The Hot Century Through Middle-Eastern Eyes

Global warming is just one aspect of a much larger ecological crisis that is already raging in the Middle East. Critically adopting ecology as a response to this crisis is an opportunity for a larger project of Islamo-Christian cooperation.

Will theological reform come first in the Middle East, or political reform? What counts more, authoritarian modernization or bottom-up social change? Can Islamist movements be fully integrated into the democratic fold? I heard these questions for the first time 20 years ago when I started to study Arabic, and I still hear the same questions today. However, there is a phenomenon that could make them obsolete—in their current formulation at least. This phenomenon is precisely that ecological crisis already playing itself out in the Middle East.

Part I: The Destruction of the Middle Eastern Environment

The Ecological Crisis

The ecological crisis is a broader concept than the global warming that hits the headlines. It refers to the destruction of the natural environment owing to overexploitation, poor management, irresponsible behaviors, wars, and conflicts. The irresponsible consumption of water resources, desertification, uncontrolled building, and waste mismanagement are some of its most common manifestations.

Global warming, as a fact observed by scientists, is an aspect of this ecological crisis. It is composed of a natural component linked to variations in the climate and a component resulting from human activity, which is now widely believed to have become predominant in the equation.[1] What still proves difficult is to offer reliable forecasts on its long-term effects: how much will global temperature increase and with what consequences? How much will the sea levels rise? Paradoxically, isolating global warming from the wider ecological crisis could have distortive effects. For example, if all the (necessarily finite) resources are concentrated on modernizing the industrial apparatus of advanced economies while forgetting other problems affecting less developed countries.

The first point I would like to make is indeed very simple: even if, belying all forecasting models, global warming were to suddenly come to a halt,

  1. the Middle East is already at an ecological tipping point, and
  2.  this cannot but have enormous effects on Western, especially European, societies.

Personally, I started to become aware of the seriousness of the phenomenon in 2008, during a summer stay in Damascus. I stayed for over one month while working on a text by the medieval thinker al-Maʿarrī (973-1057). While approaching the Syrian capital, the words of the traveler Ibn Jubayr (1145-1217) were echoing in my head:

Yes, Damascus is the paradise of the Orient, the place from where its splendid light arises . . . Gardens surround the city as a halo surrounds the moon, they look like petals around a flower. To the East the green Ghouta extends as far as the eye can see and no matter which direction one looks, the splendor of its ripe fruits transfixes the gaze. How true is what they said of Damascus: “If paradise is on the earth, Damascus is it. And if it has to be in heaven, Damascus rivals with it down here.”

What I found was very different, yet. The Baradā river, which Naaman the Syrian had proclaimed to be “better than any river in Israel” (2 Kings 5:12), was now a foul-smelling trickle; the oasis was completely swallowed up by concrete; there were constant water supply problems. And it is not hard to imagine that eight years of war have further exacerbated the emergency.

One could still read the traces of the old environment in the city monuments, the mosaics of the Umayyad Mosque above all with their flower and vegetal designs, but they were decontextualized from the landscape in which they had been conceived. I experienced the same heartrending feeling in Isfahan, sometime later. In the middle of winter, the Zayanderud River was almost completely dried up: only one pool of water remained, motionless, underneath the spectacular Khaju Bridge. Flowers, plants and gardens decorated the majolica tiles in the mosques, but like in a mannerist universe, their natural referent had disappeared. Only the symbolic simulacrum was left.

These two traumatic experiences drove me to join the many dots into a single picture: I recollected the increasingly urbanized slopes of Lebanon; the non-existent Jordan River down at the site of Jesus’s Baptism; the Dead Sea split in half; the dried-up wells of Palmyra; the palms of Erbil covered by umbrellas in summer to resist the scorching sun; and then the Syrian drought, among the causes of the 2011 revolt; the Beirut waste crisis fueled by the inflow of refugees; the wildfires in Tunisia; and outside the Middle East, Lake Chad which since 1963 has lost three quarters of its surface area. The final blow came one year ago when I returned to Egypt. My destination was the Monastery of Saint Anthony on the Red Sea. Seventeen years ago, I took a fun trip there in a van. Now the roads were in better condition—there was even a great big, pharaoh-style toll station at the entrance to the highway—and, having read about them in the press, I was even prepared for the new satellite towns stretching for miles from Cairo towards Suez. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the 50 miles of coastline from Ain Sokhna to Zaafarana. Once a desert, it had been transformed into an unbroken series of fillāt or “villas”: terraced housing built for the Cairo middle class in search of an (illusory) shelter from the summer heat. Most of the villas were incomplete and many would never be sold because the project was oversized. The environmental disaster was complete.

