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It Turns Out bin Laden Was Worried About Climate Change

In letters released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the former al Qaeda leader laments the 'great suffering' of Pakistani flood victims.

by Aaron Cantú
May 21 2015, 9:05pm

Imagen vía AP

VICE News is closely tracking global environmental change. Check out the Tipping Point blog here.

On the same day President Obama told graduating Coast Guard cadets that climate change was a "serious threat to global security," a new document revealed that Osama bin Laden was also gravely worried about the effects of climate change.

In an undated document released by Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), bin Laden laments "the great suffering the natural disasters are leaving behind" in the Muslim world, focusing in particular on flooding in Pakistan. The document also reveals bin Laden's vision for a Shariah-guided climate change development organization, independent of "traditional relief efforts," which he called "insufficient."

Though bin Laden wrote that climate change is principally a result of "plague or suffering from the Allah Almighty," he condemned unnamed states that "recruit their strongest men [and] offer their best training" for war while ignoring climate adaptation. He also fretted over studies that claimed victims of climate change outnumbered victims of war.

The founder of al-Qaeda also stated: "Had only 1 percent of [war] expenditures gone to relief, together with a sincere and experienced workforce, the earth's face would have changed, likewise the poor people's condition would have improved much decades ago." In response to this failure, he calls for "a distinct relief organization" to assist Muslims in the path of disaster.

Related: Obama says climate change is an immediate threat to national security

Bin Laden's concern with climate change in the "Islamic World" tracks a stark reality: Many of the nations that are most vulnerable to a warming world are also home to huge Muslim populations, according to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN). The index not only looks at nations' risk of natural disaster, but also their "readiness to actually take on new investments and [their] readiness to adapt" to climate change, says Joyce Coffee, a managing director at ND-GAIN.

"The index points out relative risk, as well as opportunity," Joyce told VICE News. She added that the degree of climate exposure for each nation is based on their economic, social, and governmental stability, in addition to their geography.

Flood-prone, majority Muslim nations like Pakistan and Bangladesh are nearer to the bottom of the ND-GAIN. Bin Laden's references to flooding in Pakistan were a response to destructive monsoons in 2010, which the World Meteorological Organization attributed to higher temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean. In the document released by ODNI, Bin Laden wrote that his hypothetical relief organization should study how flood-prone Muslim communities could adapt.

Yemen, Sudan, and Chad, three nations at the bottom of the ND-GAIN's list — with Chad dead last among countries where data was available — were also explicitly mentioned by bin Laden. All three currently face some potent mix of cataclysmic drought, water shortages, famine, population increase, and civil societies under collapse from war and faltering economies. In response, bin Laden suggested investment in new irrigation networks to bolster water and food security — but he also wondered without coming to a conclusion, whether Muslims could faithfully build such infrastructure when "there is no single Islamic state on the face of the earth."

Related: US releases new bin Laden documents including love letters and his book collection

The climate change document is one of thousands recently released by the Obama administration. The dump came at a time of renewed scrutiny for the government's account of bin Laden's demise, prompted by a critical story written by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

Bin Laden had previously called for climate preparedness in an 11-minute video released after Pakistan was hit with a monsoon in 2010.

Follow Aaron Cantu on Twitter: @aaronmiguel_