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The ‘Press and Pulse’ of Climate Change Strains Farmers in Pakistan

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Published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

“Can climate change cause widespread unrest among Pakistan’s farmers, enough to lead to civil conflict, or violence short of it?” Shahbaz Ali, a farmer in Ghotki district in Pakistan’s Sindh province, asked himself when we spoke last year. This was before apocalyptic rains laid waste to millions of acres of Pakistan’s farmland, killing 1,700 people and displacing 7.9 million and causing damage of approximately $30 billion US dollars. Just a few months before the floods, Pakistan’s farmers had already taken a thrashing at the hands of unprecedented and unseasonal high temperatures made 30 times more likely due to climate change.

“I can’t say for sure.”

“But I know,” Ali added, “that every brush with bad luck, be it because of bad weather or not getting a good price for our produce, is making us tighten our belts more and more. Barely anything we do seems to work. After weathering successive losses in their crops, some farmers in my village are at a point where they have to borrow food and money from neighbors and comparatively wealthy farmers just to get by.”

The degree to which climate change will create economic upheaval or even lead to civil conflict around the globe is a question of increasing urgency for researchers and policy practitioners. 

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