Although recent research has tended to emphasize the political wellsprings of state failure, future research needs to employ new kinds of data. In addition to incorporating information concerning deeper political forces, it needs to make systematic use of subnational data. The origins of political disorder lie in conflicts whose own origins are, to a great degree, internal to the nation-state: regional inequality, conflicting partisan preferences, religious differences, and so on. Aggregate, national-level data offer the wrong optic by which to view within-country conflict. (p. 10)
His review cites several examples of what he considers an encouraging trend of introducing this type of data in an increasing number of studies.
One literature that does provide a more detailed exploration of potential climate–security links is the literature on the potential political impacts of disasters. Its findings generally support the conclusion that climate events that trigger disasters of various types are associated with political instability, although not in a straightforward way. The relationships, including causes and effects, are highly complex and contingent. The overall analytic challenge was well captured in a recent review of detailed analyses of several major disasters of the past, including some that led to state failures (Butzer, 2012). The review found that in many, but not all, instances, states survived the calamities, and it cautioned against drawing too straight a line between disasters and state failures, noting that state breakdowns differ because of the “great tapestry of variables” involved.
Studies of the political consequences of natural disasters in the modern era provide another source of useful insight. A series of case studies of different types of disasters by Olson and various collaborators (Drury and Olson, 1998; Gawronski and Olson, 2000, 2013; Olson, 2000; Olson and Gawronski, 2003, 2010; Poggione et al., 2012) indicates that while disasters often become quite “political,” disasters that result in major violence, falls of government, regime changes, and even state breakdowns are relatively rare in comparison with the total numbers of annual disasters. Indeed, the researchers’ line of argument suggests that a certain amount of political unrest and even violence should be expected in post-impact disaster situations, particularly when the response appears inadequate. Extrapolating from their work, it would seem that large-scale violence, regime change, or state breakdown requires a particular combination of factors that often take months to several years to manifest visibly: (1) incumbent political authorities with little public support at the time of the disaster; (2) a disaster response that is perceived to be under-resourced and poorly managed, especially if it is seen as characterized by favoritism, corruption, and lack of compassion; (3) a regime lacking broad, value-based “diffuse” legitimacy and dependent upon “specific” legitimacy (material rewards to key groups); and (4) well-organized pre-existing opposition groups within the system (e.g., political