These first-hand snapshots may look trivial and anecdotal. Yet, similar cases to the ones above have been studied in great detail. For example, Peter Harling, founder of the Synaps Network, has devoted a bulky report on the water crisis in Iraq,[2] symbolized by Basra, the city of over 2 million inhabitants sitting just down the confluence of Tigris and Euphrates. Once the port of Sinbad the Sailor, today Basra is a helltown, where in the summer months the temperatures get up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (the record is 129). In this situation, a supply of drinking water is vital, but, as an Iraqi expert on water pollution states, “In Basra, there are not even rivers anymore: They are moving septic tanks.”[3] The government blames the crisis on neighboring Iran which, affected by drought, blocked the tributaries of the Tigris. It sucks up the water and discharges sewage into the sadly empty river beds, which then drains down from the Iranian plateau onto ancient Mesopotamia. Nevertheless, according to Harling, the greatest responsibility lies with the local people:

On a daily basis, the average Iraqi consumes 392 liters of water for domestic purposes only—almost twice the international average of 200, according to a Baghdad-based UNICEF official. That exorbitant quantity costs residents a staggeringly low $1.4 per year—assuming they even pay their bills, which is infrequent.[4]

Only 14 out of Iraq’s 152 cities possess drainage systems. In this situation “the ruling class has shown interest in nothing but scapegoating and magical thinking,”[5] such as the proposal to drag an iceberg up from the South Pole.  

In summer 2018, a cholera epidemic exploded in Basra, with 100,000 people admitted to hospital. At the same time, Iran cut off its electricity supplies, for economic reasons and as a form of political pressure. The paradoxical result was 2 million people, sitting on one of the biggest oil fields in the world, in the grip of a cholera epidemic, with no water, no electricity and therefore no air conditioning, and an outdoor temperature of 50C degrees. What is surprising is not that there was a revolt, but that it was eventually kept at bay. Thinking of extreme cases like this, it is perhaps easier to understand what I said at the beginning: for the average resident of Basra, things like the new Iraqi constitution, reform of the religious discourse, wilāyat al-faqīh etc. become irrelevant. Not that they are: in fact, the possibility of countering the disaster vitally depends on the capacity to reverse wrong policies and fight the rampant corruption. But it is difficult to keep the mind sufficiently free to realize this.

Certainly, not all the Middle Eastern states are experiencing crises such as the one that has struck Iraq or Yemen (well on its way, even before the war, to set the unenviable record of being the first country in the world to run out of water). But even where things are better, as in Morocco, a large part of the resources are used for industrial farming, which is directed towards export markets, as shown by the protests that flared up in 2017 in Zagora;[6] and the massive new solar plants do not necessarily fix all the environmental problems.[7]

A New Form of Islamic Civilization

The scope of these environmental changes is enormous. In many parts of the Middle East, the squandering of natural resources, increased anthropic pressure related to the demographic boom, and the global warming that has already happened (i.e. without counting future temperature rises) have sounded the death knoll for the classic form of Islamic civilization, based on a dialectical alternation between desert, city and cultivated areas: climatically, socially, even architecturally.

In itself, a change in shape is not necessarily negative, quite the opposite. After all, if a civilization is alive, it continually changes its face, like an organism renewing itself. This is evident, for instance, in Italian cities, with their layers of different styles and forms. However, if the new shape is the Gulf-style energy-gobbling skyscraper, enveloped in a bubble of air conditioning, from which only low-skilled migrant workers (the “slaves” to quote an attack in an old Oasis reportage)[8] come out in the summer months, then we have to ask a question: Is this model sustainable?

