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The Deep History of the Middle Eastern Environment, 1500 BCE – 1500 CE (April 27, 2005)

"The Middle Eastern environment was profoundly transformed by the action of humans from the earliest times. Agriculture originated in the Middle East, the first cities and the first states arose there, and metallurgy and the systematic use of biomass energy began there as well. Although often not noted by historians, these developments had major long-term environmental consequences, including deforestation and land degradation (especially erosion, siltation and salination). However, against the grain of the declensionists, for whom the Middle Eastern environment has been declining for the past three and a half millennia, we can now see that these consequences were neither irreversible, nor were they inevitable. The decline of the Middle Eastern agriculture was not the unavoidable result of environmental conditions. Though its fate emphasizes that nature and society are one system, there is no need for ecological reductionism. The environment itself is shaped by long-term historical processes. Neither the huge canal systems in the Tigris/Euphrates valley nor the artificial oases in the deserts and plateaus are necessary for human survival. Rulers made choices. The environmental costs, as always, were at the expense of later generations."

Author(s):  Burke, Edmund, III
Format:  Article
Publisher:  University of California eScholarship Repository
Series:  UC World History Workshop. Essays and Positions from the World History Workshop. Paper 3