Biology in the News Explained

Will climate change make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict worse, better, or moot?

Drought in the Middle East is getting worse. An interesting question to ponder is, how will environmental change in the region affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which just today reached yet another impasse when out of frustration, the Obama administration gave up on convincing Israel to stop settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

One spin on this problem is that it means Israelis are just getting prepared faster than the rest of us for extreme climate change. But, water scarcity in the Middle East is already one big reason for the conflict. One can argue that war is nearly always ultimately about competition for resources, (including land which is scarce on our water planet), even when the claim is that it is only for defense. Growing populations both in the Middle East and worldwide, coupled with less habitable land in the future (due both to coastal flooding and desertification), don’t seem to present a very optimistic scenario.

National Geographic looks for the potential for encouraging peace as water becomes more scarce, even as they point out the 30 previous wars over water involving Israel and Arabs in the last 60 years. But this seems unreasonably optimistic, given the recent history of local water policy .

Whether or not drought helps or hurts the peace cause locally, more broadly it may just be that as environmental problems get worse nearly the world over (and they are clearly getting worse), regional conflicts could cease to hold international attention, even if they are inflamed locally. Currently the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is held by many to have far-reaching implications for West-Arab relations in general. But if other countries are having to deal with the drying up Arabian peninsula and north Africa, and flooding in the Netherlands, New Orleans (again, and repeatedly if we don’t abandon it) or even Washington D.C., then appealing to a demographically shrinking special interest group and linking Middle East conflict to the threat of terrorism in the U.S. will be no more useful to politicians than the threats of say, automobiles and handguns (which to this day have of course claimed orders of magnitude more lives) seem to be now.

Even further down the road, one might be tempted to speculate that based on the history of local conflict and likely future trend in the local climate that the Middle East will become entirely uninhabitable by humans long before humans figure out how to live there in peace.

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