Ecological extinction is the biggest threat facing MENACA today

MENACA (Middle Eastern, North African, Central Asian) politics has concerned itself with relatively trivial affairs such sectarian grievances, power-grabs and 20th century debates about the role of state and religion. Underneath the mess that is MENACA, a far greater threat looms over the horizon. It is not tyranny - an age-old symptom of human civilisation - but the looming catastrophic failure of life as we know it. Fewer regions are suffering more from the effects of climate change than MENACA. It is churning out millions of refugees fleeing not only war but impoverishment - and part of this is due to desertification which has made basic economic activity impossible. Water is the source of life, and some of us have forgotten this after being blinded by the glittering metropolises being raised in the desert.

Significant factors that created the environment for the Arab Spring included a combination of incompetent governance, continued ecological mismanagement and a soaring population with fewer jobs, less living space and less food. The Euphrates is drying up as the Biblical lush lands of Iraq are rapidly turning to dust, and no amount of “nation-building” or democracy is going to negate the fact that Iraq will soon be uninhabitable. Egypt has added another ten million people to its (now hundred-million strong) population since 2010 and this is shaping up to be a potentially biblical catastrophe as the Nile, already stretched well beyond capacity, faces restrictions due to Ethiopian dam-building and a historic loss of water. Geopolitical conflict in MENACA is largely driven by a sense of impending doom as arable land is retreating on all sides and water resources become scarce. Imperial visions of the near abroad are driven less by glory and more by fear of a future irreparably damaged by climate change.

Is there a solution? Can we avoid war with each other and actually work on recovering land lost to the sands’ relentless war against arable civilisation? What if there is a way out of the zero-sum politics that climate change is inducing? We have seen growing calls for engagement with nature; to dominate it as industrial modernity has called for is to fail, but to seek to exclude ourselves from it is also as futile an endeavour. The solution to this may well be geoengineering - a deliberate and large-scale human intervention in the environment that covers projects from irrigation to creating new seas. Make MENACA Green Again, anyone?

In early 2019, Palladium Magazine published an excellent article on geoengineering which went in-depth on how we can use natural phenomena to help mitigate the negative effects of climate change. Palladium's Editor-in-Chief Wolf Tivy had an expansive interview with Climate Change Leicester in May this year, seeking to bridge the divide between hard science and a wider philosophy of life. It serves as an inspiration to proactively approach climate change without the doom-mongering traditionally associated by those sounding the alarm on climate change. It also helps us to imagine ourselves not as reckless industrialists but as stewards tending to the garden of Earth.

Efforts at geoengineering: from farms to desert lakes

There have been several efforts in the MENACA region to counter climate change. One such project is the Al-Baydha initiative in Saudi Arabia that aims to reverse desertification in a region just south of Makkah. Another such project was conducted in the Wadi Rum region of Jordan. The results in these projects have been extremely promising, and there needs to be more interested in the irrigation of historically-productive land that has fallen into disuse due to mismanagement: the Euphrates, the Nile, the Amu and Syr Darya and others. Yet these remain small scale attempts at geoengineering. What if we think bigger and bring to bear the vast technological power and material resources we have at our disposal to work on large-scale geoengineering projects?

A company operating in Tunisia has proposed digging tunnels connecting the various salt flats dispersed across central Tunisia and Algeria so that the Mediterrenean Sea can fill it up. The benefits would be quite clear: hitherto in-land regions with high poverty rates would have trade routes to the Mediterranean Sea and then the world, connecting an inner Algerian or Tunisian farmer to world markets in Shanghai and London. The ecological effects are less certain, but no less promising. Large bodies of water cutting through central Tunisia and into the Algerian desert would form a barrier against the Sahara, with an endless supply of water coming in from the sea that would then have effects on evaporation, water retention in the atmosphere, and a long-term shift in the environment around these new bodies of water that can sustain life.

There has been recurrent interest in the blowing up of land from the Mediterranean to the Qattara depression, a region well below sea level in western Egypt, so that the Mediterranean can fill it up and create an in-land sea in much the same manner as the project in Tunisia above. Its benefits would also be similar: a large body of water would have a cooling effect on the climate with more water in the atmosphere and more rain, trade, fishing and agriculture opportunities would open up, settlements can expand westwards from the packed Nile Delta and there is also the strong possibility of generating significant amounts of renewable hydroelectric power.

The Aral Sea was once the world’s fourth largest lake. The Soviet Union began large-scale plans to divert water from the sea to irrigate land in the desert for cash crops. The cash crops never materialised, and instead we got ecological collapse and the near-extinction of the Aral Sea. This is an example of engineering that sought to exploit nature, not work with it to make the Earth greener. The Kazakhstani government is one of the few Muslim governments that have portrayed a distinctly Governance Futurist ethos in their approach to governance, and this has been applied in their efforts in reviving the Aral Sea which is seeing positive results, although there is clearly a long way to go.

These and other plans that have been floated by adventurers and engineers over the past few centuries. However, we lacked the means to contemplate such large-scale projects and investment - until today. Inventors like Elon Musk are pushing the boundaries of the probable and have shown a willingness to defy expectations and criticism while committing huge amounts of resources - and their lives - to "crazy" causes.

If MENACA is to survive, it will need MENACA-native people who think about matters on a complex scale and work towards solving them. The future of human civilisation in these regions may well depend on geoengineering crazies with ambitious plans to reshape the surface of the Earth.