Advertisements

How Climate Change is Fueling Iran’s Political Instability

Drought.

Year after year after year for the past 15 years, it’s been the reality for Iran.

As with recent severe droughts in places like Syria, Nigeria, India and in other parts of the world, Iran’s drought impacts have forced farmers to abandon fields and move to the cities. It has enhanced economic and physical desperation — swelling the ranks of the poor and displaced. It has produced both food and water insecurity with many families now living from hand and cup to mouth. And it has served as a catalyst for political unrest, protest, and revolt.

(Iran’s Lake Urmia shrinks to ten percent of its former size following a 15 year long drought. Image source: U.S. Department of the Interior.)

Perhaps the most visible sign of this drought’s epic severity is the drying up of the 5,200 square mile expanse of Lake Urmia. The sixth largest salt water lake in the world and the largest lake in the Middle East, Urmia is now a desiccated shadow of its historical range. Just 10 percent of its former size, it is the casualty of both the drought and the dams that have been built to divert water to Iran’s struggling farmers. But it’s not just the lake that’s drying up. In the interior, individual provinces have seen as many as 1,100, or approximately 1/3 of its springs, run out of water.

Iran is on the eastern fringe of the worst drought to hit parts of the Middle East in 900 years. Ninety six percent of the country has been afflicted by escalating drought conditions over the past seven years. A drought so long and deep-running that it has been triggering unrest since at least 2014. A kind of climate change enhanced instability that has been intensifying over recent years.

(Iran shows long term precipitation deficits over 2016-2017 and 2010-2017 in this analysis provided by Iran’s Meteorological Organization.)

The growing drought-driven unrest has thrust climate change into the Iranian political spotlight even as populist farmer uprisings are on the increase. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has directed government to “manage climate change and environmental threats.” However, with climate harms so long-running and with distrust in government so deep, even positive action by Iran’s leaders may be viewed in a negative light. Hindering impetus for response and generating a ripe field for the revolt or fragmentation.

From the scientific perspective, it appears that the effects of climate change are already enhancing the most recent dry period. Temperatures are rising — which increases evaporation. So more rain has to fall for soils to retain moisture. Complicating this issue is the fact that rains are expected to decline by 10 percent even as drier soils are expected to reduce rainfall and snow melt runoff by 25 percent over the next twelve years. Both are impacts caused by climate change and the predicted warming of Iranian summers by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius.

(Under business as usual fossil fuel burning scenarios, wet bulb temperatures are expected to periodically exceed the range in which humans can healthily function over portions of the Persian Gulf region before the end of this Century. Video Source: MIT News.)

Moreover, a recent MIT study from 2015 found that major cities in the Persian Gulf region may be driven past the tipping point for human survivability under business as usual fossil fuel burning (Wet Bulb of 35 C +) by climate change before the end of this Century (see video above). This means that during the worst heatwaves under this scenario, it would be impossible for human beings to retain an internal temperature cool enough to support key body functions while outdoors for even moderate periods. This would result in higher incidences of heat injury and heat mortality than we see even during present enhanced heatwaves.

Though it is uncertain whether collapse pressure driven by climate change has reached a tipping point for Iran similar to the events which enabled Syria’s descent into internal and regional conflict, the warning signs are there. The international community would thus be wise to both prepare responses and to broadly acknowledge climate change’s role in the enflaming of this and other geopolitical hot spots.

Advertisements

The Price of Climate Change Denial: Drought to Cost $50 Billion, Increasingly Extreme Weather in Our Future.

The drought currently affecting the heartland is having a wide range of economic impacts. It is constraining river traffic, slowing trade and increasing shipping costs even on America’s largest waterways. Impacts to crops continue, with US production likely to significantly fall even after a growing season that included the greatest land area ever planted. Wells have run dry in many counties across the central US, forcing many to pay for water to be shipped in.

But in the end, those who will pay most are the American people. Food prices will continue to increase and fuel prices will likely be pushed higher due to constraints on US ethanol production.

