2023: Ecology, Crisis, and Power in the Middle East
Host: University of Exeter
Associate Professor Jessica Barnes, University of South Carolina: Placing the Environment in Middle East Studies: Scale, Stories, and Everyday Life
Professor Sharzhad Mojab, University of Toronto: A Revolutionary Storm Sparked by the Fall of a Butterfly
It is widely expected that the Middle East will be one of the areas of the world most impacted by anthropogenic climate change, with predictions of sharp fluctuations in temperature and sea levels, changing precipitation patterns, and increased frequency of extreme weather events. Much analysis of these climactic effects, however, tends to focus on their techno-scientific dimensions, ignoring what they might mean for established patterns of political and economic power in the region. In this context, it is essential to consider how ecological change might intersect with the region’s multiple and interconnected crises, including unprecedented levels of human displacement, food and water scarcity, war and violence, and some of the highest levels of economic inequality and social marginalisation in the world. The ways in which these crises reinforce and overlap with ecological change will shape future dynamics of political, social, and economic power in the region. Similarly, how have actors, both in the private and public sector, been preparing for climate change? What renewable and other technologies have they embraced and what are their implications? Despite some important emerging research on these themes, issues of ecology have not been adequately addressed in Middle East studies. The Middle East is also largely absent in contemporary debates around climate change. This theme is also broad and necessarily interdisciplinary, inviting contributions from across the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences.
Some of the potential questions that could be addressed within this theme, include:
- What are the potential implications of climate change on social, political, and economic structures in the region, including the nature of authoritarianism, neoliberalism, securitisation, and the cycles of ‘contentious politics’?
- What might the intersectionalities of crisis and climate change mean for the most marginalised populations in the region, including women, youth, minorities, and displaced populations?
- How are social movements in the region confronting, challenging, and contesting the potential implications of climate change?
- How are narratives of ‘ecological crisis’ wielded by elites in the region, and what role do ecological demands play in the wider political imaginary?
- How are global initiatives to address and mitigate the effects of climate change connected to existing economic reform packages promoted by multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund?
- How is climate change – and the urgent need to end global fossil fuel production – reshaping the region’s place in global capitalism?
- What are the political, economic, and cultural implications of the ‘energy transition’ in the Middle East? How are we to understand the significant role of major Middle East states – especially in the Gulf – in global renewable energy projects, alongside the on-going expansion of traditional fossil fuel sectors?
- Given the widespread exclusion of the Middle East in contemporary ecological debates, what can the study of the region bring to our understanding of climate change and campaigns for a ‘just ecological transition’?
- What does climate change mean for the lives of rural farmers, and the rural-urban relationship?
- What can contemporary ecological debates around notions such as the ‘Anthropocene’, ‘Fossil Capital’, and the ‘New Green Deal’ contribute to our understanding of the Middle East?
- What are the implications of climate change for the nature of food regimes in the region? How are states, multilateral organisations, and private corporations intervening in the circulation of food across the region, given the significant impact that climate change is expected to have on the production of food?
- What role has environmental change played in earlier periods of Middle East history, including pre-colonial times?