The Past as Prelude: Historically Informed Environmental Restoration in the Middle East

Authors: Jeffrey Allman Gritzner*, The University of Montana
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Middle East, Biogeography
Keywords: Environmental History, Cultural Ecology, Environmental Rehabilitation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Iberville, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Contemporary analysis of environmental change in Middle Eastern antiquity is complemented by a vast literature extending from the forests of Gilgamesh and exploitation of those forests by Gudea of Lagash, through Plato's observations regarding the deterioration of the eastern Mediterranean landscape, to the geographical tracts of medieval polymaths such as al-Khwarizmi and al-Biruni. As noted by Alexander von Humboldt, "civilization sets bounds to the increase of forests and the youthfulness of a civilization is proved by the existence of the woods." In the more recent past, George Perkins Marsh, Jacques de Morgan, Hans Bobek, Carl Sauer, Hermann von Wissmann, Johannes Humlum, V.A. Kovda, Karl Butzer, Clarence Glacken, Marvin Mikesell, J.V. Thirgood, Michael Williams, Ronnie Ellenblum, John Brooke, and other scholars have provided a variety of practical insights into the patterns, processes, and consequences of environmental change in the greater Middle East. It should go without saying that human activity has compromised important interactions within the Earth System. The change has cascaded through the lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere--often exceeding critical thresholds. The change is frequently abrupt, as reflected in collapsing structures of biological diversity and the disruption of hydrological and biogeochemical cycles. The urgency of pursuing prescriptive, large-scale environmental restoration cannot be overstated. Yet, historical analysis is seldom drawn upon to provide context for the formulation and implementation of projects in restoration--even though historically informed projects are particularly sustainable, scientifically sound, and socially beneficial.

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