Lambert warned that droughts, which are expected to increase as a result of global warming, are already triggering conflicts around the world today. To drive this point home, she flashed a photograph of a well in Somalia; so far 250 Somalians have died battling over control of the well. To forestall such conflicts, Lambert said, governments must ensure equitable distribution of water and other resources.
The most upbeat speaker was Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, who argued that—contrary to what many scientists once believed—levels of violence are much lower in our era than they were before the advent of modern states some 10,000 years ago. According to ethnographic surveys and archaeological evidence, Pinker pointed out, 30 percent or more of the members of tribal societies died as a result of group violence; that percentage is some 10 times greater than the proportion of Europeans and North Americans killed by war-related causes during the cataclysmic 20th century.
Pinker identified several possible reasons for this trend. First, our increased life expectancies make us less willing to risk our lives by engaging in violence. Second, the creation of stable governments with effective legal systems and police forces has eliminated what British philosopher Thomas Hobbes called the “war of all against all” among pre-state humans. Third, mass media and travel have boosted understanding of, and empathy toward, those beyond our immediate family and even nation. This may be the best news of all: civilization, which has often been blamed for war, is actually helping us achieve peace.
This story was originally published with the title "Taming the Urge to War"