Iran’s State Of Environment Under The Clerical Regime – OpEd


Iran under the ruling Clerical Regime is facing an unprecedented environmental crisis, diminishing water resources, rapid desertification and air pollution that chokes its cities. These problems, if left unchecked, threaten not only Iran, but also the stability of the region and the globe. Environmental scientists have for years underscored the gravity of Iran’s environmental threat and the seriousness with which the Iranians are approaching it. 

Iran’s Regime is advocating very hard to proof these calamities are due to the global warming, sanctions and persistent droughts, but it has to be emphasized that all such crisis are the results of extreme mismanagement, plundering of Iran’s natural ecosystem and oppressive rules of the Clerical system. 

Environmental stability is indeed national security, more important than foreign threats or domestic issues, as it affects food security, domestic stability, and economic growth. The severity of the environmental challenges are reflected in the daily Iran’s demonstrations, uprisings and every aspects of the Iranian lives as well.

It is important to mention that Iran’s many existing environmental challenges elevate the threats to a regional and global level, especially given the volatile landscape of the region. The effects of environmental degradations in Iran have already caused internal political unrest and threaten to further inhibit the country’s economic and social wellbeing. If nothing is done,  it will certainly destabilize an already turbulent region. Unhealthy environments, toxic air, lack of water, desertification and subsidence of agricultural lands have the potential to prompt massive movements of people to find sustainable homes and livelihoods. These uprooting the direct consequence of mismanagement,  plundering of the much needed Iranians wealth, terrorism and a none responsive government to the basic needs of the population, which prompts the demands of the masses off the streets. This fact is what one is  witnessing throughout Iran these days.

Increased population, war, air pollution, unrealistic industrial and unsustainable agricultural policies, over extraction of water resources, destruction of natural resource and lack of enforcement of the existing environmental regulations have contributed to Iran’s current environmental crisis

Aquifers are being drained at its highest speed causing water resources to be diminished, which forcing farmers to leave their villages. Therefore, these migrated farmers being added to the margin of cities and towns, putting more pressure on scared resources. Air pollution has made living conditions in Iran’s cities increasingly challenging and floods or wind erosion is furthering the desertification of agricultural land, creating greater production demand on remaining arable areas. Biodiversity is under severe threat too.

Due to the above mentioned reasons rapid desertification is causing Iran to lose more than two-thirds of its agricultural lands. Air pollution is so severe in Tehran and most large cities that schools, businesses and government offices must be regularly closed because of dangerously high levels of particulate matters. Over 40,000 air pollution-related deaths are reported annually in Tehran. Tehran and other large Iranian cities are among the top ten most polluted cities of the world.

At the same time, Iran is unique among the Middle Eastern countries because of its millennial years of continuous pre-Islamic history as a nation and a country with advanced civilization. Pre-Islamic Iranian civilization included an elaborate philosophical, religious and ethical system, a sophisticated view of the world and an elaborate theory of cosmos, the creation and the place and destiny of mankind within this cosmic system. The Persian Empire was one of a kind at its rise and the only power able to withstand it.

The Islamic Revolution resulted in the fall of the Shah regime and the founding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, an authoritarian, theocratic regime, distinguished for its constitutional declarations, its structure and certain behaviors. After the Islamic Revolution  on, Iran deployed a hard-line strategy, pushed the relations with the United States at the edge of the razor, demonstrated isolationism and introversion and sought its own path in the Middle East.

Given the deep mistrust to both foreign powers and Iranians equal, Iran’s Clerical Regime has grown to severely rely on the support of the intelligence, security, and military apparatus far more than anything else. One person, Supreme Leader is commander in chief, has a private oppressive apparatus, the Revolutionary Guard Corps. He consistently handpicks the most loyal individual of the organization as senior commands and shuffles them regularly around; he also oversee huge financial, economic and business institutions “Bonyads”. He also has patroned the Guards’ rapid rise to become Iran’s most powerful political and economic institution.

All together the Iran’s governing system is an authoritarianism and totalitarianism, which is principle of blind submission to authority, as opposed to individual freedom of thoughts and actions. Authoritarianism government denotes a political system that concentrates power in the hands of a leader or a small elite that is not constitutionally responsible to the body of the people. Authoritarian leaders often exercise power arbitrarily and without regard to existing bodies of law and they usually cannot be replaced by citizens choosing freely among various competitors in elections. The freedom to create opposition political parties or other alternative political groupings with which to compete for power with the ruling group is either limited or nonexistent.

Iran’s Clerical Regime thus fore stands in fundamental contrast to democracy. It usually has no highly developed institutional guidelines, doesn’t tolerate pluralism and social organizations, lacks the power to mobilize the entire population in pursuit of its goals and exercises extreme oppressive power within relatively predictable limits.

