A leading professor of anthropology and sociology at Tel Aviv University (TAU) has bad news for the Middle East in the coming years that involves reduced food production, global warming and political stability. But Israel could be an island of hope, and if the countries pull together and focus on challenges rather than terror and war, the situation could improve.
Prof. Dan Rabinowitz of TAU’s Gordon Faculty of Social Science writes in a new research book published by
Stanford University Press entitled The Power of Deserts: Climate Change, the Middle East and the Promise of
a Post-Oil Era that the region is in for trouble. He is a known advocate of the multi- and interdisciplinary approach
of environmental studies and has held various positions in its academic council since the school was established.
Shrinking agricultural outputs, he predicts, will force millions to leave rural hinterlands and seek refuge in cities which are ill-equipped and often unwilling to absorb them, he writes. In addition, global warming that harms the environment will continue to promote friction and instability among ethnic groups and trigger conflict in the Middle East. He argues that the region – already hotter and dryer than most parts – could soon see worsening water shortages, decreased agricultural productivity, large-scale displacement and conflict as a result of a deteriorating climate.
“The tragic cases of Sudan and Syria,” wrote Rabinowitz, “demonstrated what could happen when shrinking agricultural outputs force millions to leave rural hinterlands and seek refuge in cities which are ill-equipped and often unwilling to absorb them. Global warming could turn such scenarios to a new normal in the Middle East.”
In a chapter dedicated to climate inequality, the book demonstrates that wealthier and more technologically advanced countries in the region like Israel, which are responsible for higher per-capita emissions of greenhouse gases, have the means to adapt to the post-normal climate condition and protect themselves from its perils. At the same time, he predicts, poorer neighboring countries whose contributions to the climate crisis has been significantly smaller stand to suffer most.
‘The Power of Deserts’ however offers more than somber warnings. Its latter part in fact raises the surprising, counterintuitive notion that the Middle East could eventually become part of the solution to the climate crisis. Using his deep knowledge of the region and an ability to present scientific data with clarity and poise that has made him a leading Israeli voice on climate change, Rabinowitz makes a sober yet surprisingly optimistic exploration of an opportunity arising from a looming crisis.
“The past 70 years, he says, in which oil reigned supreme, helped the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf accumulate legendary wealth. But with renewable sources of energy now eclipsing fossil fuels in transport and in electricity production everywhere, the age of oil is coming to an end,” said Rabinowitz. “Add a disconcerting climate prognosis, and the oil rich countries in the Middle East now look at a precarious future. The need to calculate a different pathway going forward has become imperative.”
Their best bet, Rabinowitz argues, could be exploiting solar energy. With more than 300 sunny days a year, abundant unproductive land, good capital reserves available for investment and a good track record of integrating new technologies in civil infrastructure, the Gulf states could drastically expand their use of solar energy for their domestic electricity production; invest heavily in renewable technologies and capacities around the world; then, at the right moment, turn their backs on oil and natural gas completely and, using their market power in the energy market ante, carve themselves a leading role in the energy universe of the future.
“Rather than resisting the energy transition, which was underway even before Covid-19 and was accelerated since, the Gulf States could switch to the “right” side of history, join the struggle to curb climate change and gain respect in the eyes of many who once looked at them with suspicion and contempt. “Significantly, this transformation on their part does not hinge on an ideological rebirth and the adoption of a ‘green’ outlook. It could transpire as a rare historical junction where self-preservation on the part of some works to the benefit of many others,” he stated.
He earned his doctorate in social anthropology from Cambridge University, and is renown in both academic and
public circles. He had published dozens of academic articles and his 12 books were printed by highly respected
publishers (such as Cambridge University Press, California Berkeley University, Ashgate London and more). He wrote
the first comprehensive book in Hebrew about global warming, and a groundbreaking book about the Cross-Israel Highway.
Between 1997 and 2000, he served as chairman of the Israeli Anthropological Association.
Rabinowitz is also a popular lecturer and was awarded the Rector Award for Excellence in Teaching. In addition to his
academic work, he is actively involved in third-sector organizations and maintains extensive contacts with environmental
NGOs in Israel and around the world. He was head of TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Studies and chairman of Greenpeace Mediterranean. He received the Pratt Prize for Environmental Journalism (2012) and the Green Globe award for environmental leadership (2016).
Rabinowitz has a prominent public profile and media presence, appearing as a frequent guest on television and radio programs
and writing hundreds of op-eds in Israeli newspapers. He is also a regular speaker in central conferences addressing environmental
issues in Israel. In 2010, he was awarded the Pratt Foundation Award for a unique contribution to the media coverage of environmental issues in Israel.