United Arab Emirates

socks and undies

Marhaba from Dubai,

A hilarious telephone call from the chap at reception, where I’d left a bag of clothes for laundry that morning: Was I aware that some of the socks and undies had holes in them? Should they proceed to launder them? After a moment: “yes, go ahead”, I chortled.

Perhaps I’m unusual in this way. I keep my clothes until they’re no longer useful. I suppose I’m being slightly more sustainable than the average.

Here in the United Arab Emirates, they have a very different definition of sustainability. Hosts to COP28, Dubai must profess to have some credential on the topic. A modern city built in a desert? How does that work? It appears to be the epitome of unsustainability.

Each year the UAE government announces a theme for the calendar year. Last year: TOLERANCE. This year: SUSTAINABILITY. Eh? For a city built in a hot, arid, sandy desert terrain, this is asking for scrutiny when the UAE authorities don’t particularly like it (notwithstanding their invocation of TOLERANCE as a theme last year).

The Emirates is a federation of seven former tribes, Abu Dhabi and Dubai being two of the seven. Today, Abu Dhabi (the capital) and Dubai are modern cities built in a parched desert. It’s built on the profits from fossil fuels. It’s built for dependence on fossil fuels. It’s foreign workforce – roughly 80% of the population – come to and fro on aeroplanes powered by fossil fuels. Amlost every morsel of food is imported, using large amounts of fossil fuels, to create an astronomical food miles tally. Almost every enclosed space – including the bus shelters – are airconditioned all day almost every day. All water for personal, commercial, industrial and agricultural use is desalinated seawater, using huge amounts of energy just to get the water from source to user. The new lawns, racecourses, golf courses, cricket stadia, gardens, incipient agriculture and street trees are all irrigated throughout the year.

The UAE government has taken to cloud seeding in recent years but of course it’s impossible to seed clouds that are not there. Solution: create your own. Perhaps the plantations, lawns and gardens are there to produce sufficient transpiration to create their own clouds. Then they can say they have truly intervened in the hydrological cycle, and produced their own rain, thus reducing their need for desalinated water. Is this what they mean by sustainability?

No, it turns out their biggest argument is that they are doing their bit for global warming by greening their little part of the desert. They’re trying to convince us that a Bedouin lifestyle meant that nothing would ever go to waste (credible) and that therefore their modern descendants adopt the same outlook (incredible). They baldly argue that by encouraging tourists to come here to shop for “their favourite brands” will help with the problem of climate change. They’re kidding us. If they get away with that, it would be the biggest hoax since Piltdown Man. They’re mocking us.

In the meantime, I’m not doing all that much for sustainability by accepting holes in my socks and undies, am I?

Maasalaamah from Dubai


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