In all, some sources are estimating that this drought could cost the US as much as $50 billion dollars. And if we are making a tally for climate change we can add in the cost of fires and extreme weather like the Derecho earlier this year. We can also add in the cost of invasive species, like the pine and ash bore beetles. In total, we will likely see impacts this year alone, without any other unforeseen impacts, around the $100 billion mark. This is a hefty price to pay for an already expensive fossil fuel addiction.

In context, this is the second severe drought in as many years. Last year’s drought impacted Texas and Oklahoma, killing 500 million trees and 100,000 cattle. And in the middle of the last decade, the southeast experienced a historic drought that lead to a water war between Georgia and Florida. In 2006, the US experienced a deadly heatwave only to be struck again by a much more intense heatwave this year. Internationally, Russia experienced a terrible drought and heatwave in 2010 that killed 56,000 people and resulted in epic fires raging across that country. Australia suffered from a years-long drought that finally broke at the end of the last decade. In 2003, Europe experienced a heatwave that killed over 70,000 people.

According to NASA scientists, these are the kinds of extreme events that we can expect as a result of global warming. In fact, James Hansen has noted that the events we are experiencing now would not have happened with such frequency and intensity without the added forcing provided by global warming.

“But I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic,” Hansen stated in a recent editorial to the Washington Post. “My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather.”

Hansen is often derided by global warming deniers as being the most alarming of the global warming alarmists. But if Hansen, by his own admission, was being too optimistic, then we are likely in for much more drastic, powerful, and damaging changes than current climate models seem to indicate.

Though scientists have been rightly conservative and cautious when making these predictions, in an attempt to provide a solid basis for a rational response, climate change deniers and the agencies that support them have been the very definition of irresponsibility, imprudence, callousness, blindness, bull-headedness, rank stupidity, ignorance, greed, and ill-conceived risk-taking. Their arguments consistently have been proven false and yet they still speak as if they hold a monopoly on both righteous authority and truth.

Yet their failure is visited upon us with increasing pain, harm, loss of life and damage with each passing year. So one wonders why there are even still a sad few who listen to their nonsensical, mangled, and twisted claims. If they are to hold the wheel of our ship and continue to force its turn toward climate change disaster, then they should bear the blame for our misguidance and loss.

But stepping away from those who would have us continue to allow our situation to deteriorate, it is worth noting what the climate models, what the prudent, conservative, often overly-optimistic scientists predict. In short, it is nothing less than a horrendous drying out of the American heartland within the next 50-100 years. The drought models show worsening droughts occurring with greater and greater frequency. The coming decade will be worse than the last. The decade after that worse than the one before. By the end of this sad story, US agriculture would be a mere ghost of its past greatness, existing only on the fringes of a once-fertile land.

This is, likely, the ‘optimistic’ forecast. Events could happen much faster than scientists predicted. And single, catastrophic events, worthy of the term ‘natural disaster’ are certainly possible.

This summer’s drought was the worst since 1956. It happened in a land that has been made more resilient against drought by some of the best farming, resource conservation, soil use, and land management practices in the modern industrial world. We learned the terrible lessons of the dust bowl and, as a result, turned America into a fortress against future drought. Our vegetation growth and land use encourage rain and help to prevent moisture loss. But even these revolutionary practices have not prevented the current drought. Climate change has besieged America’s drought fortress and some of the gates have been breached. And far in the distance we can see the forces of climate change massing for another, more powerful, assault.

With each passing year, we add to the growing climate change horde. With each passing year, we add more to that monster force through our burning of fossil fuels. And if we do not decide to reduce that burning, it will be we who will be over-run, who will suffer the most terrible consequences. The consequences our optimistic, faithful, diligent, accurate, and cautious scientists are trying to warn us away from.

As for the climate change deniers. Their opinions are worth nothing more than a bowl full of dust.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

Please help support our continuing efforts.

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: