By the Rivers of Babylon

In the Souk at Aleppo
In the Souk at Aleppo

The Rivers of Babylon

A week or so ago portions of California and adjacent Nevada were declared a federal emergency zone due to the outbreak of scores of fires. The fires were generated by a freak outbreak of lightning strikes in a time of hot temperatures following an epic dry Spring. I myself celebrated the 4th of July Holidays under a pall of smoke from the Goleta Fire above Santa Barbara. The governor and State have concluded that there is no longer a fire season in California – the fire season extends across the entire year. Water districts in the State scramble to implement drought strategies and just as every Spring and Summer from 2001 onward has done, the North American Drought Monitor maps depict much of California and the interior west in shades of yellow, brown and red – the colors of moderate to extreme drought. The splash of colors across the drought map is the signature of the Perfect Drought – extensive in geographic area and long duration (see I believe it is also the signature of global warming. Some believe it is no longer simply a discrete drought we face – it is a new state of being for the west., a state of perpetual aridity.

While California burns, it may seem odd that I am writing this first blog from the city of Aleppo in northern Syria – a half a world away from the drought and fires of California where I live and do much of my research. But, here I am – close to the waters of Babylon for a reason. Over the next year, thanks to a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, I am going to travel and conduct research on the global implications of the many Perfect Droughts we are hatching as the planet continues to warm-up. Syria is the start and a fitting one at that. Syria, Mesopotamia, the Fertile Crescent, hearths of agriculture, urban civilization, religions and an arid region whose human history is entwined with issues of drought.

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