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  • Writer's pictureHirokazu Kobayashi

The charm of the Middle East: Climate change and human history!

Updated: Jul 5

Hirokazu Kobayashi

CEO, Green Insight Japan, Inc.

Professor Emeritus and Visiting Professor, University of Shizuoka


The Israeli-Netanyahu government's attacks on the Gaza Strip, which began on October 7, 2023, have resulted in widespread civilian casualties and global condemnation. This region, so prone to conflict, has a rich historical significance. Until 2,000 years ago, the Middle East was a fertile, green land, a testament to its resilience. The Mesopotamian civilization flourished around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from about 6000 B.C. The Egyptian civilization grew along the Nile from about 3000 B.C. Jesus Christ (c. 4 BC- c. 30 AD) was born in Nazareth (now in northern Israel), and Muhammad  (c. 570-632), the founder of Islam, was born in Mecca on the Arabian Peninsula (now Saudi Arabia). Although Saudi Arabia was already desertified, there were more oases than today. It is part of a history that dates back to the end of the Paleozoic Era (about 250 million years ago) when it was part of the reconstructed supercontinent Gondwana, which separated from Pangea. During this time, it is believed that the rich marine plankton carcasses, represented by microalgae, accumulated and formed the current petroleum reservoir. After the last glacial maximum about 20,000 years ago, the region has become fertile land, resulting in several ethnic groups vying for control of the area. The region is now arid, but global interests in oil rights are intertwined with these historical conflicts.


The possibility of an exchange between the Sumerians, who created an urban civilization in Mesopotamia, and the Jomon people of Japan has been pointed out. A clear point of contact is the introduction of Persian (now Iranian) culture to Japan via the Silk Road during the Nara period (710-794). Carpets, glassware, biwa (Japanese lute), kugo (Chinese harp), metalwork, and pottery can be seen in the Shosoin Repository at Todaiji Temple in Nara. Crude oil from the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar, accounts for 92.5% of the oil supplied to Japan (as of FY2021), which is extremely important to our daily lives. In other words, dependence on the Middle East for oil is exceptionally high. Mr. Mashiro Hitosugi (1945-2022), a philanthropist from Numazu in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan, collected donations and treated a boy, Moamad Haitham, in a Japanese hospital in 2004 after his eye was injured in a battle between U.S. and Iraqi forces. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan funded the establishment of a "children's hospital" in Fallujah, the Iraqi city where Moamad lives. From an academic point of view, I sympathized with the subsequent joint activities and became close friends with Mr. Hitosugi. This connection led me to a network of Japanese ambassadors, Japanese trading companies, and university professors in the region. This network extended to Mrs. Misao Gunji (1959-). Her writings began with "Dreams of Harum Arabia: A Desert Country I Lived in and a Glimpse of Life in the Country (1991)."


Climate change, a global crisis, has significantly impacted human history. The Earth is estimated to be 4.8 billion years old, with considerable temperature cycles over that time. We are in the "quaternary glaciation," which began about 2.6 million years ago. During this period, glacial and interglacial cycles occur about every 100,000 years. The peak of the last glacial period was about 20,000 years ago, when sea level dropped 120 meters, connecting the Japanese archipelago to the Asian continent via the Korean Peninsula and Sakhalin. This cycle, known as the "Milankovitch cycle," involves variations in the Earth's orbital eccentricity and axial tilt. Without current global warming factors, the next ice age would occur in about 80,000 years, but warming could delay it by up to 50,000 years. Despite this knowledge, inaction on global warming is unacceptable. Over centuries, global warming will significantly impact ecosystems and climate, threatening food supplies and causing extreme weather disasters. The Middle East, a region with a rich historical significance, is particularly vulnerable to these changes. With thoughtful human intervention in global warming and the development of means to better utilize water resources lying under deserts or efficient desalination technology, greenery is hoped to return to the Middle East.

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