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Learning to Love Deserts

A satellite image showing the Wadi Rum desert and irrigated farmland in Jordan. (Image credit: NASA)

Editor’s Note: This is a bit different than our usual posts analyzing the latest government policies and emerging risks. But as the 15th UN Conference on Desertification begins this week, we thought it was an important reminder of the beauty and importance of one of the geographies we often examine through a climate security lens. 

By Peter Schwartzstein

I used to hate deserts. They scorch in the day and then chill at night. They can infuriate in ways few other landscapes do, that pesky sand sneaking into every book, bag, and electronic cranny. Most importantly (to me), it can be hard to disassociate these thirsty, hostile-looking expanses from death and disaster. Through years of environmental reporting in mostly arid or semi-arid parts of the Middle East and Africa, I thought I’d seen far too many desert dwellers struggle with the harshness of their surroundings to perceive these places as anything other than unpleasant sufferfests– particularly as climate change makes them that bit hotter and thirstier. What is there to like about environments that appear almost calculated to pitch their inhabitants against one another?

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