The effects of this form change are making themselves distinctly felt at the religious level too, even though the idea is struggling to break ground in the often repetitive studies on modernity in the Islamic world.[9] It is enough to think of the symbolic power of a Mecca Tower (properly the Abraj al-Bait), the gigantic skyscraper a stone’s throw from Islam’s most sacred site. It is the 4th tallest building in the world, part Five-Star hotel, part mall, two heliports and 96 elevators, the nearby Kaaba literally disappears next to it. You do not need to be Jacques Le Goff to understand that the clock adorning its façades—the biggest in the world—is at the very least equally devoted to God’s time and the merchant’s time.

If that is where the well-to-do parts of the Middle East are heading, benefitting from oil and gas, and resulting from “farsighted” management, then what does it mean to be born and socialized in a slum where water only arrives once a month? What difference is there between reading the Quran in a rural community, in a megalopolis, or in a Sahara town? What self-awareness can rise from having parasites in your belly and a mobile phone in your pocket? Clearly, this is not about resurrecting the old Marxist base-superstructure dialectic and its dull determinism, but about taking the anthropological polarity between body and soul seriously.

Global Warming

This, in a few brushstrokes, is the present of the ecological crisis in the Middle East. Now let us add a modest one-degree temperature rise. It is hardly anything compared to the models circulating today. Most climatologists would consider a forecast of this kind close to sheer negationism, but what does one more degree mean?

Between April 5 and April 15 1815, the Tambora volcano in present-day Indonesia was shaken by an extremely violent eruption, its summit collapsed from over 4,000 meters in height to the current 2,850. The catastrophic event is thought to have reached level 7 on the VEI (Volcanic Explosivity Index) scale, just one below the maximum, and caused an estimated drop in the global temperature of between 0.5 and 1 degree centigrade, owing to the ash scattered in the atmosphere. Among the most entertaining effects of the eruption was the birth of the character Frankenstein. The continual snowfall—1816 was called the “year without summer”—forced Mary Shelley to hole up in the house she had rented with some friends in the Swiss Alps. It is thought that the invention of the velocipede, forerunner of the bicycle, was also stimulated by the lack of draught animals resulting from the scarcity of fodder. Among the less pleasant effects was the death of around 200,000 people in Europe, a cholera epidemic throughout Asia, and an epoch-making migration from New England, which opened the way to the mass occupation of the Midwest.

Upheavals of this kind left profound traces in more ancient human history too. Nicola di Cosmo, at the Institute for Advanced Study, has been working for some years on the effects of climate variations on the nomads of the Asian steppes from an integrated perspective.[10] To quote an example, their movements in the third century caused the almost contemporary crisis of the Roman Empire and the collapse of the Chinese Han dynasty. Along the same line of research, on the basis of dendrometric and archaeological findings, climate historians now speak of a Late Antique Little Ice Age[11] between 536 and 660: probably of volcanic origin and accompanied by the famous Justinian Plague, it dealt a devastating blow to the Byzantine Empire.[12] According to an interesting hypothesis put forth by Andrey Korotayev,[13] climate cooling and the consequent drought in the late Antique age would also explain the collapse of the semi-centralized chiefdoms in Arabia and the emergence of the “light” tribal structure that provided the background to Muhammad’s preaching. Incidentally, the sudden drought could explain the numerous agricultural references in the Quran, for example in Q 16:5-15, which do not fit the current conditions of central Arabia. Obviously, in this type of studies the risk of determinism is always round the corner. It was colder and Islam came into being; or it was hotter, because it would seem that such was the climate reality, and Christianity was born. These exaggerations aside, environmental aspects are nevertheless an important component, however difficult to measure, in understanding the evolution of civilizations.

While leaving it up to the historians to investigate the Roman Empire or the Han dynasty, whose technologies can by no means be compared to our own, or the impact of the Optimum Climaticum on medieval Europe, let us reflect one moment on the events at the start of the nineteenth century. If a momentary difference of one degree in 1815, in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, was enough to prompt a genuine “subsistence crisis in the Western World”,[14] what effects would a similar change—and we are making a very generous forecast—have on regions such as the Middle East and Sahel, which are already severely strained?

