The Power of Deserts
Climate Change, the Middle East, and the Promise of a Post-Oil Era
Dan Rabinowitz


Contents and Abstracts
Introduction: The Heat Is On
chapter abstract

Folk tales, myths, and physical remains in various Middle Eastern cultures indicate the region saw dramatic climate fluctuations in the past. Climate models suggest that current global warming could have far-reaching consequences for the region. Multiplying socioeconomic inequalities, demographic instability, ethnic tensions, and insecurity, climate change is impacting scientific fields, from the Earth sciences and the natural sciences, to history, sociology, and political science. New vocabularies and methodologies are being developed to help theorize and analyze the profound changes that will characterize the imminent post-normal climate era. A determined, sophisticated global environmental movement has long been trying to convince world leaders to save the planet by instigating major cuts in CO2 emissions for decades, to no avail. Could salvation come from oil-rich countries in the Middle East?

1 Parched Future
chapter abstract

Advances in climate modeling since 2010 enable scaling down global predictions to region- and country-specific forecasts. Using these new methods, researchers predict that temperature hikes in the Middle East will be sharper than projections for other regions and the world at large. Rainfall quantities in key areas in the northern and western section of the region will go down below 200 millimeters per annum, the level necessary for rain-fed agriculture. This will have serious consequences for agriculture in Turkey, Syria, northern Iraq, and the Maghreb, and dire implications for water cycles and animal husbandry across the region. Dwindling water volumes in the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates will seriously endanger regional food production. Egypt and the Gulf countries are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise.

2 Burning Inequality
chapter abstract

Climate change involves three types of inequality. First, wealthier communities consume more, are responsible for higher greenhouse gas emissions, and thus carry a heavier responsibility for the advent of climate change. Second, affluent communities are more resilient to climate perils than poor ones. Third, those unwilling to join the struggle against climate change put others in harm's way. These inequalities, while omnipresent, are particularly prevalent in the Middle East, where socioeconomic gaps between and within countries are the widest in the world. The chapter illustrates that oil-rich Middle Eastern countries are among the highest per capita CO2 emitters in the world, while poorer countries hardly contribute to climate change. The chapter reviews regional gaps in resilience and exposure and demonstrates how oil-exporting countries in the region have played an active role in efforts since the 1990s to subvert global climate agreements.

3 Climate of Insecurity
chapter abstract

Exerting pressure on water, agriculture, and food supply, climate change is having devastating consequences for arid regions. The chapter distinguishes between security (small s), a condition with concrete personal and familial resonance, and Security (capita S), a more nebulous, less rational term focused on more abstract collectives such as the state or "the realm." The recent climate-related crises in Syria and South Sudan are reviewed. Given that similar drought spells could become the Middle East's new normal, the chapter seeks to isolate the role of climate in such calamities. Analyzing climate-related migration already underway in the region, it traces the emergence of "climate refugees" as a discursive term and critically examines the perils of climate change becoming securitized. Finally, it highlights the need for proactive, forward-looking planning on behalf of vulnerable rural communities that might be forced to relocate as a result of climate change.

4 Solar Prospects
chapter abstract

Ideas for renewable energy hubs in the Middle East have been floated since the 1920s. With costs of solar energy slashed by 90 percent in a single decade, global investment in renewables is rising quickly. Solar plants are now being constructed across the Middle East, even in oil-exporting countries. With abundant solar irradiation, huge tracts of unproductive land, high liquidity, and a good track record of incorporating new technologies into civil infrastructure, the six oil-rich kingdoms by the Arabian Gulf have an immense potential for solar energy. Consistently pledging to transition their own domestic energy sectors to renewables, they are now beginning to actually do so. Should they indeed follow through with this, could they decide to extract less oil and natural gas? More importantly, are they likely to decide that leading a global energy transition to renewables is in their own best interest?

5 Will 200 Men Save the Planet?
chapter abstract

Disconcerting climate predictions, the imminent demise of oil, and their huge potential for solar energy could convince the oil-rich countries of the Gulf to accelerate the global transition to renewables. To avoid economic ruin they could (a) immediately convert their own energy sectors to renewables; (b) invest heavily in renewable technologies and capacity worldwide; then (c) drastically reduce oil and natural gas production. An already struggling oil industry will be forced to surrender, crowning renewables the primary source of global energy. Like carriage makers who became automobile tycoons, the GCC six will have converted their position in the oil market ante to control of the energy universe of tomorrow. The economic lockdown triggered by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, which brought the oil industry to its knees, may leave the GCC with no other option if they wish to withstand the passage to a post-oil era.