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Is Global Warming Responsible for the 'Arab Spring'?

In a groundbreaking article titled “The Other Arab Spring” published in the New York Times on April 8, 2012, bestselling author Thomas Friedman set forth a new and remarkable explanation for violent unrest in the Arab world: global warming.

“Isn’t it interesting that the Arab awakening began in Tunisia with a fruit vendor who was harassed by police for not having a permit to sell food,” the sage writes, “just at the moment when food prices hit record highs? And that it began in Syria with farmers in the southern village of Dara’a, who were demanding the right to buy and sell land near the border, without having to get permission from corrupt security officials? And that it was spurred on in Yemen -- the first country in the world expected to run out of water -- by a list of grievances against an incompetent government, among the biggest of which was that top government officials were digging water wells in their backyards at a time when the government was supposed to be preventing such water wildcatting?


All these tensions over land, water, and food are telling us something: The Arab awakening was driven not only by political and economic stresses, but less visibly, by environmental, population, and climate stresses as well.


[W]e should all remember that quote attributed to Leon Trotsky: ‘You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.’ Well, you may not be interested in climate change, but climate change is interested in you.


We and the Arabs need to figure out -- and fast -- more ways to partner to mitigate the environmental threats.


Twenty years from now, this could be all that we’re talking about.

Now a candid reader might be excused for viewing Friedman’s examples of ordinary Arabs becoming enraged by police harassment or corrupt officials as evidence of a problem with Middle Eastern governance, rather than climate. Furthermore, to the extent they involve climate change at all, the cases of wells running dry cited above and elsewhere in Friedman’s article would be better taken as evidence of global cooling rather than global warming, since a warming planet would experience more net rainfall, rather than less. This could make Friedman’s case appear absurd.

But Thomas Friedman is a national asset, being one of the few genuine experts on everything available to the media, and it would be a shame for him to be publicly humiliated simply as a result of an inadvertent omission of such evidence as might serve to adequately defend his thesis. Indeed, in law, it is the obligation of every prosecutor to make available to the defense all evidence that might exonerate their client, regardless of how vile he may be, and that being the case, such courtesy must necessarily extend to Friedman as well.  Therefore, in view of this excellent and charitable tradition, I took the liberty to assemble three top-notch witnesses to provide testimony on Mr. Friedman’s behalf.

My first witness was a leading political climatologist (PC). We met in his spacious office on the 9th floor of the new Albert Gore Institute for Political Climatology located at 300 E Street SW, Washington, D.C. I had been to these same offices before, when they housed the NASA administrator, and it was interesting to observe the change of décor. Instead of a mural depicting astronauts exploring Mars, there was now a beautifully rendered wall-sized painting of the Earth with its polar ice caps on fire. The text of our interview follows verbatim.

RZ: Sir, thank you for agreeing to discuss the Friedman thesis with me. Do you agree that global warming is the cause of the unrest we are seeing in the Arab world today?

PC: Yes, certainly. The geopolitical effects of global warming cannot be overstated.

RZ: So then what support can you provide to back up Mr. Friedman’s contention that the Arab Spring was caused by global warming?

PC: I think it is rather obvious. The Arab Spring occurred during the spring, precisely the time of year when the Northern hemisphere, within which all Arab nations, without exception, are located, warms most rapidly. Let the deniers try to contradict that. The case is closed.

RZ: But spring has occurred every year, for all of recorded history. Why would it set off revolutions in 2011, but not before?

PC: Again, the answer is clear. Spring does occur every year, and the Arab masses were able to bear it scores, even hundreds of times. Indeed, it speaks volumes for their patience and moderation that they were able to endure so many repetitions of this harsh phenomenon without any response. But one cannot expect even the most stoic of peoples to forbear answering such insults forever. The warm front that moved in during the spring of 2011 was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.

RZ: Insults?