The Impact on Europe

Contrary to what is commonly assumed, humankind does not like to move and people tend to remain in the place where they were born even when circumstances would suggest it better to leave. Otherwise, there would be no explanation for the persistence of cities such as Damascus or Sanaa, in sites which no longer justify their existence. And yet, there is a limit to everything: beyond a certain point, it is a question of life or death and migration becomes inevitable.

These movements are already underway. Their effects on Europe will be amplified by the demographic imbalance between the population explosion in the Middle East and Africa and the low birth rate characterizing Europe, and Italy in particular. Just one number to grasp the picture: when I first stayed in Egypt, in 2001, its population was 60 million, like Italy. Today Italy still has 60, while Egypt has 100: an impetuous growth that has frustrated all economic progress. But while the population is constantly increasing, the water of the Nile remains the same, or rather it is less, because in the meantime Ethiopia too, where the Blue Nile begins, has reached 100 million inhabitants. The net result is that in Cairo, on average, the standard of living is worse today than 30 years ago. So far there is not a sufficient potential difference to trigger a mass movement, but what would happen if just 5 million Egyptians decided to leave their country? Migrations of this proportions are a problem, and denial is no way to resolve it. Very simply, a society made up for the great majority by elderly people does not have the tools (the psychological tools first of all) to deal with it.  

Future Scenarios

The capitalist model that has prevailed all over the globe seems to require a permanently retreating frontier. Consistent with this assumption, some people are now beginning to dream of space journeys that will allow us to colonize new planets, usually Mars. In this case, nothing would have to change: humans would simply have to get used to the idea of a “planet jump” whenever the resources become scarce. However, since this scenario is highly improbable, because the ecological crisis will force us to rethink our current economic system. This, in a certain sense, is good news.

In doing so, the risk is to give into anti-modern impulses, which would be of no use in resolving the problem. Put very simply, at the current global population levels, returning to the world “before machines” would not have the utopian effect of returning to an uncontaminated environment, but would condemn us to starvation. It is clear that a good part of the problem revolves around the capacity to produce non-polluting energy.[15] On this point confusion reigns supreme. For example, the new electric-car mantra does not bring about any benefit in itself if the electricity is produced by burning coal. It just delocalizes the problem by making it worse. Rather than the current renewable energies, which are unlikely to cover all energy requirements, the long-term bet seems to be nuclear fusion. A revolution in this field would immediately make the current forms of energy obsolete. For a country like Italy, lacking raw materials—and therefore having nothing to lose—this should be an absolute priority for research.[16]

Nevertheless, the optimistic scenario of clean energy is not the only one. There is another possibility: the rate of technological innovations does not allow immediate access to new forms of energy. The economic system changes too slowly, owing to the incapacity of single individuals and states to put universal good before their own advantage and the difficulty (psychological and cognitive) of figuring out complex problems such as climate change and changing our habits while these problems still seem resolvable. Demographic growth continues beyond the available resources. Despite rising protests by climate activists, emissions are following the worst possible scenario, as it is the case by now;[17] and climate change speeding up towards an ecological apocalypse.

There are endless variations between these two scenarios and it is true that on many occasions in history, humankind has been capable of finding unexpected solutions to problems that appeared beyond reach. To go back to the “year without summer”, one of the children who suffered from the famine in Europe was a certain Justus von Liebig, and this very experience might well have led him to chemistry, where he cast the foundations for modern fertilizers, without which it would be impossible to feed today’s world population. In other words, no one can truly predict what path human civilization will take, although prudence suggests that we take very serious heed the warning coming from reality. In any case, even in a scenario of moderate warming, the strain put on resources in the Middle East or Sahel makes a future of growing tensions almost certain. The migration flows will intensify, the search for raw materials will become ruthless, the forms of civilization and socialization will change. In this context, it will be all the more necessary to act to diffuse tensions, keep a clear head, take the most suitable measures and defend the rule of law against an emergency security logic. A civic friendship between Islam and Christianity, which brings us to the second part of this argument, will be essential, to criticize the existing model’s premises, minimize its effects, rescue the victims and, above all, think of an alternative.  

