Humans may be doing their level best to drain the planet of resources until it’s a dried out husk of it’s former self, but we’re also trying to ensure that none of us live long enough to see the results. Though the world is technically the most peaceful it’s ever been since the dawn of recorded history, the few conflicts that rage on capture our attention. According to scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, war and other conflicts also have an additional, unseen benefit – they result in fewer greenhouse gasses spewing into the atmosphere.
For the study, scientists used data from NASA’s Aurora satellite to measure nitrogen dioxide levels over parts of the Middle East. NO2 is one of the more prominent greenhouse gasses released when fossil fuels are burned, and as such scientists associate NO2 levels with increased economic development: When an area begins to prosper, manufacturing and consumer energy use increases, and so do atmospheric NO2 levels.
Follow the military, political and economic conflicts around the Middle East, and the satellite NO2 data paints a picture of an economic roller coaster. The Middle East is the perfect area to study, as it’s had some of the fastest growing economies between 2005 and 2010, but also harbors the bulk of the world’s war and political conflicts.
For instance, economic sanctions in Iran caused NO2 levels to plummet after 2010 – in a depressed economy, people drive less, build fewer things and consume less energy. Nitrogen dioxide levels initially climbed in Iraq as the country slowly began to recover from the Iraq war, but they’re back down again after the rise of ISIS and their scorched Earth brand of brutal governance.
The scientists also found that NO2 doesn’t abate with conflict so much as it gets displaced, as evidenced in Syria and Lebanon. Lower nitrogen dioxide recordings in cities like Damascus and Aleppo can be attributed to war and uprisings in those areas. The same can be said for cities like Beirut, however, as an influx of Syrian refugees have created a higher demand for fossil fuels.
“It is tragic that the negative trends we observe in nitrogen oxide emissions accompany humanitarian catastrophes,” says Jos Lelieveld, lead author of the study.
It’s not just the Middle East, either – since 2008, nitrogen dioxide levels have dropped over Athens some 40%. It’s no coincidence that, in the same time period, Greece’s GDP dropped a whopping 5% per year as well.