Democracy is the Only Way of Governance to Save Iran’s Environment
For over 40 years of bad governance, the Iranian regime has caused extensive environmental damage, driven many distinct species to extinction, and suppressed its citizens. Is it too late to preserve and secure our nation's beauty for future generations of Iranians to enjoy freedom?
Diverse habitats of Iran
Located in West Asia, spectacular Iran borders the Caspian Sea in the North and the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman in the South. Despite the nation’s arid and semi-arid climate, the highly variable landscape of each region exists within Iran, leading to the development of numerous indigenous and endemic plants and animals; Asiatic cheetahs, Balochistan black bears, Persian fallow deer, and Persian oaks are among these unique species.
Despite its hot and dry climate, Iran also has a wide range of surface water resources. For example, Iran has 24 internationally recognized and protected wetlands. Iran also has many distinct forests, such as the Hyrcanian and Zagros Forests, that provide significant ecological services both locally and globally.
Extinction and destruction
However, like many other countries, Iran has witnessed a rapid decline in biodiversity due to the massive loss of natural habitats and environmental degradation. With about 100 species of the country's vertebrate fauna classified as vulnerable or endangered, Iran's biodiversity is in great danger. Indigenous species like the Caspian tiger and the Persian lion have already gone extinct. The country’s water is running dry, and its disappearing forests pose major environmental challenges.
This environmental damage has been exacerbated by rising population and human activity, including agriculture, poaching, and economic sanctions. Climate change is increasing the occurrence of drought in the region, and desertification has become a major threat in Iran.
Iran also suffers from extremely poor air quality in its cities and is a major contributor of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The poor air quality is due to the country's reliance on fossil fuels for energy and its poorly maintained and inefficient infrastructure. Today Iran uses more natural gas than China, despite a population that is 15 times smaller but keeps cutting winter gas supplies to regional cities as it cannot supply their needs. Iranians must survive temperatures as low as -20˚C without heating.
But as this article will show, there is no reason for any of this to happen if the government managed its natural resources properly.
Just imagine if we could have a democracy that could save it all!
A Free democratic Iran!
The Iranian people have been striving for democracy for well over a century. For the past 43 years since the overthrow of the Shah, Iranians have been oppressed by a dictatorship known as the "Islamic Republic," a theocracy that controls all aspects of people's lives.
In the absence of democratic structures and institutions in Iran and the Islamic regime’s economic isolation from global markets, the country has experienced an unprecedented rate of environmental degradation.
The unsustainable development mindset and the drive for food self-sufficiency for political gains have caused the over-abstraction of groundwater resources, drying of surface water resources, destruction of ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity. Such mindset and lack of governance have affected the health, economic, and social aspects of every citizen’s life in Iran.
Democracy protects human rights and the rule of law, which would allow environmental protection to be enacted and enforced. If Iran’s history has taught us anything, it is that there is no stability of protection for individuals tasked with helping and protecting the environment. For example, Dr Kaveh Madani returned to Iran as the Deputy Head of the Department of Environment in an attempt to help save Iran’s precious environment. Unfortunately, he had to flee after a short-lived stint to save his own life. In another instance, world-leading conservation experts who worked for Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation were falsely charged with espionage, received a sham trial, and were tortured and imprisoned. Kavous Seyed-Emami, the Iranian-Canadian conservationist and one of the founding members, died in prison, and the rest still languish in prison with no hope of reprieve.
Healing our precious country
To heal and revive Iran’s environment, democracy must be born and protected. Research shows that associated freedoms in a democracy enable the conduit through which agents can exercise their preferences for environmental quality more effectively than under an autocratic regime. This results in improved environmental conditions, better air quality, reduced levels of pollution, and reduced carbon emissions.
In a free and democratic Iran, the state of water bankruptcy could be managed through a fundamental change in water governance. This includes measures such as modification of crop types and regulation of crop patterns nationwide - to ensure the most effective and efficient use of water to produce essential food. The planned unsustainable mega-dam construction, desalination plants, and water transfer projects would all be halted.
With the lifting of sanctions, the country would no longer be attempting to be self-sufficient in food. The pressure on water resources can be lifted, and over time, the underground water resources can be recharged through effective transboundary groundwater management. In simple terms, Iran would grow and export crops that are suited to its climate, and in exchange, they can import water-intensive crops grown elsewhere in the world rather than grow them in an unsustainable manner in Iran.
Under the theocratic government, unemployment is a huge issue - especially as no support from the government has an attitude of work or die. Investing and creating jobs in other sectors, such as services and ecotourism, may shift the focus to preserving and protecting wetlands and other ecosystems, ultimately enriching Iran’s environment and reversing some of the existing damages. Moreover, a democratic Iran could export goods and raw materials and bring in money and investment, creating more jobs and resources to support those citizens who initially could not find employment.
In a democracy where clean water and air are considered basic human rights, sufficient funds and a budget could be allocated to improve air and water quality. Consumption and demands for energy could be reduced by advancing the energy distribution system, enhancing the public transport quality, and constructing proper isolation in buildings.
In a free Iran, where the country is no longer economically and politically isolated, Iran could be a part of international climate negotiations and benefit from global funds and collaboration for investments in green energy like solar and wind. It can also modernize its infrastructure and technology, ensuring it contributes to reducing global carbon emissions as soon as possible.
In a democratic Iran where democracy is grounded in justice, the rule of law, and the protection of the people, civil society can mobilize decision-makers to take necessary action in protecting biodiversity and living within the environmental planetary boundaries. The participatory and inclusive notion of democracy allows everyone, including marginalized populations most affected by environmental degradation, to get involved in the environmental policy-making process. Given that local people typically have excellent place-based knowledge of biodiversity and its conservation, greater inclusivity of these groups can enable an environment for local participation is critical. This is especially important in natural resource management because the sustainable use of these resources is frequently linked to local people's participation in decision-making.
The only way forward
Democracy is the only way forward for Iran. After years of neglect, it is time for the people of Iran to take control of their beautiful country and look after the unique species, habitats, and, of course, all of the people. Managing Iran’s precious water and promoting appropriate farming will positively impact the productivity and wealth of rural communities. Lifting sanctions and rejoining the global economic system will allow money and investments to flow back into the country. International support for conservation combined with sensitive and appropriate ecotourism would help save the most endangered species. Democracy provides social and environmental justice - which can never be separated. Iran is now in a new transition phase, and the revolution of “woman, life, freedom” must win if we are to save our precious beautiful, diverse environment for future generations of Iranians. _________ Shooka Bidarian is Manoto TV’s Environment Correspondent and TV Presenter - Climate Reality Leader, and Mentor.