Martin O'Malley Clashes With GOP Over Link Between Climate Change, Islamic State

The Democratic presidential candidate scores a victory in the attention primary.

O'Malley Sees Link Between Climate Change, Rise of ISIS

For a politician who has been struggling to register in the polls, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley scored a victory this week: The chairman of the Republican National Committee attacked him by name.

O'Malley has been trying to mount a challenge to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton by touting himself as the most substantive candidate on issues, and he raised a provocative one in an interview with Bloomberg's Mark Halperin that aired Monday, drawing a connection between climate change and the rise of the Islamic State extremist group, or ISIS.

“One of the things that preceded the failure of the nation state of Syria and the rise of ISIS was the effect of climate change and the mega-drought that affected that nation, wiped out farmers, drove people to cities, created a humanitarian crisis that created the symptoms—or rather, the conditions—of extreme poverty that has led now to the rise of ISIS and this extreme violence,” he said.

That didn't sit well with the Republican National Committee. For seemingly the first time in the campaign, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus issued a statement aimed squarely at the former Maryland governor, who registers 1 or 2 percent in most polls. Priebus called O'Malley's claim “absurd” and said it's “abundantly clear no one in the Democrat Party has the foreign policy vision to keep America safe.”

For good measure, he said Clinton, the RNC's most frequent target, “should immediately state whether or not she agrees with these extreme comments.”

O'Malley's comment was also mocked in conservative blogs such as Newsbusters and PJ Media.

In fact, there is credible research that connects the impacts of climate change—rising sea levels that displace coastal populations, droughts that ravage water supplies in poor communities—to greater conflict and terrorism.

A November 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found evidence that the Syrian drought from 2007 to 2010 “contributed to the conflict in Syria.” A drought of the severity experienced by the nation, the report found, “has become more than twice as likely as a consequence of human interference in the climate system.”

The Pentagon also concluded in an October 2014 report that climate change poses threats to U.S. national security.

“Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict,” said Chuck Hagel, then the secretary of defense, saying the military would have to adapt. He pointedly linked climate change to terrorism: “In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a 'threat multiplier' because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today—from infectious disease to terrorism.”

The O'Malley campaign was more than happy to engage with the RNC. “If Republicans want to have a debate about either foreign policy or science, we have a message for them: bring it on. On both topics they are trapped in the past,” said Lis Smith, O'Malley's deputy campaign manager, in a statement.

“When faced with cold, hard scientific facts,” she continued, “they bury their heads in the sand and deny the adverse effects of climate change on the planet.”

A spokesperson for the RNC didn't return a message seeking comment.

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