PC: Yes. In addition to being objectively harmful, global warming is particularly distressing to the Arab peoples because it reminds them of the Crusades, which occurred at a time when the Earth’s climate was significantly warmer than it is today.  By the way, I hope you will not mention the latter fact to members of the ignorant public, as it might serve to dissipate their willingness to support strong measures to counter global warming.

RZ: Of course. [Dear readers: Please respect PC’s request and do not spread knowledge of the Medieval warm period, when global temperatures were about 2 degrees centigrade warmer than today.]

PC: And of course the original great Islamic conquests took place during the cold period that followed the fall of the Roman Empire, the time we call the Dark Ages. So naturally they remember cold climates fondly. But shortly after the Muslims arrived, the fertile farmlands of North Africa, which had served as a breadbasket for the Roman Empire, all turned into blazing desert. So I’m sure you can see how upset they must be at the prospect of global warming.

RZ: But I thought you said that occurred during a period of global cooling.

PC: Please don’t confuse the issue. Deserts are hot. Deserts are bad. Therefore hot is bad. That’s all people need to know. Yes, it is true that global cooling decreases rainfall. But if you let people know that, they will come to the conclusion that global warming is good, which completely undermines the entire purpose of the exercise. We’re not trying to get people to feel good. We’re trying to get them to take action.

RZ: I see.

PC: In any case, the desertification of North Africa can easily be accounted for by political climatology, simply by observing that while the actual global temperature may have been quite low during the period of the Islamic conquests, its rate of change, that is to say its first derivative, was strongly positive.  In fact, in nearly all cases, a strong correlation between desertification and either global temperature or its first or second derivatives can readily be found. This provides a much more useful explanation than such ad hoc theories as blaming the destruction of North African and Mesopotamian agriculture on the Arab conquerors, which, in addition to being politically incorrect, provide no useful information to underscore the imperative for climate action today.  But admittedly, discussions of first and second temperature derivatives may be a bit too cerebral for today’s lawmakers, so it’s best we keep things simple. Deserts are hot. Deserts are bad. Therefore activities that contribute to warming are bad and require constraint. Lay it out that way and you can’t miss.

RZ: I understand. Well, thank you for your time.

My next witness was a noted Salafist Scholar (SS). Here is our interview, which took place in his study within the Islamic institute built appropriately atop the ruins of the former Library of Alexandria.

RZ: So sir, do you think that global warming is the underlying cause of Arab anger against the West?

SS: Yes, absolutely.

RZ: But what about the Koran’s Verse of the Sword?  Sura 9:5 says “Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them.” That would appear to be an incitement to hatred and violence.

SS: Nothing could be further from the truth. Jihad is an effort of inner struggle. When the holy Koran calls upon us to “kill the unbelievers,” it is simply urging us to seek out and defeat that part of ourselves which refuses to believe in Allah’s command to love. When it says “wherever you find them,” it is making clear that such love must apply everywhere to everyone. So that far from urging hatred, violence, or war, Sura 9:5 requires all Muslims to engage in universal and perpetual love.

RZ: I see. But global warming is a cause for anger?

SS: Yes, because it is the work of the Jews and the Crusaders, pigs and dogs, the despicable enemies of Allah. They must all be killed.

RZ: But I thought you said…

SS: Look at their crimes, O ye people! Look upon the Crusaders, whose unholy factories and cursed camelless carts even now spew forth the smoke that threatens to destroy all that Allah has created! Look upon the Jews, whose evil medicines are allowing the infidels to multiply their numbers, so that their destruction may multiply as well!  Shall such as these be suffered to live? O ye people, harken to your prophet, peace be unto him, pick up your swords, and as it is written, kill the unbelievers wherever you find them!

RZ: But that was written during a period of global cooling.

SS: A foolish lie of the unbelieving philosophers! Unbelievers can only speak foolishness and lies!

RZ: Even Thomas Friedman? He agrees with you on the West’s guilt for global warming, and calls for removing all Jews from most of Palestine.

