“It is possible that the climate wars have already started. The “aridity line” is usually considered to be 200 millimeters of annual rainfall. Below that, you have desert. One could draw lines on maps of Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia that mark the boundary between desert and conventionally arable land. These are lines that may be moving as temperatures and rates of evaporation rise, causing all sorts of strife in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. As Eyal Weizman notes in The Conflict Shoreline: “Plotting the location of Western drone strikes on meteorological maps demonstrates another astounding coincidence: many of these attacks—from South Waziristan through northern Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Iraq, Gaza, and Libya—are directly on or close to the 200 millimeters aridity line.”¹
In parts of North Africa and the Middle East, modernizing states of the twentieth century tried to push back the aridity line with modern irrigation and farming techniques. This might also be a contributing cause of desertification, as some of these techniques might not be designed to last. Sometimes the expansion of modern agriculture was at the expense of low intensity desert agriculture and pastoral practices, which had endured for centuries. For example, the Bedouin people found themselves subjected to state control through displacement and concentration.
The best-known school of historical thought to take climate into account is that of Fernand Braudel. He saw climate as a long-run, mostly stable, and periodic layer to historical time—a position that clearly defines him as a European thinker. Those of us who came from the more capricious world of the Pacific Ocean’s El Niño system might not see the old climate quite that way. In any case, Braudel was a Holocene thinker, understanding climate as changing more slowly than historical time. Now the situation seems reversed, and climate may be changing faster than history.”