Part II: Ecology as an Islamo-Christian Project

Critically Adopting Ecological Thought

More is at stake in the ecological crisis, however, than just restructuring production and consumption patterns or technological development models. In the end, this is an anthropological question, since “There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology” (Laudato Si’, §118). The nexus is compelling.

Proof of this is offered by the singular inflection that has crept into mainstream European culture owing to the ecological crisis and migrations. The Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce (1910-1989) famously denounced, at the end of his life, the rise of a “cheerful nihilism” (nichilismo gaio), which gives up the tragic dimension inherent in revolutionary movements and quietly reduces every value to its exchange value. Del Noce characterized it as “the suppression of Augustine’s inquietum cor (restless heart) and “the greatest bourgeoise outcome, in its worst possible sense”.[18] From this “cheerful nihilism,” which the fall of the Berlin Wall seemed to have consecrated forever, we have brutally passed to an angry and desperate nihilism. Many are clinging with all their might onto their part of wellbeing, in the awareness that it is not for everyone and it will not last forever. Despite notable exceptions, it looks like a fin de siècle or, if you prefer the Bible, the last days of Samaria (Amos 6:1, 4-7). Are we to call this phenomenon populism? Only if it does not become an excuse not to study it, to avoid understanding where it comes from. And it comes from a long way off.

Ultimately, this attitude seems to originate from the assumption that reality can be totally manipulated by humankind.[19] If we wanted to be consistent, the conclusion we should draw from the ecological crisis is that the whole idea of the human subject endlessly experimenting with reality is simply wrong. There are some limits, goods that are not available as commodities. In the end, the “there is no planet B” slogan means just that. In this sense, we may have to go back to the criticism of the myth of self-regulating progress criticized by Romano Guardini in The End of the Modern World. As humankind does not yet have “power over his own power,” writes Guardini in this in many ways prophetic text, “now and forever man will live at the brink of an ever-growing danger which shall leave its mark upon his entire existence”.[20]

It would indeed be desirable that the concept of limited goods be extended beyond the environment to include issues such as the beginning and end of life or genetic manipulation, also from the perspective of a critique against commodification. Nevertheless, one can harbor serious doubts as to whether many in the environmental movements will be willing to take this radical pro-life step. In fact, it would imply recognizing that the liberal version of progressive thought shares a lot more than it is willing to admit with the populist “deplorables.” At a closer look, the anthropology inspiring both movements exhibits more than one similarity, though ending in two different outcomes: on one hand withdrawing in an all-exclusive club (all-exclusive in the sense that all non-members stay outside), and, on the other hand, opening up to a celebration of endless diversities.[21]

Rather than stimulating a radical anthropological shift, one can expect ecology to be used to revive an otherwise abstract universalism, in order to connect subjects otherwise closed in self-referential circles and bring them together for a joint action and a renewed sense of community.[22] The prodromes of this attitude can be glimpsed in the movements of recent months. Although they are quite limited in scope, they nonetheless represent a healthy injection of realism compared to the “dictatorship of desire” stigmatized by Benedict XVI. “You can choose who you want to be, provided you limit your carbon footprint” is a contradictory message, but nevertheless better than “there’s no limit to experimentation”—the fancy experimentation you believe you are carrying out and the real experimentation power carries out on you and in you.

It would be naïve to hide the dark facets of this ecologist movement: the pantheism of “mother nature” that has unfortunately found more than one echo in ecclesiastic milieus too, the anti-humanist slogans such as “humans are the planet’s worst parasite,” and “the more I get to know people, the more I love animals,” and so on. In short, the necessity to politely eradicate ourselves from history. Happy depopulation is not so happy after all, and societies only made up by lonely old people, as Italy is rapidly becoming, are no better than those beset by an excessive birth rate. However, the fact that part of the environmental discourse is not endorsable, and that, like in all human realities, there exist hidden agendas and undeclared interests, is not reason enough to shrug off the whole ecological problem and proclaim it non-existent. After all, there are hidden agendas and undeclared interests also in insisting on “business as usual”.