SS: O you of false faith! Unbelievers may not speak truth, but Allah can do anything. It is Allah who allows the fish to breath beneath the water and the birds to fly through the air. It is Allah who has created the Earth, the Sun, the stars, and all the seven heavens. It is written: Allah is omnipotent. Can we then dare to imagine that it might be beyond his power to make Thomas Friedman write something that is wise?

At this point a shadow of doubt crossed the scholar’s face and he began to shake uncontrollably.

SS: Infidel!  Your clever disputations shall avail you naught! I will show you how we deal with those who seek to undermine faith in Allah. Where’s my sword?

As the scholar entered his closet to rummage among the extensive collection of refuse there, I checked my watch and noticed that I was running late for my plane. So, being too polite to interrupt the man’s passionate search, I slipped quietly from the premises.

It may be noted that while the scholar did clearly support Mr. Friedman’s position, there were a few peripheral elements of his testimony that might be latched on to by malicious skeptics seeking any excuse to dismiss his evident concern over global warming as a mere pretext. I therefore resolved to obtain definitive testimony from a more eloquent representative of the Arab people.

Thus I traveled to Dubai to meet with Prince Fareed Ibn Badri (FIB), who was kind enough to entertain me in his elegant 88-room alpine lodge overlooking one of that nation’s most fashionable indoor ski slopes. Our interview proceeded as follows.

RZ: Thank you for inviting me here. It’s quite incredible.

Prince FIB: Yes, isn’t it marvelous, all this built with funds obtained through our nature conservation efforts.

RZ: Nature conservation? I thought your emirate made its money selling oil.

Prince FIB: No, that is what we used to do, and it produced comparatively little profit. But since we have joined together with our brothers in other Arab countries and like-minded nations elsewhere in concerted action to preserve the world’s finite resources, our earnings have soared.  Truly, Allah rewards the virtuous.

RZ: Are you referring to OPEC?

Prince FIB: Yes. On my initiative, it is being renamed the Organization for Preservation of Ecological Communities. Where cap and trade has failed, we have succeeded. Indeed, the $15 per ton carbon tax being advocated by Western environmentalists would only raise oil prices $7 per barrel. We have achieved ten times that.

RZ: So the purpose of OPEC oil price rigging is actually to conserve resources and prevent global warming?

Prince FIB: Of course. Why else would we do it?

RZ: I’m sorry. I didn’t realize your motives were so altruistic.

Prince FIB: Indeed. And you should realize that by increasing oil prices we are not merely taking proper responsibility for conserving our oil. We are also saving all other countries from exhausting their own resources or adding to global warming through excessive economic growth.

RZ: But aren’t you concerned that by raising the price of oil you will encourage expanded drilling in the United States?

Prince FIB: That would indeed be a concern if the United States were a free market where any business could do whatever they want. But fortunately it has all been put under government control, so all we need to do is provide appropriate gifts to those in power, their advisors, or advisory institutes to insure that agreeable policies are implemented.

RZ: But politicians also need to respond to public opinion.

Prince FIB: To some extent, that is so. That is why we provide generous funding to Glover Park.

RZ: Glover Park?

Prince FIB: Are you not familiar with them? They are a public relations company, first rate, top of the line. They are the ones responsible for conducting your former vice president’s worldwide campaign against global warming. An excellent job, don’t you agree?

RZ: Certainly. And you fund them?

Prince FIB: Naturally. We always reward those who have earned our gratitude. If you don’t believe me, you may check with the official foreign agent listings published by your own Department of Justice.

RZ: That’s odd. I read the New York Times every day, cover to cover, and I never heard about that.

Prince FIB: Truly, it is a wise reader of the New York Times who knows anything.

RZ: But Thomas Friedman?

Prince FIB: An excellent man. Truly, a very useful man. It is my fondest wish that everyone should listen to Thomas Friedman.

So there you have it, friends. The Friedman thesis has been confirmed by leading scientists, Islamic scholars, and royalty. There can be no further room for doubt. Global warming is upsetting the Arabs, and only by taking firm action to reduce our national environmental footprint will we ever make them happy. Those seeking appreciation from such quarters should take note, and act accordingly.