taliban can come and exploit it."

Similarly, Nadim Farajalla, the director of the Climate Change and Environment program at the American University of Beirut explained:

[Farmers] fall into choices. That's when they become prey to people who would tell them, "Look, the government is screwing you over and this land should be productive. They're not helping you. Come and join us; let's topple this government."

The Conservative Critique

The conservative critics responded on Twitter that the story was "perfect for the conservative satirical website The Babylon Bee." But they did not provide any counter-evidence of the story's facts. A week ago, Pompeo argued on Fox News Sunday: "So this is in the context of the Biden administration that has basically abandoned the global stage in favor of climate change."