The Points of Departure and Arrival

In the demanding task of critically adopting ecological thought, Christian reflection can find a significant support—and this is the last point I would like to make—in the dialogical interaction with the Muslim world. This can go further than just a shared social engagement as part of the practical implications of faith[23] and starting from the very concrete fact that together Christians and Muslims now make up over half of the world’s population. Starting with the civic friendship mentioned above, this reflection can also be pushed to the specifically theological level. In this process, the two categories of creation and eschatology seem particularly fruitful. Indeed, the two biggest religious communities share, both between them and with the Jews, the same vision of the beginning and the end:[24] in the beginning was the creation; at the end, judgement and eschatology. We are all well aware that the difference lies in the middle.

In the context of the ecological crisis, the category of Creation will probably have to be rethought of in an Islamic-Christian conversation, ideally conducted in dialogue with the surprising discoveries of contemporary physics.[25] In this connection, it is interesting to recover some statements by Saint John Paul II, who was by no means kind towards the extreme fringes of ecologist thought, in his Centesimus annus (§37):

Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a co-operator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.

Muslim theology says pretty much the same thing on this point.[26]

More precisely, the category of Creation proves fundamental to avoiding the overturning of ecologism into an anti-humanist movement. At the same time, the great care that the orthodox versions of Islam place on maintaining the ontological distance between God and world is a great wake-up call for Christian thought: at no time should defense of the planet take on the form of a pantheist immanentism. On this point, the intransigent monotheism of Islam, whose firmest foundation, for me as a Christian, lies in the dogma of the Trinity (however shocking that may sound!), cannot be overlooked. Watering this point down means to exit the Biblical universe.

Eschatology appears equally important. Today it has almost disappeared from Christian reflection by dismissed under the convenient garb of “literary genres.” In the average Sunday homily this theory typically boils down to the fact that Jesus, in his teaching about the final times, was held prisoner to the literary forms of his time and ended up saying the exact opposite of what he meant. In other words, the Rabbi from Galilee would have been as anti-conformist in his behavior as he was unable to innovate at the level of apocalyptic imagery. This does not sound very credible.

When eschatology disappears, its place does not remain empty, but is filled by a lowlier version of it, millenarianism, in a criminal and fanatical version, à la ISIS, or in a cheerful nihilism. Its distinctive feature is always anxiety. By contrast, faith in a personal God, simultaneously just and merciful, gives Christians and Muslims, as well as the Israel which formulated it first, the existential security which is essential to deal with the ecological crisis in a non-hysterical and non-negationist way. Thanks to God, the last word will not be ours. The letter bēt which opens the book of Genesis in the Jewish Bible is also the dwelling-place (bēt) of “God with men” (Rev 21:3) at the end of time, “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev 21:1). Without this perspective, which compares the tribulations of creation (facts and not just literary metaphors) to “the pain of childbirth” (Rom 8:22), the risk of abandoning ourselves to an apocalyptic pessimism which would paralyze our ability to act, is great and almost inevitable.[27]

Christianity, with its non-deducible faith in the God-man, is situated so to speak halfway between an immanent anthropocentrism and a theism tempted by monism. Some have singled out the formula et-et (both/and) to indicate the genius of Catholicism. All too often in the modern age this formula has been spelt as a versus/versus (neither/nor) and the narrow path of the Gospel has been defined solely by contrast. The ecological crisis could be the occasion for a paradigm shift, which may sort out all that is good in the environmentalist concern, without thereby forgoing a firm orientation toward transcendence. Both/and. We could end up with unexpected travel companions on both sides. These words from Pope Benedict XVI express it best:

We normally live with our feet on the ground and our eyes turned to Heaven. Both these things are given to us by the Lord and therefore loving human things, loving the beauties of this earth, is not only very human but also very Christian and truly Catholic. I would say . . . that this aspect is also part of a good and truly Catholic pastoral care: living in the et et; living the humanity and humanism of the human being, all the gifts which the Lord has lavished upon us and which we have developed; and at the same time, not forgetting God, because ultimately, the great light comes from God and then it is only from him that comes the light which gives joy to all these aspects of the things that exist. Therefore, I would simply like to commit myself to the great Catholic synthesis, to this et et; to be truly human. And each person, in accordance with his or her own gifts and charism, should not only love the earth and the beautiful things the Lord has given us, but also be grateful because God’s light shines on earth and bathes everything in splendor and beauty . . . Let us live catholicity joyfully.[28]

[1] Alister Doyle,“Evidence for man-made global warming hits ‘gold standard’: scientists, Reuters, February 25, 2019.

