Tuesday, January 16, 2007

WWF :: UAE beats USA

WWF is not, however, the World Wrestling Foundation, it is the World Wildlife Foundation. Dubai has lots of wildlife, especially after 2AM, but that's not the wildlife we're talking about either.

Actually, the story is this:
When it comes to squandering the earth's natural resources, residents of this desert land of chilled swimming pools, monster 4x4s and air-conditioned malls are on a par with even the ravenous consumption of Americans, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

The average person in the Emirates puts more demand on the global ecosystem than any other, giving the country the world's largest per-capita "ecological footprint," WWF data shows. The United States runs second.
UAE officials demure:
The federal environment agency is devising strategies to cut emissions, including a public campaign that may offer economic incentives to those who turn down their air conditioning, Saad al-Numairy, an adviser to agency, said Monday.

"We have an action plan," al-Numairy said. "But we are a multicultural country with 180 nationalities. It's not going to be easy."
If there are incentives I'm not aware of any. And I'm not sure what multicultural has to do with it. Indeed, with many nonnationals living in third-world conditions it is not they who contribute to the large per-capita footprint. (UPDATE: What anonymous has to say is must reading.) It is partly the lifestyle of the rest of us:
Making matters worse are Dubai's audacious developments, including artificial resort islands that have destroyed coral reefs and an indoor ski slope that still creates snow when it is 120 degrees outside.

"Of all the places to make artificial snow, this has to be the most absurd," said Jonathan Loh, a British biologist who co-authored the WWF report.
Partly, too, it is because the environment does not support carbon absorbing greenbelts. Creating greenbelts here makes things worse in fact:
"It's a fact of life that the UAE will always have a large ecological footprint because of where we are," said Habiba al-Marashi, who chairs the Emirates Environmental Group. "But to be classified as the worst, that hurts. We don't think the report is on solid ground."
. . .
The country's landscape offers little help. Undulating sand dunes and jagged mountains of bare rock offer precious little greenery to soak up carbon emissions.
. . .
Longtime Emirates ruler Sheik Zayed oversaw the planting of a forestry belt kept alive by irrigation, which is now considered a waste of water. Parts of the forests are being allowed to slowly die off.
It's being allowed to die off because 98 percent of our water comes from desalination; created by burning hydrocarbons:
One focal point for Dubai's emissions is the red-and-white smokestacks jutting from gas-fired power plants and an aluminum smelter that line the beach on the city's outskirts. The plants do double duty distilling fresh water from Gulf seawater, an energy-intensive process that accounts for 98 percent of the fresh water in a country with no rivers and little usable groundwater.
Another quote from the article:
The Emirates, like the rest of the oil-producing Gulf states, was until the 1960s an impoverished desert country whose residents survived through subsistence fishing, farming and small-time trade.

Now, the government's energy subsidies give Emirates citizens free water and cheap electricity. Gasoline sells for around $1.70 per gallon.

"Really, we're happy to be rich now," said Majid al-Mansouri, who heads the environment agency serving Abu Dhabi.
Actually the price of gasoline is not particularly low -- possibly because it is not easy to subsidize it to nationals without doing so for nonnationals. Just before flying back to the UAE yesterday I paid $2.20/gallon for gas in the US, including federal and state taxes.


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