Here’s my bet about the future of Sunni, Shiite, Arab, Turkish, Kurdish and Israeli relations: If they don’t end their conflicts, Mother Nature is going to destroy them all long before they destroy one another. Let me point out a few news items you may have missed while debating the Iran nuclear deal.
On July 31, USA Today reported that in Bandar Mahshahr, Iran, a city adjacent to the Persian Gulf, the heat index soared to 163 degrees as a heat wave continued to bake the Middle East, already one of the hottest places on earth. “That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen, and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,” AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani said in a statement.
Then we saw something we’ve not seen before: An Iraqi government was sacked over its failure to deliver air-conditioning. Two weeks ago, the prime minister abolished all three vice presidential posts and the office of deputy prime minister and proposed anti-corruption reforms after weeks of protests over the fact that the government could supply electricity for air-conditioning only a few hours a day during weeks of 120-degree temperatures.
As The Times’ Anne Barnard reported Aug. 1, the heat issue in Iraq “has even eclipsed war with the Islamic State. The prime minister … declared a four-day weekend to keep people out of the sun … and ordered an end to one of the most coveted perks of government officials: round-the-clock power for their air-conditioners.”
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On Feb. 19, 2014, The Associated Press reported from Iran: “The first Cabinet decision made under Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, wasn’t about how to resolve his country’s nuclear dispute with world powers. It was about how to keep the nation’s largest lake from disappearing. Lake Oroumieh, one of the biggest saltwater lakes on earth, has shrunk more than 80 percent to … (nearly 400 square miles) in the past decade, mainly because of climate change, expanded irrigation for surrounding farms and the damming of rivers that feed the body of water, experts say.”
Francesco Femia and Caitlin Werrell run the Center for Climate and Security in Washington that tracks these trends. They noted that South Asia scholar Michael Kugelman recently observed “that in Pakistan more people have died from the heat wave than from terrorism this year. We would emphasize that there shouldn’t be a competition between ‘terrorism’ and ‘climate stress,’ but that the resources spent on the former vastly outstrip the latter.”
They noted: “The social contract between governments and their publics is being stressed by these extreme events, and that matters are only likely to get worse, given climate projections for many of these places. … Governments that are responsive to publics in the face of these stresses are likely to strengthen the social contract, while those who are unresponsive are likely to weaken it. And for the most part, we’re seeing inadequate responses.”
Indeed, see Syria: Its revolution was preceded by the worst four-year drought in the country’s modern history, driving nearly 1 million farmers and herders off the land, into the cities where the government of Bashar Assad failed to help them, fueling the revolution.
All the people in this region are playing with fire. While they’re fighting over who is caliph, who is the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad from the 7th century – Sunnis or Shiites – and to whom God really gave the holy land, Mother Nature is not sitting idle. She doesn’t do politics – only physics, biology and chemistry. And if they add up the wrong way, she will take them all down.
The only “ism” that will save them is not Shiism or Islamism but “environmentalism” – understanding that there is no Shiite air or Sunni water, there is just “the commons,” their shared ecosystems, and unless they cooperate to manage and preserve them (and we all address climate change), vast eco-devastation awaits them all.
The New York Times