Iran’s Clerical regime leader practices informal and formal clannishness, clientelism and patronage characteristics  to form a power coalition. It has been argued that any of these informal practices determine a power coalition of a certain size, which is consequential for regime sustainability. Power coalitions formed on the basis of a clan-like nature is the least effective way to retain power and generally leads to regime destabilization. Clientelism, which allows for forming a power coalition on a wider basis is a more effective strategy in terms of regime sustainability. Maximum regime sustainability is reached when patronage practices are used, which require more material resources and are only accessible to a limited number of wealthy individuals and groups such as the case Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Now, to our subject, how is the state of environmental issues under Iran Clerical Regimes rule? This is an emerging debate, which is drawing more attention as the environmental issues become of serious concerns nowadays. However, it is in simplest term detrimental

In academic arena some scholars assert that authoritarian regimes deal with environmental issues better with excluding civil participation and make the environmental policy more efficient. In other words, authoritarian governments can deal with the problem of the environmental issues more decisively than democratic governments. However, some other environmental and social scientists believe that environmental problems may incite a more modernized society, especially will deepen its civil development. This kind of modernization usually tends to occur in industrialized countries, which scholars call this theory as ecological modernization. These two different theories reveal the opposite way to environmental governance. When it comes to a country which is authoritarian regime and industrialized or has high-speed economic development such as the cases of China, The Vietnam or Singapore, the theory of authoritarian environmentalism or ecological modernization can be best explained. 

In order to explore which theory fits best to explain this phenomenon, the research is steel inconclusive. Also, it has to be reminded that concerning the environmental issues Iran’s Clerical Regime is an exception to all rules and cannot be explained with standard academic explanations. 

The basic logic dictates that in democracies, electoral pressures motivate more spending in the public interest, and governments face more scrutiny if they fail to meet people’s basic needs. There have been a number of studies that look across countries to more systematically investigate this proposition. Such studies suggest that countries governed by democratic regimes tend to spend more to provide more basic services than their autocratic counterparts.

Literatures have suggested that democracies can aid in solving both global and local environmental problems for various reasons. Democratic institutions provide relevant platforms for increasing public awareness about environmental issues. Also,  are more likely to have environmental issues on their political agenda than authoritarian regimes due to their openness to a variety of interests. Lastly, through free and fair elections, which are necessary attribute of democracies, citizens can hold politicians accountable for not delivering on their promises and agenda on environmental concerns. The leaders of non-democratic settings do not face such scrutinizes from public.

As one understands pluralism is the essence of democracies and dispersion of power among influential political actors. Pluralism takes various forms, reflecting the different ways in which diverse actors are able to promote their interests. Pluralism manifests in electoral terms when oppositional political organizations or candidates are able to participate in practice. Pluralism is achieved when citizens can organize in groups to pursue their collective interests and ideals through participation in civil society. Pluralism can also capture the ability of particular interest groups, businesses, trade unions, or environmental non-governmental organization to advance their interests through lobbying or extracurricular legal means.

Pluralism is helpful to ensure higher levels of scrutiny of governing actors and are strings to hold them accountable. Pluralism also increases the chances that social welfare issues be seriously promoted and applied as the main political agenda. Such arguments are akin to those presented above to explain why democracies tend to perform better when it comes to promoting human welfare, environmental protection, social development and sustainable economical outcomes.

The Leadership of Iran’s Clerical Regime in its tight association with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has created a prolonged, self-promoted environmental crisis that is primarily results of incompetence, absolute mismanagement and systematic corruption rooted in every levels, especially at the highest levels of the regime. The Clerical Regime has promoted and practiced an intentional war against Iran’s natural ecosystems against the announced standard scientific practices and advices since the 1979 inception of the Islamic Republic. 

Iran’s leadership has consistently pursued agricultural and industrialization policies with clear intention to benefit elite beneficiaries that the regime has sought to appease. The regime has accordingly diverted water and other natural resources away from ordinary Iranians and poorer communities, who have disproportionately suffered environmental consequences like water shortages, loss of arable farmland,  sand and dust storms.

Iran’s policy missteps have given rise to multi-prolonged environmental crisis, such as water and power shortages, widespread drought, desertification, destruction of wetlands,  aquifers, forests, rangelands, sinking of plains, sinkholes and alarming air quality. Iran’s environmental deterioration poses a potentially destabilizing risk to the Clerics, as it threatens internal cohesion, public health, and the economy. The Clerical Regime’s leadership has inflicted irreversible damages on the country’s environment that experts fear will have catastrophic humanitarian repercussions as the country is experiencing those in various provinces now. Due to the Regime’s structural factors largely borne of corruption, the Clerics have seriously failed to acknowledge the scope of the impending crisis, let alone to begin the adaptation and implementation of vitally necessary corrective measures, which may already be insufficient and impossible at this time.

