Middle East Environmental History
Environmental history contributions to the environmental issues are diverse and consist of different dimensions in the global world. Historians have taken off the research on the history to establish the influences of the cultural diversities and other economic factors on the environmental history of different countries in the world. The Middle East was mostly missing from the research, but recently there have been developments in the history although the region remains largely unrepresented in the emerging field. In the analysis of the environmental history, this paper looks at the different perspectives presented by the environmental matters in the Middle East.
The first issue is emphasized on the continuities and commonalities in the various nations and empires. The commonalities are attributed to the formation of the Middle East environmental history through agriculture as a common factor uniting the early settlers of the region. In the coexistence of the people in the Middle East regions, there was a need to embrace a long-term, transitional and discipline perspectives among the individuals and their respective leaders. Language barriers had been a common factor that needed to be addressed to establish a peaceful interaction between the different communities. The region segmentation into an uncommunicative specialty, in the research of the communities in the Middle East regions the Byzantinists, constituted on the own specialty and the Ottomanists another. Agriculture is one of the uniting factors between the communities in the Middle East as it was one of the leading source of income and market with other goods and services from the other regions. The people in this regions lived on the same landscape and practiced the same activity that is agriculture. The land has been the victim in this ancient world due to desiccation, deforestation, and overgrazing. The environment of the Middle East in the past was good and supported all kinds of farming ranging from the cultivation of crops and rearing of animals. With the continual use of the land through the deforestation, the climatic conditions were affected leading to the various changes in the following millennia2. The Middle East flora and fauna are unusually resilient because of the effects on the environment. The region environment is adaptable to the fire, drought and grazing of animals naturally as the adaptation formed the ecosystems even before the settlement of the people.
The agricultural practices in the Middle East have been transformed to the other parts of the world like the conventional crops and livestock. For example; sheep, goats, barley and wheat. The transformation means that the environmental in the Middle East has not changed to a large extent compared to the other parts of the world with the reference with the native agricultural produces and activities. There had been a continuous use of the land up to the industrial age from the Bronze Age. There were those regions that depended on the same harvest of winter barley and wheat while they plowed their lands using the same oxen that consisted of light wooden scratch plows3. Environmental history has a different perspective on the continuities and commonalities. Although the language and evidential studies have often focused on just one area at a time, there is a shared past because of the environmental factors in the historical events. The historians rather than the use of nations and religions in the analysis of the Middle East environmental history, they applied the interaction with the environment as a uniting factor of the different cultures and communities. From the genetic perspective, the population of the Middle East has been largely the same since the spread of agriculture in the region, with the little influence by the invasion such as the Mongolian and the British. However, the invaders contributed largely to the development and application of the various innovations. The environmental use remained the same even in the river valley populations who uses the similar irrigation works and prone to the same recurring threats of siltation and soil salination.
With the production of the goods, there was a need to trade with the neighboring communities who did the different agricultural practices that are the valley and plain populations traded with the semi-arid upland population and the other nomads in the desert and steppe beyond. The farming activities like the domestication of the animals outnumbered the people and had in many ways shaped the ecology of the Middle East in the past periods. The human has not contributed to the shaping of the environment rather it is through their activities that have had a great adverse effect on the environmental history1. The availability of the cheap and readily available animal power reduced the shift towards the mechanization of farms in the Middle East as they are found in the European countries.
Land use is one of the unifying factors of the Middle East environmental history. In the management of the people and their varying environment, there was the need to ensure that the population lived in a peaceful manner with each other. The rulers of the empires like the Byzantines faced a daunting task in the mediation of the interactions among the given populations. There were those populations that moved from one locality to another in the search for a conducive environment to establish their communities. The rulers had to provide cities and armies to control the population and to make sure that the resources are managed well by the populations by ensuring that there is a continuous flow of resources2. The common and lasting challenges on the use of land by the communities in the arid environment do not mean that the region is a desert. Middle East environment is comprised of various climatic patterns ranging from Mediterranean, semi-arid and arid climatic conditions. In all the climatic environments, the people living in the environment practiced the same agricultural practices, which fostered unity among the population in the Middle East3. The population exploited different plants and animals on the environments with the motive of finding the best activity and animals to keep in the ecological conditions.
The other environmental issue addresses the patterns of the demography and land use thus helping in the process of elucidating the long-term trajectories of the Middle East history based on the environment3. The increase in the human populations has had a negative impact on the environment in the Middle East. Human population encroachment into the forest and other natural ecosystems deplete the trees and vegetation that supports the climatic conditions of the region. The ecological and the protracted recovery is a recurring pattern in the region; the aridity has left the population and the environment to be vulnerable to the changes in the global and local climate. An example of the pastoralist drawn in by the intense cold is the IbnKhaldun who trace their history to climatic fluctuation in the Middle East3.
The ecological disruption could often lead to the migrations of the population from the rural or countryside to the urban areas. The measures of the patterns are attributed to the historians and climatologists use of historical documents and tree rings where it is evident that the region has experienced episodes of variable and extreme climatic conditions. The movement affected the balance between the producers, which is the people from the countryside with the consumers that are the people from the urban areas. As a result of the interaction between the populations, there was a spread of epidemic diseases and famines because of the short supply of resources like food and medicines that can be sufficient to the surging population. The pattern of the climatic fluctuations is evident in regards to the Plague of Justinian. Climatic fluctuations have influenced the spread of agriculture by shifting it to more arid regions in the Middle East2. The fluctuations lead to the rising of the first urban societies in the Nile Valley and Mesopotamia.
Climatic fluctuations patterns brought the disruption in the human ecological balance whereby through the irregular flooding patterns has discouraged the use of irrigation in agriculture forcing people to move from areas that are favorable to agricultural practices. When other parts of regions experience the drought and cold patterns the nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralists are drawn in the region whether in a gradual or sudden invasions. Movements to the urban regions decreased the agricultural outputs as those that could rely upon moved to the urban regions reducing the production in the rural areas all attributed to the changing environmental conditions. The rise in taxation and insecurity because of the migration patterns of the urban regions is the reason why there are many urban centers in the Middle East through the ancient civilization towards the industrial age.
The last issue in the Middle East environmental history is how modernization has offered a new perspective on the emergence of empires and states in the region. The modern approach to the agricultural techniques is important as it helped in the clarification and codifying the ownership of land by the promotion of investment in the agricultural practices while on the other hand enhancing of the traditional approaches in the controlling of the natural resources with the aim of stabilizing of the environmental factors. The Ottoman empire having built a complex and effective systems that supported agriculture in the fifteenth and sixteenth century it was hard to change the modern policies through modernization approaches. The imperial officials had to negotiate with the native population on the use of the land and natural resources. However, the changing environmental factors like the climatic set back the system rendering it ineffective as population chose those areas that are productive leading to the deployment of militaries from the powerful rulers of the productive lands to ease the pressure. The ecological changes fostered diversification from the lowlands agricultural practices to the uplands cultivations of the farms with the application of the new ideas and technologies in farming that were able to combat the changing climatic conditions.
The Middle East environmental history provides one of the important insights for the global historians. It helps in the study of challenges the empires and kingdoms went through in the developments and enforcements of their rule in the region. It also offers different perspectives on the social, economic and political development in the Middle East and the cause of the environmental degradation of the natural resources and insights on the oil exploration, which was an end game from the environmental factors.