The summer of 2015 has been a terrible climate moment and an energy game changer in the Middle East. From the end of July to the middle of August, a terrible heat wave has swept the whole region, from Iran and the Persian Gulf to Egypt, causing hundreds of deaths and a heavy pressure on the health of people, the infrastructures and social cohesion (Kyle Jaeger, “”Heat Dome” in the Middle East is ravaging region’s residents”, ATTN, August 4th, 2015).
At the end of this sequence, at the beginning of September, the Italian oil giant corporation ENI announced having found a mammoth off shore deposit of natural gas in the Egyptian economic exclusive zone (Jeff Reed, “ Elephant discovery made offshore Egypt may be one of World’s largest Natural gas finds ever”, OilPro, 1st September, 2015).
In other terms, during the summer of 2015, the Middle East has become a place where the climate change crisis and massive energy and power shifts are happening in the same time, and are colliding.
This is added to the heightening of political and religious struggles, which are putting societies, populations, governments and environmental conditions under enormous pressure (Valantin, “Collapse war in the Middle East?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, April 7, 2015) in a region already deeply destabilised by war in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, and by environmental collapse (Jon Mitchell, “Portal to strategic foresight and warning in Libya”, The Red Team Analysis Society; Helene Lavoix. “Portal to The Caliphate War“, The Red Team Analysis Society).
In the first part of this series, we shall focus on the deep political destabilisation of the Middle East, which is currently induced by the weather consequences of global warming. In the forthcoming second part, we shall study the natural gas revolution currently deploying itself in the Mediterranean region, and in a third part, we shall see how these dynamics collide.
“Something wicked this way comes”
In Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, one of the three witches, who have led Macbeth on its bloody path to power through treason, murder and regicide, announces, delightedly, that “something wicked this way comes” (William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1623). “This” refers to what Macbeth has become, i.e. a new and horrendous version of his former self, coming to ask for counsels, which will only lead to his own dismal and bloody fall. This notion of “wickedness” could very well be used to qualify what is happening to our planetary climate through global warming, and the way it affects the Middle East through extreme episodes, such as the 2015 summer heat wave (Dahr Jamail, “Experts warn of “Cataclysmic changes” as planetary temperatures rise”, Truth Out, 27 April 2015).
This wickedness lies in the fact that the climate is a basic life condition for the human species as well as for all others, which have developed alongside humans in the same set of geophysical and biological conditions (E. O Wilson, The Future of Life, 2003), and that the current state of our global climate is now becoming a condition of danger.
The current sequence of climate change is largely due to the emission of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, stemming from the planetary scale combustion of coal, oil and natural gas in order to generate the electricity and mechanical energy necessitated by the modern industrial social-economic model (IPCC, fifth report, 2014).
Meanwhile, this very model has emerged from the power generated by the combustion of oil, and the Middle East is one of its major centres of production. The political, strategic, economic, social, religious development of the whole region has been dominated and determined by the extraction of oil during the last one hundred years (Georges Corm, Le Proche Orient éclaté, 2012).
Climatic (ultra) violence
Today, the Middle East, is experiencing the blow back of this civilizational experiment under the form of climate change (Valantin, Guerre et Nature, 2013).
This has very harsh consequences for this region that is vital to the rest of the world because of the very industrial model that has been globally adopted, as expressed through global energy, political and religious power plays (William Engdahl, A Century of war, Anglo-american oil politics and the new world order, 2004).
These consequences are what we call here “climatic ultra violence”. In effect, the “heat dome” has put dozens of millions of people at risk, because atmospheric temperature peaked at 70° C in Iran and Iraq, which, for example, led Iraqi authorities to declare a four days holidays, in order to protect people from heat strokes at work (Katie Valentine, “Extreme heat leads to protests, deaths in the Middle East”, Think Progress, August 10, 2015).
As it happens, heat waves have a direct impact on the emergence of violence at the interpersonal level (assaults, insults, rapes, murders), as well as between groups of varying scales, because it triggers and feeds violent reactions (Marshall Burke, Solomon M. Hsiang, Edward Miguel, “Climate and Conflict”, The Annual Review of Economics, 2015).
It is interesting to note that over the last decade or so, several historical works demonstrate that very small variations in climate temperatures and weather patterns have huge impacts on the social, demographics, and political conditions of countries and continent. These variations are favouring spikes in death tolls, agricultural food crises, epidemics, as exemplified in the works of Geoffrey Parker (2013) “Global crisis, war, climate change and catastrophe in the seventeenth century”, or in Mike Davis (2001) “Late Victorian Holocausts, El Nino famines and the making of the third world”.
The 2015 heat wave has been a moment of collective “climatic ultra violence”, which has been exerted on the multiple layers of social and daily life. In effect, throughout the Middle East, the twin growth of urban development and of demographics has been accompanied by the omnipresent installation of air conditioning. Without air conditioning, modern urban life in hot regions is impossible, the buildings, cities and public and private transport simply becoming heat traps for millions of people, in a region knowing high temperatures from April to October (World Bank, For better or for worse : air pollution in greater Cairo, 2013).
However, the heat dome has forced everybody to demand much more air conditioning, putting higher pressure on already fragile energy infrastructures.
