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$2.6M in DOD Grants to Fund Studies of Climate Change Impact on Security

Projects Will Study Refugees, Governance in Warming World

By Rachael Grahame ’17

Man pours water on fire

A man in rural Turkey tries to fight a wildfire in August 2021, with weather conditions blamed on climate change stoking the blazes. Two UMD researchers have received $2.6 million in Department of Defense grants to study how climate change and national security intersect.

Photo by Yasin Akgul/AFP via Getty Images

Two University of Maryland researchers have received awards totaling $2.6 million to study how national security and climate change intersect in the United States and around the world.

Kathleen Gallagher Cunningham, professor and co-director of graduate studies in the Department of Government and Politics, and Distinguished University Professor Arie Kruglanski in the Department of Psychology were among 17 researchers nationwide to be named recipients of the grants from the Department of Defense’s Minerva Research Initiative, a university-based social science research program.

Cunningham received about $1.6 million to lead a three-year project to study the role that state and non-state actors play in a country’s management of climate change. The focus is Mozambique, an East African nation that has a diverse array of environmental hazards along with a history of non-state actors, ranging from non-governmental organizations to rebel groups, engaging with the population in different ways.

The study will examine people’s understanding of the risks of climate change and how non-state actors involve themselves in governing such issues, said Cunningham, who is working with researchers from Emory University, Texas A&M, Penn State and Carleton University.

“We’re also interested in explaining the conditions under which actors, state or non-state, try to leverage the idea that different agencies, people, and organizations are responsible for managing the hazards of climate change—when is it that a rebel group might be able to use government failures of managing climate change to their advantage; who do they assign blame to when things go wrong; and who do they reward when things go right?” she said.

Kruglanski, one of the founders of the National Center for the Study of Terrorism and the Response to Terrorism (START), will examine Americans’ perceptions of refugees fleeing from areas of the world hit hard by climate change: Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines. Kruglanski’s project, which received approximately $1 million through 2025, will build on his earlier Department of Defense-funded project, which sought to understand how host communities’ attitudes toward refugees from the Middle East, Lebanon and Jordan changed over time,.

There are currently about 80 million displaced people around the world, compared to 13-15 million after World War II, he said.

“Now, with the advent of climatic disasters—rising sea levels, drought, food shortages, water shortages and climate-promoted viral diseases that can occur due to environmental changes—there is an estimation that by the year 2050 there is going to be 1 billion refugees,” Kruglanski said. “You can just imagine the stresses that will exert on societies.”

The survey data collected from his previous project will inform the survey questions that Kruglanski and collaborators in Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines will jointly create and distribute in the coming months. The new project will examine how the needs of refugees are defined beyond simple survival, and will also look at how “otherness” affects the welcome refugees receive, he said.

“It is because of the aversion to otherness that in Poland, for example, refugees from Ukraine (who in many ways are similar to Poles) receive such a warm welcome, whereas refugees from the Middle East and South Asia encounter rejection violence and humiliation,” he said. “To teach people to live with others’ differences is a major social-psychological problem we are trying to understand.”

Cunningham and Kruglanski intend for their varied findings to result in meaningful and effective policy decisions.

“It’s exciting to see people studying climate change from different angles,” said Cunningham of their fellow Minerva grant recipients. “This will hopefully lead to some interesting cross-pollination.”



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