[3] Ibid., 10.

[4] Ibid., 9.

[5] Ibid., 11.

[6] Alexander Jusdanis, “The Making of a Water Crisis”, Dissent.  

[8] Riccardo Piol, “The Army of Immigrants that Go to Mass and Raise up Skyscrapers”, Oasis, 11 (2010), 81-5.

[9] Sayyed Hossein Nasr is one of the Muslim thinkers who has reflected most on the import of this change. See for example “The Contemporary Islamic World and the Environmental Crisis,” Sophia 13 (2007-2008), 13-35.

[10] Nicola Di Cosmo, “The Scientist as Antiquarian: History, Climate and the New Past”, The Institute Letter, Spring 2018.

[11] “Cooling and societal change during the Late Antique Little Age from 536 to around 660 AD”, Nature Geoscience (2016), 1-7.

[12] Kyle Harper, The Fate of Rome. Climate, Disease and the End of an Empire, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.

[13] Andrey Korotayev, Vladimir Klimenko and Dimitry Proussakov, “Origins of Islam: Political-Anthropological and Environmental Context”, Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hung. 52 (1999): 243-76.

[14] John Post, The Last Great Subsistence Crisis in the Western World (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1977).

[15] The other big issue is food, with a world population reaching 9 billion by 2050. 

[16] Among other things, nuclear fusion would give new impetus to experimental physics, bridging the gap with theoretical physics (for instance: the Higgs boson was theorized in 1964, but experimental evidence for it only came in 2012, that is, almost 50 years later, because of the extremely high energy levels needed).

[17] See Australian Academy of Science, “The Science of Climate Change. Questions and Answers,” 13.

[18] Augusto del Noce, “Lettera a Rodolfo Quadrelli”, 8 gennaio 1984.

[19] This is the intuition of Benedict XVI in his remarkable 2011 speech to the German Parliament.

[20] Romano Guardini, The End of the Modern World (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 1998), 90-1.

[21] Olivier Roy saw this very clearly, as he warned that the populist movements remain within the 1968 framework. “The populists are the offspring of 1968 who still want to enjoy life, but only among themselves. The conservative right wing in Western Europe has not been Christian for at least 30 years (Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Cameron.)” (Olivier Roy, “L’impasse du vote catholique”, This does not mean that some of the populist requests cannot be critically assumed; not at the ecological level, where a sterile negationism prevails, but in their critique of neoliberal globalization.

[22] On the dialectic between universalism and particularism, see Francesco Botturi, Universale, plurale, comune. Percorsi di filosofia sociale (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 2018).

[23] See Angelo Scola, Buone ragioni per la vita in comune, Milan: Mondadori, 2010.

[24] See Khaled al-Jaber, “Man Blemishes the Purity of Religions”, Oasis 8 (2008), pp. 43-7.

[25] For a balanced evaluation of the Islamic declaration on climate change issued in Istanbul in August 2015 see: Damian Howard, “An Islamic Declaration on Climate Change,” Thinking Faith, October 2015.

[26] It is the whole idea of man as “caliph” of God, as developed starting from Quran 2:30, and God “subjugating” nature to humankind (Quran 43:13).

[27] The keen observations of Jonathan Franzen in the essay, “What If We Stopped Pretending?,” do not fully eliminate the feeling of a forlorn surrender to the inevitable.

Featured Image: David Roberts, The Hypaethral Temple of Philae, 1838; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.


Martino Diez

Martino Diez is the Scientific Director of the Oasis International Foundation.

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