In Iraq and Lebanon, electricity black outs were triggered while people were restlessly aggressed day and night by the searing heat (Ari Yashar, “Apocalyptic Iran heat wave nearly breaks world record”, Arutz Sheva Israel News, 8/3/2015). For example, the city of Sidon, in Lebanon daily knew a 3 hours-long electricity black out during the day, just when the population needed cool air to live in a city literally transformed into a giant heat trap (Kyle Jaeger, ibid). The same can be said all around the region.
The urban environment, as well as its multiple infrastructures, among them those related to energy and water, is in itself an artificial and external layer of protection for the people (Lewis Mumford, The City in history, 1961). Such levels of heat are overwhelming this artificial envelope, which implies that individuals become defenceless against these brutally new environmental conditions. As a result, the latter become an integral aggression for the human physiology and psychology.
The heating up of the body, the loss of water and minerals, the extremely acute and intimately felt deep discomfort put people at risk, especially the most vulnerable, such as young children, the elderly, sick people and pregnant women, as well as the vast majority of poor people. Those are particularly sensitive to harsh environmental conditions, because of malnutrition and bad habitat, and weakened because of their difficult life conditions.
As a result, for example, more than 106 Egyptian people died in only one week between 9 and 16 August 2015 (The Associated Press, “Death toll in Egypt heat wave rises 106”, Haaretz, August 18 2015).
In other terms, the Summer 2015 long heat wave has been a strange kind of “invasion” of the very fabric of the daily life of the populations in Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Israel, Egypt and Libya.
Combining climate violence with war
Furthermore, this climatic endangering of the social cohesion through the collective health effects of the heat, combined itself with regional situations, which are already extremely violent.
That violence is unleashed by the multiple and coalescing civil and international wars, especially in Iraq, Syria and, at a lesser scale so far, Egypt (Helene Lavoix, “Portal to the Islamic State war”, The Red Team Analysis Society).
For example, as we saw in “Egypt: the long resource civil warfare”, jihadi guerrillas are bombing energy plants and electricity infrastructures in order to trigger long electricity breakdowns. They thus notably disrupt the vital functioning of air conditioning and economic activities in Cairo.
The efficiency of this kind of asymmetric attack is based on the way the atmospheric heat is “projected” in the daily life and the body of millions of people at once, immediately after a successful attack, and thus through the stopping of millions of air conditioner (Valantin, “Security and sustainability: the future of Egypt”, The Red Team Analysis Society, April 28, 2014).
In the Syrian case, Syria suffered a massive drought during 2006 to 2011, destroying crops and accelerating the rural exodus, creating a social and urban crisis that favoured the development of other political and religious tensions, triggering the civil war. ((Werrell and Femia, The Arab Spring and Climate Change, 2013).
This example shows how the combination between the weather consequences of global warming and civil war situations are transforming life conditions into not only “unsustainable conditions” but also “unliveable conditions” (Valantin, “Collapse war in the Middle East?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, April 7, 2015).
This is what has been happening in particular in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 and in Syria since the start of the civil war since 2011 and the subsequent emergence of the Islamic State (Lavoix, ibid). The multiplication of extreme weather events, e,g, a long drought, social tensions for water, and a spike in food prices, have become the context and the amplifier of political, social and religious conflicts that ravage countries (Werrell and Fermia, ibid).
Moreover, in the same dynamic, the destruction of social and economic conditions make the population much more sensitive and vulnerable to extreme weather events (Harald Welzer, Climate wars: what people will be killed for in the 21st century, 2012).
As a result, it should not have been a surprise to see large flows of populations fleeing their own country towards Europe, knowing furthermore that a huge refugees’ population has been located in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey for a coupe of years (Borzou Daragahi, “This why the refugee crisis is hitting Europe now”, Buzzfeed, September 4, 2015).
In effect, in Syria and Iraq, the destruction of rural communities and agricultural capabilities, as well as of the industrial, water and energy infrastructures, are used as tactical and operational means in order to destabilize entire territories. It goes with the slaughtering and enslaving of numerous populations (Valantin, “Collapse war in the Middle East?”, The Red Team Analysis Society, April 7, 2015).
These horrendous practices have become normal and banal ways and means of war: the whole of society becomes a battlefield, without the capability to absorb climate shocks such as the 2015 heat dome, which deepens the “un-sustainability/un-liveability” of these countries (Valantin,“The Persian Gulf, Between Power and Collapse”, The Red Team Analysis Society, December 9, 2013,).
This inversion of the life conditions, which are turned into a giant and deathly trap, is a massive challenge for the political authorities of these countries.
In effect, their capability to protect the populations of their countries from the “integral invasion” of the complex social and environmental consequences of global warming, linked to the vulnerabilities of the Middle Eastern societies, is fundamentally challenged. This challenge is going to be at the heart of their renewed legitimacy or of a new illegitimacy.
This is why the way this very legitimacy is currently transformed by the energy conditions of the region, especially through the radically new political and strategic conditions created by the recent discoveries of off-shore natural gas deposits for Israel and Egypt must be studied.
To be (soon) continued
Jean-Michel Valantin, (PhD Paris) leads the Environment and Security Department of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. He is specialised in strategic studies and defense sociology with a focus on environmental geostrategy.
Featured image: Tehran, Iran, NASA World Wind screenshot. Public Domain.