The extensive construction of dams for irrigation and hydroelectricity generation has also been responsible for Iran’s deteriorating environment, as its leadership has haphazardly sought to divert water to benefit favored influentials irrespective of environmental impacts. The Clerics policy of reckless dam construction is borne largely out of a desire on the part of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his allies to placate their private oppressive army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

One of the most significant and lasting consequences of the Iran–Iraq War was the empowerment of the IRGC. The war transformed the group from a hastily organized militia into one of Iran’s most powerful institutions. The IRGC emerged from the crucible of the war as a formidable fighting force with considerable organizational and engineering prowess. Under orders of Supreme Leader Khamenei, the IRGC formed a civil construction and engineering arm after the war called Khatam al-Anbiya emerged, which helped secure the IRGC’s entrenchment and continued relevance even in peacetime.

In 1989, following the war’s conclusion, Khatam al-Anbiya was encouraged to partner with the government for the rebuilding of Iran. Khatam al-Anbiya’s move into civilian enterprises expanded its influence and economic portfolio as it took on lucrative post-war reconstruction projects. Fueled by Khatam al-Anbiya’s profits, the IRGC has taken on an outsized role in the militarization of Iran’s economy and the organization effectively operates as a state within a state, accountable only to the Supreme Leader.

Every fraction of the Clerical Regime sought to establish patronage links to the IRGC, as a result, Khatam al-Anbiya began winning tenders and bids to build dams, railroads, refineries,  harbors and expanding its influence in every aspects of Iran’s economy. Another beneficiary of the boom in dam construction has been Mahab Ghodss, an engineering consulting firm that has supervised the construction of hundreds of Iranian dams. Mahab Ghodss is linked to Iran’s largest charitable holding foundation, Astan Quds Razavi, a bastion of support for Iran’s hardline clerical establishment. The revenues generated by dam construction help the Supreme Leader keep his core constituencies, the IRGC and hardline clerical establishment, satiated, incentivizing their continued loyalty to Khamenei.  

While thirteen dams were constructed during the Shah’s reign, which even the construction of some of those dams were questioned by the experts and environmentalists, the Clerical Regime has built over 600 dams in its 42 years in power, massively accelerating the environmental deterioration that began under the Shah. Iran today, 18th in the world in population and land area, is the world’s  third largest dam builder. 

Iran’s dam building has been carried out with recklessness and intertwined with corruption. The combination of stakeholders in Iranian dam projects has created a perverse incentive structure, whereby dams are commissioned regardless of utility or environmental impact. Iran’s dams construction boom was spurred by a consortium of consulting firms, politicians and parliamentary candidates who saw large infrastructure projects as a way to consolidate their political support. The bigger the dam, the longer they would hold office. 

The level of Iran’s aquifers decreases by an average of 2 meters per year. This has led to the phenomenon of land subsidence. In this phenomenon, thanks to the government’s negligence they broke the world record twice in the 21st century. Once in 2010 in the south of Tehran, the Geological Survey announced subsidence of 36 cm, which was 4 cm more than Mexico City, the capital of Mexico. 36 cm is 90 times the critical level in the European Union which is there just 4 mm.

All four indicators that reflect the state of Iran’s environment have a disastrous outlook: soil, water, air, and biodiversity. In all four components, Iran’s situation is becoming more fragile. Iran has almost the highest rate of soil erosion in the world relative to its share of the Earth’s landmass.

Our planet is the most pricous thing of our lives. Preventing environmental degradation is an important task that we should all take care of it. Keeping our planet clean, managing the natural resources wisely and properly preserve it for the future generations is an essential necessity that we must do with utmost diligent, so that our children and further can enjoy what we had. Erosion is a natural part of the Earth’s cycle, but with the application of available science and technologies we must minimize its effects. Air, soil and water are our most precious resources, and we simply cannot afford to lose them. Without these three resources, we would perish.

Iran under the Clerics has currently faced with the most critical environmental issues in its history. Its climate, lives, natural ecosystem and its future as the cradle of civilization are all at risk. While the magnitude of that thought can be extremely overwhelming, we aren’t allow to feel hopeless, helpless, and not knowing where to begin. We are calling on civilized world, environmentalists and experts to stand alongside the Iranians and their legitimate resistance under the leadership of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi to denounce the brutal Clerical Regime, which is not only the enemy of humanity but also extremely dangerous for the global environment and the world’s peace and security.

*Khalil Khani holds a Ph.D. in Ecology, Botany, and Environmental Studies from Germany and has taught at the University of Tehran and the Hesse State University in Germany. He is also a doctor of medical psychology from the United States.

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